Wild Cards: A look at their past, their present and their future
This article looks at the all the teams which have attended Worlds from a region which was not Korea, China, Taiwan, Europe or North America. How the international wildcard scene has developed in the eyes of a Worlds spectator and a prediction on how it will do in the upcoming seasons. I excluded the two teams which participated in the Season 1 World Championship, Team Pacific and Xan as the scene lacked structure and a proper qualification system back then. Season 2 centers around the Saigon Jokers, the team that came to Worlds through the S2 SEA Regional Finals. In Season 3 we had GamingGear.eu and Mineski. Season 4 had the teams Dark Passage from Turkey and KaBuM from Brazil. In this version of Worlds we have Pain Gaming from Brazil and the Bangkok Titans from Thailand.
The Saigon Jokers did not play much outside of their own region. Aside from a few tournaments they were invited to after they qualified for Worlds such as Enter the Dragon in October of 2012, which was held a bit after they exited out of Worlds in which they got 3-0’d by Incredible Miracle, not the most prestigious Korean team and GPL Season 1 in which nobody could come even close to TPA as all the other teams had little to no infrastructure. With little to no experience playing against the top Western or Asian teams they headed into Worlds, even though they had plenty of practice against TPA in the 2012 GPL Opening Event in which TPA didn’t drop a single game, they were not expected to win a single game. The group stage had pitted them against Najin Sword led by Maknoon, CLG.EU with the arguably best mid-laner in the world, Froggen and Team Dignitas, who were quite possibly the weakest team after Saigon Jokers. After losing against Najin, they fought against DIG and snowballed a few early kills in a bloodbath and would decimate DIG in 27 minutes, they would later lose to CLG.eu and thus ending their tournament run. The Wildcards had their first win however.
Saigon Jokers record 1-2 (LOSS vs. Najin Sword, WIN vs. Dignitas, LOSS vs. CLG.EU)
Season 3 knew two Wildcards, one from the International Wildcard Tournament in which Riot currently draws both of their Wildcard participants, this team was GamingGear.eu. In this tournament they grabbed a Brazilian team, a Latin American one, one from Turkey, another from Oceania and GamingGear.eu from the Commonwealth of Independent States, even though they were an EU team. The other team was Mineski, drawn from the same pool as Saigon Jokers the previous year. Just like Saigon Jokers, they hardly had any competition against the top regions, they played a lot of small tournaments against fellow SEA contenders, they won those, but it was hardly comparable what they would face at worlds. This group version of worlds would promise a lot more games for the group stage participants, at least 8 games and more if you had a tiebreaker.
Mineski had eight games to prove themselves to at least compete, or take a win from a major region, but they failed to do so. They went 0-8 and at the end couldn’t even take the game seriously any more as they were severely outclassed by their competitors and tried to at least have fun and try and cheese the opponents with picks like Jarvan IV and Leona botlane. The games weren’t competitive either, although they did manage to snag kills, games would rarely go over the 30 minute mark and their proudest achievement would either be a 35-minute long game they lost vs. the third seed from NA or the 14 kills vs. Samsung Ozone they lost.
Mineski record 0-8 (0-2 vs. Gambit, 0-2 vs. Fnatic, 0-2 Samsung Ozone, 0-2 vs. Vulcun)
That was Group B, in Group A we had the other Wildcard team, GamingGear.eu. They faced the group of SKT T1, LemonDogs, OMG and Team SoloMid. Who knew what their intentions were after this tournament, maybe they would want to qualify for EU LCS or play in some local tournaments, unlike Mineski they managed to grab that single win, they will cherish this win, and whether it meant a lot for the Wildcard’s credibility however, is a different story. They would go 0-7 before facing the retirement game of Team SoloMid owner and midlaner Reginald, in which he decided to pick the almighty Teemo, having most likely never practiced this champion and playing it bottom in a non-meta fashion while their support player went top lane, their top lane went support and their AD carry went mid lane.
GamingGear.eu record 1-7 (0-2 vs. SKT T1 K, 0-2 vs. OMG, 0-2 vs. Lemondogs, 1-1 vs. Team SoloMid)
This year was a dark stain for the Wildcards, they couldn’t be even close to competitive and had visited LA for just the fun, the event, for America and some good League of Legends gameplay by the eventual winners SK Telecom T1 K.
When Worlds came around for this season, Riot had implemented a qualifier for the International Wildcard tournament and the tournament itself gave two spots and the spot the SEA Regional gave now belonged to Wildcard Tournament. The two eventual winners, two as in the tournament was split in two, one for 3 teams duking it out for the Gamescon IWC spot the other being a fight between Brazil’s top team and LAN’s top team Kabum and Pex. Brazil would outclass LAN in the Pax IWC final as they would 3-0 Pex, showing some hope for Brazil as they already had a good structure and a lot of fan interest in the scene. The tournament in Europe at Gamescon would feature a Turkish team Dark Passage, the Oceanic Legacy eSports and the CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) team Russian Force. The latter would lose all its games and Dark Passage and Legacy would both go 3-1 with the head-to-head being 1-1 heading into the final. The final itself was one-sided, another 3-0, as OCE would choke when it mattered.
The group draw made possible by Nick Allen was not kind to Dark Passage as they were thrown into the Chinese Champion Edward Gaming and the team to beat Samsung White, previously known as Samsung Ozone as well as Ahq-esports club. The story of this group would not be the underdog story of the favourite underperforming and the outsider doing a phenomenal job keeping that team on its toes that Dark Passage wanted it to be. Just like Mineski the last season, Dark Passage would go home without a win, going 0-6 vs. the Asian powerhouses. Where AHQ was competitive with Edward Gaming, Dark Passsage could only dream their star AD-carry HolyPhoenix would somehow manage to turn the tables on these powerful Asian teams. Facing SSW they would only grab a single kill within two games, against EDG a combined 8. The only competitive game would vs. AHQ in which they still could not hold control of the game and lost their nexus in 40 minutes. It seemed like the IWC just existed as an easier group for some.
Dark Passage record 0-6 (0-2 vs. Samsung White, 0-2 vs. Edward Gaming, 0-2 vs. AHQ-eSports club)
While Dark Passage was struggling in Group A, Kabum was pitted against two Western teams and the weakest team sent from Korea, although they had it easier, it was still an impossible task. Where Dark Passage would find itself crushed in the laning phase of the game, Kabum managed to come out of this phase mostly unharmed, they had the mechanics to keep up with some of the best players playing this game. Only losing to Najin White Shield in a teamfight in their second meeting after the score was 2-4 in favour of Najin. Their biggest problem in this tournament was their macro-play. They would lose towers quickly, have no vision control over baron and have hardly any dragons to their name. But just as Alliance, the winner of the EU LCS Summer Split would prepare itself for either a 3-way tie for first or a ticket to the quarter finals as second place, they underestimated the Brazilians and picked a teamcomp with no wave clear, a pick in the top lane they clearly weren’t practiced with and Kabum punished them. They closed out the game sloppily in 40 minutes, but they had their win, no troll comp from their opponents, they just capitalized on Alliance’s cockiness. They could stay even in the laning phase, there was hope for IWC. With their win celebrated by Cloud 9, who would advance to the quarterfinals instead of Alliance, the Brazilians were happy however, they beat the arrogant Europeans.
KaBum E-sports record 1-5 (0-2 vs. Najin White Shield, 0-2 vs. Cloud 9, 1-1 vs. Alliance)
Combined IWC record 3-28 (2-5 vs. NA, 1-8 vs. EU, 0-9 vs. Korea, 0-4 vs. China and 0-2 vs. LMS teams)
Now back to the present, today Worlds has its 5th edition, IWC has not had it easy. This year the IWC had two new regions added, the GPL which previously was mixed with Taiwanese teams and had two straight tickets to Worlds, but were separated to create a more level playing field for both the Taiwanese team who crushed the other teams and the other contenders for GPL, who now would have a shot at making it to Worlds and LJL, the Japanese league. Japan had finally given in to League, although their love for fighting games is many times greater, a league scene in Japan is starting to grow. This alongside the already present Oceanic, Turkish, Brazilian, Latin America and CIS region would create for 7 regions to be represented.
Like last season, the tournament would be split in two. One side had LAN, CIS and Brazil and another had Japan, the representative of GPL, OCE and a Turkish team. If the IWC Invitational for MSI had taught us anything, Turkey and Brazil would most likely be going a consecutive time. In the group stage of the more populated tournament Oceania would crush most of their opponents, they dropped a game to the Japanese Detonation FocusMe, but were on course to take the tournament. In the final in which they met Bangkok Titans, they would just like the last year, not be on the level as the first day of the tournament, choke, under-preparation, who knows? They 2-0’d them in the Round Robin, but lost in the finals, sending the GPL representative to Worlds.
Pain Gaming had qualified for the IWC tournament after beating INTZ e-Sports which supposedly had bootcamped in NA and had surprisingly good results against bottom and mid-tier NA LCS teams, they crushed INTZ 3-0 and would do the same in the Invitational going undefeated in the Round Robin and winning the final 3-0 as well.
This year’s group draw, unlike last year’s was kind to at least one team from IWC. Bangkok Titans drew the short end of the stick and have to face one of the favourites SKT T1 from Korea and another one in Edward Gaming from China, as well as the second seed from Europe, who finds itself in a similar hopeless situation as the IWC team, H2K. The fortunate team however was Pain Gaming, they face the second seed from Korea, the first seed from North America and the second seed from Taiwan. Although this may sound hard, this is possibly the best chance an IWC team has ever had of making it past the group stage. The KOO Tigers, second seed from Korea has not shown up in IEM Katowice in the international stage and probably are the weakest team from Korea, despite being the second seed. Counter Logic Gaming are the strongest team from North America and also the most in-form team. They have however beaten the NA-empowered INTZ in convincing fashion. Flash Wolves were beaten by AHQ and were a close match with HK E-sports when they qualified, they have a weak top laner, while Pain’s strength lies in Mylon, their respective top laner. This does however overstate their chances a bit, they will still need to pull off a miracle to beat KOO Tigers, CLG or Flash Wolves twice, they all have weaknesses, but so do Pain. In this edition of Worlds, as well as how dominant Pain were in their own region, their opponents will surely not underestimate them and do a lot of research on them.
This important thing is however, this time they will not go into the tournament with the mindset of: “Let’s score a few kills”. They will be looking for the win. Their goal will be to survive the group stage and then go out with a blast.
Now why has it taken so long for an IWC team to even be close to being considered as an outsider to survive the group? There are many explanations and answers and some apply to some regions, while they do not to others. Brazil has a fantastic structure in their own region, a lot of fans for their own scene with amazing venues being sold out and crazy story lines LCS has as well. They lack international competition however, IWC regions might be the biggest loser from the LCS era, no chance to face a top Western team in an IPL, and hardly any IEM’s to face them. They might get a spot at IEM San Jose and that’s their one B01/B03 with a Western team, that’s it.
Pain has dominated their own region and would likely do well in NA, they have the coaches, the talent, just not the training partners. Turkey suffers from a similar problem, also having a smaller talent pool to tap into, which is somewhat solved by a lot of EU Challenger players moving into the Turkish region. Oceania is closed off, just like it is geographically, The Chiefs dominated the opposition in their own region and only dropped a single game in the regular split + the playoffs. They were not ready for other styles of play however, mostly the split-push heavy style from Bangkok Titans they could not handle in the finals. The GPL lost its best teams when the Taiwanese teams formed the LMS, the GPL lost good practice against much better opposition. Geographically they could probably still practice against many Taiwanese teams, but the scene is small and does not seem to have a lot of backing. Japan is just starting out, with Riot which would appear to have plans to set up a server in Japan, they could slowly become a major force, and they for now however are too young of a region. CIS seems to have it the hardest, the talent pool doesn´t seem to be the biggest, and the interest in the scene isn´t too massive and they might have a hard time in the future against rising IWC regions.
There are many things I’d like to see personally. I hope Japan gets its own server, slowly copy the Korean style of coaching and rise to the top of the International Wildcards. I’d like Brazil to be able to scrim with NA teams to up its own competitive level in CBLOL and take a bit more talent out of its own SoloQ ladder. I would want to see some of the recent teams who qualified for the IWC in some IEM’s trying their hardest against some top-tier Western teams. A larger scale IEM-tournament would be a step in the right direction with that, I believe. There are many things I want, it’s unlikely for many of these to happen. Pain has to make a splash for the Wildcards this Worlds to really put them on the map. Will they succeed, the West might look to some of the teams to go there as a coach or a player to bolster the competition, but if it becomes a winless edition, some might be put off by the idea. This is an important moment for IWC, this at least is for sure.
Photo Credit to: LolEsports, Mineski, Gosu-tech, Gamewatch