Xmeik's Wednesday Long Read: Looking Back on 2015 and End of Year Awards
2015 was a banner year for the professional League of Legends scene. With outstanding tournaments and competitions, we've been blessed to enjoy the most competitive season since 2012. Looking back, we've seen monumental change between players and regions, leading to consistently high quality games in nearly every corner of the globe that League of Legends reaches. There were good times, bad times, and times uglier than a Gravity-Dignitas game.
But hey, let's celebrate the year! Although not everyone will be getting a medal, below are my end of season awards. The awards will be divided into four sections, with all awards for a given section immediately listed after the section header. First are the "All-Team Awards", which work in a similar fashion to "All-Conference" or "All-League" awards, as the season's best players will be listed for each role, followed by other honors afterwards. The second section contains "Individual Awards" with winners and runner-ups. The third and fourth sections, "Team Awards" and "Miscellaneous Awards" respectively, also have both winner and runner-ups for each award.
Overall, there are 102 awards listed here. If your opinion on most of them differs, that's okay! I'm always down for a good debate, and professional sport league have panels and voters for a reason. Alas, since someone has to start the discussion sooner or later, I present to you Xmeik's 2015 End of Year Awards.
In the top lane, our korean overlords reign supreme. Smeb gets the nod over Marin due to his solo lane dominance, whereas a lot of Marin’s advantages came from SKT’s team play. While Marin is largely responsible for that team success as shot caller, Smeb was so incredibly dominant in lane compared to Koo’s overall early-game play. In an article I wrote earlier before the World Championship, I stated that the winner of Koo-SKT would have the better top laner, but looking at 2015 as a whole, Smeb put out the better body of work.
A lot of people forget how good Pawn is. Remember how he was rushed out of a hospital to play in EDG’s game 5 in the LPL Spring Finals and won? Worlds also don’t diminish the fact that Deft and Imp are the two best AD Carries on the planet. I give a slight edge to Deft though, as he plays nearly mistake free, whereas Imp takes more risks and, accordingly, sometimes puts himself at a disadvantage. It’s up for grabs though.
I really want to highlight some outstanding players in the Trending Up Team. Ziv is a truly phenomenal top lane talent, and perhaps the best player to come out of the LMS region since Westdoor first burst onto the scene. Peanut didn’t get much playing time in the summer, but his few games for Najin showed a lot of promise. I came very close to selecting Mickey of Anarchy Rebels for the mid spot, but the performance Maple had at Worlds against Origen sent my vote to Taiwan. Maple is also an excellent LMS talent, and I’m not sure why other regions have not tried to lure him away from the Flash Wolves. Fury, playing on the rebuilt Samsung team, established himself as one of the best young AD Carries in Korea despite playing with no talent around him. Key, despite not being in an actual professional league, has turned eyes with his immaculate support play for Ever in the Kespa Cup and IEM Cologne, and it’s only a matter of time until a bigger team poaches him from Ever’s clutches.
Looking at the most improved, and there’ll be more on this later, I barely placed Steak over Smeb. Prior to this season, saying that someone was solo killed by Smeb was the greatest of Korean insults, but only if they knew then what we know now. After the most dominant season by a top laner that we’ve seen since Flame’s CJ Entus days, Smeb could now arguably be a contender for the second best player in the world, with Faker obviously being the best. However, Steak’s battle for respect is more inspiring. At the IEM World Championships, he was laughed off by viewer and tossed aside as if he were a rag doll in comparison to the rest of the Flash Wolves. The thing was, his criticism was fully deserved. Fast forward to Worlds, and Steak was holding his own against the best in the world, putting great performances in against the likes of Darshan (Zionspartan), Smeb, and Soaz. Steak is a true testament to hard work paying off, so I was more than willing to give him this honor.
Finally, if I could assemble my Most Underrated team and give them the ability to communicate with one another, I’d be the World Champion owner in 2016. Just to really drill the point home, Steak tied Marin with a 4.4 KDA at Worlds. Check the stats. IWDominate has been mostly forgotten, but he was able to carve out crazy jungle advantages against his opponents in NA. Spoiler alert for the uninformed: 2015 was more than Worlds, and GodV (now PAinEvil) was the best mid laner in a region with Rookie, Dade, and Pawn. Yes, GodV wins this year’s Dade Worlds Award later on in this article, but one simply cannot ignore the entirety of 2015 based off of one tounament. Despite having to split time with KKramer, NL finished the LMS Summer Split with a 9.3 KDA. The next best AD Carry in the region, ironically KKramer, had a 5.5 KDA. Yet, KKramer began Worlds as the starter. NL is a beast. Finally, we turn to Meiko, who also made my All-Rookie team. The least talked about member of EDG, Meiko formed a formidable duo lane with Deft and did a great job gaining vision and setting the tempo for EDG’s games.
Despite his team’s underwhelming performance at Worlds, Imp still earns the MVP Runner-Up nod, which is really the best that anyone not named Faker can do. I rate Imp above Deft here because LGD would constantly rely on Imp making plays and getting ahead to win, whereas EDG had threats in every lane, meaning Deft didn’t need to carry every game.
I didn’t elude to Score earlier because I wanted to praise him here as our most improved player. Prior to this season, Score was an average Korean AD Carry. Now he’s the region’s All-Star Jungler. It wasn’t an easy transition at first, collecting a sub-3.00 KDA in the LCK Spring Split, but as spring turned to summer, so did Score become elite. He ended up with a 5.67 KDA for the summer and brought KT Rolster from an incredibly poor spring performance to the LCK Summer Finals and the World Championship. Our Runner-up, Piccaboo, naturally had a lot to do about this turnaround, and it’s hard to mention one of these two players without the other. With excellent coordination and roaming, the KT Rolster duo smashed opposing teams.
The next batch of awards kind of go together. All of you Cloud 9 fans can go cry me a river for putting Hai second, but Marin was the shotcaller for the best rotational team in the World. The amount of strategical depth, insight, and communication needed to pull of the macro play that SK Telecom did is astounding. Nevertheless, Hai’s leadership in bringing Cloud 9 from 7th place in the worst major league to a Worlds performance that nobody could have predicted is yet another testament to Hai’s character as a captain. Honestly, nobody comes close to his pure natural leadership ability. It’s similar to the shadow that Jonathan Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks casts over the rest of hockey in that nobody is even on his level of leadership. Coming in second is Yellowstar, who epitomized the concept of how “Stars are great, but superstars make those around them great.” Heck, the guy made Steelback, a clearly flawed AD Carry, look like he could stand his own against SK Telecom at MSI. The Ironman award goes to the player most tested by his physical limits, and giving it to Pawn after being pulled from a hospital to win a game 5 against WE with no warm-up is a deed more than worthy of this award.
This all sets us up for my favorite award on this list, the Alex Ich “Mr. League” Award. Alex Ich, former Moscow 5 and Gambit Gaming mid laner, currently of Renegades, is often seen as an ambassador of the game. Accordingly, this award goes to a well-spoken player with great character who carries himself well and upholds the highest standards of professionalism. Accordingly, our World Champion Marin receives the nod here. Always talkative and in good spirits, he always was willing to talk at length in interviews and truly carried the legacy of SK Telecom as well as one could hope. Our runner-up, Darshan, formerly Zionspartan, also held himself in an upstanding manner in front of the camera. A very well-spoken individual, no English speaking player was able to carry himself with as much dignity in both victory and defeat as Darshan. Even through the CLG off-season drama, to the public eye Darshan has never swayed from his path of professionalism.
Congratulations to Marin, "Mr. League 2015" award recipient!
Not many surprises for the best team. Here’s a list of SK Telecom’s 2015 titles:
-2nd LCK Spring Split Regular Season
-1st LCK Spring Split Playoffs
-2nd Mid Season Invitational
-1st LCK Summer Split Regular Season
-1st LCK Summer Split Playoffs
-1st World Championship Tournament
EDG comes in second place, being the only team to beat SK Telecom in a Bo5 all season. Furthermore, they also won a major international title at MSI, something that neither Fnatic or the Koo Tigers can claim.
I’m unbelievably excited to see the new IM and NRG lineups. The two teams are poised for must-watch league, stacked with exciting players who love to find blood on the map. GBM is also a very entertaining personality, so seeing him in the less-professional realm of NA should be fun to see. If you're wondering why Ever isn't listed here, they'll be poached to nothing soon enough. EDG has already signed their mid laner Athena, and more are sure to come.
Going into the feistier awards, the biggest overachievers were clearly Snake. They never really looked good in most of their games, they simply never looked bad. Despite this, they were one of the top Chinese teams for most of the season. Roccat may be a surprising underachiever pick, but in a roster with Jankos, Nukeduck, and Vander, there’s no excuse for not going to Worlds. That’s too much individual talent for them not to make League’s biggest stage. It leaves a lot of questions to be asked. CLG picks up an overrated runner-up trophy after all the hype about them contending to finish first in their group at Worlds. It may have been their best team yet, but clearly the NA region in 2015 was miles behind the rest of the world. If you aren’t salty yet, the quality of games in the LMS was so significantly better than those in NA.
The two most interesting teams of 2015 were Pain Gaming and Snake. The best Wild Card team to hit the World Stage, they fulfilled their prophecy as the spoiler team, taking games from CLG and the Flash Wolves to make Group A very interesting. Between their drama in the top lane, domestic and international titles, and players checking out of hospitals too early, EDG is an easy choice as runner-up, and nearly wins this title over Pain Gaming.
The two best plays of 2015, to the surprise of nobody, both come from the best region. If you thought Rekkles’ flash reaction of Malphite’s Unstoppable Force was jaw-dropping, you’ll be blown away by Faker’s solo kill onto Nagne in the LCK Summer Final. Playing on his signature Riven, Faker dives under turret and manages to predict flash the ultimate of Nagne’s Cassiopea to pick up the solo kill. Be sure to watch the replay afterwards as DoA, Papasmithy, and Montecristo are left without words.
The next best play, and also the funniest, was Duke discovering Samsung setting up a bush pick near the end of a LCK Summer Split game with Najin firmly in the lead. Go watch it right now, and come back when your sides no longer hurt. Honestly, this play was one of the highlights of the season. It’ll be the best minute of your day until you watch it the second time and see everyone enter the bush:
SK Telecom versus EDG was clearly the best series of the season, as we finally saw a major international tournament end in a full five-game series. To win game five, EDG masterfully baited SK Telecom into first picking LeBlanc for Faker, and proceeded to pick an entire composition to counter her. It would be Faker’s first professional loss on LeBlanc. KT Rolster versus the Koo Tigers was another five-game series, with KT taking the win to advance and play SK Telecom in the LCK Summer Final. However, the Koo Tigers would have the last laugh, knocking KT Rolster out of the World Championship by beating them in a 3-1 quarterfinal series.
I kid about Faker transfering to SKT T1 S because really he stayed with the same organization as sister teams were disbanded across Korea. However, in all seriousness, SK Telecom took their B-team, added Faker, and won Worlds without dropping a game until their Korean brethren drew blood in the Finals. The gap is closing...the gap is closing...keep living the lie, bud.
Sorry fans of unicorn hats, this is a professional sport, and the best dressed athletes in professional sports are ones that look, well, professional. From their savvy gray H&M sweaters in winter to their cardigans and ties later on, the Koo Tigers were always dressed for success. The next best uniform was donned by Team SoloMid. Representing one of the United States’ most classic looks, their letterman jackets were both subtle and eye catching. The hooded sweatshirts later though make them look lazy and unprepared. Reginald, change isn’t always good.
After 2014, I was really thankful that the best teams in each region all made Worlds. Seeing the KT Arrows fall in the gauntlet tore a piece of my heart away from me, and SKT T1 being beaten by Najin White Shield was horrid. Having the clear cut top three Korean teams make Worlds for the first time assured that we would be seeing the highest quality league out there internationally, and the results speak for themselves.
Looking forward to 2016, I want to emphasize to any Riot balance employees that may be reading this article how Easyhoon owns a starting role now, and how awful it was to watch is 50+ minute games. Please, for the sake of one simple writer’s sanity, keep Ziggs out of the meta. Danke schön!
If you enjoy this content, you can find all former articles here or follow Xmeik on Twitter (@lolXmeik) or on Facebook for updates on future articles. For more of "Xmeik's Wednesday Long Read" series, be sure to check out articles from previous weeks:
December 23rd, 2015: Fnatic's Counter to the Fast Push
December 9th, 2015: A Look at Power Picks and Bold Predictions
November 18th, 2015: IEM San Jose Power Rankings
November 11th, 2015: Kindred in Competitive Play
November 4th, 2015: SKT vs. KOO and the Anatomy of a Lane Swap
October 29th, 2015: Comparing Marin, Smeb, and Ssumday