The last few weeks of competitive League of Legends have produced an extraordinary number of upsets across all major regions. Since the beginning of IEM Katowice some of the world’s most dominant teams domestically have been faltering in their efforts to dispatch supposedly weak opposition. The GE Tigers not only lost at IEM, but also lost a series in the LCK for the first time this season, against a team which isn’t even in the top half of the table. In North America, TSM lost to mid-table team Gravity, and in Europe the struggling Elements somehow managed to end H2K’s eight gaming winning streak. China meanwhile, has been witnessing the sudden fall of second place team OMG who haven’t won any of their last four matches. Throughout all regions the curse of the 90% appears to have suddenly grown in power.
With all this in mind, it seemed an opportune moment to remind people of some of the biggest upsets which have occurred over the years.
KT Rolster Arrows 2 : 0 SKT T1 K —————— Champions Spring 2014 – Group Stage
This upset occurred during the group stage of Champions Spring 2014, at a time when everyone still believed SKT T1 K were the best team in Korea, and by extension, the world. They were the defending World and OGN champions. In Champions Winter which concluded just a few months prior, SKT K had won the tournament without losing a single game, in possibly the most impressive tournament run ever by a League of Legends team. Conversely, the KT Arrows had failed even to qualify for Champions Winter and were coming in to the group stage of Champions Spring with two roster changes.
At the group draw everyone looked justifiably afraid of being placed in SKT K’s group with the notable exception of the KT Arrows representative Kakao, who said he wanted to obliterate the SKT organisation. At the time nobody took him seriously, but when the two teams met it was the Arrows who miraculously emerged with a 2:0 victory.
One of the best things about this match was the immediate aftermath on the OGN broadcast. Doa couldn’t stop saying, “I can’t believe this.” People in the audience literally started crying, and Kakao reacted like this:
It was a celebration more befitting a world championship victory than a group stage win, but it serves to highlight the enormity of this upset.
KaBuM! e-Sports 1 : 0 Alliance ———————– 2014 World Championship – Group Stage
For both teams this was the final game of the Season 4 World Championship group stage. Alliance had just defeated Najin White Shield and Cloud 9, by beating KaBuM! (for the second time) they would have secured a tiebreaker with Cloud 9 at the very least. As the top seed from Europe, and the fifth team on Riot’s power rankings, Alliance were heavily favoured over the international wildcards from Brazil. Historically the Brazilian scene had failed to achieve any real success at international tournaments, and as such KaBuM! were ranked last on the official worlds power rankings.
KaBuM! were sitting at 0-5 in the group, while Alliance looked stronger with every game they played, the idea that Alliance might trip up on this final hurdle seemed laughable. However, once the game began KaBuM! seized the initiative in every lane. By camping Wickd and pushing down turrets with Jinx, they were able to accumulate a 4000 gold lead by 15 minutes which they comfortably snowballed to a victory.
This match, despite only being a best of one, is easily the biggest upset which has occurred at any Riot World Championship. There was no prior indication whatsoever that KaBuM! were capable of performing up to the level of Alliance, but for that one game the stars aligned and everything went perfectly for the Brazilians.
MVP Ozone 3 : 0 Azubu Blaze ——————— Champions Spring 2013 – Final
VOD : http://www.twitch.tv/ongamenet/b/417188481?t=48m45s
It can be difficult to picture MVP Ozone, the team that would later become Samsung Galaxy White, as an underdog. However Champions Spring 2013 was only Ozone’s second season in Champions and their roster was still relatively untested. The fact they had reached the final at all gave some indication of their strength, but no one expected them to be able to hold back the seemingly inexorable CJ Entus Blaze.
Blaze made the final on the back of a 13 game winning streak, which included a 2-0 victory over MVP Ozone in the group stage. It wasn’t just the fact that they were winning, but the manner in which they deconstructed opponents which lead to them being so heavily favoured. For most of the bracket stage it seemed like Blaze had solved League of Legends. They showed an impressive ability to manipulate minion waves, enabling them to gain huge CS advantages on Flame, and to create massive minion pushes in the late game. These two factors combined to exert substantial amounts of map pressure on Blaze’s opponents, and eventually they all buckled, except for Ozone.
Ozone entered the final with a very clear plan of how they were going to shut down Blaze’s ‘sixth man’ strategy. By banning away the champions Blaze relied upon to manipulate minion waves and frequently ganking Flame, they were able to completely take control of all three games. In the end they not only overcame the odds to win the tournament, but also completely shut Blaze out in a 3 – 0 victory. It would have been a shocking upset if Ozone had barely managed to take the series 3-2, but the way they dismantled Blaze’s core strategy, which had looked indomitable all season, earned Ozone the third place spot on this list (not to mention a Champions trophy).
TicTacs 1 : 0 CLG —————– ESL Major Series 2011
Probably the most controversial entry on this list, this upset was only a best of one and occurred at a time when the competitive League of Legends scene was still an inchoate fraction of what it is today. Nevertheless, the impact which this match had on LoL esports and the shock it caused back in the spring of 2011 are more than sufficient to justify its ranking as the second biggest upset of all time. This game literally marked the end of an era, both for CLG and League of Legends. It also ushered in the rise of the ‘support meta’, one of the most significant and long-lasting metagame shifts ever.
Before losing to TicTacs, CLG were almost unanimously considered to be the best team in the world. Not only did their roster included Bigfatjiji and Chauster, two players who were widely recognised as being amongst the best in the world, but they were also the reigning world champions, having won WCG 2010 a few months prior. This was an era in which CLG had been so dominant that at times they had deliberately avoided practicing because they believed it would only benefit their practice partners.
In comparison, no one had ever heard of TicTacs. Looking back now two names immediately jump out, former CLG.eu/EG AD carry Yellowpete and current SK top laner Fredy122, but back in 2011 they were both completely unknown to the vast majority of spectators, as was their team.
Nevertheless, TicTacs’ surprisingly cohesive team composition (by Season 1 standards) devastated CLG. TicTacs followed up their Ashe arrow engages using a variety of speed buffs, allowing them to consistently catch CLG flat-footed and overextended. Ultimately it was a very convincing win for the EU team.
Despite how little was on the line this game has remained firmly embedded in my memory, largely due to the obvious contrast between the two teams. It was the old guard against new blood, North America against Europe, individual talent against co-ordination and strategy. In short, it was the introduction to many of the most interesting narratives which have emerged over the past four years of competitive League of Legends.
Team WE 2 : 1 GE Tigers —————————- IEM Katowice 2015
Prior to IEM Katowice there was a period of roughly two years in which every major international competition was won by a Korean team. Thanks to these years of conditioning and disappointment, even the most optimistic fans from China, Europe and North America were struggling to conceive of a world in which the GE Tigers didn’t win the IEM World Championship. Fans of Chinese League of Legends in particular were lamenting the fact that China would be represented by their lowest ranked team.
As a result of GET being undefeated in what has historically been the strongest region, Korea, they were placed first on lolesports’ IEM Katowice power rankings. Conversely, due to being bottom of the LPL, Team WE were ranked last by lolesports. While it’s unusual, perhaps even unheard of, for the perceived worst team at a tournament to beat the perceived best team, it becomes doubly surprising when one of those teams is considered to be the best team in the world by most analysts. Four of the five entries on this list feature the supposed best team in the world losing, but in all cases they lost to teams which were deemed to be mediocre, or which were simply unknown. Never before have the supposed best team in the world lost to a team from an ‘inferior’ region with such a dire domestic record. For this to have occurred for the first time in a three game series is so absurd that it borders on the surreal.
Narrowly Missing Out ————- TPA
The Taipei Assassin’s victory at the Season 2 World Championship is unquestionably one of the most surprising results we’ve ever seen in competitive League of Legends. The only reason TPA don’t feature on this list is because their upset was cumulative, manifesting over the course of multiple games. However when TPA’s wins are considered individually, none of them could be deemed as unlikely as KTA’s victory over SKT in Champions Spring 2014.