As the 2021 Season in League of Legends is about to begin, it's time for the crew of Inven Global to take one last, reminiscent look at the whirlpool of a year that was 2020. And what better way to do it than to give out some end-of-year (though technically start of the year now...) awards?
We're happy to announce the inaugural edition of the Inven Global Awards (IGA). Voted by the crew of Inven Global, the IGA's are awarded to the best teams, players, talent, and stories in competitive League of Legends for 2020, split in 13 categories. Today, we present you the second of those categories: the "most improved teams in 2020" award, presented to the teams that made the biggest jump in strength relative to their norm and recent past performances.
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Every year, teams fluctuate in the standings based on roster changes, staff changes, meta, outside influence, and much more. While many orgs remain relatively consistent across various rosters and metas, others are more variant and erratic. This year, one org from each region really stood out as a shining star, breaking their previous ceiling and perception, and rewriting their own narrative. Here are the most improved teams across 2020.
2020 LCS most improved team: FlyQuest
Despite most people and teams struggling due to a global pandemic, FlyQuest had an incredible 2020. They went from consistently performing as a middle-of-the-pack team to back-to-back Finals appearances. Their average placement over their three prior years was 6thplace. Then they got 2nd twice in a row, stamping their first ticket to Worlds and even taking down Top Esports, one of the favorites for the whole tournament.
At the beginning of spring, the team looked relatively solid, but partway through, they began to falter a bit. FlyQuest made the decision to add Colin "Solo" Earnest to their coaching staff, and eventually to their roster as a substitute top laner, an addition that turned the team around. Solo became the full-time starter after their first playoff series, and they climbed up to face the nearly undefeated Cloud9 in the Finals.
In the summer, they experimented with bot laners, replacing their longstanding veteran, Jason "Wildturtle" Tran, with their Academy bot laner, Brandon "Mash" Phan. Again, after a mid-season slump, they brought WildTurtle back to their LCS squad and righted the ship. After struggling a bit to close out their first playoff series against EG, they blasted through to the Finals, only finally falling to TSM in their own miracle run.
On top of all that, with the hard work of FlyQuest CEO Tricia Sugita, GM Nick Phan, and the rest of the FlyQuest staff, they made lasting impressions with their branding, becoming the wholesome team that worked to save the planet, planting trees, protecting the coral, and saving wild turtles. No other team had a 2020 quite like FlyQuest.
Honorable mentions for NA would go to Golden Guardians, who had a similar story to FlyQuest in 2020, Team Liquid who went from 9th in Spring to Worlds (following Clutch's path in 2019), and TSM who finally made it back to an NA title and Worlds after a long gap in their history.
2020 LCK most improved team: DRX
DRX has a seemingly short history, but that's partially because their name has changed so many times. In 2018, Kinzone DragonX acquired the roster of Longzhu Gaming. One year later in 2019, they renamed themselves to DragonX, and then partway through 2020 simplified it to just DRX.
In 2018, Kingzone DragonX was the best team in Korea, and they seemed to be the best team in the World heading into MSI. Their roster was absolutely stacked with some of the best and most historically dominant players in Korea. However, they fell to RNG in the MSI Finals, and that set them on an unfortunate path. Later that year, they failed to qualify for Worlds after a 0-3 to Gen.G, looking like a shadow of their Spring Split selves. Much of the roster left, but the next year told a similar story with yet another second-place finish in the Regional Finals.
With their rebrand to DragonX and then DRX, though, the team came alive. Most of the roster changed (yet again) but they were able to pick up several strong veterans and pair them with a few younger star talents. With the strong mix of new and old blood and fiery, untampered play, DRX sprang into a 3rd and then 2nd-place finish in the Spring and Summer Splits respectively.
They made it to Worlds for the first time and performed well, taking a close second in their group before drawing DAMWON Gaming in the playoffs. They were unable to defeat the eventual Worlds winners, but it was an incredible bounce back for the org.
2020 LEC most improved team: Schalke 04
FC Schalke 04 Esports has a pretty long history in LоL but a lot of it has been relatively unremarkable. They joined the EU LCS in 2016 Summer, just to place 8th and fall into relegation and fail to make it back in the league next year. It wasn't until 2018 that they finally requalified, placing 8th in spring and 2nd in summer, failing to qualify for Worlds thanks to G2 Esports. In 2019, they took 7th and 3rd, but yet again failed to secure a Worlds ticket.
In 2020, Schalke had a much more tumultuous year, but in their journey, they made a real name for themselves and caught people's attention. They started off their roster-building with Konstantinos-Napoleon "FORG1VEN" Tzortziou, a famous European AD carry who had returned after two years off the Rift. However, the final roster did not mesh, and the team went 0-7 in their first seven games, finally breaking their cold streak against G2 Esports in their eighth. They went 6-5 through the rest of the split after their 0-7 start, showing some life and reigniting the fans' faith in them.
Then in the Summer Split, they started off even worse: 0-8 before winning a game, and then 1-10 by Week 5. And then, they started winning. They started winning every game. After a long winning streak, they were 5-10, with three games in the final weekend to determine their playoff standings. They needed multiple other teams to win and lose matches, going into the final week with just a 4% chance of making it to the post-season.
But they did. They completed a seven-game win streak, ending the season 8-10 after a 1-10 start. From there, they 3-0'd SK Gaming and beat MAD Lions in their opener, extending the streak to 11 wins (12-10 record). But after nearly winning a couple more, Schalke fell to MAD 1-3 and their Worlds qualifier campaign was done. Nevertheless, S04 were able to keep their best players in the off-season and now they aim to make it to Worlds without the need for a #SchalkeMiracleRun.
2020 LPL most improved team: Suning Gaming
Suning Gaming has been in the LPL since 2017, but 2020 was definitely their most successful season. They've never been a particularly bad team but they've never been particularly good, either. For their first couple of years, Suning was fine, placing in the upper middle quadrant of teams in most of their regular season splits, but they often performed relatively poorly in the post-season
In 2020, though, they made drastic improvements. After a terrible Demacia Cup and then an 11th place finish in Spring, Suning made a miraculous run in Summer to bring the org its first real strong finish in its four-year history. They finished 4th in the regular season and 3rd in the playoffs. With a six-game win streak over LGD, Suning qualified for Worlds as the LPL third seed and began their journey in the Group Stage in Group A.
After ending the group stage tied for first with G2, they took them down in a tie-breaker match thanks to one of the most impactful moments in the whole tournament: Chen "Bin" Ze-Bin's massive Gangplank barrel in a super late-game teamfight.
In the playoffs, Suning bested the #1 and #2 LPL seeds in TES and JDG to eventually meet DWG — and their demise — in the finals. Still, Suning's story turned heads and their miracle run nearly rivaled Schalke's. They turned their consistent mid-grade team into a Worlds finalist and captivated the whole audience, with many of their matches being among the most-watched during the event. Suning may not have walked away with the title, but they had an undeniably incredible year.
Next on Inven Global Awards: Most memorable matches of 2020 (Friday, Jan. 15)
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