Who doesn't like a good underdog story? It is truly one of the most perfect story-lines that can exist in any sport: a complete outsider takes a league or tournament by assault, surprises the big names, deliver great performances, and ultimately end up walking away with the trophy or a great result for his name. An emotional tale of dedication, hard-work, effort and yes, some luck too, makes these some of the most memorable events that can exist.
Or for any football fans here, who will ever forget Leicester City's journey to win the 2015/2016 Premier League season? Or if you prefer basketball, how memorable is the Cavaliers' win in 2016 as well, against the mighty 73-9 Golden State Warriors after being down 3 games to 1?
Those are the stories who captivate millions of fans around the world, which will stay fresh on everybody's mind even if they happened a long time ago: in sports and competitions who are always so ever-evolving, those are sometimes the only connection remaining with the past. In esports, despite obviously not being around for as long as all traditional sports, it is not different.
Inspired by that, I have prepared a series with some "Cinderella stories" in competitive League of Legends history: teams that despite all odds playing against, were able to win the tournament - or at least who managed to show a performance for the ages.
Cloud9 and the Gauntlet
The 2015 NA LCS Summer Split was not the easiest for the 2-time North American Champions. Midlaner Hai "Hai" Lam announced his retirement shortly after the Spring Finals, which saw C9 losing the change to win their third trophy against Team SoloMid, and was replaced by Danish star solo queue player Nicolaj "Jensen" Jensen (back there still known as Incarnati0n), available after his behavioral ban was lifted by Riot Games. The team however, didn't adapt playing without its main shot-caller, and after Week 6, the standings showed Cloud9 placed 9th out of 10 teams. Fearing relegation, the organization decided to turn the tide drastically, and brought "their" leader and main shotcaller Hai back from his retirement, in expense of long-term Jungler William "Meteos" Hartman.
Playing in a new position, Hai brought back some life to the team, but it wasn't enough, as Cloud9 entered the last week of the Regular Split in 8th place, any hopes in achieving the Playoffs all but gone. C9 ended that week with a 1-1 record, and after a tiebreaker win against Team8, still managed to end the Split placed 7th, meaning that they had a last shot at qualifying to the 2015 World Championship through the NA Regional Finals.
14 games in 3 days
Cloud9 came as massive underdogs to the tournament, which had the likes of Team Impulse and, especially, Team Liquid as favorites. C9, with the second fewest amount of Championship Points among the participants, entered the 3-day long gauntlet already in the very first match, against Team Gravity.
And the run already seemed to be over after the first two games, after Gravity heavily outplayed C9 to open a quick 2-0 lead in the best-of-five. Cloud9 managed however to strike back in games 3 and 4, thanks in part to ADC Zachary "Sneaky" Scuderi's "unusual" Varus pick that got their opposition unprepared. Motivated after the 2 wins, the team completed the reverse sweep with a 21 to 2 kills massacre, with Sneaky going rampage as Ashe (9-0-7).
After upsetting Gravity, Cloud9 had no time to celebrate - less than 24 hours later they were back into the Rift, this time against Team Impulse. TIP, albeit weakened after the suspension of star Midlaner Yu "XiaoWeiXiao" Xian, infamously caught elo-boosting, was still a feared team.
Led by former World Champion Jung "Impact" Eon-yeong and new sensation Jungler Lee "Rush" Yoon-jae, Impulse ended the Summer Playoffs placed 4th, after losing to Liquid 3-1 in the 3rd place match. Nonetheless, they came to the match undoubtedly as favorites against the struggling Cloud9. And once again, C9 lost the first two games, including a 27 to 7 kills slaughter in game 2, and needed to pull a reverse sweep yet again in order to proceed to the final round.
And they somehow did it.
In game 3, Sneaky went berserk on Vayne – another pocket pick he had prepared, and after a true bloodbath - 42 kills in just over 28 minutes - C9 somehow kept their hopes alive. In game 4, both Jensen and Sneaky, once again on Vayne, went huge, and carried their team to the decisive game 5.
Impulse finally banned Vayne for the final showdown, forcing Cloud9's ADC to pick Tristana, and after an extremely close game, C9 won a decisive fight after 35 minutes, grabbed Baron, managed to get 2 more kills in TIP's base, and closed out the series 3-2, getting one step closer to, after such a failed split, somehow qualify to the World Championship.
But they still had to face the final boss.
Team Liquid was considered by almost the best North America had to offer besides Summer Split Finalists Counter Logic Gaming and Team SoloMid. With Chae "Piglet" Gwang-jin as the star player, the very own world-class ADC and World Champion with SKT T1 K less than two years before. Kim "FeniX" Jae-hun, explosive on assassins and mages alike - who can forget that 1v4 against CLG? Protecting the two carries, Diego "Quas" Ruiz, proficient on tanks like Maokai and Nautilus. Leading them, two American veterans, Christian "IWillDominate" Rivera and Alex "Xpecial" Chu. A team worthy of representing North America in Europe.
But C9 had a Sneaky on fire once again.
In game 1, he proved why he was one of the best players in NA, and, assisted by Daerek "LemonNation" Hart's Braum and An "Balls" Van Le's Maokai, he went huge as Draven, and C9 stunned Team Liquid in a little over than 30 minutes. The team's first victory in a game one of a series - suddenly, the whole pressure was all over Liquid's side, who however were able to answer in game 2, tying the series 1-1.
Game 3 was a 57-minute long duel between both teams, decided thanks to a master play by Balls, flashing in on FeniX, deleting his Viktor and winning the team-fight and the game for Cloud9.
Despite C9 having a gold lead during most of the 4th game, it was very similar to the last one. Tense, indecisive, absolutely nerve-wracking: one mistake could quickly and mercilessly change the course of the entire series. And Piglet - exactly the star player - was the one responsible for making the decisive error. After over-committing to a Dragon, the Korean star was caught by Balls' Sion slow, and hit and killed by Hai's Nidalee. They used the numbers advantage well, and, allied with the Baron’s buff, destroyed Liquid's Nexus for a third and final time.
They did it. After a disastrous Split, they played almost another in just 3 days, and brought a team who was one loss away from the Promotion Tournament to the World Championship. Worlds itself was a special tournament for the organization, with memorable wins and a Penta-kill by a certain Diamond 2 player against Fnatic. But this is a tale for another day...
(Photos courtesy of Riot Games)
Disclaimer: The following article was written freely based on the author's opinion, and it may not necessarily represent Inven Global's editorial stance.
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