Over the last decade, Esports has grown in unimaginable ways. Teams and players now routinely compete for large sums of prize money in some of the biggest arenas in the world. And over those 10 years, there have been dozens of incredible moments, miracle runs through tournaments, unprecedented win streaks, victories that we thought might never come. And so, as the decade comes to an end, we look back on those teams and players who caused the biggest moments in history.
5. Astralis claims the first Intel Grand Slam
Astralis has been the undisputed best team in the world for the last two years. With 15 tournament wins, over $5 million in prize money and three major victories in a row, a new record, it’s no surprise that Astralis gave us some of the greatest moments of the decade. But the one moment that stands out happened back in December of 2018. The Intel Grand Slam is a system organized by ESL and Dreamhack, where if you win four top-tier tournaments in a row out of 10, you won $1 million. Astralis’s victories in Marseille, Dallas and Chicago put them in position to claim their reward with one more win and the next tournament was in their home country of Denmark.
In front of a hometown crowd, Astralis dominated, dropping only two maps all tournament en route to a 3-1 map victory over Team Liquid and a million-dollar prize. As Astralis walked out to claim yet another trophy, they eliminated any remaining doubt of their position as the best team in the world.
4. Taipei Assassins Victorious at Worlds 2012
In 2012, League of Legends was only in its second year of true professional play. The year before, Worlds had only really had North American and European talent due to servers not yet being established for the East. But as soon as Korea gained servers, they took over as one of the best teams in the world, dethroning Europe with apparent ease. Headed into what most fans view as the first actual Worlds, Korea’s Azubu Frost and Russian’s Moscow Five were the favorites.
But the Taipei Assassins didn’t care. They got a free pass to playoffs for topping their region and dominated Korean representative Najin Sword, charging forward to defeat Russian favorites Moscow Five 2-1, and finishing off their tournament run with a 3-1 victory over Azubu Frost. This upset is still one of the most legendary runs in League of Legends history: Not only did the Assassins win, they beat probably the three best teams at the tournament. And they didn’t just cheese it; they played well, using brilliant team fighting and unique picks to throw their opponents off on their way to the title. As the Taipei Assasins stood on that stage hugging each other in emphatic delight, you could for a moment genuinely believe that any team could win.
3. Serral wins at Blizzcon
Until 2018, every single Starcraft World Championship had been won by a Korean player. Koreans dominated the scene, winning tournament after tournament, title after title. While non-Koreans had won smaller championships before, none had ever won on Starcraft’s most prestigious stage: Blizzcon. None had taken home a world championship.
Until one of them did. Joona “Serral” Sotala, a Finnish player from a tiny village who’d been playing professionally since 2012, shot up in the standings after an incredibly dominant year where he claimed every World Championship Circuit event that year. But even with his record, a Blizzcon win still felt like a stretch. But Serral walked into Blizzcon ready to win.
And win he did. Serral dominated. He was undefeated in groups, swept his first opponent, and eliminated 2017’s winner Rogue 3-1 with apparent ease. In the Grand Finals, he faced off against Stats, a player who he’d beaten earlier in the year. That series was probably his closest yet, but Serral played confidently the entire time, claiming a 4-2 victory and breaking the biggest streak of regional dominance in the history of Esports.
2. OG’s miracle runs.
At one time, OG was considered the best team in the world. They won four major titles. For two years, they were favorites headed into TI. The brainchild of Johan “N0tail” Sunstein and Tal “Fly” Aizik, the lineup consisted of incredible players, fantastic teamwork, and an ability to win that seemed unstoppable. It felt like they were destined to win TI.
After devastating losses in 2016 and 2017, in 2018, Fly left. The team he helped create and N0tail, his eight-year teammate and best friend, to go to a team he thought had a higher chance of winning. This move came only months before 2018s TI, leaving OG in pieces without any clear path forward. They didn’t get invited to TI. They didn’t even have a roster.
But somehow, OG persevered. N0tail and the only other remaining player, JerAx, brought back their old teammate Ana, who had been taking a break from pro play, moved coach Ceb into a player role, and sighed complete rookie Topson, who had never played on a top team, to try and make it to TI.
After winning the European qualifiers and fighting their way to TI, OG came back from a poor first two days of groups to somehow make it to the upper bracket. It was there the magic would begin. Playing the best Dota they’d ever played, N0tail and his band of brothers beat Fly’s new Evil Geniuses lineup 2-1, managing a last-second miracle of a comeback against Chinese favorites PSG LGD on the back of LGD’s overextension and incredible, earthshaking play from JerAx.
In the Finals, they cemented their Cinderella run with a win, this time on the back of Ceb. Ceb, who had only been a player again for a few months after previously failing to succeed as a pro on other teams, prompting his change to a coaching role, pulled off some of the most clutch plays in TI history to force a comeback in both Game 4 and Game 5. Bolstered by incredible individual play from Ana and Topson, as well as N0tail’s steady presence as team captain and support, OG won.
OG’s run in 2019 was far different from their 2018 success. In 2018, at no point did OG look like the best team at TI until the moment they won. They were the underdogs in every game and every series. In 2019, despite floundering before TI, OG came into groups and absolutely dominated every team they faced. This time they won their group, finishing with six wins and two ties and the top spot. They once again beat Evil Geniuses, with unique strategies and picks that no one had seen coming. And in the semifinals, they once again beat LGD, this time without needing a miracle.
And this time, in the Grand Final, it wasn’t even close. Despite faltering and losing Game 1, OG came back and absolutely dominated Games 2, 3, and 4, on the back of now-star-player Topson’s incredible performances and creative strategies. OG didn’t just win TI twice, and claim around $25 million in prize money as a team, they became the first team ever to win twice. And even better than that, they proved that in no way was what they did a fluke.
1. Korea’s fall
There has been no region more dominant in League of Legends history than Korea. Korea won the third Worlds, and fourth, and the fifth, sixth and seventh. SK Telecom T1 claimed three of those wins, along with Samsung Galaxy white and Samsung Galaxy, who won four and seven respectfully. For that long five-year stretch, from 2013 to 2017, Korea was without any question the best region in the world.
But in 2018, something changed. Korea got second at MSI to China’s representative, Royal Never Give up. Going into worlds, SKT, the undisputed best team of all time, was nowhere to be seen. Instead, Korea sent three teams who didn’t really fit the worlds meta as well as they had in the past and, finally, instead of trying to copy Korea, the rest of the world played their own games.
The first sign was Gen.G. The Korean roster won only one game in the group stage, and didn’t even make playoffs. Invictus Gaming defeated Korean first seed K.T. Rolster. And finally, for the first time since 2012 when Worlds truly became Worldwide, a North American Team made it. Cloud9 defeated the final Korean team, Afreeca Freecs, completely eliminating the Korean teams from the tournament. For the first time since they first went to Worlds, Korea did not make the Grand Finals.
However, many people thought this was simply a fluke; Korea, like any other region, was of course allowed to have a bad year. SKT rebuilt, young teams flourished, and 2019 began to look like Korea’s year once more.
And then came Worlds. It went fairly well for Korea, their three teams topped their groups and looked strong going into the quarterfinals. But once again, Korea was beaten: Griffin and Damwon both lost badly in quarters and while SKT survived quarters, they were defeated in the semifinals. Once again, Korea fell, this time to China and Europe.
Two years ago, the idea that Korea would no longer be the best region in the world would be laughable. But now as we wait for spring to come and the next season to begin, there can no longer be any question. After five years of unchallenged dominance, Korea is not alone at the top of the world anymore.
Ashton Stansel is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.