There are few teams that have conquered European League of Legends. There are the ones who have sat on top for as long as anyone can remember: Fnatic and G2. But for those 40 players who do not play for one of those rosters, the mountaintop is generally unconquerable.
Teams have come close: Unicorns of Love, Misfits, Alliance, MAD Lions. Teams have even won, had those moments standing at the top of the cliff as the winners. But none of them have managed the kind of lasting legacy that Fnatic and G2 have excelled at creating.
Before this year, G2 had never missed a Worlds since they had a team, while Fnatic, after winning the first Worlds, missed just one in the last five years and two overall. They are the perennial favorites, the teams that no matter their current standings can be expected to show up eventually, be it in the regular season or in playoffs or in the finals.
But this year, things were different. It was the newer teams, MAD Lions and Rogue, who crept up and up and up in the standings. They were second and third in the Spring regular season and in the Summer. But what was more important was the performance that MAD had in the playoffs, in the time when usually hopes were dashed by the G2s and Fnatics of the world.
MAD has kept winning. With no crowd due to COVID-19; as a newer team MAD has almost always played with no fans in the stadium. The rookie team’s increasing popularity and power couldn’t be heard, couldn’t be tracked. And yet perhaps that was what did in the likes of Fnatic and G2, the teams who for every year have the homefield advantage.
Or perhaps this time MAD was better than the teams who came before, better than Rogue, than UOL, than SK Gaming. Good enough to not just challenge G2, first in the Spring playoffs of last year then again multiple times in best-of-fives this year, but good enough to beat them too.
MAD could not even be deterred by Fnatic’s own miracle run; the team scraped through the lower bracket with narrow 3-2 victories over Vitality, Misfits and then, in the lower bracket quarterfinal for a spot at Worlds, G2.
Fnatic felt unbeatable; they defeated a surging Rogue for the second seed on Saturday, escaping the pressure of the play-ins stage that defeated MAD Lions last year and secured the main event once again. For a team that once stood on the Finals stage, somehow simply making it through to Worlds felt like an overachievement after a difficult season.
But despite the miracle run, despite history, despite expectations, MAD stood strong in the face of history and defeated the seven-time LEC/EULCS champions in a 3-1 battle that often didn’t look close.
Perhaps the most frightening thing about this team of rejects and rookies is that of Armut and Elyoya, who have never lost a playoff series in the LEC, of Humanoid who has played since 2015 but just now seems to have found his place on a championship roster, of Carzzy and Kaiser who suffered such humiliating defeat in the playins last year and came back better for it, is that they often feel like they are still so far from the ceiling. This is still primarily a team of first and second year players, players who could still massively improve over the next few years.
And so this year, Fnatic will be going with Rogue and MAD to Worlds to attempt to continue their legacy; but for the first time in a long time, neither Fnatic nor G2 will be Europe’s hope. Instead, that falls to the young, as MAD look poised to shatter the legacy of last year’s defeat and put on a show on home soil.