ESC Ever: The amateurs who became champions

ESC Ever touched the League of Legends scene in a way that no team has. An amateur squad from Korea, EVER came out of nowhere to win the KeSPA Cup last November, defeating SK Telecom only a week after it was Ever world champion. Through that victory, EVER qualified to play at IEM Cologne the next month, and thigh it was a close match, EVER triumphed over competitors from the League Challenger Series and League of Legends Pro League. It was an inspirational story.

Sadly, but not unexpectedly, that tale has ended. EVER was eliminated in the group stage of the IEM World Championship held in Katowice today. It seemed like a shallow shell of its former self.

Chronicling the long the path EVER took to arrive here, however, brings clues to light as to how it both got this far, and why it couldn’t go any further

The KeSPA Cup

The KeSPA cup was a hodgepodge of four amateur teams and all 10 League Champions Korea squads. It was full of upsets, such as SBENU Sonicboom taking the Tigers, who just finished in second at the worlds, out in the group stages without dropping a game. EVER was responsible for at least three, beating Samsung Galaxy, Rebel’s Anarchy, and of course SK Telecom (the final against CJ Entus could be debated as an upset, as EVER’s reputation within the tournament had swelled at that point).

Was EVER that good it could route SKT? No. EVER was the beneficiary of several factors coming together to create the perfect storm. First, the KeSPA cup took place from Nov. 4-16. That is early in the offseason, and several LCK players were likely reconsidering their future with their rosters. Longzhu’s AD Carry Lee “Fury” Jin-yong, for example, left Samsung on the 30th, and it was later revealed that he had been in talks with Team Dragon Knights about joining them while still under contract with Samsung. Riot Games considered this a break in its rules, and levied a ban against him.

Other roster changes occurred after KeSPA: Kang “Ambition” Chan-yong, Shin “CoCo” Jin-yeong and Seon “Space” Ho-san all left CJ Entus, and Najin-EmFire even lost all its players and coach a month later. This is not to say that KeSPA was the cause of those disbandings: rather, it is possible that many of the players on those teams were not committed to performing because they were unmotivated to succeed. This is merely a conjecture, but one worth mentioning.

An additional factor was the World Championship itself. SK Telecom, KT Rolster and the Tigers all placed within the top eight but were defeated by EVER, CJ Entus, and SBENU Sonic Boom respectively. It was a poor showing from all of them, but think about it. They committed themselves for a month to compete throughout Europe on patch 5.18. Meanwhile, Riot Games continued to update the game for the casual player base, resulting in the KeSPA Cup being played on 5.21. With the introduction of new champion Kindred and changes to many of the overpowered champions on 5.18, the metagame was drastically different. Coming from worlds to the KeSPA cup would have been akin to time traveling from the past and being overwhelmed by new technology. Not to mention how exhausting the traveling could have been for the players and how inconsequential the KeSPA Cup is compared to the World Champions. With ill preparation time and not the strongest motivations, these three teams didn’t bother to show up in peak condition, and that reflected in all of their sub-par play.

Lastly, the metagame suited EVER. Using teleport in both mid and top, EVER was able to manage global pressure well, and the players were on point. Kim “KeY” Han-gi was awarded MVP for his outstanding Bard play and general playmaking from the support position. The team overall skirmished proficiently, their coordination rivaling the professionals. EVER understood how to play League of Legends in that game environment, and it showed.

IEM Cologne

Photo credit ESL/

EVER was invited to IEM Cologne as a result of its victory at KeSPA Cup, marking the first time in League of Legends history an amateur team attended an international tournament. The competition was less stacked than KeSPA, but EVER had to fight through H2K’s new roster with Konstantinos “FORG1VEN” Tzortziou-Napoleon, Marcin “Jankos” Jankowski and Oskar “VandeR” Bogdan. The roster was officially announced 10 days before the tournament, bringing to question how much time it had to practice prior to the event. The set was close, but EVER’s macro play and skirmishing was superior due to its advantage in synergy. In the final it faced Qiao Gu Reapers, which narrowly avoided defeat against Dignitas and Fnatic through vastly superior team fighting. The final went to all five games and was a back and forth bashing, but EVER once again stood victorious.

We saw an EVER in a slightly more serious competition, albeit with arguably weaker competitors. In the final, it seemed to play to Qiao Gu’s level, picking fights and having sloppier macro play than seen its series against H2K. Still, the dream continued, and an amateur team won an international tournament and was invited to the IEM Championship in Katowice. How far could this dream go?

The sad end at Katowice

After months from the public eye and the departure of Kang “Athena” Ha-woon, EVER had become a wildcard. Had it adapted to the metagame which evolved since IEM Cologne, or was it now out of place? Could it advance from a group with Team SoloMid and Origen, two teams that have fumbled greatly in their respective regions, and Royal Never Give Up, one of the best LPL teams currently?

The answers were evident. EVER fell drastically behind Team SoloMid in the early game after aggressing poorly in the opening match, but managed to comeback after the North American squad threw those advantages away. Against Royal Never Give Up, EVER drafted a poorly conceived composition with Vladimir top and triple marksmen. With no frontline and the last game on its mind, EVER passively lost as RNG continued to abuse them around the map and close it out.

EVER rematched with TSM in the elimination match. Now in a best of 3, and having erred contradicting ways, perhaps it could get the right balance and recapture viewer’s imaginations of the amateur squad that became champions. That did not happen. TSM, through the games it played, began to understand how to play the split-push properly and adjusting its draft to take stronger lanes in mid and top to snowball from. TSM once again smashed EVER in the early game, except it didn’t throw it away again.

EVER had broken down: Key’s Bard plays were ineffective, the squad couldn’t properly respond to adaptations in the lane swap, the team fighting was disjointed, and split decisions were rife. The dream had ended.

This may be the last time we see EVER, barring it qualifying for the LCK’s summer split. Although its final appearance at IEM was disappointed, one cannot disregard how it captured the imaginations and hearts of viewers. It was a story of the ultimate underdog; the amateurs who beat the best in the world. Looking back now, it’s easier to understand how this unlikely run came to be. Though it may a result of so many things coming together perfectly, never doubt that EVER earned all its success, and never forget its story: we might never again see anything like it.

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