League of Legends esports sure had its share of excitement in 2016. Whether it was an unexpected result on the Rift or the never-ending drama outside of it, there was no shortage of storylines. With the year coming to an end, Slingshot has ranked the biggest stories in League of Legends esports and separated them into two categories: Game/tournament moments and broad scale storylines. Here’s the list of in-game moments, and be sure to check back Friday for the top 10 macro moments of 2016. Anyway, here’s the list:
10. G2 goes on Vacation
Everyone needs a break, but that didn’t mean that it was any less of a surprise to hear a team admit to not practicing for one of the largest international tournaments of the year. G2 Esports was on a roll in the 2015 European League Championship Series, securing a bid into the Mid-Season Invitational by winning the spring split. But G2 performed terribly, and the lack of practice showed. Mid laner Luka “PerkZ” Perković tweeted that the team indeed didn’t practice, and the team attempted to do damage control by offering fans more on why G2 chose to go on vacation right before MSI. The situation got even worse as the AD Carry at the time, Kim “Emperor” Jin-hyun, posted on Facebook that there were some internal issues in the team. The incident sparked heavy backlash from the community and turned “vacation” into its own meme, and though G2would dominate the summer split of the European LCS, their lackluster performance at worlds only furthered the ridicule that carried over from MSI.
9. Unicorns of Love win IEM Oakland
IEM Oakland was a disappointment for League of Legends fans. Many teams declined invitations to the tournament because of its awkward timing only a few weeks after worlds and right before free agency. In retrospect, it was the best circumstances possible for Unicorns Of Love, though many fans penciled in Team SoloMid as champion. The Unicorns defied expectations by taking down TSM in the semifinals and then the Flash Wolves in a long (and sometimes excruciating) five-game series. What made the whole event even more memorable was UOL manager Romain “Khagneur” Bigeard going on stage after his team’s triumph and writing “EU > NA” on one of his glorious pectoral muscles. Pure comedy.
8. Counter Logic Gaming makes reaches MSI finals
This year marked great change for CLG. Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng left after four years of service, with the new AD Carry Trevor “Stixxay” Hayes having to fill sizable shoes. Still, CLG won the spring split of the North American LCS and beat Doublelift’s new team, TSM, in the final. The match went to a fifth game with CLG defeating its longtime rival to secure an MSI berth. CLG surprised fans by placing higher than reigning world champion SK Telecom T1 in the group stages and would take down the Flash Wolves in the semifinals to earn another showdown with SKT. Despite losing 3-0, CLG became the first North American team to reach the finals of a Riot Games sponsored international tournament, as well as the first NA team to beat SKT.
7. Splyce goes from relegation tournament to worlds
Splyce came out of nowhere this summer. An eighth place finish in the spring split sent the young squad into the relegation tournament, where it kept its European LCS spot by defeating Giants Gaming 3-2. External expectations weren’t much higher for the summer split, but Splyce surprised everyone by placing second. Following that, Splyce had to fight in the regional qualifiers for a chance at worlds, and in a surprising 3-0 result took down Unicorns of Love to qualify for worlds in its debut year. Emotions ran high as the camera captured head coach Jakob “YamatoCannon” Mebdi shedding tears as he witnessed his team qualify. Although Splyce didn’t make out of a stacked group at worlds, it was already a triumph just to get there.
6. ROX Tigers and SKT play match for the ages at worlds semifinal
This entry is pretty self-explanatory. The ROX Tigers were hyped to be the new rival for SK Telecom T1, especially after they succeeded in taking first place away from SKT in the 2016 summer split (more on that later), to secure their spot at worlds. The intrigue in this year’s semifinal between them was even higher because the Tigers lost to SKT in last year’s world final. It was almost a shame this was a semifinal match instead of the grand final because the two teams put on one of the greatest matches in League of Legends history. The story was perfect, the teams were at their peak, and it was one nail-biting game after another, with SKT squeaking by with a 3-2 win.
5. Samsung makes worlds over KT Rolster and reaches final
Samsung suffered heavily after most of its star players — from two teams — moved to China following the 2014 world championship. The newly branded Samsung Galaxy was almost relegated in the 2015 spring split and barely made it back into the regular season the next split with a disappointing performance. That’s when veteran player Kang “Ambition” Chan-yong joined the team and mid laner Lee “Crown” Min-ho got rolling. They placed sixth in this year’s spring split and made it to the playoffs for the summer before losing 3-0 to KT Rolster to place fourth. KT, meanwhile, has been a celebrated team for a long time that consistently placed high without ever winning the big one, especially after the two sister teams merged to make one. KT placed third in the spring split after dropping to SKT, and placed second in the summer split by the hands of ROX. The regional qualifier was the last chance for KT to go to worlds, and as the team with a bye to the finals it looked perfect for them. But Samsung won a five-game series to take a berth away from KT, ending a 19-game losing streak in the process. Samsung followed the wave of momentum by reaching the finals of worlds before dropping a thrilling five-game match to SKT (again, more on that later).
4. Flash Wolves beat SK Telecom T1 at worlds — again
Whenever a non-Korean team beats a Korean one, it turns heads. That’s why it’s nuts when a team is known for beating Korean teams at every international tournament in which in participates. The Flash Wolves have been at the top of the Taiwanese League of Legends scene for a long time and have made it to worlds on multiple occasions. Despite not making it very far, they have an incredible track record of delivering defeats to Korean teams. They beat the KOO Tigers twice in last year’s worlds and defeated SKT twice at this year’s MSI. So when it was revealed that the Flash Wolves and SKT were in the same group at this year’s worlds, attention piqued. And sure enough, the Wolves dropped SKT in 41 minutes during their first match. SKT claimed revenge in the second round of groups, but to think that the Flash Wolves could continue their streak for that long was still impressive.
3. Albus NoX Luna crashes the playoffs at worlds
In terms of sheer surprises, nothing that happened this year could top Russian wild Card team Albus Nox Luna’s run at worlds. Wild card teams are almost always considered “free wins” in the context of international tournaments. That stigma persists no matter how much or well the wild card regions play en route to the events, and ANX was no different. Fans wrote off ANX, which was stuck in the same group as ROX, G2, and CLG, but ANX would go to collectively combat the title “wild card.” ANX beat CLG twice, and went as far as taking a game off of the ROX Tigers, a team that many fans considered to be one of the favorites to win the entire tournament. ANX soon became a fan favorite as the players shared their pride and confidence in interviews while making the quarterfinals. The wins were on the back of the more unorthodox style of ANX, as well as the unexpected pocket picks from support player Kirill “Likkrit” Malofeyev (who somehow came down with a case of chicken pox during the tournament), and though ANX didn’t go beyond the quarterfinals, it still made a mark on League of Legends history and even earned the nickname of the “new Moscow 5″ for making it that far.
2. ROX Tigers win League Champions Korea summer split
The ROX Tigers were an easy fan favorite for anyone who followed League Champions Korea. Not only did they have immense talent on their roster, they were also a team comprised of people who genuinely seemed to like one another. As seen in individual streams of the players, they were often seen joking around, and had a jovial way of playing League of Legends. With the rise of star players such as Song “Smeb” Kyung-ho and Han “Peanut” Wang-ho, the only thing the Tigers were missing was a first place trophy. They reached the finals of the 2015 spring split but lost to SKT, and when they made it to the finals of worlds that year, SKT bested them again. After their rebranding from KOO to ROX, the Tigers reached the spring final this year only to lose to SKT for a third time. When summer rolled along, it was more of the same as ROX was first in the regular season, but SKT lost to KT in the semifinals of the playoffs. With the gatekeeper of first place away, ROX defeated KT Rolster in the finals to finally earn the elusive championship. The fans cheered and mid laner Lee “Kuro” Seo-haeng couldn’t hold his tears in as he took the stage after his team’s win for an interview. It was truly a touching moment that signaled to many fans that perhaps the age of SKT was finally coming to a close by the hands of five tigers. At least for a few weeks…
1. SKT wins unprecedented third world championship
After its first worlds win in 2013, SKT has carried the name of the “best team in the world.” Despite a slight hiccup in 2014, SKT came back in 2015 and reclaimed its throne, becoming the first team to win two world championships. SKT was without a doubt always a top contender to win any international tournament, and that alone was something of an anomaly. How could such a strong team even exist? SKT sparked debates among people about coaching methods, infrastructure, and various other factors on what made them so great, but no one prevailing theory was widely accepted. The only constant truth is this: SKT is strong. There was, perhaps, more doubt about SKT entering worlds this year than at any time. Maybe the pressure had begun to wear on the team. The head coach of SKT certainly thought so, and SKT entered the tournament with the world’s expectations on its shoulders. All the doubt and worry proves futile, as SKT again proved why it is the best team in League of Legends history. After taking down ROX Tigers in the semifinals, SKT absorbed Samsung Galaxy’s best shot in the world finals and claimed an incredible third world title after a 3-2 win.