Three regions, twenty-four hours, fifteen games, hundreds of thousands of eyes, and unforgettable memories. Sunday, April 11th, 2021 will go down in League of Legends esports history as one of the most action-packed days of all time. The LPL winner’s finals, LEC grand finals, and LCS grand finals were all scheduled to take place on the same day. From the onset, expectations were already sky-high with the culmination of the previous 4 months coming to fruition, but no one expected what actually happened.
The action began with a matchup between Edward Gaming and the 2019 World Champions, FunPlus Phoenix. FPX had a tumultuous 2020 season after losing in round 1 of their summer playoffs and not making it to that year’s Worlds. However, after their year of disappointments, they came back in a major way this season. At the start of this year, FPX acquired Nuguri, the former top laner for Damwon Gaming, the most recent World Champion. Nuguri’s addition gave FPX another win condition to play through as he’s known for his aggressive playstyle facilitated by his mechanical prowess. On the other side of this matchup is EDG who is a historic organization in the League of Legends scene and integral to the LPL’s history. They were consistent representatives at Worlds for the region from 2014-2017 and became synonymous with the LPL during its early phases. However, since 2017 EDG has failed to find domestic success and punch a ticket to the World Championship.
The 2021 season has been a chance for redemption for both teams. Every player on Sunday left everything they had on that stage and gave their fans an insane best-of-five series that went the distance. It was a back-and-forth series with highlight plays during each match, but the series was defined by FPX’s franchise mid laner defying expectations. DoinB has become synonymous with FPX and made a name for himself with his non-standard style of play. In a meta defined by lane dominance, he has decided that he prefers to move around the map and get his team ahead. This style of play has not only defined DoinB but also FPX which was a major driving force behind their decision to add Nuguri to the roster and give FPX another win condition.
However, on Sunday, DoinB decided that he wanted to be the win condition.
DoinB pulled out the Akali, one of the most volatile and skill expressive champions in the game, the most opposite champion that DoinB could have ever picked up.
Historically, DoinB had been mocked for his style with people claiming that he only plays this way because he’s not good enough to carry the game on his own. That he lacked the mechanics to play champions like LeBlanc and instead he favors Twisted Fate or Nautilus because they’re easy. However, when it mattered most he defied all expectations. Not only did he carry through such an insanely difficult champion, but FPX also used the expectations around DoinB to claim draft advantages. When FPX picked Akali in the draft EDG assumed that it was going to go into the top lane because DoinB had never played Akali on stage before. Instead, FPX was able to pull a fast one over EDG and claim that win that sent them to the Grand Finals of the LPL.
The LEC is Europe’s League of Legends region and has been absolutely dominated by two teams since its inception. There are two regional finals every year and G2 Esports or Fnatic have won every single time except during the Summer of 2015. However, for the first time since 2015, neither G2 nor Fnatic participated in this Spring’s finals, instead, we have two new organizations on top, Rogue and Mad Lions.
These two organizations began to make a name for themselves in 2020 during the regular season when they were fighting for the top two spots in the region for the first time. However, when it came down to crunch time and playoffs rolled around, the more experienced rosters from G2 and Fnatic were on top yet again when it mattered. Despite their shortcomings, the LEC never forgot about the new kids on the block and the broadcast continued to breathe life into this new generation rivalry, and it looks like they were right to do so.
Rogue and Mad Lions kicked off their best-of-five series in an explosive way on Sunday. Expectations were high going into this match with many fans expecting a back-and-forth series with each team going blow for blow with each other, a repeat of their playoff series earlier in the bracket a few weeks ago. However, in thirty-six minutes, Rogue absolutely dismantled Mad Lions. On Sunday, there was a huge difference between the two bot lane duos and we saw the support for Mad Lions play uncharacteristically bad. Kaiser has been the face and lifeblood of Mad Lions ever since its inception last year. Kaiser and his jungler El Yoya were known to almost share the same brain as they were always on the same page moving around the map and securing a win condition for their team within the first fifteen minutes. Instead that was how you’d describe the jungle-support duo of Inspired and Trymbi. The two of them decimated Mad Lions in Game 1 and went on to blow out Mad Lions in Game 2.
Things were looking dire for Mad Lions going into Game 3 and almost all hope was lost. The LEC runs fan polls throughout their broadcast and asked the audience if they thought Mad Lions would make a comeback in this series and 65% of fans said “No”. For the first 28 minutes of the game it looked like it would be a quick 3-0 with Rogue in a commanding position, their bot lane had outperformed Mad Lions for the third time this series. However, against all odds and when it mattered most, there was a certain Turkish tyrant in the top lane who decided the finals weren’t over just yet. Armut joined the Mad Lions roster this year after knocking them out of the competition at the World Championship last year. After crushing their international dreams he’s here to help them achieve their domestic ones. At 28 minutes into Game 3, Armut teleported behind Mad Lions and flanked them with his famed Wukong. At this point, Armut single-handedly flipped the momentum of the game and found another beautiful flank 5 minutes later to close out the game. Without the use of creative angles, the hopes of Mad Lions would have died there, but they were given another chance and made sure not to blow it. The Game 3 moment completely flipped the momentum and the Mad Lions rode it out to reverse-sweep Rogue and win their first LEC Championship.
LCS (North America)
The LCS is where expectations were lowest going into this series and the beliefs of a 3-0 were all but solidified. The matchup was between Cloud9 and Team Liquid, two heavyweights of the North American region, however, Team Liquid had just had a stroke of bad luck. Their jungler, Santorin, was out with major migraines that made him unable to play the game. Santorin is one of the best players in North America and losing him was a major blow for the team and their cohesion. Instead, they had their Academy jungler, Armao, in his place. By no means is Armao a bad player, but at the end of the day he just doesn’t match up to Santorin, but he defied expectations. Most viewers expected Armao to get exposed and abused as he was matched up against the best jungler in the region, Blaber, but Armao held his own. At no point was Armao ever the win condition, but he was a solid foundation so that the superstar players that he was surrounded by could flourish. The real weak point for Team Liquid was actually their top lane player, Alphari.
Alphari is a European player who made his way across the pond this season. Throughout the last four months, Alphari had been a major win condition for Team Liquid and was expected to blow Cloud9′s top lane player, Fudge, out of the water, but Cloud9 identified this and prevented it. Cloud9 turned all their attention to the top lane and invested all their resources into putting Alphari in the dirt. Even in Team Liquid’s wins, Alphari gave up first blood in every single game of this series. At some points it worked out for Cloud9 and others Team Liquid was able to abuse this focus toward the top and instead win through their mid or bot, but Cloud9′s strategy was turned up to 1000% in Game 5.
In one of the most surprising and exciting Game 5′s in recent memory, Cloud9 pulled out their secret strategy that would only work once and they saved it for this very moment. As a disclaimer, describing the series of events will be technical and will require familiarity with League of Legends to fully understand what happened. Team Liquid was able to give Alphari a counter-pick against Fudge who drafted Sion. Alphari was able to get his hands on Cho’Gath who is an insanely winning matchup and beats Sion at every point in the game and plays an incredibly strong weak side. On the other hand, Team Liquid also had Viktor and Kai’Sa who, with enough jungle attention, would be able to scale up and easily win a front-to-back late game once the game based about 20 minutes in the game. On the surface, it looked like Cloud9 had drafted themselves into a hole with Sion, Tristana, and Sylas, however, Cloud9 drafted Sion with intention. Cloud9 lane swapped level-one without showing to Team Liquid so they had no way of knowing this would happen. Cloud9 was able to invade and take Team Liquid’s top-side jungle while Sion took Cloud9′s own bot-side jungle with Sion passive. Within the first minute of the game, Cloud9 consumed 3/4ths of the gold on the map putting Hecarim in a hole while surprising Alphari with the bot lane duo in the top lane securing the 5th first blood of the series. Cloud9 put themselves in an insanely winning position in the first minute of the game through sheer creativity. I cannot understate how insane this strategy was and the confidence of Cloud9 clearly showed through their use of this strategy and what came after. Cloud9 carried this momentum and confidence throughout the rest of the game and absolutely obliterated Team Liquid in the final game of the series and claimed the LCS trophy.