With the year coming to a close, it’s inevitable to look back and reflect on all the moments that passed in the last twelve months. It has been said many times already, but 2020 was a rough year for everyone. With the COVID-19 pandemic shutting down countries, leaving a huge part of the population in uncertainty about their job and health. Though the esports scene was evidently affected too, many developers and tournament organizers thankfully found a way to host competitions online or even in bubble-style LAN events.
So too did League of Legends esports find its footing after a brief intermezzo, and carried on to bring the entertainment of competition to the fans. Mostly through online play, League of Legends esports continued to develop storylines that had been with us for years, and grow new ones to follow in the years to come. We take a look back at 2020 and highlight some of the best moments competitive League of Legends had to offer in 2020.
MAD Lions defeat G2 in a best-of-five
European League of Legends has had one king sit comfortably on the throne for a while now. G2 Esports has won all the Splits since the introduction of the LEC as a franchise. Even more impressively, the team had never been taken to five games in a best-of-five scenario. Until MAD Lions came along.
The prodigal squad consisting of four rookies Orome, Shad0w, Carzzy, and Kaiser, and sophomore Humanoid had been ramping up quickly in the league. Their aggressive playstyle had become increasingly refined over the weeks. When they faced G2 in the first round of the Spring Split Playoffs, MAD Lions were the perfect storm. Not only did they manage to take G2 to a fifth game for the first time, they even managed to topple them. It was the first big signal that the MAD Lions roster was something special, a team to truly consider for the top spots in the LEC. Their monumental victory against G2 put the spotlight on them and will go down in the history books.
The Top Esports x JD Gaming rivalry sprouts
Unfortunately, not many League of Legends leagues are still home to standout rivalries. Ones that once pumped adrenaline into the veins of fans, such as the old ‘Telecom War’ between SKT and KT Rolster, have pretty much died out. The only ongoing one takes place in Europe—we’ll get to it later. But that doesn’t mean that new rivalries cannot be forged. In fact, in 2020 we may have seen the birth of just such a feud.
In the LPL, two teams were staring each other in the eyes: Top Esports and JD Gaming. Initially, in the Spring Split, it was JD Gaming who came out on top after a nailbiter grand finals finished 3-2 in their favor. But Top Esports brought in the right recruit to push them over the finish line in the Summer Split. With Yu “JackeyLove” Wen-Bo on their side, Top Esports overcame JD Gaming in the grand finals of the Summer Split Playoffs, locking in the first seed for Worlds. While the two, unfortunately, didn’t get to play against each other on the highest stage, the eyes are on these two teams in the next season of the LPL.
The first few months of this year, the live chat of League of Legends streams would often flood with “200 YEARS KEKW” comments. The reason? Edgy moon boy Aphelios, the then-latest bot lane champion to be added to the game. Aphelios was unhinged. His kit provided him with almost every type of damage you could possibly want to have with long-range attacks, built-in lifesteal, huge splash damage, crowd control… A tad too much to give to players of the highest caliber without some heavy tweaking. This resulted in outrageous fights being won by an Aphelios combo-ing his arsenal at multiple enemies.
So why ‘200 years’? Well, it stems from Riot Games Champion Designer Nathan Lutz responding somewhat pedantically to a Wukong main complaining about Wukong’s damage output. Lutz said: “Being good at playing a certain character in a video game is valuable, but I think I’ll take the 200+ collective years of professional game design experience.” In other words: we know better, bugger off.
200 years became the meme to spam whenever Aphelios popped off, joking that even this many years of game design experience couldn’t balance the champion. Now, while Aphelios was definitely problematic, one can’t help but stare in awe at the sheer explosiveness of the champion. If he ever comes back into the meta, please let him not be as dominant. But when he was, it would often be a feast for the eyes.
Victory Five comes back with a vengeance
There is little as embarrassing for a team as losing every single series in a Split. Let alone losing every single game if you’re playing in a best-of-three format. Victory Five came close to achieving it in the LPL Spring Split. At the end, they had an 0-16 game record, and a 1-32 record in games played. Change was needed, and change came.
A full roster replacement had to restore Victory Five’s name. It’s an understatement to say that it did. The team went from not winning a single series in the Spring Split to propelling into the upper echelons of the LPL, even reaching the Summer Playoffs over established giant teams such as RNG and EDward Gaming. The team’s rise in popularity, unfortunately, did not help them get a ticket to the World Championship. Nevertheless, to see a team wipe away its disastrous results from the Spring Split so convincingly was a treat for the eyes and the fans. Perhaps next year, Victory Five will step it up even more and make their way to the international stage.
The Schalke 04 Miracle Run
The LEC had its own inexplicably dominant vengeance run in the 2020 Summer Split. Schalke 04 had gone through a pretty terrible season overall. With a ‘10 man roster’ approach, meaning the team actively swapped between its Academy players and LEC players, the Royal Blues had struggled to find a consistent lineup. Towards the end of the Spring Split Schalke 04 had a small lift upwards, but still finished seventh overall. The Summer Split seemed to nosedive towards an even more horrible result. After eleven games played, Schalke 04 had long past the 0-4 memes and sat at a 1-10 score. The chance of Schalke 04 still making it to the Summer Split Playoffs were, if every match was a 50|50, around 4.7%. A miracle was needed.
Out of nowhere, something clicked within the team. Latest substitute Erberk “Gilius” Demir stepped up first with outrageously strong performances, granting him the title God Gilius. 3-10. Then Felix “Abbedagge” Braun showed why so many players respected him. 5-10. By the last week, the entire roster of Schalke 04 had started believing in the possibility of making the Summer Playoffs again. The Schalke 04 Miracle Run was the talk in the LEC. In the final week, with everyone on the edge of their seats, the team brought it home. They completed an impressive seven-game win streak. Unfortunately, the run didn’t go much further. In their do-or-die series for a Worlds ticket against MAD Lions, Schalke 04 crumbled. But given that nobody thought they would get this far, it didn’t matter much. Schalke 04 had captured the hearts of League of Legends fans already.
TSM complete the lower bracket run in the LCS Summer Playoffs
North America was home to the third and final impressive run worth highlighting. Eight teams advanced to the Summer Split Playoffs this year, naturally leading to a more extensive bracket. For TSM, who had finished a decent fourth in the regular Split, the Summer Playoffs quickly turned into a nailbiter.
They went down 0-3 against Golden Guardians and were looking at having to win three consecutive best-of-fives to still make it to Worlds. The first best-of-five which, by the way, had to be played just two days after TSM suffered their initial loss. Though they had little time to prepare for Dignitas, TSM swept them away. They had tasted blood. In a rematch against Golden Guardians, TSM clutched out a 3-2 victory. Next up was Cloud9, the team that had absolutely dominated the first weeks of the 2020 Summer Split. With a ticket to Worlds on the line TSM won 3-1. But they weren’t quite done yet. Team Liquid bit the dust against TSM too. In the grand finals, FlyQuest awaited. It was a messy fight, but once more TSM came out on top.
From being almost certainly eliminated from Worlds contention to securing the first seed of the LCS, TSM flipped the bird to the haters in surprising fashion.
Fnatic defeat G2, reigniting the rivalry
Yes, another highlight of 2020 was a defeat of G2 in the LEC. But no, this isn’t us gloating with some thinly veiled contempt for the team. On the contrary, actually. G2 has been so wickedly strong, so impressively dominant in Europe that, as we saw earlier, any defeat of them in a best-of-five is an impressive thing. Still, while MAD Lions’ performance in the Spring Split was unquestionably a landmark victory, it’s hard to match the weight of what Fnatic did. Shortly after G2 fought their way into the EU LCS, the rivalry between Fnatic and G2 caught fire. The two teams dominated the region. However, as mentioned earlier, G2 had come out on top for a few years now. In fact, for 874 days, Fnatic had not managed to beat their rivals in a best-of-five series.
Until August 29, 2020. In the upper bracket semi-finals of the Summer Split Playoffs, the two faced off just like they had so many times before. It had been a rough Split for both teams, with Fnatic barely making it to the Playoffs to begin with. Yet, against G2, their passion burned brighter than it had in all the other weeks combined. Although neither of the teams played up to the standards they should be held at, the series was a true nailbiter. After a long, long fight, once again taking G2 to five games, Fnatic reigned supreme. The rivalry that had been so one-sided for years was yet again a true rivalry. Fnatic could stand up to G2 again, and it’s exactly what their feud needed.
Suning cement themselves at Worlds 2020
You’d have to have been living under a rock to not acknowledge the LPL as the strongest region in League of Legends esports. With World Championship winners in 2018 and 2019, the strength of all of their teams that make it to international events, and the fact that the top teams in the region are closely matched every year, China is number one. This year two teams stood out in particular: Top Esports and JD Gaming. Heading into the World Championship, these were two of the favorites to take it all. Suning and LGD Gaming, the third and fourth seed of the LPL, were considered to be good, but still a tier below Top and JDG. From day one, though, Suning had something else to say about that. They took G2 to their absolute limit in the Group Stage, and even managed to emerge as the first seed.
That’s where their run would end, most people thought. Suning was paired against JD Gaming in the Quarter Finals. Though the two hadn’t faced off in a best-of-five before, JD Gaming was still seen as the favorite. Well, nope. Suning was relentless and, although they conceded one game, cast their opponents aside with a 3-1 win. In the semi-finals, Top Esports waited. Another 3-1 victory for Suning. Throughout Worlds, Suning flourished. From the get-go, they had a solid understanding of the meta and which curveballs they could throw. While they couldn’t match the sheer force of Damwon in the finals, Suning had made a statement. They stepped up when it mattered most, brushed off their local rivals, and carried the LPL at Worlds.
Damwon Gaming hoist the Summoner’s Cup
Each year at the League of Legends World Championship there are tournament favorites. Teams that have been so consistently dominant in their own region that it’s hard to imagine them not accomplishing great things on the international stage. Not all of them live up to the hype, but boy did Damwon Gaming do so. Coming in hot following one of the most dominant Splits ever in the history of the LCK, culminating in a fairly easy Summer Split Championship, there was no stopping Damwon Gaming. They simply looked solid. Like an army, Damwon marched across Summoner’s Rift. Throughout all of Worlds they lost merely three games. One in the Group Stage against JD Gaming, one in the semi-finals against G2, and one in the grand finals against Suning.
The strength of Damwon radiated in every aspect. All of the team members could—and did—step up to be the carry in a game, leading the pack as they chased the enemies. Their understanding of their opponents’ game plan was outstanding. If you made a mistake, Damwon understood like no other team how to punish it. It had been two years since an LCK team brought home the Summoner’s Cup. Damwon undoubtedly was an exceptional outlier to the region. But what an outlier they were. No team deserved to lift the trophy in a stadium more than they did. The pure joy on the players’ faces after a win, no matter how expected to win they were, is something that never gets old.
Iconic players leave fantastic stories behind
2020 was a year of massive shake-ups. Just this offseason alone Perkz, the frontman of the G2 lineup, left the team to join Cloud9 in the LCS. Subsequently, Rekkles left Fnatic, the organization he had been synonymous with since the start of his career, to play for G2. Nuguri, who had just won the World Championship with Damwon Gaming, left to play in the LPL for 2019 World Champion team FunPlus Phoenix. SofM, runner-up at Worlds this year, left the LPL to play for TSM in the LCS. Long story short: the roster swaps were crazy this year.
But 2020 also marked the end of the career of players of legendary status. The LCS will have to continue without Bjergsen and Doublelift. Earlier in the year, Uzi announced his retirement. The hardest hit was dealt to the LCK, though. Three players of the legendary ROX Tigers lineup of 2016 hung up their hat: Smeb, Kuro, and GorillA. Crown, another legendary player from South Korea, also announced his retirement.
It’s sad for fans to see players who have been so synonymous with a team or region leave for other opportunities. But that’s exactly what they are: opportunities. These players are looking ahead trying to find a new challenge that motivates them and pushes them to accomplish great things. As for the retired players: a story is only complete once the last sentence has been written. Now is the time to look back at the amazing stories all these players have provided us with, and be grateful for the moments we spent cheering for them. It’s been quite a year, so diving into a pool of warm nostalgia might just be what’s needed.