League of Legends: 2017 in review

Jess Carruthers Roar Guru

By Jess Carruthers, Jess Carruthers is a Roar Guru

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    With Christmas done and dusted, 2017 is not long for this world. The League of Legends preseason ends just a couple of short weeks later, right before the commencement of the 2018 competitive season.

    This week, rather than the usual list of goings on – mostly since there are very few at this time of year – let’s sit back and reflect on some of the highlights of the 2017 season and how they might translate into next season.

    Highlight: Flash Wolves win IEM Katowice
    IEM Katowice 2017 was plagued by teams dropping out of the tournament, with Riot making barely any room in their schedule for teams to participate. The eight teams that participated ranged from the top-tier European and Taiwanese teams – including Flash Wolves (FW) who held first place in the LMS at the time – to bottom-tier Korean teams, and the results reflected the level the participants played at.

    This sounds like a harsh way to refresh everyone on the tournament, but it’s a big reason for the tournament outcome. This was the first major international tournament not won by a Korean team since 2015; it is important to see in context that the best Korean team in attendance was in eighth place in the LCK at the time, but we have to recognise that the LMS winning (and Europe’s G2 eSports placing second) represents a significant milestone in the year’s games.

    The best-of-three final was a sweep for FW, with both games won in convincing fashion. From the start of first pick/ban to final nexus the series was barely 41 minutes long. Despite their loss, G2 reached their peak to date at the tournament, setting themselves up for a kind of redemption arc in the rest of the season.

    Overall, despite not being part of the official circuit, IEM Katowice had some pretty important ramifications for the teams involved, which raises the question …

    Where to for the LMS in 2018?
    Outside of this particular victory, FW and the LMS as a whole didn’t have a strong international showing in 2017. Their Mid-Season Invitational (MSI) performance was reasonable, making it to the semi-finals (although it was a small tournament), but between FW and ahq e-Sports Club (AHQ), the LMS had a terrible showing at worlds.

    So what’s going to happen next year? I have no doubt that the LMS is growing and improving as a region, but the question is whether they are keeping up with the pace of their international counterparts. I go back and forth on this question, but as it currently stands they just don’t seem to be progressing fast enough.

    The proof will start to come through in the regular season. The lowest performer in 2017 summer has been replaced through the promotion tournament, and this should raise the bar for the region as a whole, but there’s a huge skill gap between teams winning a few times through the split and the teams who drop only a few matches. I certainly won’t say never, but without further changes, I’m definitely not convinced that the LMS will pick up the pace in 2018.

    (Christophe Simon/AFP/Getty Images)

    Highlight: Gigabyte Marines, the unexpected underdog
    This year’s MSI took on a new format, rolling the old ‘wildcard’ regions into the main event and sending them through a play-in stage. Out of this, the Southeast Asian Gigabyte Marines (GAM) flourished, with the most successful showing by a minor region in League of Legends history.

    Their five-game match against Team SoloMid (TSM) in the second round of the play-ins was incredible. GAM were up 2-0 initially, leaving TSM to claw their way back for the reverse sweep. Even after eventually going down to TSM, once in the group stage, GAM were able to trade wins with three of their opponents, which is phenomenal given the quality of the other teams.

    Though they were finally taken out in that group stage, their performance put GAM, the GPL, and even the rest of the minor regions on the map. They also earnt their region a bye to the group stage of Worlds, and being the top team in summer, they represented in similar fashion. GAM’s year was standout, and watching their play has been an absolute joy, which raises the question …

    How will the minor regions grow in 2018?
    We saw more development in 2017 for the minor regions than any year previous. GAM’s performance is the most obvious success, but with the introduction of the Rift Rivals tournaments, multiple top teams from every region were given an opportunity to practise against international opponents, many of which had never had that chance before.

    Riot changes things each year, so I’m curious to see what they have planned for the coming season. I’m hoping to see Rift Rivals make a return – there were many valid complaints about the format, but overall it was a great development opportunity for teams that historically haven’t had that chance, and I wouldn’t want to see them miss out on that.

    Regardless of how the tournaments are structured, I’m sure we will see the minor regions continue to grow. Since KaBum!’s performance way back in 2014 these regions have slowly increased their showing, and I cannot wait to see who exceeds expectations going into 2018.

    (Photo credit should read Christophe Simon/AFP/Getty Images)

    Highlight: Samsung Galaxy, a new returning world champion
    It would be remiss of me to reflect on some of the biggest moments of 2017 League of Legends and skip over Samsung Galaxy’s (SSG) unexpected showing at the world championships. This was the third-place team in Korea – early on there were plenty of discussions around whether SK Telecom T1 (SKT) would be dethroned, but the other options were generally Korean first seed Longzhu (LZ) or one of the Chinese teams.

    But it wasn’t to be. Despite leaving their group in only second place, SSG dropped only one game in the bracket stage, to the Chinese third seed Team WE. Though they faced both LZ and SKT, SSG were able to take both teams down 3-0. Even for those that may have had them picked to win, I find it hard to believe that anyone would have picked quite this outcome.

    Not only did SSG sweep the finals, but the games weren’t even particularly long. Game 1 may as well have been a perfect game, with SKT only picking up the one turret. Two and three both saw SKT fighting back in a big way, but in both SSG were able to take control, winning the games they needed off the team widely considered best in the world.

    It was a monumental series, and it was such a huge shock that it ended so swiftly, which raises the question …

    How will SKT move into 2018?
    It’s almost a joke at this point to look at SSG’s wins and turn them into questions about SKT and Faker, but when a three-time world champion is beaten so decisively it can’t be helped. Faker himself looked as strong as ever, but he simply couldn’t carry his teammates. How will this be dealt with next year?

    The only changes to the roster so far have been Huni and Peanut’s exits, leaving Untara as the full-time top laner and Blank in the Jungle. Untara unfortunately didn’t get to attend Worlds, so we don’t know how he could have changed things, but Peanut had a pretty broad range of highs and lows during the tournament.

    The roster consolidations indicate that SKT is focusing in on slow, steady and mid-centric gameplay. It’s what’s worked in the past, and as long as Faker continues to be the best or even one of the best in the world, it feels like this should work for them.

    From there the questions for this team are very similar to those for the others I’ve looked at, if in reverse: if their regional opponents continue to grow stronger as they have, what will SKT do about it?

    I’ve had a great time putting together updates on the North American and international League of Legends scenes for everyone at The Roar in 2017, and I’m excited to keep it going in the next year. What are you excited to see when the next season kicks off in a few weeks time?

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