Days of darkness, of dreariness, have come.... Thy own infirmities, the sufferings of those dear to thee, the chill and gloom of old age. All that thou hast loved, to which thou hast given thyself irrevocably, is falling, going to pieces. The way is all down-hill.What canst thou do? Grieve? Complain? Thou wilt aid not thyself nor others that way....On the bowed and withering tree the leaves are smaller and fewer, but its green is yet the same.Do thou too shrink within, withdraw into thyself, into thy memories, and there, deep down, in the very depths of the soul turned inwards on itself, thy old life, to which thou alone hast the key, will be bright again for thee, in all the fragrance, all the fresh green, and the grace and power of its spring!But beware ... look not forward, poor old man!Ivan TurgenevOn April 22nd, 2021, Gambit Esports announced the closure of their League of Legends division. The cornerstone of Gambit’s success, the League of Legends squad goes down as the most iconic of the Russian region in history. One of the most iconic in the game’s history, actually. The dominance, innovation, and rich story that Gambit brought to the table is something that should always be in the minds of esports fans. Though the poor old man is dead, the soul of the team lives on. The Green Leaf SproutsOur story starts at the very beginnings of competitive League of Legends. In 2010, Alexey "Alex Ich" Ichetovkin played for a variety of European teams. Soon, he joined a team known as Meritorious: The Gathering (MTG). There he’d first connect with Evgeny "Darien" Mazaev and Evgeny "Genja" Andryushin. Like most teams then, this roster didn’t have good results and soon disbanded. And yet, the groundwork of a juggernaut now stood. Genja and Alex Ich stayed together. They vied for the Season One World Championship on MyRevenge. They didn't even get a chance, with Alex Ich out of the qualifiers because of connection problems. From there the original Gambit gang’s history goes blank for a bit. That is until late 2011—in time for the start of Season Two. Keep in mind the announcement of $5 million in prize money exceeded any esport at the time. High-level players were scrambling to create teams. One of those teams was the Russian Team Empire: a reunion of Alex Ich, Genja, and Darien (and two MyRevenge players). The start of the empire was humble. They had okay results in ranked 5v5 matches and online competition. They defeated legendary esports organizations like “Enjoy Lose” and “Here is Cold”. They wanted to play with the big boys, though. The chance came, with the first qualifiers for Intel Extreme Masters Season VI Global Challenge Kiev. This Empire team didn't try to qualify though. Alex Ich attempted to make a new team that failed, and soon came back. Only few things were different. Alex Ich switched from his standard choices of jungle and top lane, to mid lane. He also brought his talented duo queue partner GoSu Pepper (now Edward), the team's new Support. The final addition to the team was a Jungler Edward saw in soloqueue: Diamondprox. The roster stood as Darien (Top), Diamondprox (Jungler), Alex Ich (Mid), Genja (AD Carry), and Edward (Support). Straight away this team looked primed for the dump. You had Alex Ich, someone who only recently became a mid laner. There was Edward, a guy who didn’t even like playing Support. And of course, Diamondprox, a player who’s 1800 elo translates to mid-level platinum today. Someone with a champion pool more shallow than a TikTok influencer. And keep in mind: these guys already had internal conflicts with one another. What chance would they have of qualifying for a major tournament?A few weeks later, Alex Ich and co. had another shot of playing in Kiev, at the European Cross-Realm qualifier. At first it went as expected—Empire losing and going to the losers bracket. From there, the gang had their first big performance. They ran the gauntlet in losers—even beating out the team that sent them there. For all their efforts, though, their reward was facing SK Gaming.SK Gaming—they were one of the top dogs. Some of their players have competed since before Season One. They were regulars at IEM events—very close to winning some of them. The team’s captain Ocelote was one of the best players in the world. They had star-power. They had experience. They had pretty much everything Empire didn’t have. They didn’t have the series, though. In a shock, Empire clutched out the victory 2-1. To me, this series marks the true beginning of the famous Russian roster we all revere. Not because they upset one of the best teams in the world. Not because they qualified for their first big competition. Because of this:Old League of Legends gameplay doesn’t age well. Sometimes, there are exceptions. A decade later, the brilliance of this play is still exciting. You have perfect synergy between Alex Ich and Edward to synchronize their ultimates. You have Edward hiding in the brush to pop off a full Absolute Zero. And you have Genja—already showing genius—slowing the enemy with Ashe to trick them into disregarding Edward. He wrapped it in a bow. It’s a beautiful display of teamwork and creativity. And it’s frickin’ fun to watch SK get melted (or frozen, I guess). This was the beginning. Players from all around the world took notice of this mysterious Russian team. They were only getting started. In 2012, a new year came with a new image. They joined the top Russian organization Moscow Five. With a fresh face, the team entered their first major competition. They beat SK Gaming, but this tournament had something different. SK Gaming were there (albeit weaker, using a substitute). But there was also Team Dignitas, Team SoloMid, and against All authority. These teams had won major competitions, and were well seasoned on large stages. against All authority had former Season One Championship finalists. Team SoloMid was the consensus best team in the world. Though their scrim results were strong, Moscow Five were in the lion’s den. For them to survive was a tall ask. But they didn’t. They slaughtered.Most of the games weren’t even close. Several for Moscow Five were almost perfect—twenty minute stomps with few deaths. In fact, they almost had a perfect tournament, only TSM able to take a game from them in the finals. If people hadn’t taken notice before, now it was clear: Moscow Five were dangerous. Bloodthirsty. Talented. And now the world knew it. With victory in Kiev, the team had their next goal: the IEM World Championship. Nothing but ranked fives and online tournaments until then. What's funny is they kinda stunk online. They won one online competition between IEM events (though high ping is partly to blame). The team looked lost, and the IEM World Championship had almost every good team competing. They couldn’t repeat their Kiev performance, could they?They did even better. Nobody stood a chance. A lot of them were stomps like before. Even scarier, M5 proved to be a formidable late game team, and won several games other teams would’ve lost. They didn’t lose once. A perfect tournament.This event actually has one of my favorite games of League of Legends. Game 1 of the finals encapsulates everything awesome about Moscow Five. Do yourself a favor and watch at least the first five minutes or so. No, I'm serious, please watch it. I know it’s a big ask, but I promise it’s awesome. Please.Finished? Great. At first you might think this was a weird meta Moscow Five employed. No, this was as off-the-wall then as it looks now. From the start Edward helps Genja receive Blue Buff. Edward then abandons Genja to go roam the jungle with Diamondprox. A jungler invading the enemy jungle was already rare at the time. Imagine IWDominate’s surprise seeing Diamondprox with a raging bull behind him! Nobody could’ve expected it, and Moscow Five pick up an easy kill. Do they leave with their treasures in their pockets? Nope. After some quick counter jungling, they wait for their next kill. The way they kill Scarra is so pretty. Edward waits for Alex Ich to be ready to attack. He then flashes from the Wraith camp to surprise Scarra with a knockback. Diamondprox Safeguards in and joins the mugging. Two quick kills. But wait, what about Genja? Leaving a marksman alone in lane 1v2 should mean inevitable end for them. Not for Genja. With Blue Buff, he actually wins his lane—bullying out Corki and even grabbing a kill. For Dignitas, you can't come back from a position like that. This game oozes the team’s style. It’s chaotic, creative, and so much fun to watch. A perfect gambit. Moscow Five were now the best team in the world. Nobody else had such a weird style of play. They wouldn’t compete in another offline competition for three months. In that time, they again started appearing in online events. This again slowed their onslaught a little. Whether because of ping or lack of interest, M5 weren’t themselves online. Still good—they made at least the semifinals of whatever tournament they were in—but it wasn’t the mystical squad that refused to drop games. They lost tournaments to teams like Counter Logic Gaming Europe, Fnatic, and SK Gaming. Still, it didn’t look like they had much to worry about. They lost online events, but it never prevented them from smashing teams when it mattered. Playing on their terms, no one could stop them.Their return to offline events was at DreamHack 2012. It began as everyone expected. M5 smashed their way through the group stage—two quick victories in under thirty minutes. In their final group stage game, the Russians at one point had a 27,000 gold lead over CLG.eu. At one point.CLG.eu somehow held on. They clawed their way back from the enormous deficit. In an hour-long stall fest, they managed to steal the victory away from M5. It's a game some consider to be one of the best professional matches in history. The Russians had their first rival.When An Unstoppable Force Meets An Immovable ObjectThere are already plenty of awesome historical pieces about CLG.eu. Here’s a few.We’ll talk about them a little bit, though. Their best player was mid laner Froggen—probably the best player in the world. The team’s playstyle involved stalling games out as long as possible. They'd wait until their superior late-game compositions and team play brought victory. It wasn’t as fun to watch as M5’s play, but it was definitely effective. In fact, effective as a counter against M5. They were already a threat, with four separate match wins (one on the pre-CLG.eu team, Absolute Legends). It didn’t matter that M5 had a loony playstyle that gave them big early leads. CLG.eu strung them along to the end game like everyone else. Now they showed they could do it when it mattered.It wasn’t over yet, though. M5 still qualified for the bracket stage, and punched their way through Curse Europe in the semifinals. In the finals, CLG.eu were in their crosshairs once again. But they couldn’t close out the games. They did even worse than before, with CLG.eu winning both games of the best-of-three far easier than before. Diamondprox later stated he felt that M5’s players were more talented, but admitted CLG.eu had better teamplay. They had a real rivalry. A team in their own region, one with a clashing playstyle, and proven results against them. Their crown was tentative.The loss at DreamHack was a wakeup call, at least concerning their play online. Leading up to their next major, M5 only lost a single online event, with nine first place finishes. One of these (the qualifier for the European Challenger Circuit: Poland) saw them defeat CLG.eu 2-0. That same event they qualified for was where they’d have their next test. It was a battle between the best of Europe, the most notable being CLG.eu. Froggen and co. hadn’t faced much competition in the West—spending their time bootcamping in Korea. They returned to Europe like Gohan returning after training with Elder Kai. They were good.It was a repeat of DreamHack for M5. They drew in with CLG.eu, and once again fell to them in the group stage. Even after months of effort, they still looked lost playing them. Like always, they demolished every other team in line, but CLG.eu had their number. They again swept Curse.EU in the semifinals, and were in another finals with their rivals. It isn’t a rivalry if one team always wins, though.They didn’t give them a chance to breathe. Capitalizing on CLG.eu’s mistakes, M5 snowballed both games out of control, and won the finals 2-0. All talk of CLG.eu being M5’s kryptonite evaporated. They didn’t have a lucky string of victories—they were here to stay. Following that win, M5 brought another victory lap. They again lost only a single event leading up to the Season 2 European Regional Finals (a second place finish, no less). Regionals would be their most important tournament to date. As I’m sure you can tell by now, that was almost a sure sign that M5 would be alright. As far as the eight team tournament went, this one wasn’t too earth-shattering for M5. All you must know is that M5 played really, really well—another day at the bank. They breezed through EloHell without much trouble. Fnatic put up more of a fight, but they fell too. While a lot of fans stayed hyped for a third final between CLG.eu and M5’s tiebreaker, fate (and Ocelote) had other plans. SK Gaming played the series of their life, and defeated CLG.eu 2-0 to reach the finals. They played the series of a fly’s life against M5, however, as the Russians crumpled them 2-0. It was disappointing not having a clash of titans, but the overall boring win M5 had is a testament to their greatness. Even a team like SK Gaming on a total hot-streak couldn’t stop them. With an unbelievably good offline record, they were without argument, the best League of Legends team in the west. Time to try for the world. The Season 2 World Championship is my favorite world championship. For the majority of Worlds’ history, people can predict the winner with high accuracy. This was not the case here. Nobody could pinpoint who the winner would be. In my estimation, a reasonable argument is possible for at least six of the teams.Yes, M5 had talented players, innovation, and the most successful tournament record. CLG.eu, though, had a better historical record against them. China’s World Elite fostered the best AD carry in the world, and had a stranglehold on the region. Korea’s Azubu Frost had defeated every western team to dare play on their turf. Their rivals NaJin Sword were coming into the tournament off a fiery run at the Korean Regionals. Also read: World Elite: The First Dynasty - A comprehensive look at the first great Chinese teamTaiwan’s Taipei Assassins were a team without much intel—one some teams hyped as the best. I thought TSM was going to win at the time (BAYLIFE). The competition was stacked, but so were all those other tournaments they played. M5 came in confident they could beat anyone.Their first place finish at the European Regionals gave them a BYE to the quarterfinals. They’d face China’s second seeded team Invictus Gaming. Although the Chinese team had an impressive group stage performance, the Russians picked them apart 2-0. They’d face TPA for the semifinals, a team that had just upset NaJin Sword. Most people before the tournament didn’t have any thought of TPA being a good team. Some might tell you otherwise, but there’s a 99% chance they're lying. Some people flat out thought they were the weakest team in the bracket stage. There were rumors of them being good in the past, but poor performance in online events leading up to World had players and teams writing them off. M5 were among them.You probably know the history. TPA defeated M5 2-1, and then defeated Frost 3-1 in the finals. It’s still one of the most shocking runs in the game’s history. They had a better understanding of that tournament’s meta than any other team. M5 wasn't ready for them.The Russian squad came into the tournament cocky. It cost them. They didn’t even make the finals. What’s worse, this appeared to have a severe effect on the morale of the team. Holes were starting to show in their armor. For the next two months, the hyper-dominant version of M5 disappeared. They lost to Curse.EU for the first time offline at Tales of the Lane. At IPL 5 (Worlds 2.0) they not only dropped a game to CLG.Prime, but were swept by World Elite, as well as their old friends the Taipei Assassins. Most embarrassing—they lost three games to a team called IWantCookie. As the year closed, the team’s aura was beginning to fade.Still, though, what they accomplished that season was nothing short of remarkable. A group of oddballs had risen in a single year to become the world’s best team. Some naive fans may think the World Champion Taipei Assassins were the best team of 2012. They weren’t. Frost and M5 are the only teams that can compete for that honor. Despite all the heroics Frost accomplished in Korea, though, it has to be M5. Other teams had won big tournaments, but most could only manage one or two. M5 had four. That’s not even mentioning their online victories or consistent high level finishes. The level of dominance in events like their perfect IEM World Championship or their sleepwalk win in the European Regional Finals is unparalleled. No other team had juggernauts at every position. No other team was so consistently excellent on big stages. No other team was M5.But a team can only last so long. The meta was changing, and other teams were rapidly improving. Juggernauts of the past like CLG.Prime and against All authority had faded from relevance after little more than a year. Up to this point, League of Legends teams didn’t stay good for long. M5 could ride into the sunset, knowing they made history though. They didn't though. This was just the gambit. This game would go on a little longer.Stay tuned for Part 2If you enjoyed this article, follow the author on Twitter at @OddballCreator.
Image courtesy of M5, Gambit Gaming, and Lolesports
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