As an organization, EVOS Esports might be a mystery to most outside of Vietnam or Indonesia, but their players might ring a bell to those who have followed international events over the past two to three years. Vietnam’s newly-crowned champions, EVOS Esports, have a familiar make-up of players, including top laner Stark who one might recognise from the Gigabyte Marines’ exploits at the 2017 Mid-Season Invitational.
It is not just him who has experience on the international stage; Warzone and RonOP are both alumni of 2016’s Saigon Jokers, while ADC Slay holds the honor of being on both 2016’s Saigon Jokers and 2017’s Gigabyte Marines. Yes, that Saigon Jokers which bombed out of the International Wildcard Qualifiers without a single win to their names, and which to this day remains a dark stain on Vietnam’s legacy. It must be stated that none of these players got many games in during that disastrous 0-7 run, as SAJ were running a 10-man roster at the time.
Dark stains aside, there is plenty of know-how and experience in this line-up, as well as considerable money to throw around. Originally an Indonesian organization, EVS’ journey to the VCS has not been the most smooth-sailing, having failed qualification from VCSB, before taking the backdoor approach and buying out the slot of 7th placed VCSA team LG Red.
Thereafter, they had to re-qualify for the VCS via the Spring Promotion tournament. Bolstered by the addition of Warzone, who would prove decisive in important games later, EVS finally achieved their first goal of making it into top-level competition in Vietnam.
Their coach Violet stands alongside the likes of GAM stalwart Archie among the smartest players in the scene, having achieved decent success on teams like Saigon Jokers in 2012 and Full Louis, the latter both in stints as top laner and coach.
Rookie YiJin would more than make up for his lack of experience as his synergy with both Stark and Warzone led to him taking the Rookie of the Season award. In a season filled with burgeoning rookie talents like Zeros, YiJin overcame the occasional big-stage nerves to bring the trophy to EVOS. With these glittering accomplishments already under his belt, YiJin will surely be a name we will be hearing more of at MSI 2018.
Yet, it has been difficult to galvanize the entire country behind EVOS like GAM managed. Not only are many fans still hardcore supporters of GAM, they have also not taken well to what they saw as the arrogant behavior of players like Warzone, who engaged in some trash talk prior to the final series against GAM and proclaimed that he would post a video of himself doing 1000 push-ups if they won. That video can be viewed here.
Without veering too deep into narrativity, question marks remain over the mentality of the players, as the ‘dark stain’ of 2016 remains in the minds of fans. I argue that fans should not have too much to worry about in that respect; EVOS has displayed a remarkable grasp of the world game this split and their consistent performances over several vastly different metas are no accident. This is a team that trains hard and does their research.
An example is the champion pool of Stark; while his contemporaries like Zeros from GAM and yT from Young Generation have their own quirks, Stark—nicknamed the Great Emperor, or ??i ?? in Vietnamese—has a claim to fame in Camille - a pick one might recognize as being frequently contested in Korea. Far from being a one-trick pony as some might accuse him of being at MSI 2017 with his Gragas, he has also shown aptitude on initiators like Ornn and even has a Jayce up his sleeve. In other words, Stark provides conundrums for opponents that few other top laners can in the current era, drawing target bans in every game he plays.
Besides that, their drafts display all that a top team could want: adaptability, flexibility and clear goals. This is in no small part down to the strength of the solo laners, both of whom exert considerable pressure in drafts and in-game; allowing YiJin to run rampant. As a reminder, 70% of dragons were taken by Yijin and EVOS, indicating stellar lane control in early and mid game.
The bot lane is sometimes viewed as a weaker link as the duo of Slay and RonOP does not necessarily have the most overwhelming presence in the laning phase. However, whether by accident or design, EVOS work on amplifying this pairing’s strengths: Slay and RonOP are keen teamfighters and the champions they wield facilitate that to a large degree.
EVOS’ strengths of adaptability and meta-savviness can also be seen as a double-edged sword especially against the likes of Kingzone DragonX; since EVOS researches the Korean scene deeply and their players also practice on the server, they might end up as an inferior version of a Korean team.
2016 may still be in the minds of many when EVOS Esports take to the Rift at MSI, and fans back home are not completely sure on how, or if, they can do what GAM only ever sporadically did: take points off the established regions. A cautious optimism fills the air, and for their part, the organization has shown confidence in setting top 4 as their goal; it would be a major coup for any peripheral region to do so.
It would also mean enough that Vietnam might finally become recognized as a region to be reckoned with. 2018 has already seen the VCS get an offline stadium, its own qualifying spot at international events apart from the rest of Southeast Asia and a bye at MSI. These lofty goals, for now, rest on a team who cannot afford not to show results. Will the pressures of a nation seeking further recognition and success become too much to bear, or will they bring the confidence they have displayed throughout Spring and show the world what Vietnam is really about?
I for one, cannot wait to see how EVOS Esports will do against the best teams in the world.
Images taken from lienminh360.vn and Garena
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