The History of Moscow Five/Gambit Pt. 2 – Pinned

Oddball 2021-11-29 01:10:09
  With the end of 2012 came the end of Moscow Five. The organization, at least. M5's demise is one of the weirdest conclusions to an organization in esports. The owner of the team was the Counter Strike fan Dmitry "ddd1ms" Smilianets. The FBI arrested him around the time his team was at Worlds, one of the leaders in “a worldwide hacking and data breach scheme that targeted major corporate networks, compromised 160 million credit card numbers and resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars in losses –  one of the largest such schemes ever prosecuted in the United States.” With him gone, the Russian organization had no funding. It was NA’s boldest attempt to defeat a European team.  The players and manager moved to Gambit Gaming, a fresh organization based in the United Kingdom. The past few months were tough—dealing with a shift in leadership, and a smorgasbord of disappointing results. Still, their next competition was one of their specialties: Intel Extreme Masters. It was time for Poland.  The competition was difficult at IEM Global Challenge Katowice. Fnatic was competing, a team revitalized since their second place finish at IPL 6. SK Gaming was always a threat. And two of Korea’s top teams—Azubu Blaze and Azubu Frost—were the clear favorites.  In the group stage, it wasn't working. They lost their opening match against Blaze, a team they had no trouble defeating at IPL 6. After that, they lost to Curse Gaming. An okay NA team using a substitute mid laner. They lost to them. It was like seeing Muggsy Bogues with a sprained ankle dunking on Michael Jordan. It wasn’t pretty.  They almost failed to make it out of groups. With Blaze certain to exit the round robin with a perfect record, Gambit’s only chance of advancing was through forcing a three-way tie for second. Because of a weird rule, tiebreakers were settled by whoever won their games the fastest. Gambit had a shot. They’d have to win their last groupstage game as fast as possible to move on. It was a speedrun. Their approach was brilliant. They created an effective composition utilizing early-mid game champions to snowball objectives. It could bring a win at hyperspeed. Even better, it used champions like Ezreal, Renekton, and Xin Zhao: staples for the Russian team. The strategy proved effective—Gambit winning the game in 26 minutes.  Their next opponent was Frost. Up until this point, they had never faced the frozen empire. This was the team that defeated their rivals CLG.eu, and was happy to stall out games with equal grace. They made the finals of the World Championship—respected as the strongest team in Korea. Considered even stronger than the Blaze team that just kicked Gambit’s heads in. And they had so far demolished every team in their path. It was a scary opponent to go up against. Still, Gambit discovered a composition that was true to their style, and useful in shutting games down early. Then again, they played versus a middling European team. Could it have any impact on an elite Korean team? Yes. Hell yes.
Read: The History of Moscow Five/Gambit — Opening
Every team up until this point—Gambit included—had been trying to beat the Koreans at their own game. Frost and Blaze emphasized defensive builds, late-game scaling champions, and team-fight heavy compositions. That, and a brutal wombo-combo called Curse of the Sad Bullet Time (Amumu and Miss Fortune). Already teams showed it was useless to beat them by copying them. Instead, Gambit banned all the champions most effective for said playstyles. They used the same mid-game composition against MYM, purchased damage items, and were intent on snowballing their kills. The first game of the series was a 50 minute back-and-forth. Their composition scored tons of kills, especially exploiting Frost’s bottom lane. As it kept trudging on, Gambit won the game. This gave a significant boost to Gambit’s confidence, as the next game (with an almost identical composition) wasn’t close at all. This game was over in 37 minutes, with a 19-3 scoreboard. It was the type of domination they showed on Moscow Five. Or close to it. For real domination, you’ll have to see the finals. The finals matchup with Blaze was disrespectful. Gambit didn’t treat them like a formidable Korean opponent—they acted like they were a preschool Dominion team. Their two games against Blaze were even more dominant than the game they played against MYM. The first match saw them slaughter Blaze early on, forcing a surrender 23 minutes with a 12-1 scoreboard. The second match was equally as ugly, with Blaze once again having no answer to the Russians’ strategy, dropping the game and the tournament. A new name, and a new trophy, and the old team we remembered. To me, IEM Global Challenge Katowice is my favorite of Gambit/M5’s tournament runs. They weren’t at their best, but the shocking victory holds so much value. It was the last time in years that a Western team would defeat a top Korean team in a “best-of-X” series. The games are still exciting and enjoyable to watch. Most importantly, it was just so awesome seeing the boys back in form. There’s not many instances where you can actually see a team mid-tournament have such a shift in strength and confidence. It’s such a gratifying moment that the MacGyver’d composition made to win a game as fast as possible ended up reinvigorating them back to their original glory.  Because of their victory at last year’s Regional, Gambit were one of the teams selected for the inaugural split of the European League of Legends Championship Series (EU LCS). The competition was strong—teams like CLG.eu (now Evil Geniuses, or EG), Fnatic, and SK Gaming. Still, with their most recent performance, they not only looked like the best team in Europe, but potentially the world. For the  first month, everything ran like clockwork. They had a rough first week losing to EG and the bottom-tier GIANTS! Gaming, but that was it. They picked up steam and found themselves firmly in first place with an impressive 9-2 W/L ratio. They had regained control of the board.  Hype Train Looking back on it, that year’s IEM World Championship was the starting point for many big changes in the competitive scene. It started like any other tournament: Gambit blitzing through the group stage. With strong results in the EU LCS, successful history against the other teams there, and the fact that IEM events up until then had been as free as Costco samples—people expected Gambit to take the trophy. Maybe they’d even go undefeated again!  Their seeding for the playoff bracket was poetic. Gambit was to play Frost in the semifinals (again) and most assuredly face Blaze in the finals (again). Only this time, there’d be no miracles. The ruthless machine that became known as “the Korean hypetrain” was at full speed, and was angry. Top Korean teams would not fall for the same ploys Gambit used before. Frost players not only prepared for this, but expanded their champion pools to have a far more threatening draft. They fell to Frost 1-2. To make matters worse, Blaze defeated their sister team in the final—they’d most likely have beaten Gambit too.  Before, Korean teams always looked strong—they were always near the top in tournament placings. This tournament meant the end of that. From now on (for four years, at least) they’d always be at the very top. 2012’s Worlds, IPL5, and all the IEM events were in the past. The Korean hypetrain was now running at full speed.  It wasn’t any more reassuring a week later at the MLG Winter Championship International Exhibition. A small tournament in North America featuring top NA teams as well as the very hyped KT Rolster B. After making quick work of Dignitas, Gambit found themselves again in reach of another international title—a top Korean team again standing in their way. They just couldn’t keep up. KT Rolster B stated they had prepared very well for the famous Russian team, and took the series 2-1. Only a few months since IEM Katowice, and Gambit once again looked lost against the best international teams.  Their problems wouldn’t only be away from home. King of the Hill There was a big problem in their return to the EU LCS. It wasn’t that Gambit was deteriorating—overall they looked strong week by week, winning most of their games. Another team was on the rise. Not a new kid to the block, but the return of an old giant: Fnatic. Despite dropping out of the group stage at the aforementioned IEM World Championship, the original great European team was looking revitalized. They were hungry to take back the crown. Almost every player on the team was of tremendous experience, and were playing at a top level. Though their bottom lane wasn’t as strong as Gambit’s, Cyanide and xPeke could compete with Alex Ich and Diamondprox. As far as sOAZ versus Darien...I don’t think it needs to be explained that the former was far superior. As the regular season came to a close, Gambit found themselves in second place—one game behind Fnatic. They were seeded directly in the semi-final for the playoffs, again demolishing SK 2-0. The opponent in the finals—Fnatic—would be as easy. In a back-and-forth five game series, the former World Champions defeated Gambit 3-2. Fnatic had pushed Gambit off—they were no longer the kings of Europe.  Clearing Edward For all of their issues, I’ve been mentioning how it wasn’t so much about Gambit faltering, but more other teams adjusting and getting better. This was no longer the case—their problems would get a whole lot trickier. They’d lose Edward. For many reasons that have never been fully divulged, Gambit’s star Support player decided to leave the team after 19 months of excellent play. Some of the reasons he gave were the team’s results as well as Genja’s passive style, saying “First of all, the main reason of such end is misunderstandings between me and Genja. Despite to the fact that we played together for more than one year we didn't fit to each other. Secondly, I don't like the current atmosphere in the team after few bad results in a row. Due to these factors I have decided to leave the team.” To solve this, Edward skipped over to NA to play with famous playoff chokers Team Curse. There he’d play with David “cop” Roberson...arguably the most passive player in history.  Ignoring Edward’s confusing logic, Gambit had enormous shoes to fill. Edward was not only instrumental to the success of their bottom lane, but provided great playmaking throughout the mid game. To find a player of equal skill that could also speak Russian was a big ask. Their first experiment was with Andrey "Darker" Plechistov. It seemed like a good bet—he had a history with the team since the days of MTG, and reportedly performed very well in scrimmages. For the beginning weeks of the Summer Split, Gambit found themselves near the top of the standings. Like they always did, the problems would start coming.  They no longer had to worry about one or two teams rivaling them—every team was good. It was a bloodbath from top to bottom—with the brand new Lemondogs taking over the region. And as the weeks went on, things weren’t looking so bright with Darker (get it?). His coordination with Genja just wasn’t very good—never both looking on the same page. Gambit wasn’t trying to figure out how to win Worlds, they were worrying about qualifying. They knew they needed to fix their bottom lane, so with only a couple of games before playoffs, they dumped Darker in favor of Erih "Voidle" Sommermann. Voidle looked strong in-game, but had understandable growing pains. This would be fine under normal circumstances, except Worlds was just in sight. It wasn’t encouraging at first. Gambit was in a four way tie for second place. After some disappointing tiebreaker performances (including a game where Krepo and Froggen switched roles), Gambit finished the split in fourth place. They’d need some Miracle-Gro for Voidle if they wanted to play at Worlds. The playoffs started off well, with a 2-0 victory over Ninjas in Pyjamas. Lemondogs were just too cohesive of a roster in the semifinals, and swept Gambit down 2-0. Gambit was in a tough (if poetic) position. Their team was now definitively weaker than before. They had one last series to qualify for Worlds. And they’d be facing Evil Geniuses, their old enemies also in their twilight. New names. New teams. Same rivalry. It was bittersweet to watch—seeing two former titans battling for bronze instead of gold. Even though it was the third place matchup, it was easily the most memorable series of the year. In a close three game series, Gambit succeeded over Froggen and co. This wasn’t Gambit’s greatest victory—not even close. It is my favorite, though. It exposes a different side of this enigmatic team that we’d never seen before. First, look at their reaction at the 2012 Regionals: 
They seem happy, but considering they just stomped 2-0 and had dominated the entire year, it’s a pretty tepid reaction. Contrast that with 2013:
See: 50:57 This was one of the most human sides we saw of Gambit. You can just see the catharsis they must’ve been feeling after such a frustrating year. It’s moments where we get to see how much the game and the competition means to players—to see real emotion from them—that make esports special. We should appreciate it more.  Worlds Hip hip hooray, they’d live another day! They made it Worlds! Where did that leave them? They weren’t coming into the tournament as favorites—far from it. With only two teams to advance from Group B—with the likes of Vulcun Techbargains, Fnatic, and Samsung Galaxy Ozone—it wasn’t likely they’d make the bracket stage. Vulcun had an impressive roster that always took advantage of the world meta, Fnatic had been smacking them around the entire year, and Ozone looked to be a contender for the entire event. Finally, fate threw the Russians a bone for a change. They didn’t have some incredible epiphany like at Katowice, their problems were still there. The other teams just happened to be worse. Fnatic were the main team to show Gambit they didn’t have it together—defeating them even more concisely than in the EU LCS. Vulcun and Ozone, not so much. Vulcun could hold their own every game...for the first twenty-five minutes. After that it seemed a guaranteed throw. This was also when Ozone had the most embarrassing meltdown on the international stage perhaps in history. All of the players seemed to be slumping—with dade taking the helm of this losership. He could control himself in lane, his decision making was atrocious, and his champion pool was as shallow as spilt nailpolish. It says something of Gambit’s struggles that they barely won a tiebreaker against them to advance. They were seeded in the quarterfinals against NaJin BlackSword. This Korean squad didn’t have many expectations going in (because of their very weird domestic results) but Gambit performed against them fairly well. They brought the best-of-three to a deciding game, but the Korean squad eventually defeated them. The exited the tournament ranked 5th-8th. A lot of bitter Gambit fans at the time threw all blame on Voidle for a Sona-flub in lane, but even still—they were no longer the Russian kings of old. They were no longer a threat for the Summoner’s Cup.  Even so, what a show they gave. Despite all their struggles that year, Gambit was a game away, no—a play away from making the semifinals. They were almost right back where they started from last season. If they had an easier bracket pick such as Cloud9 and Gamania Bears—it might’ve been even more possible.  Gambit was unsatisfied with their results at Worlds. They’d receive a good consolation prize: the return of Edward. Curse had dropped out to the relegation tournament. The original lineup was reunited—albeit weakened. Remember, even with Edward they were already regressing. Even with him back, half of a year in Curse’s mansion wasn’t the most effective event. As they strolled into their last competition of 2013, a tournament with their recent kryptonite Fnatic, it was unreasonable to assume the Russian team would take it. Had it not been an IEM event. At IEM Season VIII - Cologne, Gambit were treated once again to a return to old. Playing against the formidable Cloud9 and Fnatic, the reunified roster came back together like the Frankenstein monster—it was strong, and it was deadly. Diamondprox in particular played out of his mind, and led his team to six undefeated games throughout the event. No, this wasn’t the Moscow Five team that could effortlessly demolish everyone. But a moment like this—they could return to that initial brilliance. The kings could visit back. 
If you enjoyed this article, follow the author on Twitter at @OddballCreator. Image courtesy of M5, Gambit Gaming, ESL, and Lolesports  

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