Taipei Assassins: More than Underdogs, a Breathing Blueprint for Future Success

Oddball 2020-12-15 04:08:44
  Taipei Assassins: More than Underdogs, a Breathing Blueprint for Future Success Something I love that League of Legends brought to the table is popularizing the obnoxiously-large trophy. A cup so friggin’ huge it takes five people to lift, like it was forged from the core of a star. It suited Riot’s idea of making the League of Legends World Championship a truly epic event. Lifting it is the privilege only of the greats.  A great trend at Worlds is how the best team wins. There aren’t many “any given Sunday” moments on the highest international stage. Going through the lineups, every team has had at least one all-time great player. xPeke, Faker, Mata, Faker, Doinb, Rookie, Ambition...Faker. The teams to win Worlds are some of the greatest of all time, and have some of the greatest players of all time. That’s why Taipei Assassins are so interesting. A team that not only surprised with their finals win, but continue to stand as an outlier in LoL’s premier tournament. None of the players stood the test of time. The team fell apart within a year. Their region now struggles to make any impact internationally. That’s why they’re special. They were a lighting strike. Instant and unexpected, yet cataclysmic in impact. Their victory at the Season 2 World Championship was more than a fun surprise. It was the climax of a story built on innovation and dedication. It was a team incredibly polished at every position with ingenious understanding of the game. It was a fuse setting off tremendous change throughout Taiwan and the rest of the world. It was the Taipei Assassins. League of Legends was in a really interesting spot in Season Two. Teams were notoriously difficult to rank. Korean teams always beat everyone entering their vicinity, but questions lingered how they’d perform on the highest stage. Moscow Five dominated Europe, but never faced much competition from the east. TPA was amazing, but no one knew how good they were, including themselves. The team started when MiSTakE met Stanley in a ranked game. Quickly becoming friends, they created Team For the Win (FTW). Along with players A8000, NeXAbc, and Lilballz, they trained to qualify for the 2011 World Cyber Games. Their path to qualify was at one of the first Southeast Asian competitions, Garena’s eSports G1. It should be noted that most of them (as well as Bebe and Toyz) were already veterans of the MOBA genre, so they went into the tournament well-seasoned. The competition was no match for FTW, the latter quickly winning and packing their bags to compete in South Korea. They couldn’t replicate the same success in Busan, however. At WCG, they failed to stand up to the night of the great Chicks Dig Elo. They never faced them. FTW didn’t even make it out of groups. Placing third in a five team round-robin, they were incapable of beating out NaJin e-mFire or Millennium. The Taiwanese team left early, with A8000 leaving them entirely. Despite the loss, their showing was not a failure. Along with Singaporean “Team Flash”, FTW performed better than anyone from Southeast Asia. Though they dropped out early, it was clear the young team showed promise. This came at the perfect time. Online gaming giant Garena (and distributor of League of Legends in the region) looked to sponsor teams from Southeast Asia to boost the esports scene. Team Flash, along with FTW were the two teams selected, rebranding to Singapore Sentinels and Taipei Assassins respectively. Shortly after the rebrand, TPA experienced roster changes. With NeXAbc moving to a substitute role, AD carry bebeisadog (Bebe) and mid laner Toyz joined the roster, with MiSTakE switching from AD carry to Support. All the pieces of the famous lineup were in place. With talent, luck, and insane dedication, they were on their way to the Summoner’s Cup. Through the first half of 2012, TPA established themselves as a formidable force. Because of the lack of tournaments in the region, there wasn’t much opportunity for people to see them in action. The few occasions we did see showed a team rapidly developing in skill. At the Garena Pro League 2012 Opening Event, they solidified their place atop Southeast Asia. In online tournaments, they proved to be among the best of the continent. What was more interesting was what we didn’t see. TPA had the most impressive training environment in the industry. An incubator for world champions. From a penthouse suite fit with full support staff, TPA trained 12-15 hours a day, scrimming endlessly with teams from around the world. It was here the Taiwanese squad formed a mythical persona. Many claimed TPA was the strongest team in the world - a finely-burnished unit with talent across the board.  There were doubters, though. The second half of 2012 started poorly. At the Leaguecraft ggClassic, an online tournament featuring mostly mediocre North American talent, TPA failed to make it out of the group stage. In a showmatch with Counter Logic Gaming Europe, the eastern team lost in a pretty one-sided affair. Granted, these failures came with caveats. The Leaguecraft ggClassic was an online tournament - results weren’t very definitive. The showmatch with CLG.eu was just that, a showmatch. Still, it wasn’t reassuring. Winning the Regional Finals and a ticket to Worlds, TPA traveled to Los Angeles a total wildcard. Season 2 was during the phase of Worlds that four teams had a BYE to the quarterfinals. In a lucky draw, TPA got a free pass out of the group stage. During groups, fans speculated on who would emerge victorious. Several teams looked poised to win the tournament. CLG.eu, Azubu Frost, and NaJin Sword all looked red-hot, crushing the round-robin stage. Moscow Five (receiving a BYE as well) were recognized by everyone as nightmare opponents and favorites to win. And of course, Dadyrus and I stood together fully expecting Team SoloMid to win. NaJin Sword finished groups absolutely deadly. They demolished their opposition. MakNooN’s top lane play was dominating. No one thought TPA could beat them. But they did.  Not just that, they destroyed them. From the get go, TPA maintained steady leads until their advantages became insurmountable. It wasn’t seen as the entrance of a frightening team, though. Most saw TPA’s victory as a huge upset, a blunder on Sword’s part. Against Moscow Five, matters would be different. No one thought TPA could beat them. But they did. Moscow Five was in its prime. A completely legendary lineup. The first game of the best-of-three went as expected, with Diamondprox securing early kills to control the pace of the entire game. The Taiwanese came swinging in game two though, particularly with Stanley. Using Nidalee, their top laner destroyed not just Darien, but the entire top side of the map. With such an advantage, Stanley carried them through games two and three, securing their place in the finals. Now, TPA took out two speculated winners of the entire tournament. The world now saw how good they were. Still, Frost was waiting for them in the finals. A team that looked just as polished and prepared as they did, but one far more experienced with international teams. No one thought TPA could beat them. Taipei You can see a trend with that sentence now, can’t you? It’s amazing how TPA went into every match as the underdog. Even the team itself didn’t expect to do as well as they did. In the first game, it looked like business as usual, with the Koreans showing off incredible teamfighting and coordination. From there, TPA wouldn’t let up. We’ll discuss it more in the gameplay section, but they showed off everything unique about their style. TPA defeated Frost 3-1 in a shocking upset, winning the first (and only) Summoner’s Cup for Southeast Asia. Taipei This leads us to the biggest mystery of the Season 2 World Champions. What happened to them? Why did they fall off so hard? Well for a while, they didn’t. Performance looked great domestically, scoring a near perfect record in the GPL along with the title. The team still showed off their classic playstyle, and everyone looked in strong form.  TPA was one of the teams invited to IPL 5, an international event considered even better than Season 2 Worlds. There they looked just as good as before (Bebe playing even more fantastic). The team again bested the Europeans giants Moscow Five, as well as their rivals CLG.eu. They just couldn’t figure out Fnatic, losing to them twice in the bracket stage, dropping out with a third place finish. Although this wasn’t as impressive as winning Worlds, it should still be seen as a peak TPA performance - doing so well in such a stacked tournament.  
After that the team was never the same. They continued on playing decently  in the spring GPL, but their roster was no longer as flawless. Lilballz couldn’t adjust to the changing meta, and became a clear weak point for the team. They started losing to Chinese teams in online tournaments, something that didn’t happen even before their prime. Even their hold over domestic teams began to slip. It kept going downhill from there. A team so used to success found themselves demoralized. Over time, Lilballz and Stanley were booted from the roster. MiSTaKe left to form a sister team called Taipei Snipers, and Toyz retired due to wrist problems. Within months, the might of the TPA was unraveled like a ball of yarn.  Taipei So what the hell happened? Why did it turn so poorly? Well, there were a number of factors. Other teams caught up with TPA’s level of investment, investing serious money to compete. Mentioned earlier, the roster was made up of MOBA veterans, and most of their players were already worn out. Finally, as it eventually always does, bad luck struck the team - the meta dramatically shifting out of their favor and injuries plaguing their star mid laner. Still, their short time on top was something special. Their gameplay was beautiful to watch, and their impact is still felt today. They may have been a flash-in-the-pan, but that flash lit up the world. Taipei It’s interesting how compared to their contemporaries, TPA didn’t really have as definitive of a playstyle. Moscow Five won games by murdering as many champions they could find. CLG.eu stalled games until enemies broke down in exhaustion. World Elite let WeiXiao be himself. Although TPA played very refined, they weren’t as unique as other top teams. They won games just playing the right way, perfectly fitting with the meta and winning with standard strategies. No cheese, no shocks, just excellent macro and strong teamfighting. Another interesting thing about TPA is how well rounded they were. Most teams had one-to-two star players carrying games - MadLife, WeiXiao, Froggen, etc. They were one of the rare exceptions where every player brought something big to the table. Though none of them could really be argued as the best in their role, there wasn’t a liability either. And when put together, Exodia was summoned. Stanley stood with Shy and MakNooN as one of the strongest top laners in the world. He’s most famous for his skill with Nidalee, a champion used to great effect in their Worlds run. That was just the tip of the iceberg. His champion pool was jaw-dropping, seemingly able to learn new characters at the drop of a hat. His laning was exceptional, consistently capable of racking up large CS leads. He was also very much an innovator. Experimenting with new champions and builds was routine for Stanley, someone who was always looking for any advantage possible.  
The most important talent of Stanley’s, though, was his split pushing. It was relentless. With strong mechanics, unparalleled Teleport instincts, and great understanding of the map, TPA’s top laner constantly broke down enemy turrets. Legend has it Elon Musk was inspired to create his tunnel venture The Boring Company after watching Stanley effortlessly drill through Moscow Five’s top lane (Note: This is a legend I completely made up, though I wish it was true). We’ll discuss it later on, but know that his map pressure was the foundation of TPA’s strategy. Besides the awesome history of his name, Lilballz was the most milquetoast of the squad, but that’s not to say he lacked talent. No jungler could touch Diamondprox at this time, but Lilballz fit in comfortably with the likes of TheOddOne, CloudTemplar, and Snoopeh. He was a run-of-the-mill herbivore jungler that farmed up to the mid game to have an impact. From there he was a dangerous and versatile weapon in TPA’s arsenal. On champions like Dr. Mundo and Olaf he was a perfect meat-shield, soaking up tower hits to dive targets and push turrets. With ones like Maokai or Alistar (especially Alistar) he became a lethal initiator, capable of finding perfect engagements to win fights. He may not have been the most innovative player, but his willing trigger finger and strong team fight positioning were huge assets.  
Then there’s Toyz. He was talented. He was good-looking. He was never the “Faker of Season 2” (if anyone was. it was Froggen) but he was definitely one of the strongest mid laners in the world. Toyz stood as above average in most categories - solid teamfighting, decent champion pool, and good mechanics. His most impressive asset was his laning. There he could easily take on the world’s best, consistently laying down pressure and almost always racking up a CS lead. He was most skilled on farm-heavy mid laners like Karthus and Anivia, something perfectly suited for that time’s meta. Of course, one champion stands out as his most iconic. Playing in a world with signature champions like Misaya’s Twisted Fate and Froggen’s Anivia, Toyz’ Orianna proudly stood beside them. An instant ban in games against TPA, letting through Toyz’ Orianna was a dangerous proposition. He had flawless farming, well-calculated playmaking, and a perfect sense of the best time to Shockwave. He even popularized a tactic colloquially known as the “Toyz Technique”. Because of his high APM, through a precise use of Direct Input, Toyz could increase the range of abilities. This proved effective with Orianna’s Ball - capable of unexpectedly harassing opponents even under turret. Combined with his crushing laning, and getting hit with a Ball from Toyz was as dizzying as getting hit with a ball from Giannis Antetokounmpo.  
Bebe was TPA’s jack-of-all-trades. He was perfectly capable of putting the team on his back with hyperscaling carries, but talented in a more supportive role like with Blue Build Ezreal. Bebe also deserves extra brownie points for following WeiXiao in using Ezreal’s Ultimate to wear-down minions, ushering in a new understanding of wave management. Besides having a name that’s extremely annoying to type, MiSTakE was one of the most brilliant minds the game has seen. The captain and shotcaller of TPA, the Support player was the brains of the operation. He wasn’t as good as MadLife, but he was arguably just as (if not more) influential.  While MadLife dominated games with flashy plays, MiSTakE took over matches with suffocating vision control. Even with the meager sum of gold Supports possessed, MiSTakE ignored gold-generating items in favor of wards. Seriously, check some of his games, it’s crazy. It seemed like some in games, a pair of boots and a landfill of wards comprised his entire purchase history. That’s because he knew the value of vision. I shouldn’t have to tell you that wards win games, but this was still a developing concept - at least to the point MiSTakE took it. This innovation would not just affect the Support, but every position (especially Junglers). The game was never the same. Then there’s how TPA played as a team. Like I said before, it wasn’t that groundbreaking. Rather, it was incredibly refined. At their peak, TPA had the best understanding and execution of the meta, not just in terms of individual play, but on a macro level.  At a time when early snowballing was devastating, TPA were extremely adept at level ones. Their opening game was so damn clean, entire analysis series have been written on their genius. Multiple factors highlighted their early game. In addition to the high volume of wards, MiSTakE was ahead of the curve in where to place them, always in areas allowing the most valuable information available. Additionally, their team coordination was unparalleled, commonly roaming as a five-man unit. Together they’d counter jungle, place deep wards in enemy territory, or apply pressure in other ways. Finally, they had a deft ability to predict their enemy. Because of their strong study of adversaries, TPA seemingly had a sixth sense that gave them strong advantages in the early game. It even got to the point that some fans accused the team of cheating! Because of how flawlessly they played, it certainly looked that way.   
The team also made heavy usage of Stanley as a splitpusher, opting for 4-1 pushes in the majority of games. The combination of Teleport (innovative, as Ignite, Ghost, and Exhaust were all far more used Summoner Spells), the strength of Nidalee, and Stanley’s sheer talent formed a wave of pressure that collapsed enemy structures.  That’s not to say they neglected team fighting - far from the truth. MiSTakE always made perfect shotcalling sense of battle, while Bebe stood with Genja and WeiXiao as one of the most positionally skillful AD carries in the game. Lilballz always was in a position to be a strong meatshield, offering excellent peel. Stanley either rammed down towers while his team fought, or popped into the action with Teleport to bring destruction. Toyz played Orianna, so yeah...he was good in team fights. TPA was great in how awesome they played vanilla. They didn’t win with uncommon champion picks or cheesy tactics. Just good, honest play. Excellent vision control, strong laning, and good team play. That’s what they used to be the best.  Taipei It’s sad how most of the world has forgotten TPA’s unlikely greatness. Many just see a cool upset. It was so much more. Their win at the Season Two World Championship released a shockwave-like impact, forever affecting their region and the world.  They kept the scene interesting, delaying Korean dominance and bringing a sense that anyone could win. The victory was a tremendous boon for esports in Southeast Asia, still the supreme accomplishment of the region. People still hold reverence for the legendary five-man lineup, no doubt heros to many of the players in the area. Winning Worlds was not just a strong source of pride and inspiration for local fans, but a powerful message to outside observers. Competitive gaming was real. It was possible - the winners brought the trophy to your doorstep. Taipei The achievement was a national story, picked up by major national news outlets. People were intrigued by the unknown phenomenon. Even Taiwan’s Ministry of Education talked about starting an education pathway for professional gamers, in 2012! It takes every country a while to adjust to the idea of people investing their heart and soul into a video game. TPA made that a little easier.  Of course, their win also marked a major shift in the value of esports investment. Nowadays almost every top international team spares no expense - backed by major corporations and brands. This wasn’t the case in Season 2. Azubu Frost and Blaze were supported mostly by Woong’s family. TSM’s biggest concern was Dyrus not burning their house down. Moscow Five was owned by an internationally wanted criminal.  Taipei TPA was supported by Garena, an enormous games company. Their support structure was clearly top-of-the-line (including by far the coolest outfits of the era). Most teams of this time trained in very small, casually organized gaming houses. Look at this description of TPA’s training area, according to journalist Simon Parkin: “The Taipei101 skyscraper’s stratospheric tendrils stab at the Chinese capital’s skyline. This was the first building to break the half-kilometre mark, its towering silhouette an exclamation point to mark modern man’s obsession and achievement. The 101 floors inside provide office space to many of the world’s largest investment banks and corporations, including Google and Starbucks. It’s filled with the pungent aromas of money, success. The surrounding area is some of Taipei’s “most expensive real estate, home to well-todo bankers, lawyers; it’s a seat for the city’s mayor. It’s also home to five young men who, in 2012, left their homes and moved into a penthouse apartment within the Taipei101’s shadow. The friends are unlikely neighbours to the other Xinyi District residents. They don’t have high-powered jobs in industry or technology and, at the time they moved in at least, none could be considered rich. Chen, Alex, Stanley, Toyz and Bebe are the Taipei Assassins, a professional eSports team who, for two years, used this spacious house as their headquarters, home and training facility.” Taipei While teams like AZF reportedly used each other as pillows, TPA enjoyed working amongst business elites. Seemingly every whim was taken care of, as Parkin later noted: ““Garena, a private company based in Singapore, paid for the house, its twenty computers, food and weekly cleaners.” The team showed the value of proper infrastructure and support. From that point on, the best teams followed this blueprint, every world champion a massive organization. Whether those teams were directly inspired by TPA is debatable, but there’s no doubt that the latter were trailblazers. The last point I wanted to bring out wasn’t earth-shattering, but it’s stuck with me as I finish writing this, and it just feels right to share. TPA brought one of the most powerful moments in esports broadcasting history. Do yourself a favor and please watch the marked video, for at least ninety seconds.   
I’ve watched this excerpt countless times, and it still always gets me. It barely requires explanation, it needs to be seen. Vincent Lee’s (a friend of the team) emotional reaction to TPA’s win. The team’s passionate voice communication. Both give me chills. That’s the main thing I love about esports - seeing the joy and devotion people have for the game. They gave us that in spades. You don’t get to see it with most teams. You do with the Taipei Assassins.
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