The History of Moscow Five/Gambit — Checkmate

Chris Sutphen 2021-12-13 09:27:35
  Introduction Gambit was riding a high coming into 2014. With Edward back, the band was back together. They looked strong at IEM Cologne and Battle of the Atlantic—better than any of the other teams in Europe. If it kept going in this direction, they’d be favorites to win the EU LCS. 
It started off concerning. Their play was very good. They worked well as a team and everyone, even Darien, was performing well individually. The problem was Fnatic. With their secret weapon Rekkles now old enough to play in LCS, the reigning European champions looked even stronger than before. As the weeks went on, Gambit was always playing second fiddle to them.  Gambit would overtake them—in one of the strangest ways possible. They wouldn’t fight the good fight and overcome their demon, it was more they got ready to fight and found their opponent dead from a heart attack. After an undefeated beginning streak, Fnatic started to plummet in the standings with a string of confusing losses. Gambit hadn’t changed anything, but were now suddenly the de facto top team in Europe. With their ticket to that year’s IEM World Championship, they were in a prime position to take another of the series’ titles.  That year’s IEM World Championship had a very mediocre lineup of teams. The majority of the rosters were either bottom tier teams (Millenium, KT Rolster Bullets, Team WE) or hailing from less respected regions (Taipei Assassins). They quickly made it out of groups to then face the KT Bullets. With how awful that team looked domestically, and the poor quality of play of Cloud9 and Fnatic on the other side of the bracket, many Gambit fans could see the IEM trophy in sight. 
The Korean hype train was running too fast. It was almost as if it was a...bullet train (if you stop reading now, I don’t blame you). Korea was just so ahead as a region that a team barely capable of making it to the playoffs was able to not only win IEM, but not lose a single game in the process. Although their game 2 against the Koreans was extremely close, the Russians once again found themselves edged out by superior competition. They’d lead in 3rd-4th place.  With their failure at the World Championship, the Russians found themselves in a peculiar state of deja vu. After coming into form at an IEM competition (Katowice/Cologne), Gambit performed as the strongest team in the region. Once again, they’d lose the IEM World Championship, only to find the rug swept underneath them as they returned home. Just like last year, they’d be overtaken as the EU LCS’s top team. Only this time it’d be worse.  Gambit’s last three weeks of the split were embarrassing—going 2-6 throughout. At the same time, several other teams had woken up right in time to pass them at the finish line, including their old friends at Fnatic. In just two weeks, Gambit had sank from first to fifth. The trouble wouldn’t stop there. Neither would the deja vu.  The playoffs were a disappointment. They immediately fell 0-2 to ROCCAT, and just barely nixed having to play in the relegation tournament in the 5th place decider match. With the end of the split came a familiar predicament: the loss of a player. Only this time, it was Alex Ich. Meltdown It was a big deal when Edward left the team. For Alex Ich—they were losing the beating heart of the team. It wasn’t just that. They were losing the main carry of the squad. They were losing more than two years of synergy between the mid lane and jungle. And they were losing a fundamental piece in Gambit’s playstyle.
Alex Ich was tired. After having to fly to and from the LCS every week, the father and husband wanted to find a more stable living situation. He was sick of the mid lane meta and wanted to reinvent himself as a top laner. And though the details were never fully released, it was also clear the team suffered many internal issues. He wanted out. This is where it starts getting really ugly. The team’s replacement mid laner NiQ was decent, but nowhere near the quality of leader and play Alex Ich was. The team not only slumped individually but looked completely lost on a macro level as well. No longer did a handful of teams overtake them, it was nearly everyone. They didn’t even falter as time went on. They were dead on arrival. Gambit hovered around the bottom of the standings for the majority of the split. To make matters worse, other players on the roster began dropping out. Darien, Diamondprox, and Genja were all swapped out at various points. There was no longer hope that Gambit could be revived to their previous selves. They were unrecognizable. Just months before they were playing on the biggest stage in the World - hyped up as potentially the best team in Europe. Now they sat at the bottom of the barrel - forced to play in the Relegation Tournament. Though they won this matchup and remained in the LCS, it was sad to think they’d fallen that fast.  As a longtime fan of the team, the next few months for the team were definitely the most confusing. At the time many fans thought the team was returning to strength, but looking back, it was still pretty bad. I’m not even going to act like them winning that year’s IEM Cologne was somehow a return to form (especially because their performance at that year’s IEM World Championship was their worst yet).
You could approach it from the angle that it’s another example of Gambit coming into their own at IEM events, but it’s disingenuous. Beating  two mid-tier NA teams was not worthy of celebration.  The team was okay in the 2015’s Spring Split, but that was it. It was just okay. Besides the occasional heroics of Diamondprox, the team was completely different in identity, playstyle, and success. There just wasn’t really anything special about the team. They made the playoffs in a relatively respectable fourth place, but once again flopped in their first series.  They had a bit more potential in the Summer Split with the addition of star bottom laner FORG1VEN, but his inclusion never really worked out. The team had an extremely slow start in last place, spending most of the season climbing out of that hole. Right as they started putting it all together, FORG1VEN was suspended due to toxicity, losing them crucial games. The team once again was on the chopping block, forced once again to play (and survive) the Promotion Tournament. It didn’t even matter. By the end of the year, the organization announced they sold their EU LCS spot to Team Vitality. Everyone was leaving. Very unceremoniously, one of the most iconic League of Legends teams was now almost completely erased from the scene. No sign of the team or any of the players. It was weird—because up until then that had never really happened before. Great teams dissolved, but usually either the organization or some of the players stuck around. Darien and Genja were retired. Edward and Diamondprox found new teams. And Alex Ich never landed on his feet when he left the roster—usually playing on Challenger rosters in NA. All of Empire, M5, and Gambit looked to be gone. It came back, but not in a way I think anyone was expecting. See, Gambit announced at the beginning of 2016 that they’d re-enter League of Legends—this time in the CIS. Featuring a grouping of European challenger players, it was nice seeing the branding, but bittersweet with no connection to the original team. That changed when Diamondprox ran into visa issues while playing for Unicorns of Love, rejoining his old organization. The new squad soon qualified for the successor to the SLTV StarSeries, the LoL Continental League (LCL). A new era of Gambit was upon us. Note: I’m not going to cover every roster change of this iteration of Gambit—only the ones I deem important. Covering every one would be messy and really boring.  A New Leaf Don’t get me wrong, this new era was really sad for a bit. The LCL was undeveloped, even compared to other wildcard regions. The playerbase was extremely small in CIS, and the league games weren’t even offline. Even with these conditions...Gambit was a bottom-tier team there.  No one could blame Diamondprox for not going along with them, choosing to try his hand at playing in NA to hopefully get a visa. The experiment failed, with his Challenger team not even qualifying for the Promotion tournament. When Diamondprox crawled back in 2016 Spring, once again failing to make the playoffs. It was a hard time being a Gambit fan. It started to work. LCL finally got a studio, and Gambit went all out in creating a winning formula. Clearly the organization was sick of the mediocrity, as they replaced everyone except Diamondprox. Instead of seeking out undeveloped talent, Gambit convinced some of the best talent in the region to join them. Alexander "PvPStejos" Glazkov, Daniel "Blasting" Kudrin, and Mykhailo "Kira" Harmash—all CIS veterans considered near the best of their positions. Oh, and Edward rejoined too for good measure.  With a star-studded lineup and a weakened field in LCL, Gambit were poised to win and they did. They dominated all of the Summer split, and had a close finals to win the playoffs. Gambit was back at the World Championship. Sure they weren’t the team of years ago that threatened to win the whole thing—they didn’t even win a game. But in a world where so many ancient great teams never saw the light of day years later—Gambit still stood.  This wasn’t their last hurrah either, this core of players (which faced a few roster changes) brought Gambit an even more impressive year in 2018. They won the Spring playoffs, qualifying for MSI and gave a decently strong performance. They once again won in Summer—qualifying for Worlds and narrowly losing a best-of-five against the Cloud9 team that made the semifinals. After that, though the team wouldn't win another championship, they always stood around the top of the region. Diamondprox and Edward eventually retired, and after a few runs in LCL short of the championship, Gambit announced the dissolution of their League of Legends team. With that, all remnants of the magical team were gone. Of course, that’s not true at all. Even with Gambit completely gone from League of Legends, even with all the players retired, the legacy of the team lives on. We see it in their unprecedented dominant teams try to reach every year, in the way we play the game, and in the culture of esports. Even if the final nail has been struck into the team’s coffin: Gambit lives on.
If you enjoyed this piece, follow the author on Twitter at @OddballCreator. Images courtesy of Gambit Gaming / Riot Games  

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