The History of Moscow Five/Gambit — Scholar’s Mate

Chris Sutphen 2021-12-21 06:59:55
  This is the essential element that cannot be measured by any analysis or device, and I believe it's at the heart of success in all things: the power of intuition and the ability to harness and use it like a master - Garry Kasparov I found it fitting to begin with a quote from the former-World Chess Champion, Garry Kasparov. He reminds me a lot of Moscow Five—more than the fact that they’re both Russian. As we see from this quote, his philosophy towards chess was one of belligerence and bravery. As he put it, this strong-willed approach is not only powerful in Chess, but as he said, “in all things.” Moscow Five/Gambit Gaming showed this in League of Legends. Any student knows the old-M5 to be one of the greatest and most exciting teams in history. I would go beyond that. In some ways, M5 is the first “great team”. Ever. That may seem dismissive of teams before them—teams like Fnatic and Counter Logic Gaming. Not even mentioning that M5 dominated for longer than either of those teams, something else sets them apart: their gameplay.  The games of any “great” team pre-Moscow Five has been ruined with time. Watching George "HotshotGG" Georgallidis in League is like watching George Mikan in basketball. They’re good, but they might as well have been playing a different game.  That’s not the case with our Russian friends. When I watch their games today, it’s as genius watching now as it was back then. Every player was so unique. Their teamwork was incredible. And they had a new approach to the game that we still see the influence of today. Kasparov’s point is poetic. An even better description comes from James “2GD” Harding about Russian esports players in general, “...you don’t know what the f*ck they’re thinking. And that’s what makes them so dangerous.” Demystifying Darien Darien may be the most overlooked player of his era. With Alex Ich and Diamondprox receiving all the team’s praise, Darien was the black sheep of the team. He got caught out in the lane, his champion pool went up to your toes, and he could never quit pulling silly nonsense. Looking back in hindsight, but one thing is for certain: Darien has not received his due.   Darien was both stubborn and generous. That’s a good thing—as his team used him well. His stubbornness in not expanding his pool developed some powerful comfort picks—ones reliable to take a ban or two. At the same time, he could still play new champions at the drop of a hat (though not necessarily well) to open up options in their composition. Together these habits contributed to a very threatening draft from M5.  Not only that, but him choosing to only focus on a few champions at a time meant for some impressive innovations. Along with Wickd, Darien deserves credit for turning Renekton from a weak situational pick to a top lane standard.  What made Darien effective was that for all his weird shenanigans, Gambit found a use for it. He had strange item builds and laning habits. Diamondprox then developed a strong understanding of him, leading to strong synergy between the two. His proxy-farming and pressure was so relentless, the team always had opportunities to farm and take objectives when he drew out the enemy. And for every time he was caught out—M5's counterattacks turned these mistakes to their advantage.  Darien is League of Legends’ Dennis Rodman. He had a unique playstyle—one that most teams would undervalue. What he was good at he was very good at. And in the hands of a genius team like M5, he was a powerful weapon.  Also, they’re both freakin’ weird. King’s Gambit It’s hard at first glance to understand why Darien was great. A brief look at Diamondprox, and you’ll be hit with a speeding bus of innovation and skill. As you wake up from your daze, you’ll say “Wow, this guy was good!”. Diamondprox is one of the most important League of Legends players in history. There have been junglers that have surpassed him in skill and achievement. But no player has—and likely ever will—elevate the position as much as he did.  Remember, this was the man that read a guide to Amumu, selected him with no practice, and won the game. In a professional match. He learned new champions at will. More than that, he innovated champions at will. Nasus, Aatrox, Evelynn, Udyr, Lee Sin, etc. Some junglers don’t even have champion pools as large as the amount of new picks he brought to the meta.  There was also his mechanical innovation. For years Lee Sin has been the jungler’s chance to show their technical prowess. Diamondprox was the first great Lee Sin—the first one to make the selection a firework display. Search any game in his early years playing, and you’ll see a Blind Monk as impressive as those today. Even watching one of his earliest games, you can find him pulling the famous inSec move more than a full year before being attributed to the legendary Korean player. 
Introducing a new champion is an impressive feat for any player—multiple even moreso. That wasn’t enough for Diamondprox. He changed the entire approach to his position—an uncommon tactic called counter-jungling. There were attempts to counter-jungle before Diamondprox. But it was seen as a cheese tactic destroyed by warding and strong map awareness. 
It was a perfect storm for Diamondprox in making the strategy work. He already had a leg-up against opposing junglers because of his individual skill and dueling ability. He had aggressive lanes that he could coordinate with to both scare off and draw out the enemy. And his team set him up with wards and Clairvoyance (an antiquated Summoner Spell version of Farsight Alteration).  Diamondprox could enter the enemy jungle unafraid of any consequences. The rewards for this strategy were overwhelming. Because they had tabs on the enemy jungler and dominated vision, M5 laned aggressive and grabbed objectives for free. Even if the enemy jungler managed to sneak in, Diamondprox’s counter-jungling starved them of gold and experience to execute a proper gank. And Diamondprox wasn’t only weakening the enemy—he always became a juggernaut.  Because of his constant presence in the enemy jungle. He was far more often in positions to gank than a traditional jungler. This meant he had far greater farming opportunities as well. Other players that farmed in their own jungle had to waste time walking across the map to be in position to gank. Because counter-jungling already put Diamondprox in position, his farming was much more efficient. That’s why despite being an aggressive player, he was always found at the top of CS for junglers.  Diamondprox changed the game. He not only redefined the jungle, but changed teams’ approaches to warding. Although some considered him the best player, he wasn’t considered the leader. That goes to Alex Ich.  Centrifugal Force Though M5’s laning phase centered around Diamondprox—Alex Ich led the charge from there. Everyone knows the team’s captain was amazing. He’s considered one of the best players of his time. A strong leader, and an elite mid laner in his prime. That’s why it may seem weird that I find Alex Ich underrated. At his peak, he was the best player in the world. At the very least, he should be in discussion for it. The main reason people put players like Froggen and MadLife over Alex Ich is because of their quality of teammates. The former had to carry more—Alex Ich’s team was stronger. While there is some truth to that (less than most people would think), it ignores the fact that Alex Ich was the reason many of his teammates’ playstyles were even possible.  His way of playing within M5 was uniquely suited to the team. “See hero, kill hero” was the motto—he was a master of engagements. Yes, part of this is because he had a strong jungler in Diamondprox, but it was not a parasitic relationship. Alex Ich’s pressure in lane gave consistent opportunities for his jungler to gank. Additionally, the mid laner was instrumental to Diamondprox’s innovations. Alex Ich often left lane and assisted Diamondrox on his invasions of the enemy jungle. This created a terrible situation for enemy mid laners—forced to either waste searching their jungle, or risk losing ward control and teammates’ lives. More than that, Diamondprox could counter-jungle in safety. Alex Ich’s presence meant meeting the enemy jungler was an easy 2 on 1. Even meeting 2 enemies was favorable for the Russians—as the two could easily beat out most other combos. Without Alex Ich—there would be no Diamondprox.  On teamfights, you could find Alex Ich right in the middle of the fray. His preferred playstyle was to be in the center of the action—attempting to deal as much damage as possible. He was a master of finding the right moment to fight, and could craft a winning team fight situation for his team—even if it meant his death. 
Alex Ich could play other ways. Watching his masterful CS games with champions like Galio is evidence of that. The fact he was potent with so many champions further proves this. Alex Ich is a unique case where not only was he individually excellent, his playstyle actively helped his teammates to excel. The perfect leader for such an insane beast. Tactical Omniscience Besides Diamondprox, the player that most preyed on Alex Ich’s playstyle was Genja. The “brain” of the team—Genja had one of the greatest minds for the game of anyone in history. He questioned everything. Those crazy strategies like the Blue Buff Urgot mentioned earlier? That was the work of Genja. Coming up with crazy tactics is only the beginning for the innovations of League of Legends’ Frankenstein.  He crafted the team’s compositions. He innovated many champions—both in and out of his position. And his item builds...wow. He was the game’s most prolific theory crafter. So often he experimented with odd builds, you’d have a harder time finding games he wasn’t attempting to innovate a build. He was so reliable in creating strong meta item builds, other players (imp in Season 4) copied him without fully considering the logic behind the purchases. That’s how good he was. Genja was not all brain though. At his core he was a talented AD carry, though not in the traditional sense. His supportive style of play was unique to every other marksman. Once again we have a player that was tailor-made for his teammates. He wasn’t one to make plays, opting for a safer style both in lane and in teamfights. Compared to someone like WeiXiao or Doublelift that received strong support—Genja was left alone. Not only did Edward sometimes leave him in lane by himself, he received no peel from his bloodthirsty teammates. He turned their fire into gold, however. 
Many of his innovative builds were based on his unique playstyle. He had his triple Doran’s Blade path when he needed a leg up in lane, and had his Tear of the Goddess build prepared when it came time to teamfight. Because of the lack of peel, Genja used the unorthodox approach of focusing on abilities over auto-attacks during fights—opting for champions like Varus, Ashe, and Urgot. Hanging back for the majority of the fight—Genja stayed alive as long as possible as his teammates took the dirtier jobs. Besides WeiXiao, his positioning was the most intelligent of any player alive, and his kiting ability almost insulted the competition—easily able to shut down most dangerous chasedowns. All this combined created an immortal vulture, eager to pick off anyone that survived the carnage M5 created.  Oracle of the Empire Besides his item build innovations, Genja did not change the game. Not in the same way as someone like Diamondprox. What he did do though, was find success playing in a way never done before (or after). That’s special.  For the calculated sniper that was Genja, who better to pair him with than the the barbaric Edward? It’d be difficult to find a Support more opposite to Genja's game philosophy than Edward. He was violent. He was always looking to make plays. And he was always eager to cannonball into whatever bloodbath teamfight Gambit created.  Genja and Edward many times did not enjoy playing with one another. In fact, the whole reason for Genja’s solo-Urgot strategy was to avoid playing with him. Their personal preferences aside—the combination worked. It was yin and yang. In lane it was as if Genja held the leash of a pitbull—at least sometimes he could keep him from doing anything too dangerous, but more often than not he was pulled into fighting situations he otherwise wouldn’t have joined. In teamfights, Edward was M5’s second option for engagements after Alex Ich. Even with metas making it dangerous for a Support to jump in, Edward was fearless in his initiations, and distracted teams well enough to not focus Genja. During Edward’s prime, the Support position was in a very weak place. He was one of the only players that made a difference with the role—making Genja a far more significant marksman, and always making an impact in teamfights. Many of his power picks could even draw out bans. While most Supports focused on ward coverage, Edward was pulling off some of the craziest Absolute Zeros, Crescendos, and Death Sentences around—plays that could single-handedly win games for his team. An Island of Misfit Toys Like any elite team, M5 had some of the best players in the world. What made them unique from every other team was how they fit together. They did more than balance each other out—it was more than a case of the sum being more than its parts. They were essential to one another’s success. Their understanding of each others’ strengths and weaknesses made them five pieces hard to fit elsewhere. 
After Alex Ich left, most of the players had difficulty maintaining their identity. Even when Edward left for a split the team looked nowhere near their former glory. Most of their playstyles were not the strongest in a vacuum. Had you stuck Genja, Darien, or even Diamondprox on other strong teams—they wouldn’t have been as effective with their playstyles. But putting all their odd playstyles together—like an island of misfit toys—it made something special.  Together they were a beast—one unique from every other team. At every level Gambit was confusing and terrifying to play. Their drafts. Their laning. Their build paths. Their teamfighting. Their late-game decisions. You could never get in the heads of the Russians. Any opportunity to innovate, break rules, and exceed expectations, Gambit were eager to do so.  Once again in the words of Garry Kasparov, “Attackers may sometimes regret bad moves, but it is much worse to forever regret an opportunity you allowed to pass you by.” I don’t think Gambit has many regrets. 
If you enjoyed this piece, follow the author on Twitter at @OddballCreator. Images courtesy of Lolesports/Gambit Gaming Missed the earlier pieces? Start from Part 1!  

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