The rise of the international Wildcard region

The League of Legends World Championship felt predictable. Viewers witnessed very strategical and controlled games, watched the same faces rise to the top, the same champions getting picked and banned. Crazy strategies and plays were hard to find as pro players were not willing to take big risks, finding it easier to win by resorting to slow but steady gameplays. There was simply too much at stake.

2015 saw many one-sided sweeps. Many teams with different skill levels were pitted against one another and even the finale of the WCS was quite one-sided. With a 3:1 that might as well have been a 3:0 sweep, SK Telecom took the title that year, after they thoroughly outclassed their enemies one by one. It seemed like this would be the status quo from now on.

Yet in 2016, a Wildcard Team unexpectedly became the center of attention in the group stage. ANX fought their way into the WCS and introduced itself to the international community with a bang.

Underestimated and ignored

Wildcard teams don’t get noticed much and are out of the WCS before many realise that they were a part of the competition. Compared to other teams, their playstyle is unconventional, at times even sloppy and they have difficulties to keep their cool when cornered. Matches with wildcard teams do not receive the same interest as teams from the established Leagues in e.g. EU or China do. Fans tend to underestimate them, since history has taught them to: No Wildcard team has been able to advance to the knock-out stage before. It is not only fans, that show a lack of interest in the Wildcard teams – while bootcamping in South-Korea the LCS teams refused to scrim against them.

Rising through the ranks

But there they were, Albus Nox Luna. They showed up with a stubborn mindset and a willingness to fight to the bitter end. With an enduring spirit they willed down one of the strongest teams of 2016: ROX Tigers.

In a game that lasted over 65 minutes, Albus Nox Luna was able to even out the huge advantage that ROX Tigers accumulated early-on by surprising them with off-meta picks. Mid-game ANX caught ROX off guard and in a strong teamfight they were able to take the lead. The crowd cheered as the wildcard team took down ROX Tigers,  that would go on to battle SKT in the closest set of games of the 2016 World Championship.

By winning this game, ANX was not only able to advance to the quarterfinals, they were also able to write themselves into the pages of history as the first international wildcard team to survive the group stage. The crowd chanted their names and celebrated the ultimate underdog showing up one of the strongest teams worldwide.

The end of the journey

In the end, they weren’t able to break through H2K in the quarterfinals. They fought hard, biting and clawing their way through the games, unwilling to give up. They used every single chance that presented itself, but ultimately they weren’t able to will them down. The difference in their skill was too apparent and ANX’s hotheadedness led to mistakes that were easily exploited by H2K. Reality set in and the wildcard dream came to an end.

Yet, it didn’t matter that they lost. We loved ANX for everything they were: For Likkrit’s epic speeches in which he addressed the crowd like a general adresses an army right before battle, exclaiming “Hey guys! We are from Wildcard, being [an] underdog doesn’t mean being a loser.” For PVPStejos, asking us to celebrate their rival H2K when they had beat ANX fair and square showed humility and sportsmanship. They were what many established teams were not: Unafraid. They had nothing to lose.

Looking towards the future of the International Wildcard Region

Why did we become so enamoured with this team? There is a simple answer to this question: David can win over Goliath. Even though this David didn’t kill the giant just wounding him showed us, that hopeless situations can be overcome by believing in the impossible. Thank you.

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