League of Legends esports fans around the world collectively picked their jaws up off the floor as Albux NoX Luna became the first ever Wildcard team to qualify for the Quarterfinals of Worlds, following their wins over North America’s Counter Logic Gaming and the Korean #1 seed and tournament favourites ROX Tigers.
ANX trailed Vega Squadron 0-2 in the LCL summer finals, and yet just under two months later they’ve booked their ticket to Chicago as one of the top 8 teams in the World, a dizzying rise to power. Though they could not secure the first seed in the group outright after losing to G2 Esports, the European team’s only victory at this year’s Worlds, and eventually fell to ROX Tigers in a tiebreaker for the first seed.
They began the day with a victory over CLG in dominating fashion, as the North American team continued to worsen their record against Wildcard teams, with a combined score of 2-4 over the last three international tournaments. ANX amassed a huge 14k gold lead as they crushed CLG in 30 minutes, with PVPStejos on Graves and Smurf on his patented Poppy leading the heroic charge through CLG’s back line.
The highlight of the day, however, came in the form of one of the most exciting games we have witnessed in the history of competitive League of Legends. Albus NoX Luna, in 66 minutes, conquered the favourites for Worlds 2016, the #1 seed from Korea, ROX Tigers. Going into this match many would have said, despite the team’s previous successes, ANX would need a miracle to win this game. Well, aMiracle is exactly what they got.
ANX’s AD Carry went off this game, dying only once in an epic back-and-forth struggle that could have flipped on its head at any moment. He went toe-to-toe with Pray, a veteran AD Carry and one of the best in the world in his position, at all points. While Pray tried his damndest to carry ROX Tigers to victory, it was aMiracle that carried crucial team fights to keep his team on the path to victory.
Though aMiracle put on his best performance of the tournament thus far, it’s hard to single out a lone MVP on this ANX lineup after such an incredible suite of performances. Kira took home the play of the game for his genius, near solo-kill on the Elder Drake that enabled ANX to press their advantage into ROX’s base. Smurf turned around a 3v1 in the top lane, allowing his team to collapse on the overextended ROX members, paving the way for more neutral objectives.
Despite ANX’s dominance in the early-to-mid game, it looked like ROX could turn the game on its head at any point, mostly thanks to two (yes, two!) barons steals, one by Kuro and the second by none other than Peanut. After ANX managed to destroy all three of ROX Tigers’ inhibitors, a final, chaotic fight broke out in the Tigers’ base. When all hope seemed lost for ANX in the fight, Likkrit and Smurf finally focused the Nexus, one last Taric ult from the Russian support allowed him the couple of attacks needed to close out one of the most unforgettable games we’ve seen at a World Championship.
During tense moments ANX struggled to execute, but Likkrit insists they always had a plan. “We made a lot of weird mistakes we would never do in such a long game,” he tells us. “But we knew what to do. Sometimes we fail, but we had a goal, we had a plan, and it went all according to keikaku [anime reference meaning ‘just as planned’].”
ROX Tigers recovered to beat CLG in the final scheduled match of the day, eliminating the North American team from the tournament to set up a tiebreaker with Albus NoX Luna for seeding. Due to both teams finishing with a 4-2 record and 1-1 in the head-to-head, they had to face off against each other one final time to decide who would advance as the group’s winner, and who would be forced to collide with another group’s winner in the Quarterfinals.
Unfortunately for the LCL upstarts, their exploits earlier in the day seemed to sap their focus as they fell multiple times in the early game, with ROX’s bot lane dominating their counterparts on ANX. The collapse really began in the draft phase, with a suspect Olaf ban that allowed Peanut to pick up his favoured Elise for the second game in a row, having just dismantled CLG with the Spider Queen.
Peanut controlled the early game and helped Pray and Gorilla assert dominance over the bot lane, a calculated dive sending both aMiracle and Likkrit back to the fountain. From there ANX fell one by one as ROX continued to apply pressure and crush ANX in the mid game. ANX’s collapse wasn’t unexpected and it was forgivable, the emotional stress they must have been under during their victory over ROX would have been draining, as inspiring as Likkrit’s speech after that game was.
Despite huge victories for ANX, Likkrit remains focused on steady improvement. “Everyone in our team thinks we could do better,” he says. “That is the most important thing. We could do better, we could beat ROX on the first day, we could beat G2 today, but we didn't and that's sad. As for the win, yes it's great, but we are not done yet. We will try hard to the end, do or die.”
Likkrit and the rest of ANX now turn their sights to their quarterfinals matchup in Chicago. If they can dodge SKT and face an NA team instead, Likkrit will be happy. “Definitely not SKT. Nobody wants SKT, “he says. “We would prefer someone from NA if possible, because their playstyle is pretty comfortable for us to play against. Or maybe EU, but... not gonna happen.”
FIGHT OR (HOMEBOUND) FLIGHT
With Group A now decided, we look to the rest of the Groups as teams fight for passage to Chicago and the Quarterfinals, continuing with Group C on Friday. After a historic day for the LCL region, Likkrit offers some advice to the other teams outside the major regions that will attempt to replicate or surpass their success in the future. “We stole something from CLG. We stole faith,” said Likkrit. “And now, every team in Wildcard regions will know that it's possible, you can do it. All you need is to try hard and relax a bit before the tournament.”
Tune into watch.lolesports.com to catch all the action as we lock in two more of the eight teams that will proceed to the Knockout Stages!