The League of Legends World Championship is the culminating event to a yearlong battle for supremacy. Only one team earns the right to stand above all the others. And that same pinnacle embodies the hundreds of hours fans put into League of Legends -- what esports does is provide a stage for all the fantastical moments the average gamer enjoys in isolation. Every timely Flash or kill. Every win. Every loss. We summon champions to experience something beyond what we are physically capable of. And the World Championship summons players who have pushed those boundaries the furthest.
2011 World Championship: The Queen’s Gambit
Finals Game 1 | against All authority vs. Fnatic
In the inaugural League of Legends World Champilonship Final, aAa fought back from the loser’s bracket for a rematch against Fnatic. aAa held a commanding lead and only needed to hammer the final nail into the coffin. A win would erase their series deficit and send the series to its deciding game. But when YellOwStaR’s Ashe stepped too far forward and ate a stun from Brand, he could only watch as his health bar melted. No amount of clicking would undo his mistake. Two of his teammates followed him to their demise, and another was chased across the entire map. For nearly a minute, YellOwStaR watched from his grayed-out screen and waited to respawn.
He settled down and took the time to re-string his bow. He pulled an arrow from his quiver. He took aim. And on his respawn, YellOwStaR shot his redemption across the entire map. Maybe he said a little prayer when he released it. Maybe luck commandeered its trajectory. But shots like that are fired with the intent to strike -- to pierce and unravel a game. And when they do strike, all the little hairs on the body rise and celebrate like they knew it was going to hit all along.
2012 World Championship: The Little Giants
Finals Game 3 | Azubu Frost vs. Taipei Assassins
For every valiant tale of David conquering Goliath, there are a thousand counterexamples where Goliath crushes little David beneath his feet. The Taipei Assassins had played the part of David throughout the 2012 World Championship -- the underdogs who again and again fired back at their daunting foes. In the Finals, though, they faced an Azubu Frost squad hailing from Korea -- the Mecca of esports. The same Korea that would go on to live up to its reputation and dominate the competitive League of Legends scene over the next three years. But that was delayed by the Taipei Assassins.
Toyz was one of the major cogs in disrupting the system that year and remains a lasting symbol for the little-known might of the Taiwanese region. His memory would become synonymous with the origin of Orianna as a reliable staple pick in the mid lane. The proverbial ball was literally in his court as he rushed headstrong to the aid of his teammate in the river. The mere sound of his footsteps sent the Azubu squad fleeing back into their jungle -- it was akin to watching a mouse scare an elephant. Toyz’ pursuit wasn’t just a chest puff, though. He caught up to the enemy Shen, just barely, and reeled him in to his death with Orianna’s ball -- the very ball that little David had been slinging the entire tournament.
2013 World Championship: The Spider’s Descent
Group Stage Day 1 | Oh My God vs. TSM
Fights near Baron Nashor are some of the most exhilarating moments in League of Legends. You can hear the casters' voices crescendo. You can see the little steps of hesitation as players dance in and out and around the Pit. The whole air surrounding the moment feels thinner, as if everyone -- players and casters and audience alike -- have taken a simultaneous inhale. Slaying Baron can provide the final push a team needs to barrel into the Nexus. But it can also breathe new life into a team feeling beaten and keeled over.
In the 2013 World Championship, China’s OMG, one of the tournament favorites, had started their assault on Baron and were quickly making worm-meat out of it. Enter TheOddOne -- TSM’s steadfast “General.” TheOddOne lurked nearby as Elise -- a spider far removed from the safety of its web. His task was less do-or-die and more do-and-die. Between his teammates being scattered and the large discrepancy in gold, TheOddOne’s only option was to steal the Baron with one quick gasp. And so he launched himself into the air before descending with a heavenly strike. A final smite in the face of his enemies. One last charge from the General.
2014 World Championship: The Preying Mantis
Group Stage Day 3 | Fnatic vs. Oh My God
After a grueling back-and-forth game in the 2014 World Championship, Fnatic demonstrated their patented moxie by trying to circumvent OMG's base for a backdoor victory. It started with a Teleport from sOAZ’s Rumble. Then all eight legs of Cyanide’s Elise crept through the OMG base. And then xPeke’s Syndra. Together, Fnatic catapulted themselves at OMG’s Nexus in a seemingly unrelenting assault.
Rewind to a few moments before, right as Rumble’s Teleport finished channeling -- OMG’s Loveling immediately caught scent of the peril and recalled back to his base with Kog’Maw’s slime dripping down his back. Rumble was lighting Loveling’s Nexus on fire. Every few steps, a little robotic thrust chiseled away at its health. And just as he put that fire out, Elise and Syndra entered the base. Minions were clashing at his feet. The small war raged on, but when the dust cleared, OMG's Nexus stood alongside Loveling. A single breath from death.
2015 World Championship: The Demon King
Finals Game 4 | KOO Tigers vs. SK Telecom T1
SK Telecom T1 and Faker entered the 2015 World Championship with all sights locked on their backs. Every step they took was plagued by the hands of the fallen nipping at their ankles. But that didn’t stop them. Faker, the undisputed best player in the world for the last few years, surged his way to the top with Ryze. One of League of Legends’ most iconic champions took center stage. Faker embodied Ryze’s might and demonstrated that, sometimes, raw power can’t be outwitted.
Faker returned to the top of the summit. One king to rule them all. He has been the undisputed best player in the world for the last few years. And whereas the other highlighted summoned champions battled through diversity, Faker strutted in with a king’s aura. His play showed how games can transcend the digital space. The crowd crescendoed as the Finals reached its conclusion. These last kills were the final death knell to another season. Now, Faker sits on the throne that has been coveted by anyone – professional or not – who has wanted to win. And he welcomes any new challengers.
The World Championship begins on September 29. Which champions will be summoned this year?