Order and Progress, INTZ e-Sports and Red Canids

INTZ e-Sports after winning the 2015 CBLoL Summer title (Riot Games Brazil/lolesportsbr)
INTZ e-Sports after winning the 2015 CBLoL Summer title (Riot Games Brazil/lolesportsbr)

On June 20, 2014, INTZ e-Sports Club were created from the roster of Out of Position. They were met with little fanfare within Brazil — just another passing team announcement — while the region geared up for their regional finals that July.

Monopolizing Brazilian League of Legends headlines at that time was the roster of Keyd Stars. Their two Korean imports, Park “Winged” Tae-jin and An “SuNo” Sun-ho had led Keyd to a first-place regular season finish. Fully expected to represent Brazil at the upcoming wildcard tournament, Keyd were ousted by the homegrown roster of KaBuM! e-Sports. KaBuM!, a fourth-place team that season, made a miraculous run at the 2014 Brazilian Regional Finals to compete at the 2014 World Championship.

KaBuM! e-Sports then put the idea of Brazilian League of Legends into the collective community consciousness by upsetting Alliance in a best-of-one at the 2014 World Championship group stage.

The creation of a new League of Legends team can be as high-profile as anything in the esports industry. Dominating headlines this past offseason was the superteam of KT Rolster, assembled from returning champions and the massive telecom company’s indomitable AD-carry-turned-jungler Go “Score” Dong-bin. Their new lineup was met with praise, anticipation, and no small amount of skepticism. The announcement turned the heads of League of Legends fans around the world.

Other times, announcements fly under the radar due to perceived mediocrity, such as how the then-HUYA Tigers became one of the best teams in the world. At their inception, they were a team of washed-up pros headlined by star support Kang “GorillA” Beom-hyeon that had to go through the qualifier to even make it to the OGN stage. Murmurs that GorillA, the best performer of a shaky NaJin White Shield team at the 2014 League of Legends World Championship, should have found another, better, team were only quashed by the Tigers’ dominion over the inaugural season of LoL Champions Korea in 2015 spring.

At times, a team that received little attention at first can surprise.

In minor regions — “wildcards” in the lexicon, although Riot Games themselves have recently endeavored to move away from that moniker — players come and go with little to no reporting outside of their region. Even within domestic discussions, outside of a few well-known players or major region imports, some moves go unnoticed.

Brazil occupies a nebulous position between major and minor region, behind in gameplay quality but ahead in sheer population size. The fifth most-populated country in the world, Brazil has grown its League of Legends scene on the backs of its fans, rather than a highly-competitive playerbase.

So, on December 2, 2014, when Gabriel “Revolta” Henud joined the existing roster of INTZ — Felipe “Yang” Zhao, Gabriel “Tockers” Claumann, Micael “micaO” Rodrigues, and Luan “Jockster” Cardoso — Brazilian fans chatted about it for a day, if that, before moving on to what would happen on more popular teams like Keyd Stars and paiN Gaming. A Facebook photo of the inconsistent jungler in a white t-shirt, close haircut, and Harry Potter-like Coke-bottle glasses seated at a small table while signing his contract and giving a peace sign was all that commemorated the occasion.

What followed was a roster that dominated their region every split they loaded onto the Rift together. Revolta was the key that unlocked potential from many of INTZ’s members. As a result, the team formed around Revolta.

“Basically on INTZ we had a pretty simple game plan,” former INTZ mid laner Tockers said. “Which was usually to use every single lane advantage to get Revolta ahead. That was how INTZ worked.”

The only CBLoL season that INTZ failed to win across two years of competitive play was Winter 2015. It was their only split across two years without Revolta, who had returned to his prior team, Keyd Stars. Yet it was paiN Gaming that represented Brazil at the 2015 World Championship after they made their way through the International Wildcard Qualifier, something that INTZ had failed to do that spring.

When INTZ failed again on the international stage in the 2016 International Wildcard Invitational, Brazilian fans started a petition to ban them from representing Brazil at future international events. Yet when INTZ loaded into Game 5 against Turkish representative Dark Passage at the 2016 International Wildcard Qualifier, the Brazilian crowd remained loudly on their side.

When INTZ bowed on the stage of the Ópera de Arame in Curitiba after finally, at long last, qualifying for the League of Legends World Championship, the crowd surged forward, screaming and waving the Brazilian flag. The members of INTZ were happy and relieved.

INTZ e-Sports snowballs their lead against EDward Gaming (Riot Games Brazil/lolesportsbr)
INTZ e-Sports snowballs their lead against EDward Gaming (Riot Games Brazil/lolesportsbr)

It was the fourth match of the day. In a crowded room with no windows, filled with folding tables and chairs, a few televisions were strategically placed so that all members of the press could watch the opening day of the 2016 League of Legends World Championship.

I sat at the end of one of the long tables, discussing prior matches with fellow League of Legends writer Kelsey Moser. This is where her team, EDward Gaming, will smash my team, INTZ e-Sports, I told her. With all of Revolta’s talk of how much he idolized EDG jungler Ming “ClearLove” Kai, an INTZ win seemed well out of the realm of possibility. Kelsey disagreed.

“If EDward Gaming were to lose to anyone for not taking them seriously, it would be INTZ,” she said.

At 41:57, all five members of INTZ flashed their team flair after taking down EDG’s first nexus turret. Ten seconds later, they destroyed EDG’s nexus. INTZ had accomplished something that had only occurred five other times throughout the 2016 LoL Pro League Summer regular season: defeating EDG.

Kelsey shook her head throughout the match, muttering about EDG top laner Chen “Mouse” Yu-hao and how EDG didn’t take INTZ seriously.

“What just happened?” Joshua “Jatt” Leesman’s voice boomed from the television screen. “What actually happened in this game?”

Revolta hammed it up afterwards. His effervescent personality was made for on-camera interviews and the crowd of Chinese media outlets flocked immediately to hear what he had to say about defeating their strongest team. After congratulating the jungler on his victory, I interviewed Tockers. His varsity-style Worlds jacket seemed too big, the lights of the press area too bright, and he was exhausted. I was his final press interview of the day.

But he was smiling.

“At one point we were like, ‘We have one inhib down against EDG, I mean what the f*** is happening, you know?’” he said.

I caught up again with Tockers the following week. INTZ had failed to win another game, finishing last in their group at 1-5. Group A’s Albus NoX Luna, not INTZ, became the first minor region team to make it out of the group stages at a major international event. Their time at the 2016 World Championship over, INTZ visited the auditorium once more for a fanmeet. Afraid that Tockers was about to retire after their string of crushing international defeats, I chatted with him in the hallway of the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco. Already, members of the team and staff were thinking about the future.

The Brazilian mid laner had a history of toying with retirement, but he never followed through. On that last day of the group stages, as the brackets were being drawn for the quarterfinals in Chicago, he spoke instead of community expectations, and his outlook on his own play.

“If people still don’t realize that I’m one of the best in Brazil then that’s fine,” he said. “That’s fine because I have played against the best now and was still okay. I know now.”

Gabriel “Tockers” Claumann at the 2016 World Championship (Riot Games Brazil/lolesportsbr)
Gabriel “Tockers” Claumann at the 2016 World Championship (Riot Games Brazil/lolesportsbr)

Tockers lived in the shadow of Brazil’s two most popular mid laners for two years on INTZ e-Sports. paiN Gaming’s Gabriel “Kami” Santos and Keyd Stars’ Murilo “Takeshi” Alves owned the community’s allegiance. Daring to mention Tockers in the same category as the others received instant scorn from the community. Cheering for INTZ at times earned a similar ire, due to the team’s two international wildcard invitational losses in 2015 and 2016.

Just as they had begun to earn a bit more respect from their region and international opponents, INTZ split before the 2017 professional year.

The 2016-17 offseason marked the breakup of one of the world’s most iconic League of Legends teams: the ROX Tigers. After two years together, acquiring the young and enterprising jungler Han “Peanut” Wang-ho and taking SK Telecom T1 to five games in one of the greatest best-of-five series of the past two years at the 2016 World Championship, the Tigers split.

It’s foolish to compare INTZ and the Tigers in skill, but INTZ had a similar impact on their region as the Tigers had in Korea. Their rosters were met with little fanfare, a bit of speculation, and a new competitive landscape on which to stake their claim.

Korea had been gutted due to a mass export of top-tier players to other regions and the abolishment of sister teams. By contrast, thanks to KaBuM!’s one-game victory at the 2014 World Championship, more eyes were on Brazil than ever before. What followed wasn’t a massive influx of money or players, but slow and steady growth throughout 2015. INTZ became Brazil’s homegrown roster, challenging and besting the hybrid lineup of Keyd Stars, who had acquired AD carry Kim “Emperor” Jin-hyun and jungler Kang “DayDream” Kyung-min.

As Brazil’s scene grew exponentially from late 2014 to 2016, INTZ accompanied the region’s expansion every step of the way. Despite the larger fanbases of paiN Gaming and Keyd Stars, they headlined the region, becoming an icon that summarized both Brazil’s competitive potential and greatest failings.

INTZ’s split didn’t draw the same attention as the Tigers — even domestically — nor was it met with the same wistful sadness. But it was the end of an era for Brazilian League of Legends.

Gabriel “Tockers” Claumann with his new team, Red Canids, 2017 CBLoL Week 1 (Riot Games Brazil/lolesportsbr)
Gabriel “Tockers” Claumann with his new team, Red Canids, 2017 CBLoL Week 1 (Riot Games Brazil/lolesportsbr)

Tockers was the last of the former INTZ five to be announced on his new team. Similar to former Tigers mid-laner Lee “KurO” Seo-haeng, Tockers remained in the shadow of his own teammates, especially Revolta and Yang. Quick summaries of INTZ, especially outside of Brazil, often described the former team as “Revolta and company,” ignoring the impact of the star jungler’s other teammates or how they aided and unlocked his carry potential.

“I was the only one left,” Tockers said. He paused for a long moment. “I thought it was going to be super hard. Me, alone, having to share our knowledge that we got from that team.”

Yang and Revolta went to Keyd Stars together. Micao and Jockster remained as INTZ’s bottom lane. On Dec. 14, 2016, Tockers was signed to Red Canids. Red was fined R$3,000 for signing him after the Riot Games Brazil roster deadline.

On paper, Red didn’t look like anything special, just another mid-tier Brazilian team. Leonardo “Robo” Souza displayed phenomenal 1v1 and split-pushing prowess while on INTZ Red in 2015 and again on Keyd Stars in 2016, but never evolved into the top laner that these performances promised. Jungler Carlos “Nappon” Rücker had followed a similar path on CNB eSports Club and Keyd Stars: strong individual highlights but a lack of consistency and macro understanding. AD carry Felipe “brTT” Gonçalves spent the majority of 2016 on paiN Gaming, unsuccessfully fighting off community cries that he was washed up. He was reunited with his 2015 support, French import Hugo “Dioud” Padioleau.

“Everyone here was on different teams before we came,” Tockers said. “When I got here, they didn’t know anything about the game at all close to what we knew on INTZ. So I said, ‘Okay, I worked with super good coaching staff on INTZ and had a lot of international tournaments. I had learned a lot about the game and I will teach you. I will be a coach and a player for us until everyone has enough knowledge. That was how this split worked.”

In his first match against his former team, Tockers ended the game 6/1/3 on Cassiopeia. As Red Canids were surging onto INTZ’s nexus, Tockers scored a triple kill before his team closed out the game. The next game netted Tockers a 6/1/5 Orianna. It was a 2-0 sweep over INTZ e-Sports.

Red started the 2017 CBLoL Summer Season 10-0 in games, undefeated across five series. In Week 6, paiN Gaming finally handed Red their first loss to finish in a 1-1 draw.

Tockers became the toast of Brazil. Finally recognized as one of the best mid laners in his region, he was awarded the 2017 CBLoL Summer Season MVP.

“As a mid laner you are the one who can help the jungler the most,” Tockers said. I asked him what, if anything, changed on Red and he paused.

“Usually all I had to do [on INTZ] was lock the other mid laner and be a bully to the other jungler, not really 1v1 plays, and let Revolta do side-lane plays. I had a very low kill participation or wasn’t involved in many plays. I wasn’t getting any lane advantage or anything like that. I was concerned about being annoying in the game.”

He paused again before continuing.

“When I came to play here that was not the case anymore. I was the one leading the plays. I was the one setting up everything, I was the one being the trigger. When that changed, I was involved in more plays and people see you more. You are making highlights and stuff like that. Before I didn’t, I was relying on map movements, map awareness. Here, my mechanics come into play more because I’m more involved, plus my old qualities so it’s much easier to be seen.”

Red Canids victory celebration after winning the 2017 CBLoL Summer finals (Riot Games Brazil/lolesportsbr)
Red Canids victory celebration after winning the 2017 CBLoL Summer finals (Riot Games Brazil/lolesportsbr)

Little was expected of the Red Canids going into their 2017 CBLoL semifinals match against paiN Gaming. Although they finished the regular season with only one series loss — a Week 7 sweep at the hands of Keyd Stars — Red had stagnated and declined as the split wore on. Their map movements were less crisp, their objective trading worsened, and their coordination was shaky.

Tockers admitted that he began to feel pain in his wrist beginning in Week 5. CBLoL took a two week break between Week 5, Feb. 18-19, and Week 6, March 4-5. During that time, Red had difficulty practicing due to Tockers’ injuries.

“I couldn’t play as much as I wanted and my performance started dropping a lot,” he said. “It ended up that we had a lot of problems performing like we were before the holiday because there were about four or five days without practice. Every time we started practicing I was feeling pain in my wrist. I started playing less and was less involved with the game. Our performance dropped a lot.”

Prior to their semifinals series, the team announced that substitute mid laner and well-known streaming personality Felipe “YoDa” Noronha would start against paiN Gaming. Without their star mid laner of the regular season, the demise of the Red Canids seemed inevitable.

Instead, Red beat paiN Gaming 3-1 with YoDa impressing on Ahri and Kassadin.

“When I couldn’t play, we had to change the team style because Yoda wouldn’t be able to do what I do. We tried to fit him in with his style and play around it,” Tockers said. “His style has always been assassins and that chaotic game that he likes. We played around that and it was really good.”

While Tockers couldn’t play, he helped with coaching and analytical duties to prepare Red for the playoffs.

“There are two sides,” he said. “I enjoy [coaching]. I love the strategic part of the game, the analytical part of the game. But.” He paused. “I love playing as well. I did have some fun being a coach, but at the same time I really wanted to play again, I really wanted to practice. Being backstage really felt like I was being useless so I really wanted to be able to play again and not just be a coach. I still have the drive to play. Even though being a coach was fun, being a player is still more fun.”

Just like that evening in San Francisco, before INTZ left the World Championship stage, there was a fierce determination in his voice. He is a player who, despite ups, downs, and emotionally-charged thoughts of retirement, will run himself into the ground before quitting. I suddenly understood why he hadn’t retired, despite mulling it over several times throughout his career.

Ultimately, Tockers credited YoDa’s and the team’s dedication with their improvements throughout the playoffs. Adversity had made them a more flexible and prepared team.

“Now I don’t have that much shotcalling to do,” he said. “[Red are] more independent. And also, YoDa or I can play assassins now because they know how to play around that. In the end it worked out well for us.”

On the other side of the CBLoL playoff bracket, Keyd Stars upset INTZ, beating them 3-1 in their semifinal. Tockers would not face his old team in the finals, but two of his former teammates in Revolta and Yang. Again, Red were not expected to win. The narrative was set. Tockers would lose to his former teammates. Yang and Revolta would help Takeshi win this CBLoL final and they would represent Brazil together at the 2017 Mid-Season Invitational in Brazil.

Red didn’t receive the message. They swept Keyd Stars 3-0. I congratulated Tockers and apologized for not believing in him and Red.

“I understand why,” he said. “Don’t worry.”

When I asked him how he felt days later, he still sounded surprised at the win.

“I feel . . . great,” he said. “No one really believed in our team. And after all that we still made it. This is the first time I haven’t played with the same players and I still made it to international competition so I’m pretty happy.”

Red Canids support Hugo “Dioud” Padioleau celebrates with his team (Riot Games Brazil/lolesportsbr)
Red Canids support Hugo “Dioud” Padioleau celebrates with his team (Riot Games Brazil/lolesportsbr)

Brazilian fans and the international community now asked the same question: just how good is this Red Canids team compared to Brazilian teams past?

Tockers doesn’t know.

“Either every team in Brazil right now is good, or we don’t have another team that’s as good as [that] INTZ,” he said. “The only way to find out is playing at this MSI. I think MSI will say a lot about how the INTZ disband affected our scene. I really don’t know.”

The strength and experience of INTZ for the past two years has been dispersed among three teams. Only one of them, Tockers’ Red Canids, will have the chance to prove Brazil’s strength on the international stage. They’ll have a home crowd behind them as they face off against the Turkish representative, Japanese representative Rampage, and Oceania’s Dire Wolves.

Regardless of the outcome, Tockers sees the entirety of the 2017 Mid-Season Invitational as a testament to Brazil’s growth as a region.

“It’s not just about playing in Brazil but it shows just how much we’ve been growing,” he said. “We have been growing so so much over the last two years and now getting an international event, it’s pretty much a validation of everything we’ve been doing to grow our scene. I think the fans are the ones who made it possible. It’s a gift for them, having this event.”

In 2014, months after INTZ e-Sports quietly signed Tockers and Yang alongside the roster of Out of Position, KaBuM! e-Sports beat Alliance in a best-of-one at the World Championship. For two years, that INTZ team spearheaded a new era of League of Legends in Brazil. Now, Tockers will attend the 2017 Mid-Season Invitational in his home country on a new team in hopes of continuing to prove just how much his region, and he as a player, has grown.

Emily Rand’s love for the 2013 KT Rolster Bullets will never die. You can follow her on Twitter @leagueofemily