The ROX Tigers were supposed to dominate Group A at the 2016 League of Legends World Championships. As the best team out of the best region in the world, they were expected to crush everyone in their path and easily qualify as the top seed out of their group.
Well, they managed to nab that first place spot, but it wasn’t easy. They went 4-2, dropping games to both Albus NoX Luna and Counter Logic Gaming. Support player Kang “GorillA” Beom-hyeon says the competition was something the Korean roster wasn’t quite ready for.
“I was a little surprised by the level of the other teams,” he told Yahoo Esports. “It was quite high, and I didn’t expect it.”
The biggest shocker of the tournament — and probably in the history of competitive League of Legends — was their defeat at the hands of Wildcard roster Albus NoX Luna. GorillA says that there were a lot of factors in their loss (including mid laner Lee “KurO” Seo-haeng dying twice early and his Alistar pick), but mostly he was impressed by the Russian side.
“They are a strong team,” he says. “But because they were an underdog in this stage, we didn’t have as much information about the team.”
He also attributes their group stage struggles to the hype surrounding them coming into the tournament.
“We knew about the expectations of others and how they think about ROX Tigers. We knew that we were expected to get first place for sure. Playing under the pressure certainly affected us.”
They overcame their shaky mental state as the day went on, though. After the marathon lost, they regrouped, beat CLG to knock them out of the tournament, then won a tiebreaker match against ANX.
They managed to bounce back by taking a hard look at their loss to ANX and making sure they didn’t make the same mistakes again.
“[Albus NoX Luna] are a strong team, but they have a lot of weaknesses,” he says. “As matches went on, we accumulated more and more information about them. At the end of the day, I had enough information to conclude they are a nice, strong team, but with weaknesses to spot.”
GorillA isn’t happy about their play, though.
“We have shown the tendency to explode during the early game,” he says with a laugh and a shake of the head. “We have to work on on that, and our performances will definitely improve.”
When asked about who they want to play against as the tournament goes on, most players will respond that they want to play the best teams at the tournament to prove themselves. GorillA is much more frank and honest.
“I think it’s only human to want to play against the weaker teams,” he laughed.
“It’s an honor for me to be able to play with other players with different nationalities at this high level,” he quickly added. ”I’m honored to encounter any of the teams.”
In order to beat those teams, GorillA believes they have a long ways to go. They need to improve their mental stability, tighten up their early game, and improve a variety of other things he wasn’t willing to talk about on the record.
“We need to push ourselves harder,” he said.
As for the strength of those other teams, GorillA thinks that this is one of the most competitive Worlds tournaments ever.
“Obviously, the level of play has improved since last year, as shown by the good performances of Wildcard teams, like INTZ beating EDG,” he says.
But will they win the whole shebang? In the face of such stiff competition, GorillA isn’t so sure.
“It’s definitely not the case that Korea will for sure win the World Championship.”
Taylor Cocke isn’t so sure either, GorillA. Follow him on Twitter @taylorcocke.