By all accounts,
World Elite shouldn’t have been at the
IEM Season 9 World Championships.
They were currently tied for dead last in the LPL.
In a tournament consisting of the best teams EU, NA and Korea had to offer, China’s sole representative was not much more than an afterthought for most fans – a free win for the then-undefeated Korean
The only reason World Elite was even there was because they had qualified for the tournament more than half a year ago, at
IEM Shenzhen. There, they had defeated
EDward Gaming in the finals in a tense best of three, albeit it with a completely different roster. Immediately after the tournament, longstanding fan favourites
CaoMei and WeiXiao would retire from competitive League, and jungler
ActSin would take that as his cue to bow out from the team as well. Going into the 2015 LPL Spring Split, the only remaining players from the team were midlaner
Ninja (who would go on to play for TDK and Team Envy) and support
Joining them would be toplaner
Samsung Blue fame, would take over as the jungler, while
Styz (previously of LGD and Energy Pacemaker) filled WeiXiao’s gap as AD Carry. This roster would fail to win more than a single series during the first seven weeks of the LPL Spring Split, despite WE Academy’s support player
YuZhe being promoted to the main roster halfway through the split.
WE had, quite literally, nothing to lose at the IEM World Championships. There were zero expectations around the team – anything that wasn’t last place would’ve been a pleasant surprise for LPL fans. So they took a risk.
They brought two substitutes to the tournament.
Mystic are household names amongst League fans by now – attending multiple international tournaments under the banner of WE and taking games off of the competitions biggest names. But when they first debuted, they were anything but. Xiye was simply an academy player under WE’s tutelage, while Mystic was a role-swapped jungler-turned-ADC who had middling success while in Korea. Neither player was expected to do anything great at the tournament – if they could hold their own against international standouts like CJ Entus’ Space/Madlife or TSM’ midlane messiah Bjergsen, that would be considered a success.
This was a team that hadn’t even played together before, with zero inbuilt synergy – and this lack of experience showed. While they managed to stay even with TSM early into their
, it fell apart quickly in the midgame, with Bjergsen and WildTurtle making highlight play after highlight play on Zed and Corki respectively. To no one’s surprise, the North American representatives took the first game convincingly, knocking WE down into the loser’s bracket.
To qualify for semifinals, WE had to take down Europe’s
Gambit Gaming and Korea's CJ Entus. While it wasn’t out of the realm of possibility for the underdogs to score a victory against Gambit – a team that was facing their own fair share of struggles in the EU LCS – CJ Entus was another beast. Despite the recent “Korean Exodus,” LCK teams still had an aura of invincibility around them, having won every single Riot-sponsored International tournament since the dawn of Season 3.
This time, WE fell behind in the early game, with Shy’s Teleport Homeguard Hecarim finding TP flanks around the map feeding kills into CoCo’s Viktor. While the game remained even for the first 25 minutes, with Xiye’s off-meta Teleport Diana finding kills around the map, CJE would pull ahead with a major teamfight victory near the thirty minute mark, taking down three members of WE.
But CJE would never be able to take control of the map. WE controlled the top red side of CJE’s jungle, finding pick after pick to claw themselves back into the game. Xiye’s Diana would slip in and out of teamfights with creative use of his ultimate and summoner spells, escaping three-man collapses from CJE with ease while his teammates got vision control over Baron. By 35 minutes, Aluka – who had been hailed as the worst toplaner from China – would teleport into a Baron take from CJE, and with Xiye following him up… they crushed the teamfight.
With the help of Baron buff, WE stabilized in the late game. In a final climactic teamfight around the dragon by 40 minutes, Mystic’s Sivir stayed in the back, melting through the frontline of CJE while Xiye picked off CoCo’s Viktor for the umpteenth time in the game. With four members of WE standing at the end of the fight in comparison to Ambition’s sole Lee Sin, the underdogs would march down the mid lane and secure their place in the semi-finals.
World Elite had already made it further than anybody expected them to, but their victories were more seen as a testament to the volatility of the Best of 1 format than anything else. Nobody expected them to make it any further in the tournament – their next match was against the then-undefeated GE Tigers, after all. Despite being another newer team, formed out of the chaos of the Korean Exodus, the Tigers were a force to be reckoned with. Smeb, who was previously known as one of the worst top laners in Korea, was having a highlight season, outperforming star players like Duke and Ssumday. PraY and GorillA, hailing from NaJin Black Sword and White Shield respectively, immediately clicked as a superstar tier botlane. The team had decisively taken down rivals like Faker’s SKT, GBM’s Jin Air and the aforementioned CJ Entus in their first two months playing together in the LCK.
To no one’s surprise, the Tigers had stomped their way to the semifinals, taking down
as well as
, GE looked similarly untouchable, with Lee’s Rek’Sai and PraY’s Corki going a combined 8/0/22 in a decisive victory for the Koreans.
GE Tigers looked like the unstoppable team they were expected to be again. In
, Kur0 would pick Yasuo – an off-meta champion that showed slight hints of cockiness – into Xiye’s Ahri. On the other hand, WE ran it back in their draft, taking Sion, Jarvan and Janna for the trifecta of Aluka, Spirit and YuZhe.
This is when the Tigers collapsed. Lee, who had been instrumental to their victory in the previous game, was invisible on his namesake champion in comparison to Spirit’s presence on his Jarvan. Participating in 21/23 of WE’s kills, the former Samsung Blue superstar outperformed his Korean compatriot, funneling kills into Xiye’s Ahri and Mystic’s Ezreal. In a 30-minute victory, WE flipped the script on its head and delivered a trouncing back to the Tigers, tying the series up at a game apiece.
In hindsight, it’s easy to say that the Tigers got cocky – too confident in picking the off-meta Yasuo for Kur0 instead of something safer. But in the heat of the moment, WE’s draft pincered the Tigers into picking something less viable. Forcing the Tigers into banning Xiye’s LeBlanc and Diana, WE themselves would ban Viktor and pick the Ahri/Ezreal combination early into the draft. This forced Kur0 onto a handful of champions that either failed to fit the composition or he had limited experience playing – Yasuo being the only one he had any previous competitive gametime on. In execution, WE’s mid/jungle duo would simply outperform their counterparts, quickly snowballing the game out of the Tiger’s control.
The Tigers weren’t some invincible juggernaut of League anymore, and WE knew it. With the team entrusting him with a first pick Rek’Sai, Spirit once again showed up big in
, dismantling Lee yet again through impactful ganks and objective control. 5 minutes into the game, Spirit and YuZhe collapsed onto Kur0’s LeBlanc for an early gank.
Flash into an immediate Unburrow from Rek’Sai knocked up Kur0. Immediately, Xiye followed up with a Flash Charm combo, and with YuZhe’s Black Shield ensuring no counter-kill from Kur0 was available, first blood went to Spirit.
And they never stopped. The two-man kill-squad of Spirit and YuZhe roamed around the map with reckless abandon, chaining kills on the GE Tigers and extending WE’s early gold lead. Aluka, this time on Hecarim, more than just held his own against Smeb’s Maokai, while Xiye took his early assist and snowballed it eventually into a solo kill on the LeBlanc.
The unthinkable was happening. WE was winning across the entire map, in an elimination match against what many had previously thought to be the best team in the world. Sharp, decisive rotations netted WE tower after tower and dragon after dragon – by 20 minutes, they had accrued a seven thousand gold lead against their opponents. They were more than willing to take fights – so when a skirmish broke out around the dragon, they charged in. Aluka, summoning spectral riders, dove into the backline, but Kur0 fought back, taking down the WE toplaner before the team had a chance to react. But with so many resources focused on the tank, the Tigers didn’t notice Mystic’s Sivir free hitting yet again from the backline. Lee and Smeb would drop to the WE ADC before Kur0 finally got a chance to participate, dashing into the fray and taking down Mystic before disappearing again.
On the back side of the right, PraY was untouched on Corki, staying alive and fending off Spirit’s relentless aggression. With flashing health bars on the remaining members of WE, PraY looked like he was going to be the hero, the one to drag GE Tigers past their opposition.
YuZhe dropped to a missile barrage and two auto attacks as Corki’s Gatling Gun rattled through the river. As Kur0 re-entered the fight, PraY valiantly tried to kite around Spirit’s Rek’Sai, landing auto after auto. Rek’Sai’s healthbar dwindled to a sliver, but somehow Spirit stayed alive, going underground and landing a final Prey Seeker to take down PraY. Xiye limped into the river from the back end of the fight as Spirit landed one more knockup on Kur0, which left the LeBlanc open to Xiye’s Orb of Deception.
WE took that as their cue to accelerate the game. Xiye’s fed Ahri would work in conjunction with Aluka’s Hecarim, finding picks on the straggling GE members around the Baron pit. And pre-30 minutes, WE would knock down the top lane inhibitor of the Tigers and win one final, decisive teamfight to send the Korean hopefuls home.
Unfortunately, WE’s cinderella run would come to an end in the finals, dropping three consecutive games to TSM to place second overall. They came back to the LPL revitalized – with Xiye and Mystic now on the starting roster, they would quickly climb out of danger of relegations and sneak into the eighth-place playoff position. However, they had the misfortune of being matched up against the dominant EDward Gaming roster – a roster that teams were trying to throw games in order to avoid (
) – and would be narrowly eliminated in the first round in a tense 3-2 series.
Xiye and Mystic would go on to become franchise players for World Elite. In 2016, the team would revamp their roster around the two former substitutes, adding toplaner 957, jungler Condi, and support
Zero (previously of SHR fame) to the roster. This roster would perform admirably, finishing fourth in both the spring and summer splits, and only narrowly losing out on a berth to worlds in a 3-2 loss to I May (Athena’s team). In 2017, the team would win the spring split and make their first international appearance since that fateful IEM tournament, representing China at the Mid-Season Invitational. They would make a further appearance that same year at the World Championships, placing fourth overall and only losing to the eventual champions, Samsung Galaxy.
In 2019, Spirit and Mystic reunited back in Korea, on an Afreeca Freecs roster currently fourth place in the LCK. Xiye left WE at the end of the 2019 season as well, joining fellow LPL team Dominus Gaming. This marked the end of an era for WE – an era that started with one of the most unlikely victories in League of Legends history, with a fractured, bottom of the barrel team taking down a perennial juggernauts with two substitutes on their roster…
…and an era that ended with the same two substitutes becoming two of the most decorated players in Chinese League of Legends history.
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