1.) Najin Black Sword
2.) Samsung Galaxy Ozone
3.) SK Telecom T1
Najin Black Sword:
Cho "watch" Jae-geol - Jungle
Kim "SSONG" Sang-soo - Mid
Kim "PraY" Jong-in - AD
Jang "Cain" Nu-ri - Support
We begin our Korean preview of the teams with the first squad that earned the right to enter the battleground in Los Angeles – Najin Black Sword. Undoubtedly, the line-up managed by the Brood War legend, coach Park, had an incredibly turbulent journey. In just under two months, they became the main character in a twisted and reversed “rags to riches” story which surprisingly, did not stop them from finishing with the highest number of Circuit Points, guaranteeing them a place among the very best.
Do not let the results page deceive you. Although, MakNooN, the man who pieced the puzzle is no longer on the team, Black Sword is always a consistent threat in every tournament they participate in. The Black Sword line-up holds the All-Star AD Carry for the Korean team, along with two incredibly solid solo laners in the face of Expression and SSONG. The capabilities of this constellation of players is unlimited and ironically (and historically), they have always been at their best when they are considered a dark horse.
This is Najin Black Sword and the team’s road to the Season 3 World Championship.
Season 2 Finals and beyond
We begin where the Season 2 World Finals ended – Taipei Assassins proudly held the Summoner’s Cup above their heads, upsetting the stunned Azubu Frost by taking the final 3-1. In another part of the venue, MakNooN and his team were a bit irritated that their countrymen, who were definitely considered superior, could not avenge their fall. On another note, maybe this gave them a sense of [small] relief as there is always something a bit encouraging when you get thrown out of a tournament by the eventual winner.
The Najin team a year ago.
The foreign experience was not over for Sword as they were invited to MLG Dallas in the summer of 2012 where they cruised through the competition, leaving their mark on CLG.NA, TSM and Azubu Blaze. The latter still managed to battle their way to the grand finals of the exhibition tournament and defeated the Najin team in two best-of-three sets to take the lion’s share.
Following this, the team tried to qualify for IPL 5. They started strong in the group stage, beating Incredible Miracle and MVP White only to fall to Azubu Frost. In the playoff stage we witnessed a double sister team brawl as Frost had to face Blaze and Sword had to face Shield. The fiery part of Azubu quickly dispatched with a 2-0 score line their opponents while coach Reach’s team fell to Shield 2-1. What was arguably the best League of Legends tournament so far, in terms of game quality and structure, took place without the legendary MakNooN.
The challenge of Season 3
Season 3 hit all servers worldwide and caused a stir with the big impact it had on almost every level of the game. From AD Carries not being terminators to the updated “leashing” aspect of the jungle, the changes did not seem to bother Sword much. The highest echelon of competitive League of Legends in Korea, The Champions, awaited the new team that would be crowned in the Winter edition of 2012-2013. Unlike previous editions, this time the tournament had more than the Azubu gods in the potential winner list. We had both KT Rolster line-ups, CJ Entus who back then featured the one and only, inSec, paired with “Elo God” and “Zed extraordinaire” dade, the solid veterans of Incredible Miracle known from the very first Champions run and MVP White, a new team who had no idea that in just less than 4 months would be considered top 2 in Korea.
Sword had their work cut out for them. Two quick loses in the group stage to Azubu Blaze and KT Rolster B gave them the necessary boost to get their act together. What followed was a win versus CJ Entus and a draw against MVP Blue. In the tie-breaker, PraY’s men had to once again face CJ for a spot in the playoffs. This time, there was no question as to who the better team was after inSec was sent home with a 2-0 loss. Barely managing to get out of the group stage, the Najin representatives obviously had a long discussion with coach Reach as what followed can be described as probably the most dominant run a team has ever had in a Champions tournament.
Their first opponent was MVP White who despite having three draws in the group stage, finished ahead of teams considered superior such as KT Rolster A and Najin Shield who surprisingly, dropped out of the tournament. A clean 3-0 sweep spelled “Vengeance for Shield!” all over MVP’s cold corpse. Moving on forward was a foe like non-other. KT Rolster B was the team to beat and even favourites to dethrone the Azubu regulars. Back then, teams had to play two best-of-three sets to determine who would progress to the Finals. In a total of seven games, Sword demolished the favourites with a 3-1 and 3-0 score to await the winner of the sister team brawl between Frost and Blaze, the former beating their “sisters” by going the distance 3-2, 3-2.
The final continued the trend of “one-sided affairs” as Najin Black Sword was crowned champions by eliminating MadLife’s Frost 3-0. The legendary MakNooN took home an additional cash prize for being the tournament MVP in addition to three other members of Black Sword holding the top KDA standings for their respective positions: Watch for Junglers, SSONG for Mid and Cain for Support. PraY and Expression came second in the same standing for AD and Top.
On top of the world.
In addition, the win granted them 400 Circuit Points which proved vital later on.
Everything that has a beginning, has an end
This great run, however, marks the beginning of a downhill slip that the team took. In a recent interview William “Chobra” Cho did reveal that Sword took a two-week break from practise, something entirely unheard of in Korean progaming circles. No one really knows whether this is the reason for their poor showings afterwards, but the fact remains – a nosedive result-wise was waiting.
Gigabyte StarsWar League Season 2 was on the horizon with arguably the top competition from both Korea and China attending. The group stage proved a successful effort from the team as they beat Positive Energy, MVP White and LGD Gaming and tied Royal Club and Taipei Assassins, the latter also just beginning their fall from grace. Their playoff opponent, Invictus gaming, proved a tough shell to crack as Sword fell 0-2 in the upper and 0-3 in the lower bracket to become third, the highest finishing Korean team at the tournament.
By the time The Champions Spring came up, the Korean League of Legends scene was meld into what we know today. Competitors such as KT Rolster B, SKT1 Terminator and MVP Ozone were ticking time-bombs who were yet to obliterate those relying on old glory to get them through.
With the unimpressive score of 1-2-2, Sword barely made it out of the group stage, defeating only KT Rolster A along the way. It was clearly visible that youngsters and other teams have taken their practise to another level. Better positioning, an insane amount of aggression, excellent map rotations and everlasting pressure on team objectives were just some of the graphs where Sword were inferior to others. Facing a more prepared CJ Frost, Shy finally took his revenge by eliminating Sword from the tournament with a 3-1 score to send them to the NLB.
The Spring edition of Champions proved cataclysmic for the team as star-player and “godfather” MakNooN left for KT Rolster A. The giant hole left in the roster was quickly “filled” with sister team top laner Expression whose first run with the team was at NiceGameTV League of Legends Battle – Spring. This competition is considered the secondary league to the Champions series and also gave out Circuit Points to winners.
Given they reached the playoffs of the “bigger” tournament, Sword were directly seeded into the bracket stage of the NLB where their first opponent was LG-IM. With their new top laner, Sword once again entered “playoff stomp” mode and crushed LG-IM, KT Rolster B and Najin Shield in the finals all with the score of 3-0. Another hefty cheque, a successful debut for Expression and 100 Circuit Points added.
The godfather departs.
Despite this win, it was clear that the team could still not come back to its strong showings demonstrated in early 2013. In the Summer edition of The Champions, Sword had the hard task to pick their game up and show to everyone that the “magic” was still there even without “MakNooN”. Their showing was bitter, three draws in three games, which meant another spell in NLB together with Jin Air Greenwings. We could safely label the 9th place performance a disaster.
Surprisingly, somehow NLB seemed the right cup of tea to Sword who “woke-up” and went through CJ Blaze, Najin Shield and LG-IM 2 along the way to once again take the crown in the “amateur” tournament of Korea. With that came another 100 points “in the bank” which now totaled 600, placing them first in the Korean standings for Season 3 World Championship.
The cycle keeps on going. At the beginning of this year, Sword was the alpha team in Korea and if we apply the cycling approach [given that we are entering the period at the end of the year] we can safely assume that the team may be coming “back to its winning roots” this weekend.
What awaits Sword in L.A.?
Their hard-earned quarter-final slot is a double-edged sword. On one hand, this is a financial guarantee and a comfortable position to play more and more around strategy. One of the characteristics of Korean tournaments with regards to both StarCraft and League of Legends is the time span between each bracket phase. This gives both competitors the chance to not only collect themselves mentally, but to devise the best counter-strategy. While Sword will not have a week after the group stage, watching all the teams and scouting for potential weaknesses in their play would be an immense advantage.
On the other hand, the lack of hard practise may result in silly mistakes (if we can call them such at that level of play) and not crisp execution of a specific counter-action. In addition, we have seen Koreans helping Koreans when everything for their brethren is on the line, but with so much glory, money and honour up for grabs, it is highly unlikely that even compatriots would practise with each other hard.
The clock is ticking. Sword’s do or die time approaches steadily and it will be up to SSONG and PraY to make sure that the most dominant bracket competitor in Champions history is on the highest podium step once more.
All opinions expressed are solely those of the author. The images used in the article are copyright of their respective owners.
Former lead editor and interviewer for SK Gaming
Follow me on twitter - @Adddler or LINK
iNNERFiRE - multi-game journalist and Editor-in-Chief: 2012
onGamers - League of Legends Feature Producer: 01.2014 - 02.2015
SK-Gaming - League of Legends Lead Editor: 11.2012 - 08.2015
My journey into eSports started in 2004 when I accidentally caught a small video on TV from the WarCraft 3 WCG 2004 final. I opened up the SK Gaming website from my father's laptop and never stopped reading to this day. In early 2010 I started writing at a Bulgarian news website simply because I disliked how the current editor was handling his job and with time, I got to be Editor-In-Chief. My main writing interests back then were StarCraft 2, QuakeLive and League of Legends.
Fast-forward to 2012, after a small hiatus and moving to England to attend university, I decided to start writing news posts again, inspired by a couple of industry figures who have taken their turns taking eSports writing to a new level. With the beginning of IPL5, I was given a trial with SK Gaming which was successful and I never looked back.
In early 2014, onGamers presented me with an incredible opportunity to join their ranks which I took. Although I believe my 2014 was rather poor (in terms of work ethic and results), I have made changes during the winter break to ensure that sufficient effort will be made to repair that. Unfortunately, due to the collapse of the team, the project was at a stand still which marked the end of my stint with the oG crew.
I continued producing 1 on 1 interviews with SK members until July 2015. After that, other commitments arose and I figured I could not provide the flow of content I promised my superiors and took a step back, leaving SK.
If you are an eSports fan who is looking to get into writing or simply want to chat about eSports across the years, you can always find me on my twitter - @Adddler . Below you can find some trivia about me.
BroodWar / StarCraft 2
BW pro: sAvi0r and Flash (for different reasons)
BW race: Terran
BW series: Hana Daetoo MSL
SC2 pro: Creator and Stephano (different reasons)
SC2 race: Terran
SC2 series: ThorZain vs Polt at DreamHack Open 2012 and any big final played by King MvP
StarCraft related article: God of the Battlefield
Pro: Alexey 'Cypher' Yanushevski
Map: Aerowalk, BloodRun (100% Eastern European choices)
Series: Cooller vs Cypher. Especially the brilliant defensive Cypher game on Aero (game 4).
Rivalry: Rapha vs Cypher
Quake related articled: The Quadra Interview and the one and only Cypher PoV
League of Legends
Pro(s): FORG1VEN, Faker, WeiXiao, NaMei and Mata.
Position: AD Carry
Series: All the World Elite games at IPL5, KT Bullets versus SK Telecom T1 K OGN Summer 2013 Final and LPL Summer Final between StarHorn Royal Club and EDG (The perfect Jinx game by Namei).
League related article: Most of TeamLiquid.net's takes on the 2012 and 2013 OGN tournaments.
Team: Fnatic (2008-2009)
Series: AGAiN vs Fnatic at WCG 2009. Literally broke a cup after the game. One of the most emotional series for me as a spectator.
Gfinity League of Legends - August 2013 (SK Gaming)
EU LCS Week 5 London - June 2014 (SK Gaming / onGamers)
GamesCom 2014 Cologne - August 2014 (SK Gaming / onGamers)
EU LCS 2015 Week 7 Spring Split - March 2015 (SK Gaming)
Intel Extreme Masters Season IX Katowice - March 2015 (SK-Gaming)
Team Curse announce new roster
Behold your Season 3 World Champions!
Season 3 World Finals: Semifinals recap
Season 3 World Finals: Quarter-finals recap
Season 3 World Finals: Group stage recap
THE NEW JERSEY