Often there are moments in eSports that genuinely make your jaw drop. The International 3’s final minutes, coldzera’s no scope at MLG Columbus and of course Justin Wong vs Daigo Umehara in the Street Fighter III: Third Strike finals at EVO 2004 all spring to mind, but now we can add the final map of the Wargaming.net League Grand Finals in Warsaw to that list too.
The tense final between 2015 World of Tanks champions Hellraisers and 2014 champions NaVi was a back-and-forth affair that went to a tie-breaking map. In the final round NaVi managed to edge out an advantage before Hellraisers turned it around and got into a position where it seemed to spectators that they almost could not lose. But then, one small mistake saw Yury ‘applewOw’ Ilin fall down a hill and get stuck, becoming unable to move. From here Maxim ‘Inspirer’ Mazein won the one key battle he needed and ran out the clock to win. It was an incredible, unexpected ending to the tournament and one that won’t be forgotten for a long time.
As NaVi celebrated, applewOw was left red faced, his mistake of getting stuck effectively cost Hellraisers the victory as well as US$75,000. But that isn’t what he should be remembered for: throughout the tournament he was by far the best Hellraisers player and in the entire event. Without him Hellraisers not only wouldn't have made it to the final and wouldn't have got to that final map – or been in a position to potentially win the final map – so despite his costly mistake, Yury ‘applewOw’ Ilin is our MVP of the Wargaming.net League Grand Finals 2016.
Hellraisers lost their first group stage match, which was against NaVi, but after advancing out of the group by destroying GOLD BASS 5-0, each of their games was incredibly close. They edged out Tornado Rox 5-4 in the quarters and then beat Not So Serious 5-3 to make it to the final. Those matches could've gone either way, but it was applewOw, along with some almost-as-impressive performances from team-mate Aleksei ‘Nuclear’ Morozov, that secured them the key round wins.
But what cemented applewOw as our MVP was his performance in the final. Out of the entire 13-round match, there were only a handful of games where he had a minor impact and there were multiple rounds that Hellraisers simply wouldn't have won were it not for the Russian. Take round two, for example, which is the most obvious highlight reel moment to point out.
With just over five minutes left on the clock, applewOw was the only remaining player on Hellraisers, while NaVi still had three tanks alive. He didn't have more HP than all three of his opponents combined, so pulling out a win certainly wasn’t impossible, but just one or two wrong moves could have seen him blown to smithereens and the round lost. He quickly picked up one kill and managed to locate his next target, but as he prepared to move into position, he got hit from long distance. It looked like NaVi had him trapped, but instead of taking on the player just yards away from him – as most would – applewOw decided to turn back and flank Dmitry ‘LeBwa’ Palaschenko, who was not expecting such a move. It worked out, LeBwa was killed and the last remaining NaVi tank quickly followed.
The shots themselves may have been fairly simple to land, but having the tactical awareness to pull off that flank onto LeBwa unnoticed, in such a high-pressure situation is something few players could have done. In under three minutes applewOw turned a round that looked like a sure loss into a point on the board and without that Hellraisers would never have made it to round 13.
While Hellraisers ran a number of varying strategies it often seemed like they left applewOw to his own devices to try and make the plays. He ended up in a incredible position more than anyone else, whether that be flanking to get in a surprise attack or securing a vital piece of high ground.
This was perhaps best shown in the already infamous final round against NaVi. As Hellraisers tried to group together, applewOw managed to secure a spot on the highest point of the map, which in turn allowed him to get key shots off to turn the round back in their favour. It eventually backfired as he got stuck, but without him being on that hill in the first place Hellraisers wouldn't have lost the final map a lot quicker than they did.
He may have made the costly mistake, but that shouldn't detract from what was overall an incredible performance. There were numerous times when pundits predicted Hellraisers would be knocked out, but applewOw always brought the team back and helped them all the way to a tie-break round in the final. Sometimes he did it through clutch plays, while other times he would lay down a tonne of damage to get that crucial HP advantage. It may not have been the fairy-tale ending for applewOw – thanks to some questionable in-game physics – but his performance over the entire event was truly remarkable, and thoroughly deserving of our MVP award.