League of Nations: LoL Awards 2013 (Part 2)

Cloud 9
© Dabe Alan

Red Bull eSports has some more trophies to give out for the best of 2013 in League of Legends.

Barring something truly crazy happening before the stroke of midnight, it seems safe to finally put a bow on 2013 in League of Legends. Here are a few more of Red Bull eSports picks for the teams and moments that made this year so great.

NA LCS Team of the Year: Cloud 9

An obvious choice, Cloud 9 showed up as rookies to the LCS and, in short order, dismantled the entire entrenched North American League of Legends scene. You think it’s just coincidence that a lot of the veteran North American squads are facing retirements and major roster changes? No, what Cloud 9 did was show the old guard that their time was done.

Cloud 9 were in a class apart from the rest of the region, posting a 25-3 record in the summer split before taking a commanding North American playoff championship victory. They may have been a disappointment at Worlds, but context is important here: it was the team's biggest tournament to date against a caliber of competition they never faced in the North American LCS. They got a rude awakening from Fnatic to the effect that they were no-longer the biggest, toughest kids on the playground.

But their reaction to that experience, and performance since, might be the biggest argument in Cloud 9's favor. Rather than start trying to shortcut their way to better performance via roster switches, Cloud 9 simply took the lessons of Worlds to heart and went back to what they do best: practicing and thinking up ways to be more effective as a team. When they faced Gambit at IEM Cologne, they made the Russian squad work hard for both its victories. When they played Fnatic again last week, they burned them to the ground. Cloud 9 were the stars of North American LoL this year, and are poised for a repeat performance in 2014.

Best Tournament Result: EU Summer Split

With only eight teams and over two months of regular season play, you might think a tournament could work out some kind of sensible finishing order. But nobody at Riot counted on the bizarre European summer season, in which five teams finished the final week of play tied for second place and the only clear winner was Lemondogs in first.

What was great about this was not just some of the amazing eleventh-hour performances from teams like Evil Geniuses and Gambit to force the mega-tie, but also the dawning realization on the part of the EU casting team that the regular season was ending in total chaos and would be followed immediately by an instant-playoff.

The only fly in the ointment, of course, is that the results were basically meaningless. The "playoffs" with the top six of eight teams pretty much mooted the importance of this chaotic ending. If this finishing order had determined who was going to worlds and how much of the playoff prize pool these teams were getting, it would have been the most dramatic ending imaginable. As it was, it was still one of the most hilarious and unbelievable finishes in League of Legends in 2013.

Best play: xPeke backdoors SK Gaming

Base races can be some of the most exciting and dramatic plays in League of Legends, but Enrique "xPeke" Cedeño Martínez's absurd counter-stroke against SK Gaming at IEM Katowice takes the cake.

This plays out like a Looney Tunes Roadrunner cartoon, where Wile E. Coyote hurdles out into thin air, so excited to finally get that damn bird and so sadly disappointed and resigned when he realized there's nothing beneath his feet. Similarly this professional LoL squad realizes too late that they've had the game ripped out of their hands by a single player.

Team of the year: SK Telecom T1

Nobody else was playing the same game that SK Telecom T1 was. It was League of Legends not as an art, but as a scientific dissertation. While a lot of the focus justly goes to Faker, our player of the year, SKT's success comes from the fact that they use all their weapons to make the other ones better. Faker gives his bot laners, Chae "Piglet" Gwang Jin and Lee "PoohManDu" Jeong Hyeon, tremendous opportunities to take control of the game. Piglet, in many ways, outstripped Faker during the World Championship, destroying NaJin Black Sword's highly-regarded AD carry, Kim "PraY" Jong Un. Bengi, meanwhile, ran away with the jungle, and was seemingly everywhere throughout SKT's world championship run.

SK Telecom is probably the closest thing to a dream team League of Legends has. At every position, they have someone who is just not just capable of great performances, but of transcending it entirely. PoohManDu, for instance, sometimes seems almost to invert the AD carry / support relationship as he takes the fight to the enemy and brings the rest of his team along for the ride.

Likewise, Jung "Impact" Eon Yeong does something few other top laners can do as well: provide stability for the rest of his team. He's not a flashy top laner, but he also doesn't need to be babysat, and can be as aggressive or defensive as his team needs him to be.

SK Telecom is like a basketball team where every single player can nail a three-point jump shot, drive to the basket through traffic, or shut down key passing lanes on defense. There's no obvious weaknesses that other teams can pick on, and the rest of the team can more than compensate for any of their players who start falling behind. Their dominance was, and may continue to be, as complete as League of Legends has ever seen.

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