Wildcards are a joke. Whenever a wildcard makes it to an international tournament, other teams tend to think of them as free wins. And - barring an occasional upset - they’re right. You just can’t expect much from the wildcards. At least, that’s what the story had been until now. But with ANX’s impressive showing at last year’s World Championship and the recent MSI run by GIGABYTE Marines, it’s time for this narrative to change.
A challenger appears
Everyone doubted the Marines. Even though they breezed through their Play-In group and prepared to challenge TSM, it was hard to think of them as serious contenders. Sure, their 5-1 record was impressive but their play - not so much. Marines relied too much on brute force, an approach that would make them look good against lesser teams but crumble in the face of stronger competition. In fact, many had thought that GIGABYTE Marines were the second-best wildcard team that would eventually end up falling to SuperMassive eSports.
But their BO5 series against TSM told a different story. Despite coming into the match as underdogs, Marines quickly put TSM on the back foot by taking two convincing wins in a row. And even though they were a wildcard team, they could still go toe-to-toe with North American champions. They ended up losing that series 2-3, but the loss came by the slimmest of margins.
To a lesser team, this result would be soul-crushing. Marines shook it off and went on to the third Play-In round where they proceeded to crush SuperMassive eSports in a convincing 3-1 victory. With that, their Play-In performance wasn’t a fluke. GIGABYTE Marines were the real deal. And they were ready to go to war.
The most interesting thing about Marines was that they ended up getting a lot of fans before even playing a single game on the main MSI stage. The reason for this was simple - Marines were fun to watch. No matter the opponent, they came into every match guns blazing, looking to do everything in their power to dictate the pace of the game. Amidst the teams that crafted their strategies around chess-like macro concepts, Marines weren’t afraid to flip the board and play their own game.
And you couldn’t help but get caught up in their wild energy.
GIGABYTE Marines kicked off the tournament with another win against TSM, bringing their unofficial BO7 with North American champions to a 3-3 standstill. A crushing defeat against SKT brought the Vietnamese team down to Earth and the following losses to Flash Wolves and G2 pushed them into the dirt. Fortunately, Marines managed to regain their footing with a victory against Team WE. A 2-3 record over the first half of the MSI wasn’t too shabby for the wildcard team.
But even in their losses, Marines managed to put on a show. They executed lane swaps, they pulled off outplays, and they went for risky solo kills - all of that against the best players in the world. And their opponents were overwhelmed.
The spotlight fell on the team’s jungle/mid lane duo. The jungler, Levi, stood at the vanguard of Marines’ offensive. With a 3.4 KDA and 5.3 CS, he wasn’t just another wildcard player scrambling to hold his own. Instead, he was always looking for ways to bring the fight to his opponents and run them over with relentless aggression. And if he ever stumbled, his teammate, Optimus, was always there to back him up. Sporting a 2.0 KDA and 8.2 CS per minute, Optimus was another bold player that was constantly finding opportunities to tip the scales in Marines’ favor. His playmaking and immaculate synergy with Levi were a large part of what made this a force to be reckoned with.
But two playmakers aren’t enough to make or break a team. Everyone on GIGABYTE Marines was ready to pull the trigger. From Stark with his clutch engages to Slay with his explosive teamfighting and Archie with his balanced supportive play - everyone was pulling their weight. And they were determined to make their style work.
A name to remember
The second half of the MSI wasn’t as kind to GIGABYTE Marines. After losing their drawn-out series against TSM with a 3-4 score, even a win against G2 could do little to salvage their situation. They ended up falling to Team WE and Flash Wolves on the last day of the competition and finished the tournament in sixth place with a 3-7 record.
But in doing so they accomplished something much more important. Here, at the MSI, GIGABYTE Marines weren’t just a wildcard team that tried to hold its own against the superior competition. Instead, they stood tall among the best teams in the world, and thousands of viewers across the world cheered for their success. And if that doesn’t redefine what it means to be a wildcard team, then I don’t know what does.
What do you think of GIGABYTE Marines’ showing at the MSI? Share your opinion in the comments!