What do you see in Gambit Esports? For most old-school fans, the answer is obvious. They see a successor, a team that inherited the unwavering will of the Moscow Five lineup. They see back-to-back victories at 2012 IEM VI Kiev and 2012 IEM VI World Championship, as well as top-4 finishes at events like 2012 Dreamhack Summer, Season 2 Worlds, and IPL5. They see a legacy.
And that legacy makes the current iteration of Gambit Esports pale in comparison.
An uphill battle
Of course, living up to the Moscow Five name would always be a challenge for this team. Gambit Esports (or, at the time, Gambit Gaming.CIS) was founded in 2016 when the organization sold its EU LCS slot to Team Vitality. The future looked grim for them.
Not only did Gambit fail to retain any players from their European lineup, but they were faced with a heavy task of rebuilding their roster with fewer resources and in a less competitive region. Luckily for them, their former jungler—Diamondprox—couldn’t acquire a visa to play in the EU LCS, so Gambit managed to sign him just in time for the SLTV Challenger 2016 Spring Split.
Revisiting that competition today is like taking a look at the graveyard. Almost every single team playing there disappeared into obscurity, and—at first—Gambit didn’t seem like they would be any different. Despite winning every game in the regular season and seamlessly qualifying for the LCL, they failed to hold on to Diamondprox, who decided to try his luck in the NA CS with Apex Pride.
With that, Gambit struggled to hold their own in the 2016 LCL Summer Split. Ultimately, they couldn’t even make the playoffs, so another Russian team, Albus Nox Luna, went to Worlds in their stead. And even though Diamondprox returned to the team in the off-season, the same exact story took place in the 2017 LCL Spring Split. It was only after Gambit Esports signed another Moscow Five legend—Edward—that they managed to put together a strong domestic performance and break into the 2017 Worlds Play-In stage.
For the first time in a while, the name Gambit Esports appeared on the Western fans’ radar. Everyone was excited to see what the team that once took over Europe could do on the international stage, but unfortunately, it only took a couple matches to turn what was supposed to be a triumphant return into an unmitigated disaster.
A reality check
The 2017 World Championship was a complete train wreck for Gambit. They lost every single game in the Play-In group stage, failing to stand up to the likes of Team WE and Lyon Gaming. Things were so bad that Edward later admitted Gambit were probably the worst team at the tournament. And within a few days, fans realized that the notion of Gambit Esports giving a world-class performance was nothing more than a pipe dream.
But the same realization didn’t seem to hit Gambit. They took on the 2018 LCL Spring Split with renewed vigor and tore through the competition to qualify for the 2018 MSI. It was there that we finally saw the glimpses of the old Moscow Five.
Not only did Diamondprox showcase his natural knack for pathing by outmaneuvering his opponents in the jungle, but players like Kira and PvPStejos also made their presence known in the solo lanes. Even the duo of Edward and rookie AD carry Lodik looked solid in teamfights.
Most importantly, Gambit showed the willingness to innovate. Their Ornn, Nocturne, Kathus, Jhin, Karma team comp were a joy to watch for the fans and a terror to play against for Latin America’s Rainbow7. And while Gambit usually employed a more standard playstyle, they made sure to spice things up with unorthodox picks, creative invades, and unconventional jungle routes.
But once again, the Gambit hype train came to a screeching halt. This time, it was the LMS’ Flash Wolves that stood in their way. Despite getting a 2v2 kill in Game 1, the bot lane of Lodik and Edward was outclassed by Betty and SwordArt for the rest of the series. Meanwhile, Flash Wolves’ Moojin had a complete stranglehold over the jungle, leaving zero breathing room for Gambit’s solo laners. Granted, Game 1 was close, but as the series progressed, it became increasingly clear that this was the end of the line for Gambit Esports.
They were simply the worse team. And no amount of innovation or creative playmaking could save them from a 3-0 loss.
A new challenge
The 2018 World Championship will be Gambit’s third chance to prove themselves, their third attempt to live up to the Moscow Five legacy. The odds certainly aren’t in their favor. The Play-In stage is stacked with talent, and the gap between wildcards and major regions seems greater than ever before.
But if Gambit can break into the Main Event, they will finally step out of the shadow of their predecessor, and start carving their own path in League of Legends history.
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