Looking back at Alex Ich

I look back at the highlights and turning points of the League of Legends career of recently retired Moscow Five mid lane legend, Alex Ich.

(Image Credit: Riot Games)

On October 30, the former Moscow Five mid laner Alexey “Alex Ich” Ichetovkin announced his retirement from League of Legends. Almost anyone could’ve seen this coming, but I still felt my heart sink when I heard the news. Not because it was bad for Alex—on the contrary, if his tweet is of any indication, he seems to be in a great place in life—but because another living legend was about to fade into obscurity.

And Alex Ich deserves better than that.

The Russian miracle

When Moscow Five burst into the competitive scene, I was just making my first steps in League of Legends. At the time, I was so focused on honing my Ashe mechanics and grinding to level 30 that LoL esports wasn’t even on my radar. However, Moscow Five proved impossible to ignore. 

I still remember my friend sending me a link to a Twitch stream and explaining how an unknown Russian team was about to challenge North America’s Team SoloMid at the grand finals of IEM Kiev. I decided to take a quick look, but I ended up watching the entire series. The 2-1 scoreline doesn’t reflect how one-sided that grand final. Moscow Five didn’t just win, they absolutely slaughtered Team SoloMid. And they made it look so easy.

I didn’t realize this back then, but Moscow Five were the definition of lightning in a bottle—a perfect mix of players, whose strengths lined up in a such a way that they practically nullified each other’s weaknesses.

And Alex Ich was the glue that held them together. 

It’s no secret that many Moscow Five players weren’t friends, and there were distinct cliques within the team. As a team captain, Alex Ich was the one who made sure all the moving parts and conflicting personalities came together to produce some of the best League of Legends the world has ever seen. It was under his leadership that Moscow Five capitalized on their IEM Kiev victory by winning the 2012 IEM Season 6 Worlds Championship. And it was largely because of him that M5 cemented their status as the top dogs of competitive League of Legends with top-4 finishes at 2012 Dreamhack Summer, Worlds 2012, and IPL 5. 

Pulling the trigger

Usually, the burden of leadership eats away at a player’s individual skill. But that wasn’t the case for Alex. His mechanics were sharp enough to go toe-to-toe with the best mid laners in the world, and his killer instinct made him the pillar of Moscow Five’s and Gambit Gaming’s teamfighting. No matter how far he fell behind, Alex always seemed to find that split-second opening to turn the tables on his opponents. Many of these plays wouldn’t seem flashy by today’s standard, but I still remember the exhilaration from seeing Alex put the final nail into EG’s coffin on Kha’Zix or wipe the floor with Fnatic on Kassadin.

Alex Ich scores a Pentakill on Kha’Zix against Evil Geniuses.

On top of that, he was one of the few mid laners that didn’t seem to be phased by the balance changes. Most old-school fans will remember his Evelynn, Kha’Zix, or Master Yi, however, the thing that made Alex stand out from the rest of the playing field was the sheer depth of his champion pool. Whether the meta leaned towards farm-oriented mages or playmaking assassins, Alex had a plethora of power picks at his disposal, and attempting to ban him out was an exercise in futility. 

It felt like anything was possible when Alex was on the Rift. It felt like his teams could take on the world. Because when push came to shove, he was willing to step up to the plate and go for clutch plays that altered the course of the entire game. 

And that’s exactly what made him the face of the European mid lane. 

The first cracks

Unfortunately, Alex Ich’s career was filled with out-of-game hardships. His first challenge came when the scene shifted from an open circuit to the LCS model. The EU LCS matches were held in Germany, so every week Alex and his team—Gambit Gaming—had to spend two days traveling to Cologne and two more days playing at the Riot Games’ studio. Naturally, this schedule took its toll on his performance.

Alex struggled to keep up with the rising level of competition, as more and more players challenged him in the mid lane. However, he still had his ability to show up in high-pressure moments, and this clutch factor was one of the main reasons behind Gambit Gaming’s top-4 finishes at IEM Season 7 Katowice, MLG International Exhibition, 2013 EU LCS Spring Split, and 2013 EU LCS Summer Split. 

Still, everyone on the team knew they weren’t playing up to their potential. The brutal travel times and declining results gave birth to frustration and internal conflicts, turning the game Alex knew and loved into a draining routine. In the 2014 EU LCS Spring Split, Gambit Gaming fell 2-0 to Team ROCCAT in the quarterfinals and had to play a fifth-place match against Copenhagen Wolves to decide who’s going to take part in the Promotion Tournament. Alex Ich put on a clinic in that series, and his 100% kill participation 13/0/7 Orianna became the driving force behind Gambit’s 2-1 victory. It was as if he refused to let Gambit fall to relegations. At least, not under his watch.

Shortly thereafter, Alex announced his decision to leave the team. For many fans, this was the end of an era. I saw this as an opportunity for Alex to break the taxing travel cycle and take another shot at the top of the EU LCS ladder. He took his shot with Ninjas in Pyjamas. 

He missed.

A fading flame

Despite their initial success in the 2014 EU Challenger Series, Ninjas in Pyjamas crumbled when two of their players—Erlend "Nukeduck" Våtevik Holm and Alfonso "Mithy" Aguirre Rodríguez—were suspended by Riot Games for toxic behavior. NiP scrambled to find replacements, but in the end, the players they got weren’t good enough to break into the EU LCS. To make matters worse, Alex swapped to the top lane to let Nukeduck play on the team, so he looked lost when he had to switch back to his previous role. 

Then there were visa issues. As a Russian citizen, Alex couldn’t stay in Europe for more than 90 days, so he was counting on Ninjas in Pyjamas to provide him a work visa. But once it became clear that they weren’t going to qualify for the EU LCS, NiP released their roster, leaving Alex Ich with an unpaid invoice for €5,000 and no way to continue playing in Europe. In the end, his only viable options were to go back to Russia or take an offer from North America. And when you put things like that, it wasn’t much of a choice at all.

Alex Ich’s time in North America was marked by misfortune. Most NA LCS organizations already had mid laners they were comfortable with, so the only way to enter the North American scene was to work your way up to the top. It looked like Alex was going to do just that, as he carried Misfits in the 2015 NA CS Summer Qualifiers and simultaneously subbed in for Team Dragon Knights, helping them get through the 2015 NA LCS Summer Promotion Tournament. When Misfits rebranded as Renegades, Alex Ich made the final push to qualify for the 2016 NA LCS Spring Split. 

Their first LCS showing was a 60-minute victory against Team Liquid, and while it wasn’t a clean game, I was still excited to see Alex take on North America. His success was short-lived, though, as Renegades proceeded to go on a massive 12-game losing streak. Several of their players were ill-prepared for the NA LCS stage, so the org had to make emergency roster moves. It didn’t take long for the team dynamic to crumble. 

As management grew more and more desperate, they made the call to swap solo laners with Team Dragon Knights, and Alex suddenly found himself playing in the 2016 NA CS Spring Split. Still, at one point, it looked like he was about to find his way back to the top. 

TDK had a decent showing in the NA CS playoffs, and their first promotion series against Team Dignitas ended with a confident 3-0 victory. However, in a cruel twist of fate, TDK suffered a crushing defeat at the hand of Alex Ich’s previous team, Renegades. A 3-0 loss to the hungry up-and-comers in Apex Gaming was the final nail in the coffin, and Alex was officially out of the tournament. 

He spent the rest of his career on Team EnVyUs. And while he did get to sub in for a handful of games when EnVy’s starters had to renew their visas, he never made a proper comeback to the LCS stage.

The final step

The last time I saw Alex step onto Summoner’s Rift was during the 2018 Return of Legends. He was playing on Team West alongside Dyrus, Hai, Tabzz, and LemonNation. Watching him claw his way to a scrappy 3-2 victory against Team East’s GoGoing, InSec, Li, Bebe, and Tabe made me realize how much time has passed since his prime. 

Yet, I still felt a sense of elation when he won. Granted, he wasn’t playing mid lane, and winning an inconsequential showmatch is a far cry from victories and high-place finishes at IEMs, IPLs, Dreamhacks, and World Championships. But somehow, it felt right he ended his career on a win.

For all that he's done for the game, we won't remember him for this final showings, or his attempts to break back into a League of Legends scene that did him no favors. We will remember the terror he led to the top, and the generation of European midlaners he inspired along the way.

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