SEOUL, South Korea -- Affectionately dubbed "The Flash Wolves Region," the League of Legends Master Series now occupies a space in the western LoL discourse previously owned by the Chinese LoL Pro League. That is to say, few people follow the region that includes Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macao, aside from a few, die-hard specialists.
With no English-language cast, a few teams, a handful of loyal western followers and a general lack of an English-language audience, the LMS is a dark and mysterious place until September rolls around and the rest of the world wants to know about the teams competing at the League of Legends World Championship. It didn't used to be this way, but it has been nearly six years since the Taipei Assassins' won the world championship and put the region on the map.
Since the inception of the LMS, the region has been dominated by the Flash Wolves, who have won six of eight total titles, and missed the finals only once. As the reigning LMS No. 1 seed, the Flash Wolves members are currently in South Korea bootcamping. They eagerly await the result of the play-in stage to see who will join them, the Afreeca Freecs, and Vietnam's Phong Vũ Buffalo in Group A.
Their regional brethren, G-Rex, is currently making its way through the play-in stage with a surprisingly dominating performance.
According to the members of G-Rex, they were not favored to come here from the LMS qualifier, nor were they expected to have complete dominion over their games once they had arrived.
"We didn't expect to do so well since it's our first appearance on the international stage," G-Rex support Lin "Koala" Chih-Chiang said. "We were not a favorite coming into the play-in. For example, people will say Gambit is a better team. But after beating Gambit we feel like we are really a competitive team."
Instead, in the eyes of the west, of all the major-region third seeds -- G2 Esports, Cloud9, Edward Gaming, and G-Rex -- G-Rex was highlighted as the weakest of the four. If there was to be an upset in the play-in stage, it would happen to G-Rex rather than another major team.
Yet, much of this chatter was based not on G-Rex's playstyle or recent performance, but on the performance of last year's LMS third seed, Hong Kong Attitude. HKA was expected to make it out of the play-in stage but fell to 1907 Fenerbahçe Esports in a group-stage tiebreaker, and was later swept by Fnatic. Combined with the Flash Wolves' utter domination in the LMS over the past few years, it's easy to see how many drew the conclusion that G-Rex, too, would be the easiest major region play-in squad to be upset by the likes of a team like SuperMassive Esports or Gambit Gaming, especially if that conclusion was made without watching any of G-Rex's recent games.
G-Rex hasn't been close to the strongest team in the LMS (the Flash Wolves) this summer, and even when the team looked stronger this past spring, it was swept by the Flash Wolves in the spring finals. Yet recent changes to the team in the form of now-starting jungler Anson "Empt2y" Leung are important pieces in understanding why the team has looked more cohesive as a unit. Empt2y's presence and translation ability allows the team to get more out of South Korean mid laner Kim "Candy" Seung-ju. According to Koala, Empt2y's role as a central communicator has allowed Koala to be more comfortable since he is in constant contact with his jungler. G-Rex's other jungler Oh "Raise" Ji-hwan would talk a lot more to AD carry Lee "Stitch" Seung-ju, and Koala might have been left out of the decision-making. With Empt2y in the play-in stage thus far, Koala has been a star, initiating team fights on Alistar or controlling them with Tahm Kench.
Nothing is decided yet, and G-Rex will have to wait until later Thursday to find out who its opponent will be in the upcoming main stage qualifier. But there's no doubt that G-Rex, alongside Edward Gaming, has been the strongest team. In fact, there's an argument that G-Rex has looked better due to EDG's shaky mid game, although best-of-fives will tell a more complete story.
Come this weekend, G-Rex could load up onto the Rift in the new LCK Arena and be swept by its opponent. It's not impossible, it's just highly improbable. More likely is a fairly strong G-Rex victory on the back of Koala roaming, top laner Hsieh "Pk" Yu-Ting showing off his strong zone control in team fights, and Stitch scaling on a high-damage late-game carry.
Based on the group stage performances, G-Rex has at least earned that much: respect to be considered a favorite rather than a mystery.