Beginning Anew; North America’s Evil Geniuses
Before the expansion of the LCS into a 10 team format, North American talent was generally divided into two categories; the title contenders, and those fighting to stay afloat.
While every iteration of the Winterfox roster ended up struggling at the bottom of the barrel, they were also a sign of the changing of the guard, which took place over their LCS run.
Originally playing under the name Evil Geniuses, the team’s formation was the result of world famous CLG EU roster separating before season 4, in order to form North American and European squads. While the European Alliance team would be led by their former star mid laner Henrik ‘Froggen’ Hansen, the North American team’s original roster consisted of NA LCS rookies, Tyson ‘Innox’ Kapler and Eugene ‘Pobelter’ Park, in the top and mid lanes, as well as the more famous core of Stephen ‘Snoopeh’ Ellis, Peter ‘YellowPete’ Wüppen, and Mitch ‘Krepo’ Voorspoels, in the jungle, AD Carry, and support roles respectively. The roster’s announcement was met with cautious optimism, due to both Park’s reputation as an up-and-coming prodigy, and the veteran players’ accolades.
In order to bypass a season in the challenger league, the LCS hopefuls opted to buy Velocity Esports’ place in the league. Although this option did mean skipping the majority of the work required to qualify, the players would still have to prove their mettle before joining the ranks of their new home’s major league. They would have to win a best of five series against the first place challenger team, Determined Gaming. The winner of the games would take possession of the coveted LCS slot, while the loser would be relegated to playing in the challenger league. Despite the high stakes that the games presented, players and fans alike were confident in EG’s potential to prove themselves more than worthy of competing in the LCS.
Come game day, these assumptions held true, as the team’s veterans and rookie alike delivered a swift 3-0 execution. After only two weeks of practice, the newly formed team seemed to have a clear message to send to their competition. A new contender had arrived into the LCS, and they were not just another amateur team gone pro. .
A Slow Start; Taking on the NA LCS
After an easy qualification, EG were in for a rude awakening upon entering the LCS. With each passing week, it only became more apparent that the current roster wasn’t going to make the waves that were expected of them, partly due to a lack of team cohesion. This disappointing performance resulted in a lackluster 29% win rate for the season, and no victories against the first or second place teams. Due to their fumble in the regular season, the team now had to surmount a relegation match against Cloud 9 Tempest, in order to keep their place in the LCS.
Considering the hype that surrounded the team before the LCS, their failure in their first split was surely unexpected, but that didn’t mean that EG were ready to give up on their aspirations to reach the top of the league. Their opponents’ roster consisted of a medley of experienced challenger players, including former Cloud 9 top laner Gabriel ‘Yazuki’ NG, popular streamer Aaron ‘Bischu’ Kim, and first time competitive jungler, Kevin ‘Kez’ Jeon. The two newcomers to their ranks were the promising bot lane duo of Johnny ‘Altec’ Ru, and Nicolas ‘Gleeb’ Haddad, both formerly of Curse Academy.
In the face of their disappointing circumstances, and the talent of their adversaries, the EG crew managed to keep level heads in the face of relegations, and were able to win 3-1 against Cloud 9’s challenger squad. Their convincing wins were largely due to Snoopeh and Innox’s newfound synergy, as well as Pobelter’s ability to enable the duo, using more supportive champions such as Orianna. Although they were able to defend their LCS hopes against C9T, one element of the defeated squad stood out; their young ad carry, Altec. Not only was he the key factor in C9T’s single victory, but he was also able to consistently mitigate YellowPete’s influence on the game, and force him into much more supportive role for the series.
Out with the Old; the Departure of Veterans
Even with their victory in the relegation series, the EG staff knew that changes were in order, if they wanted to be a top team in the 2014 summer split. This need for change lead to tryouts being held for the jungle, ADC and support positions, and the eventual replacement of YellowPete. Although one familiar face was parting ways with the organization, another was about to step in to take his place. His replacement was to be none other than Altec, the talented young ADC, who they had just recently defeated.
Unfortunately, this change didn’t seem to be enough to dig EG out of the hole they seemed to be in, and despite brief flashes of brilliance on signature champions, the team was left with a lackluster 1-6 record after their first 3 weeks of summer. These results clearly showed that the roster was still not where it needed to be, which lead to the second of the team’s original players retiring, only weeks after their first. In an interview with OnGamers after week 3, Snoopeh revealed that the team would be flying in Dong-jin ‘Helios’ Shin, as a replacement jungler. Helios was a Korean jungler who had played on the famous CJ Blaze lineup in season 3, and Najin Black Sword, in the previous season of OGN Champions. Due to his experience, the coaches hoped that Helios would be able to take a leadership role on the team, and be able to improve overall performances.
A Light in the Darkness; Adapting to Helios
In line with the mantra of their signature Kha’Zix pick, it was time for EG to adapt and overcome, by taking the risk of replacing a longtime shot caller and friend, with an unfamiliar, albeit experienced new player. Although the team was still readjusting to the newfound evolution in their playstyle, there had already been a noticeable improvement since Helios had joined, as most weeks were now resulting in 1-1 records, rather than consistent 0-2s. Over time, the Evil Geniuses crew continued to adapt to their new jungler’s playstyle and personality, and eventually managed to find their footing as a middle of the pack team, including an impressive 4-0 record in their final week of play. Unfortunately for them, the damage had already been done to their standings, due to their worrying record before the addition of Helios. In spite of the fact that this team had improved leaps and bounds over their form when the season began, they ended the split 7th place, and would return to the all too familiar setting of relegation matches.
For the third time since their formation, the EG roster would have to prepare to play a series with their careers on the line. Although relegation matches were by no means something for the players to look forward to, whether for better or worse, they had become familiar territory for most of the players. Due to this unfortunate familiarity the team could at least enter the upcoming games with much more composed states of mind than their opponents. This confidence could also be supported by the fact that unlike their previous season, the team had shown marked improvement throughout the previous weeks, and would most likely have not even had to play in relegations, had their current roster been fielded for the entire split.
A Clash of Styles; EG VS Coast
While their roster was seemingly at the best it had ever been (in the North American iteration), EG’opponents, Team Coast, were going in to the series faced with the exact opposite situation. Although quite a bit of the team’s success in challenger was attributed to the challenger mainstays, Keenan ‘Rhux’ Santos, and Greyson ‘Goldenglue’ Gilmer, the team’s management had decided to replace their top and mid lane stars, in favor of two relatively unknown Koreans; Yongwoo ‘Miracle’ Yi, and Sangkyun ‘Ringer’ Park. Although fans called into question whether the original roster was good enough to qualify for LCS play in the first place, it seemed that the general consensus was still massively against the team’s management. Due to the controversy surrounding Coast’s decision, the upcoming series could be considered not only as a fight between the teams for entry into the LCS, but as a clash between EG’s seemingly more planned integration of their two new members, and Coast’s decision to make abrupt changes, despite an already successful showing in challenger.
The EG players delivered a swift 3-0 victory, reminiscent of their qualifying series almost a year prior, with all five members of the team delivering stellar performances. The squad seemed to be sending a message to both their fans and adversaries alike, via these results; both their teamwork and individual skill were improving by the day, and they were no longer going to be complacent as a bottom of the league team.
A New Era; Rebranding as Winterfox
It’s been said that every cloud has a silver lining, and the coming offseason would prove to be no exception for the soon to be Winterfox team. It had been announced that the Evil Geniuses brand was withdrawing from League of Legends, and that Krepo would be leaving the team. Although it seemed that losing their reputation as part of a legacy organization could be a major blow to the team’s popularity, it would ultimately prove to be a blessing in disguise. While this news would most likely cause a fall in the team’s immediate fan base, it would also create a rare opportunity for the organization to completely redefine both their reputation, and their legacy. Ideally, they would no longer be considered a faltering group of once famous players, but rather as a collection of quickly developing talent, with Pobelter and Altec at their lead, and Helios as their guide. With a yet to be revealed team name, and two open roles, the three remaining teammates set out to Korea, in order to find their remaining players.
Finding the Missing Pieces; Tryouts in Korea
Despite it not being publicly known at the time, the soon to be Winterfox players underwent a tumultuous month in Korea, due to complications with their potential new members. Although there were several popular rumors concerning the events of the trip, only one was ever substantiated; the departure of Lee ‘Ignar’ Dong-geun, their tentative support player. According to a public statement by the team’s top laner, Ignar had practiced with the team for most of their time abroad, but had undergone a sudden change of heart, and left to take a more lucrative offer, after signing his contract. There were other rumors concerning the roster, such as the potential signing of former KT Rolster top laner Ju ‘Limit’ Min-Gyu, but while they may have explained the seemingly rushed choice of final players, these rumors were never addressed.
When the players finally returned from Korea, the organization officially announced that they would be rebranding as Winterfox, and had acquired rookie Korean players for both roles. Whether it was part of their original vision for the team or not, the organization had pushed themselves even farther into a narrative of fostering a next generation of talent, by recruiting these two completely unproven players. Due to the high amount of budding players on their roster, the team also picked up former Incredible Miracle ADC Choi ‘Paragon’ Hyun-il as their head coach, in order to guide their growth, and provide another experienced voice.
The first of the two prospects was Jang ‘Imagine’ Hyeonsu, a Korean challenger support player who had been scouted at the last minute, due to Ignar’s sudden departure. As a result of his unknown status, many fans had already written off the upstart support, due to a perceived difference in caliber, when compared to other import options. While Imagine was criticized for a lack of reputation, the team’s top laner Donghyeon ‘Avalon’ Shin had a somewhat opposite problem. He had developed somewhat of a reputation when signed, due to being both at a subpar rating in solo queue, and the fact that he was Helios’ brother. Not only did this lead to accusations of nepotism regarding his place on the team, but it also placed a target on the newcomer’s back, when it came to community criticism.
Cracks in the Armor; Preseason Concerns
While Imagine was criticized for a lack of reputation, the team’s top laner Donghyeon ‘Avalon’ Shin had a somewhat opposite problem. He had developed somewhat of a reputation when signed, due to being both at a subpar rating in solo queue, and the fact that he was Helios’ brother. Not only did this lead to accusations of nepotism regarding his place on the team, but it also placed a target on the newcomer’s back, when it came to community criticism.
Yet another community concern was a potential language barrier, due to the team’s majority Korean roster. For somewhat confusing reasons, the team’s coaches seemed to have decided that a shared language was unnecessary, as the team would be communicating in Korean, with Pobelter acting as a translator for his ADC.
In an ironic turn of events, the potential issue would only affect the team later in the season, as Imagine’s Visa approval would take far longer than estimated. With his planned lane partner ineligible, Altec would temporarily be reunited with an old friend in the bottom lane. For the first weeks of the season, Gleeb would take up the mantle of starting support until his Korean counterpart’s arrival.
Coming Together; Struggles with Cohesion
After their first week, the future looked brighter than expected for the newly formed team. Considering the fact that their roster had to field substitute players for all three of their Korean players, an even record seemed like a good sign for the future. The following week saw the arrival of both Avalon and Helios, which seemed to add a level of consistency to the roster. The two new arrivals may not have made a noticeable scoreboard difference, but they clearly presented a more consistent foundation for the North American players. The following weeks saw two clear trends emerging; hard fought losses against high end teams, and sweeping victories against those at the bottom of the table. After a middling start to their season, Winterfox’s vision seemed to finally be coming together.
Not only had their head coach finally arrived, but he had already made a noticeable improvement to the team’s play. In the week since Paragon’s arrival, the players seemingly improved enough to break their pattern of 1-1 records, and achieved a victory over Cloud 9. With their first win against a top team under their belts, the players seemed to finally be working as a capable unit, rather than individually trying to win despite their teammates.
With a cohesive team dynamic established, the future seemed bright for Winterfox’s coming weeks, due to Imagine’s visa finally being approved. Despite the hype surrounding the now complete roster’s possible ascent in the ranks, the introduction of their new support player seemed to put a full stop to the team’s momentum. After putting up a 1-3 record over their two weeks with Imagine, the team decided that a change was in order for the bottom lane. In response to his replacement’s underperformance, fans of the team’s replacement support took to twitter with the hashtag #KeepGleeb. Bafflingly enough, the team decided that the easiest solution would be moving Altec to support, and bringing in their head coach as a new AD Carry. Unsurprisingly, their decision resulted in two losses the following week.
After three weeks of utter disappointment, Gleeb made his return to the starting roster, in hopes of salvaging his team’s shaky season. Unfortunately for the team, they weren’t able to adapt to their original roster quickly enough, and had yet another 0-2 week following Gleeb’s addition. After a disappointing eighth week, the final week of the split showed considerable improvement, and resulted in two commanding victories, in which almost every player looked to be at their best.
Thanks to a troubled mid-season, Winterfox ended the split in seventh place. After all the talk of potential and a rocky season, the former Evil Geniuses players found themselves in the same place they always had in the past; relegation matches.
In the Claws of the Dragon; Facing TDK
At this point in their journey, longtime fans were no doubt accustomed to the team’s current situation. After a disappointing start of the season, the players would seem to have finally hit their stride in the final week, only to be dragged into relegations by previous mistakes. Despite their new brand and players, this was no doubt just another expected occurrence for Winterfox and their fan base.
This iteration of the journey into relegations would feature Team Dragon Knights as the challenging squad. TDK’s roster was officially led by former CLG top laner Shin “Seraph” Woo-Yeong, but their true threat was Alexey “Alex Ich” Ichetovkin. After the sudden news that their starting mid laner wouldn’t be eligible to play the series, TDK opted to bring in Alex Ich in his place.
Alex’s addition was seen as a huge factor in many predictions for the series, as he had previously played on Europe’s famous Moscow 5 roster. Due to this past experience, TDK’s substitute was the most experienced player in the series, which put him in an ironically threatening position.
While he didn’t have the reputation of his temporary mid laner, Seraph was not to be underestimated. The Korean top laner had first arrived in North America the previous year, and played with Counter Logic Gaming. Despite his initial praise before playing professionally, Seraph’s first foray in the LCS was rather disappointing. Since then, it seemed that he had found his own champion identity on AP carries, and was doing rather well on his new team which was more focused on playing around his style. Interestingly, Seraph could be considered a possible look at what Avalon could have become, if he’d continued to play in the challenger league.
When it came to the day of the game, it seemed that predictions were weighted towards TDK, due to the presence of Alex Ich. While Alex did hold his own in the series, it seemed that the rest of his team was playing just as well as him. Whether it was due to a surging TDK lineup, or a slumping state from Winterfox, the series ultimately ended in a swift 3-1 victory for the Dragon Knights. After so many years of avoiding relegations, Winterfox’s luck had finally run out. In one fell swoop, TDK had reduced their growing kingdom to nothing more than ashes.