One of the most convincing examples of the vast difference one player in League of Legends can make is that of Han "Peanut" Wang-ho and his arrival this year on the ROX Tigers. Yes, the Tigers were World Championship finalists last year, but they could not stand up to SK Telecom T1, and at times had trouble standing up to the rest of their Korean counterparts in LoL Champions Korea. Lee "Hojin" Ho-jin struggled to create early pressure, and the Tigers developed a wait for late game team fighting style that relied on their coordination first.
Peanut changed everything. With a stifling early game presence, he stopped opposing junglers in their tracks, often killing them outright in their own jungles. This had a dramatic difference on the Tigers' early game, and even caused the team to experiment with bolder, all-engage compositions against Korea's lower-tier opponents. Peanut's presence offered flexibility in play style and a dynamicism that the Tigers had lacked all throughout 2015.
This same transformation happened on a smaller scale, but in similarly dramatic fashion, in Brazil with Gabriel "Revolta" Henud and INTZ e-Sports in early 2015.
INTZ began their competitive journey in June 2014 with the roster of amateur team Out of Position — top laner Felipe "Yang" Zhao, jungler Thiago "Djokovic" Maia, mid laner Gabriel "Tockers" Claumann, AD carry Micael "micaO" Rodrigues, and support Luan "Jockster" Cardoso.
"At the time, everyone was really bad. I was like, really, really bad," INTZ mid laner Tockers said earlier this year. "We didn't know anything about the game so we would play like it was just solo queue — try to win your lanes and then we just group and do something. No strategy. Yolo. That's how the team worked until Revolta got in."
Djoko retired shortly after their qualification, allowing for former Keyd Stars jungler Revolta to take over the role. At the time, Revolta had been flirting with the idea of retiring. Recently benched on Keyd due his own health issues and other personality clashes within the team, Revolta decided to take the INTZ position to prove his worth, despite internal doubts of his own performance or whether he could forge his own path separate from his former Keyd teammates.
“[I told myself] I’m not going to be the same player. I’m not going to win nothing," Revolta said. "INTZ was not a good team at that point. When I joined I was like, ‘Oh my god, I need to make things happen, you know?’ When I left Keyd, I felt lost. I had to think on the time I was spending on being a player and how to get better. It made me a better player and a better person. In the end it was good, but in the moment when I left Keyd and joined INTZ I was lost.”
He credited strong communication for INTZ's growth throughout their first split. Their shot calling was non-existent and when Revolta stepped into the role as the team's primary shot caller during their first scrims together, he was well out of his depth, used to Keyd's support Loop calling the shots on his former team.
"I didn’t know how to shot call so we were lost. Our first scrims were crap. Everyone was saying, ‘Oh, INTZ is shit right now, they’re not going to win anything," Revolta said, laughing. "We managed to talk a lot. I think that’s the key to success, at least the one that works for me. When you can talk about everything about the game and everyone hears you, and we’re not going to have problems, the kind of problems I had with Keyd and CNB. INTZ was a real team, the first real team I had.”
Despite their initial struggles in practice, none of these issues appeared on stage. INTZ stormed through the 2015 CBLoL Summer split, their only loss in a split set with Keyd Stars who had made major moves in the offseason to get former CJ Entus players Kim "Emperor" Jin-hyun and Kang "DayDream" Kyung-min. Their regular season ended in a tiebreaker victory over Keyd to take the first seed in the region. They had a narrow scare in Game 1 against paiN Gaming in the semifinals — if it wasn't for a lack of nexus focus from paiN and a timely Tockers Azir ultimate, they would have lost — but eventually swept paiN in the semifinals. Against Keyd in the finals, things again looked dire for INTZ until a risky five-man brush gank in bot lane paid off. After that close Game 1, INTZ beat Keyd 3-0 to earn a spot at the 2015 International Wildcard Invitational.
"Our comeback against Keyd in the first game of the final was something else," coach Alexander Haibel said. "I was sitting there full of doubts. I picked weak early game champions to outscale and teamfight, but maybe the team couldn't play that style — maybe I had misjudged. Then they camped the bot lane bush and slowly but surely clawed their way back in. Afterwards I asked them if they wanted a new draft, if Revolta wanted Lee Sin. They answered no we can do this, and Revolta said 'I want him on Lee, his Lee is bad.' This was the day we slew the giants."
The star of the team was Revolta. His aggressive jungling allowed for INTZ to make moves on the map and the broad champion pools of Yang, Tockers, and micaO allowed for them to adjust resources as they saw fit. Everything improved with most opposing junglers removed from the pressure game completely due to Revolta's presence. INTZ had good players prior to his arrival, but Revolta made them even better. They entered the 2015 IWCI as heavy favorites — due to their own merit and the lingering perception of Brazil as the default best wild card region due to KaBuM! e-Sports' best-of-one victory over Alliance at the 2014 World Championship.
Yet when INTZ reached the international stage, they struggled. With less than 48 hours — due to the time difference — between their summer victory and the 2015 International Wildcard Invitational, INTZ were visibly fatigued in their Day 1 group stage performances, lagging behind their opponents and making simple mechanical errors that had never plagued them in Brazil. They adjusted to the jet-lag but couldn't withstand the immense amount of pressure when playing against hometown team Besiktas e-Sports Club in the finals. After winning Game 1, the pressure began to get to INTZ, and they dropped their three remaining games, sending the Turkish team to the 2015 Mid-Season Invitational.
Revolta returned to Keyd that offseason, leaving INTZ scrambling for a jungler. Jockster role-swapped to the jungle position while Leonardo "Alocs" Belo joined micaO in the bottom lane as his support. micaO and Alocs lacked the same amount of coordination that micaO and Jockster had shared, and Jockster's jungling was shaky at first. Tockers stepped up and took some of the burden, applying his own pressure in the mid lane and shifting to a more carry-oriented style while Jockster adjusted to his new position. By the end of the split, they had regained their position as one of the best teams in Brazil, although Jockster's jungling was never at the same level of Revolta. He was often too far ahead or behind his team in engages, something that had also plagued him occasionally during his time as their support.
Standing between INTZ and the chance at a possible 2015 World Championship appearance was paiN Gaming. The two teams met in the 2015 CBLoL Winter finals, and paiN swept them 3-0, going on to the 2015 International Wildcard Tournament in Chile and INTZ once again on the outside looking into a major international event.
In the 2015-16 offseason, INTZ picked up both Loop and Revolta from Keyd. Loop left the team for paiN Gaming prior to the season's start, sparking a poaching controversy and friction between paiN and INTZ. Revolta stayed and Jockster, who had a brief stint as the top laner for former INTZ sister team INTZ Red/Red Canids, returned as the team's starting support. With the gang reunited, INTZ made yet another attempt, eager to make it to the international stage once more.
Another 3-0 CBLoL finals victory over Keyd and INTZ were bound for another IWCI. There, they finished a disappointing third/fourth, falling to Hard Random in the semifinals.
"The last Wildcard this year, we weren't good enough to win," Tockers said "So this second split we put in a lot of effort to be a team that could win. Coming into the Wildcard we were the best team, I think."
Another CBLoL finals win under their belts, this time against CNB e-Sports Club, and INTZ found themselves at their third Wildcard tournament, determined to make the World Championship. Their efforts, and a bootcamp in Europe before the IWCQ, made them the team to beat at yet another Wildcard event. INTZ dropped their first match to Lyon Gaming — later the team admitted that they had completely underestimated the Latin America North squad based on prior experiences — and looked shaky across the next two days of the group stages. They played passively, lacked any sort of early-game, and overly relied on their late-game team fighting and superior coordination as a unit to overcome opponents.
INTZ's performance at the 2016 IWCQ was once again far below the expectations of their fans, opponents, and the expectations that they had set for themselves. Even after regaining their confidence prior to their finals series against Dark Passage, it was a bloody, sloppy showing that made both teams look bad. Their one redeeming quality was the performance of top laner Yang, who impressed in all five games, sometimes single-handedly saving teamfights for INTZ so they could reengage and come at Dark Passage as a unit. Although it wasn't pretty, this was their Worlds qualifying performance, a moment in the making for the past two years.
"We had a mediocre performance at the IWCQ so this may sound incorrect, but we are a dynamic early game team with plenty of creative plays," Haibel said. "We need to work on our mid game but we are also a very strong team in late game teamfighting. We are also charming and handsome people."
Much like Revolta stated when he first came to INTZ, INTZ are a team first, with strong chemistry in and out of game, a byproduct of playing together for so long. Going into the 2016 World Championship, INTZ also did not bootcamp in Korea like most other teams. This does put them under more pressure, as they'll have to rely on scouting data and what little they can glean prior to their first match against China's first seed, EDward Gaming. Placed in a group with EDG, H2k-Gaming, and ahq e-Sports Club, it will be tough for INTZ to take a game, never mind get out of their group, but their team dynamic and confidence are as strong as they ever have been.
"We are more confident in ourselves now since we've 'broken new ground' and finally made it to Worlds," Haibel said. "Overall though we are much the same people, just not burdened by our past failures. They are still there but we are okay with them. They are just lessons to remember now."
Emily Rand is a staff writer for theScore esports. You can follow her on Twitter.