It's a moment nearly two years in the making, and the celebration unfolds as expected. Shouting, hugging, crying, their coach jumping into the fray as the five members of INTZ e-Sports jump in unison before turning to the deafening crowd, arms raised.
After two failed attempts at making a major international tournament, INTZ finally advance as a Wildcard representative. Four weeks from now, they'll attempt to fight their way out of Group C at the 2016 League of Legends World Championship.
Now come the questions of overall strength compared to the major regions, how they'll prepare, and how they feel about finally making Worlds.
"Oh god, I don't know," Gabriel "Tockers" Claumann says a week later. He sighs loudly. "It feels like I'm not there yet. I think when I see which group we're in I'll ... I don't know the words."
The mid laner for the Brazilian wildcard team INTZ, Tockers, and his team have been trying for a year and a half to make it to the World Championship. They haven’t had a true day off in the past nine months.
As a team from a minor region, INTZ have no automatic qualification into major international tournaments like the Mid-Season Invitational or Worlds. Instead, they rely on the feeder International Wildcard tournaments to qualify. While this is perfectly reasonable — in no way is Brazil as strong as their closest major region counterparts of North America and Europe — the level of difficulty in preparing for a Wildcard event is incredibly high.
The closest that major region teams come to preparing for the seven other teams that Wildcard regions must study for their feeder tournaments is the MSI event, where teams are required to learn as much as they can about five other teams for a round robin best-of-one group stage.
"It's really really difficult to prepare for a tournament like that because there are eight regions, you face all of them," Tockers says. There’s no heightened emotion in his voice, no hint of complaint, just the matter-of-fact tone that states the obvious. "You get to know a team's style by playing against them but in a best of one, they can surprise you and it's done, you lost one game. This is the hardest thing about Wildcard, it's a best-of-one [group stage] and preparing for all of the other teams."
Despite all coming from minor regions, the task of researching seven other teams is an exhausting task, especially with various regional finals ending at different times.
In 2015, INTZ’s own CBLoL Finals series finished a mere two days before their arrival in Turkey for the International Wildcard Invitational. This year, the Latin America North Closing Cup Finals took place only four days before the 2016 International Wildcard Qualifer in Brazil. While LAN champions Lyon Gaming didn’t have to adjust to large amounts of jet lag like 2015 INTZ, they had their own lack of prep time that made things difficult for themselves and opponents alike.
Yet, Lyon took the group stages by storm, only dropping one game — to CIS’ champions Albus NoX Luna — in the round robin group stage.
The first team to face Lyon was none other than INTZ. Heavily-favored to win the 2016 IWCQ due to rumblings of scrim success during INTZ’s European bootcamp, INTZ’s loss to Lyon was shocking to both the team and the masses of Brazilian fans cheering for them on home turf.
Tockers admits that they took Lyon too lightly.
"The truth here is that their finals ended a few days before Wildcard started so we didn't research them,” he says. “We knew a few of their picks but not much about their game play and we hid one or two picks the first day that really screwed us. They were good and when you do this against a good team, you lose. We didn't know that they were good. We just took the history of the region — they weren't ever good, but then we faced them the first day and they were good."
He credits the preparation of their coaching staff with INTZ’s IWCQ success. With seven teams to beat, paring down the amount of time spent on each opponent is key. Scrutinizing every team isn’t always a necessity, but assumptions based on that region’s previous results at Wildcard tournaments inevitably creep into the preparation process as coaches try to discern who their strongest adversaries will be, and how to channel more time into preparing for them specifically.
This year, prior regional strength could not have determined just how strong Lyon Gaming would be. LAN teams had often languished at the bottom of Wildcard tournament standings in the past two years. Similarly, the GPL’s previous success with the Bangkok Titans and Saigon Jokers across the three most recent International Wildcard events gave little indication that they would fail to produce any sort of competent team for the 2016 IWCQ. Yet, at this most recent event, the Saigon Jokers were significantly worse than all of their Wildcard opponents.
In the case of INTZ, they had studied Turkey’s Dark Passage and CIS’ Albus NoX Luna closely. Both regions had a history of sending strong teams to Wildcard events. Turkish teams have represented Wildcard regions at two MSI’s and the CIS representative has always made the bracket stage.
“We scrimmed Turkish and CIS teams [in Europe],” Tockers says. “We were 18-0 against CIS teams and we were about 15-2 against Turkish teams. When we got back [to Brazil], we lost our levels, maybe because we weren't in that competitive environment. We weren't playing as well in the Wildcard as we did in Europe so it felt really bad."
Their most recent bootcamp is the second time that INTZ has travelled to Europe and the third time they have had an international bootcamp to prepare for either their own regional finals or a Wildcard tournament. Being the strongest team in Brazil has its obvious limits — once they reach the top, a first-place Brazilian team has no stronger opponents in their immediate area to play against and continue to improve. Tockers describes this most recent bootcamp as one of their more difficult ones, simply due to their initial lack of basic mechanical skill to keep up with their European opponents.
"It was four weeks of bootcamp. When we got there it was really, really hard because, it wasn't even macro play, teams were just better than us mechanically," Tockers says. "We would literally lose every lane."
After consistent losses and general practice on European solo queue ladder in addition to their scrims, INTZ saw a massive amount of improvement in their play. Yet, simply reaching a level where they could keep up mechanically took two weeks. Once the team got the basics down, they could then begin to discuss more complicated but necessary improvements in their macro play.
“When we weren't just losing lanes, at that point we could improve our macro,” Tockers says. “We started to have really good results against top teams there. By the end of the bootcamp we were really good, but I don't think that translated in the Wildcard."
Lauded as the team to beat prior to the tournament, INTZ underperformed from the start in the group stages. They looked shaky in their first match against Kaos Latin Gamers and dropped their second game against the aforementioned Lyon Gaming. On Day 3, INTZ lost to the Chiefs. At that point, dropping out of the IWCQ in the group stages became a real possibility for the once-favorites of the tournament.
Following this defeat, the team had an important meeting that changed the way they looked at their team’s performance in the tournament.
"In our loss against the Chiefs we had multiple problems in draft and in game," Tockers says. More important than their drafting and coordination was the simple fact that they were playing scared.
"We were watching the game and we weren't making plays. You never see INTZ not making plays," Tockers says. He laughs incredulously before continuing, as if he can’t believe that his team forgot something this essential to their team identity.
"We never play passive, we always try to be in control of the game, making plays, getting deeper vision and it didn't happen against Chiefs. We saw that we were scared of making a mistake and losing. When you play passive and don't make plays you just slowly lose the game. Just forgetting about pressure and making mistakes, and just playing our normal game."
Many more mistakes were to come throughout INTZ’s journey in this year’s IWCQ yet what they discussed that night in their team meeting remained a constant. Despite their sloppy performance against Dark Passage in their qualifying best of five, INTZ was a more proactive unit than their group stage performances with strong team coordination and split-second decision-making. When they couldn’t make the aggressive play, they waited for Dark Passage to fight them, relying on their superior 5v5 teamfighting.
Their newfound confidence in making decisions led to plays such as a key Tahm Kench ultimate to the bot lane where INTZ decided that they could kill Dark Passage top laner Kaan "Elwind" Atıcı’s Trundle while also stopping the Turkish team from taking Baron. Tockers and INTZ support Luan “Jockster” Cardoso used Abyssal Voyage to meet up with their top laner Felipe “Yang” Zhao in the bot lane to collapse onto Elwind. Naturally, across the map, the rest of Dark Passage started in on Baron. Using Stand United, Yang teleported to the Baron pit via jungler Gabriel “Revolta” Henud and proceeded to take on three members of Dark Passage on his own.
"Jockster and I were talking wondering if we could kill [Elwind] fast enough," Tockers says. "We figured that even as two against four we could stop baron. Yang was so strong that Sivir could hit him for an hour and not kill him because Shen was really strong. If we had any other champion but Shen we couldn't have pulled it off."
This baron play turned the tide of the game into INTZ’s favor. Five minutes later, the Brazilian team became the first Wildcard team of 2016 to qualify for the World Championship. The third time was actually the charm for this roster.
“Coming into the Wildcard we were the best team, I think,” Tockers says. “We couldn't show that and we were sad because we thought we would just win. The pressure started to affect us and it was really hard to try and not think about it. The pressure really got to us. If it weren't for our coaching staff and psychologist we wouldn't have won this time."
Between their defeat at the 2016 IWCI and the start of the second CBLoL split this year, Tockers seriously considered the idea of retiring — worn out from continuously losing when it mattered most. Perhaps this contributes to his inability to describe what the victory means in words. Yet, when it comes to looking forward, he remains eager to prove himself.
"It was a hard time. I wanted to retire because I didn't think I could get here," he says. "And then, I didn't retire — now that I’m finally here it feels really good. I'm happy but I still want more. It feels good that we could make it but it's still not the end. I want more."
Emily Rand is a staff writer for theScore esports. You can follow her on Twitter.