Earned, not Given: Respect, Celebration and INTZ e-Sports’ coming-out party

by theScore Staff Sep 30 2016
Thumbnail image courtesy of Riot Games/lolesports / 2016 World Championship / Riot Games

Brazilian victory celebrations were something that took some time getting accustomed to. When I first began covering Brazilian League of Legends in 2014, their passion and energy immediately struck me. They yelled in the booths during the game, and after games, they would howl and jump out of their chairs to combine into a flailing human mass of energy all the while yelling at the top of their lungs.

This is what happened when Brazil’s INTZ e-Sports defeated Turkey’s Dark Passage at the 2016 International Wildcard Qualifier. Seconds after Dark Passage's Nexus exploded into a million different pixels, jungler Gabriel “Revolta” Henud sprung out of his seat and huged top laner Felipe “Yang” Zhao. Mid laner Gabriel “Tockers” Claumann, AD carry Micael “micaO” Rodrigues, and support Luan “Jockster” Cardoso converged on each other, stumbling. Their coach, Alexander Haibel, sprinted out from the wings and leapt into his team’s waiting arms along with their manager.

This is not what happened on the first day of the 2016 World Championship, when INTZ pulled off what will arguably go down as the biggest upset in Worlds history after defeating China’s number one seed, Edward Gaming, in dominant fashion.

Related: Revolta on beating Clearlove and playing Lee Sin

Until this moment, the Brazilian team had been to four domestic finals — they won three of them — and three International Wildcard events. Despite their domestic dominance, this is the first time that INTZ have graced the stage at a major tournament. After nearly two years of trying to get to the world stage, their first win was not only their first-ever win at an event of this caliber, but a major upset against one of the best teams at the tournament. Surely a win of this magnitude would call for an onstage celebration of epic proportions.

Instead, their celebration was muted — a quick burst of immense energy that vanished immediately as they filed towards EDG. After making their way through the handshake line, they quickly packed up their things and scurried offstage. They’re happy, but displayed significantly lower energy levels than previous victories.

Following their win, I approached Tockers to discuss the win and his immediate reaction to the improbable upset.

“Oh god,” he sighs, shaking his head. “To be honest we weren’t expecting that. Backstage we were like, ‘We have nothing to lose, if we lose people expect that. Anything else from that is a win, and we won! In the end we won the game so we’re really happy.”

This win is a first of a different kind for the upstart CBLoL squad. Brazilian teams have upset their regional opponents at past World Championships. The most well-known is KaBuM! e-Sports’ best-of-one victory over Alliance in 2014. Last year, paiN Gaming beat Counter Logic Gaming and Flash Wolves in their group, but still failed to make it to the bracket stage. The strongest argument for not including Wildcard teams at major international events is that none of them have ever managed to advance past the initial round. Any win has been, relatively speaking, a minor victory.

But this win comes with something special. Something that no other Wildcard team in history would be able to acquire without pulling off an upset of this magnitude in the first day of the year's biggest tournament — respect.

“People say that this win makes it easier for us to get out of groups,” Tockers says. “But I think it made it so much harder. If teams didn’t do their research for us, now they sure will.”

That’s when it hit me. Their happy exhaustion and muted emotions bely a hardened determination. Beating EDG was unexpected, and further proves their abilities, but it’s only one win. They turned a zero next to their name into a one. Now they have to turn that one into a four to make it out of the the bracket stage.

“[Other teams] will know what we do and how we play the game so it will be harder,” Tockers said. “At the same time, we’ll be able to get better practice from teams and that’s what we’ve wanted since we arrived here.”

Respect means that teams will do their research. Respect means that they will be scrutinized and studied, picked apart by more experienced teams of support staff and players. Respect means that they’re elevated from memetic Wildcard status to a legitimate threat in Group C.

Tockers suspects that they may have already caught the attention of EDG prior to this game due to the Chinese team’s starting Heo “PawN” Won-seok over Lee “Scout” Ye-chan.

“I thought about it before the game, some time ago," he said. “I thought they would play PawN if they did their research because Scout is not an aggressive laner and PawN is. If they watched our games from Wildcard when [opponents] win [mid] lane against us our team crumbles because I can’t roam as much and be proactive. This is something that we fixed before Worlds. Even though they played PawN I got the stronger laner so it didn’t matter in the end.”

INTZ first-picked Syndra for Tockers due to her lack of available counters and a series of jungle bans that left INTZ scrambling for a jungler rather than a mid laner.

“When we arrived here at the tournament, every team was giving Syndra a high priority in scrims and we were struggling a bit against that,” Tockers admits. “Our goal was to play it against EDG because it has few counters. I’ll have the push, we can be proactive.”

Tockers’ role was to push the wave and roam when necessary alongside Revolta, applying pressure where they saw fit.

“Our goal was to come bot actually,” Tockers says. “In the game, going top seemed so easy, he was really vulnerable so we just kept going there. We got first blood tower at the same time I got a roam top — we got two wins on two sides of the map.

“Even though they had scaling champions, they couldn’t win teamfights against us because of Ashe. All we had to do was not get flanked by Vlad and we could win fights. That’s why we were so slow to close the game. He kept trying to flank us and we were like, “Nonono, we’ll lose!’ Maybe we respected [PawN] too much but it’s better than losing.”

Only once does he reveal their emotions simmering under the surface of what was — despite a few hiccups when it came to sieging their base — a fairly methodical win.

“At one point we were like, ‘We have one inhib down against EDG, I mean what the fuck is happening, you know?’” he laughs and shrugs.

His affable confusion reveals genuine disbelief. INTZ may not doubt that they are capable of making it to the bracket stage, but they certainly did not expect to pick up a win against China’s first seed.

As we exited the interview booth, Tockers looked across the room to where the Chinese media swarmed in front of another makeshift booth that was far too small for all of them. Inside, is his teammate Revolta was giving the Chinese press a post-game interview.

“Wow,” he says, the magnitude of the victory hitting him again as we walk out into the hallway. “Is that all because of us?”

Emily Rand is a staff writer for theScore esports. You can follow her on Twitter.