Last Chance for OMG

by theScore Staff Aug 11 2015
Thumbnail image courtesy of LPL / PLU

Week 11 of the LPL regular season was emotionally charged, as were the two days of Promotion and the first day of the Playoffs directly following the week. Qiao Gu secured second seed with a 2-0 after a debilitating string of ties. Top laner V's public grumbles about "playing for the team," seemed to wash away.

Jungler Mlxg cried after Royal Never Give Up tied their series to Vici Gaming. In an interview, he said that RNG hadn't accepted they wouldn't make the Playoffs.

Invictus Gaming's top laner, Zzitai, was visibly frustrated after the team lost to LGD and then WE propelled them to 2-0 Snake and surprisingly secure the third seed.

The insane coordination between Clearlove and pawN in Game 1 against Master3's Olaf and Soraka composition allowed them to 2v5 from behind to keep Edward Gaming's winning streak alive. They go into the Playoffs with an 18-0 undefeated streak in LPL. Add Demacia Cup, and they're 27-1 in their last 28 professional games.

Almost all of WE wept on stage after Unlimited Potential took the first game. Their miraculous 2-0 against Invictus Gaming amounted to nothing when a team already doomed to play the Promotion tournament swept them into their own mess.

After King dropped out of Promotion to LSPL team 2144D, AD carry NaMei posted a confused message to weibo hinting at his retirement. "I don't know what to say. It's been three years. Should I leave?"

But all three days, even though event organizers gave Edward Gaming shirts away at the front of the venue for "EDG week," the crowd stayed with OMG. After the disastrous losses to Qiao Gu in which Hu "xiyang" Bin muted teammate Yu "Cool" Jiajun in game, and communication crumbled, OMG began to unveil the roster I remembered. When Gao "Gogoing" Diping reappeared on Saturday, the LPL venue buzzed. In Game 2 against LGD Gaming, Guo "san" Junliang, previous AD carry for the team, joined as support.

Not only did san put up perhaps the best Alistar performance the team had ever been able to provide their audiences, but the entire squad looked much more vocal. The day before, hardly anyone said a word. During the second game against LGD, the entire team looked animated. In 2013, San served as the team's main shotcaller before Gogoing and Loveling took over. Adding him back to the roster seemingly improved their coordination.

It didn't matter who played AD carry at that point. Ouyang "pomelo" Weiqi wouldn't make an appearance, but the other four players sat on stage and took LGD gaming to a 47 minute game. OMG held a lead for most of it before falling to Wei "GODV" Zhen's Viktor ultimates.

On Sunday, Jian "Uzi" Zihao appeared on stage, and the crowd erupted. Fans rose from their seats to get closer for photos. After arguments within the team to which the fanbase had only been tangentially privy, expectations that Uzi would return to the main lineup had stagnated. His return made it easy to snag a chair in a sold out stadium.

Though Edward Gaming went into the series against OMG on a 16 game LPL win streak and OMG had lost five games in a row as of the day before, one might think the faceoff was a grand final between the two top teams in the league. Both sides of the stadium traded air space chanting for their teams. The OMG cheers eventually took over.

From there, I expected a one-sided 2-0. The results matched my predictions, but Game 2, with Liu "Amazing" Shiyu taking over for San, OMG put up one of the most convincing fights against Edward Gaming's MSI lineup all summer. The game ended with 29 kills to 27 in favor of EDG; both teams passed the 80k gold marker.

Throughout the match, OMG looked more coordinated with Uzi than they ever had. Gogoing split pressure well as Gnar, and Cool and Uzi took skirmishes for picks. Loveling found his old footing with Gragas ultimates that would see the champion banned for OMG's entire series against M3 two days later.

Uzi looked as if he were finally adapting to OMG, rather than the other way around. OMG looked like they had in 2013 and 2014. They dove turrets. They strangled out the jungle, and they pressured their lead around the map.

In LPL, managers I've spoken to like to use the phrase "A team's progress isn't always visible in the results." Despite losing every game in Week 11, OMG seemed stronger than they'd ever been this year.

OMG's teamwork continued to progress against Master3 with San back in the support role. While OMG lost control of the Baron in Game 1, they showed they can win games from behind, which is something they'd struggled to do all season. Despite misplays in Game 2 and 3, the series closed swiftly. Master3 surrendered their chances at Worlds in the third game at 23 minutes.

OMG's year has been a difficult one. With the retirement of WE's Gao "WeiXiao" Xuecheng and Wei "CaoMei" Handong and the acquisition of Uzi, OMG have become the most popular LoL club in China. Analyst and Korean caster Monte Cristo said that Uzi's acquisition marked the first instance where he thought a Korean team might not win the World Championship. All eyes went to OMG.

In almost every respect, they've failed expectations. Though OMG held first place early in 2015 LPL Spring, they started to split series and fall apart halfway through. Even when they won, they lacked coordination and team play and merely won games by overpowering their opposition with raw skill. More gold went to Uzi. Gogoing practiced less. Loveling's attempts to execute old strategies blew up in his face.

OMG went in as third seed into the Spring Playoffs and immediately lost in the Quarterfinals 0-3 to LGD Gaming. When OMG returned in LPL Summer, the roster underwent continuous transformation, initially only retaining Cool and Uzi, and the team placed seventh overall.

Seventh is by far the worst OMG has ever placed in LPL's regular season, but the competition is steeper. After a convincing 3-0 against eighth pace Master3, OMG will face Vici Gaming, a much more difficult opponent, should they want to advance in the gauntlet.

The top seven teams in LPL have ascended well above the bottom five. Vici Gaming's own roster changes have improved their base level mechanics — though not enough to deal with LGD Gaming — and their mid laner, Peng "Peng" Yibo shows a remarkable amount of patience in team fights for a rookie. Vici Gaming's objective control will make it difficult for OMG to keep up if they seek to simply outplay their opponents.

After the long weekend, while the team was preparing for the Playoffs, I met OMG's manager for a brief period outside the venue. She said the team has some hope. She'd see me again in Europe for the 2015 World Championship.

With only 50 circuit points from the Spring Playoffs, OMG will have to make an impressive run from seventh seed to receive an invitation to the Regional Qualifier. The odds are stacked against them. The most exciting acquisition in League of Legends this year will most likely turn out to be its biggest disappointment as well.

But after a year of awkward team fighting and disjointed calls, OMG finally look like a team, though a team that probably won't make the World Championships. Many other squads show more promise and are more deserving of the opportunity. Yet, after I had long since given up on the Uzi experiment's success and insisted the team's best chances stand with the promising, but less experienced, Zhang "North" Yuze, OMG have shown they just might make it work.

That's much more than I would have said for them six months ago.

Kelsey Moser is a staff write for theScore eSports. You can follow her on Twitter.