Imagine a world without SK Telecom T1. Possibly the greatest team of all-time no more, ripped from the history books and forgotten forever. Think of a scenario where SKT bands together their rookie team of five talented players, they play their inaugural season where they eventually lose to the more cohesive MVP Ozone in the semifinals, and the team disbands directly following their defeat.
Faker gets signed by a team in China. Piglet and PoohMandu move over to the newly created Jin Air organization. Impact finds a home in KT Rolster. Bengi, not nearly as strong next to Faker, doesn't join him in China and retires from professional play a few months following. The team that would return their sophomore season with a better head on their shoulders and beat the KT Bullets in the finals of one of the greatest matches in eSports history would never occur. Instead, they would be destroyed before they could mature from talented solo players into a five man unit that would go onto win the world title.
Although you might have never heard their team name or seen them play, the Xenics Storm team from the 2013-2014 Champions winter season is the parallel universe I described above. A team of five players only beginning their careers, three of them are brand new to the professional scene before joining Storm for that Champions season. They were a team without the glitz and glamour of the top teams in the region like SKT's own Faker-led squad or the other long-lasting organizations in Korea.
Xenics Storm's roots in League of Legends actually extend longer than those big teams like SKT T1, the organization playing in the first ever Champions season back in the spring of 2012. Xenics were able to thrive in the early days of professional League in Korea. The gigantic corporations with the deep pockets were still preoccupied with StarCraft by the time Champions launched on Ongamenet. Amassing one of the best teams in the league, Storm tore through the qualifiers against the amateur teams and pushed all the way into the semifinals before losing a nail biting series to MiG Frost (before they were CJ) by 2-3 scoreline.
That would be the highest position Xenics would ever place in Champions. As the game grew in Korea with the fan base expanding daily, the top corporations in the country started to take notice. Samsung, SK Telecom T1, CJ Entus, and other large companies that controlled the booming StarCraft: Brood War scene for over a decade started to see the potential in investing into the game that was taking over the youth of South Korea. Although possessing a few sponsors and having the reputation as a strong team when it came to scouting talent, it made no difference when the money started to come down from the billion dollar businesses.
Up until that the 2013-2014 winter campaign, Xenics was cannon fodder for the rest of the competition. Impact, their prized support in the first season of Champions that helped them grab bronze, left the organization at the start of 2013 to join the SK Telecom T1 that would take over the world by the end of the year. That was the nightmare Xenics had to endure continuously — it didn't matter how well they scouted players or crafted teams. It didn't matter how well one of their teams could preform, or how some unknown kid they found from solo turned out to be a diamond in the rough.
If they found that gleaming diamond in a sea of thousands trying to become a professional, the rest of Korea would notice. When it came down to it, Xenics simply couldn't compete when it came to money, with any player that showed any promise on the team getting whisked away by a team that could offer a better contract. Unless they created a team that could go all the way in a single season and win the championship, there was never a chance they could be the best team in South Korea. If one of their teams made a semifinal and loss, the entire roster would be pillaged by the top organizations and left barren.
The greatest team Xenics would ever assemble began as any other season: after a disappointing summer tournament, the team still couldn't keep everyone together. Daydream, the squad's creative and offensive-minded jungler, was signed by CJ Entus Blaze during the off-season, forcing Xenics to rebuild their team for the umpteenth time. To make things ever harder, Ragan, the team's veteran leader, retired from professional play for his mandatory two years of military service.
Storm watched from home as Faker and SK Telecom T1 won the world championship in Los Angeles, their former support Impact hoisting the Summoner's Cup on a team that could give him a brighter future. As SKT shone brightly in L.A, Xenics worked tirelessly back in Korea, scouring solo queue and the amateur scene to find anyone who could fill the remaining spots on the team before the start of the new split.
When the new roster was finally announced, only two starting players from the previous squad still remained: their star player Coco in the mid lane, and the inconsistent but talented Arrow in the AD role. They were joined by three amateurs who were experiencing their first taste of being a pro-gamer.
Swift, a Lee Sin jungle main from Korean solo queue, praised for his innate technical ability and ability to make flashy plays at the drop of the hat.
Their support Piccaboo, a player who was on the roster of amateur team Chunnam Techno University in the previous season, but didn't see any booth time behind starting player Wolf.
And finally GimGoon, another Challenger player that tried to qualify various times on different amateur teams but never could breakthrough into the premiere league.
In a league that was famous for its rotations, vision control, and stellar teamwork between all five members, the newly formed Xenics Storm scoffed and flicked its wrist at the norm. In a league that was filled with big money and large sponsorships, Storm were the team that didn't care about playing the game the 'correct way' or trying to resemble the other teams in the league. They were a wild bunch, more resembling a Chinese team at that time than one from Korea, always forcing fights and turning every one of their games into a sprawling brawl that littered the map with bodies.
Xenics' first game together as a team came against one of those big clubs, the Jin Air Falcons, a team poised to make another run towards the playoffs. That opening game for Storm set the tone for the next two months — Storm accrued 38 kills against the Falcons in a 43 minute bloodbath, giving up their lives 23 times in the process. The team didn't care about the lane phase or how a team should traditionally play in Korea, Storm started the fighting from the first few minutes of the game and didn't stop until Jin Air were defeated, the team roaming the map and showcasing their individual talents that got them scouted in the first place.
The core of the team was centered around three players: Coco, Swift, and Piccaboo.
Since joining the team at the start of the 2013 year, Coco was the golden boy of the Xenics organization. Even though the Storm team in the summer didn't make the playoffs, Coco was still the silver lining through all their struggles, routinely putting up big numbers and ending games with positive stats in losses. When the team took their sole two wins in his rookie season, he was the key and main player in picking up the victories. His Kassadin became renowned across the region, Coco still holding to this day the record for most kills in an OGN televised game with 21 on his signature champion in Club Masters. If the rest of the team fell apart at the seams, Coco still could do no wrong — the team would only go as far as their golden star led them.
Beside him in the core were two of the rookies on the team. Swift, the Lee Sin maestro, quickly developed a strong bond with Coco in the middle lane. The two's synergy gave them the ability to match the veteran teams in the league, Swift's precise ganks and mechanical set-ups working in perfect sync alongside Coco's own innate skill. Although Swift's champion pool wasn't the largest, and he still made crucial calculation mistakes by overestimating his own power, there was little doubt he had the raw potential to one day become one of the leading junglers in the region.
The pair in mid and jungle were joined by the support who was, quite simply, the anti-support. Piccaboo could have been counted more as a second jungler than a support player, repeatedly leaving Arrow to fend and farm for himself in the lane phase as he joined up with Swift in the jungle to make playoffs across the map. He was primarily a Thresh main when he started, playing the champion four times out of Storm's six games in the group stages, creeping around the map to get Coco ahead and try to make a play whenever there was a slight chance of succeeding.
Storm's wild style succeeded in the group stages of the tournament, sweeping the Falcons in their first series before splitting a series with their sister team, the Jin Air Stealths, in a back and forth series. Xenics' real moment of glory and the reality of how good they could be came in their last series against CJ Entus Frost, qualifying for the Champions playoffs for the first time in over a year.
After splitting the group stage series 1-1, the two teams went back at it again for the tiebreaker to see who would exit the group as the first seed. Storm ran through Frost in their final game, beating the former Champions winners in less than 25 minutes and punching their ticket to the quarterfinals as the top seed in their group. The insane, seemingly nonsensical style of playing was working, not only upsetting the bottom teams in the league, but also taking a series against the team that beat them in the semifinals of the first Champions season.
The other two members of the team, Arrow and GimGoon did their jobs admirably next to their core. Due to Piccaboo's hatred of actually staying in lane, Arrow was often left alone in the bottom lane, prompting him to pick Ezreal and Sivir constantly in their first seven games of the season. It gave him the mobility to escape if needed and survive by himself while his partner ran through the map looking for heads to hack off. His pocket pick during the group stages was Draven, pulling out the axe wielding fiend twice in the three games against Frost, carrying once with the most kills on his team and being absolutely ineffective the next, showing how inconsistent he could be as a carry.
GimGoon was, well, either playing his signature Rengar or thrown onto a tank. He was the player who got the least attention out of anyone on the team. While Swift was zipping across the enemy team on Lee Sin or Coco was racking up over 10 kills a game, GimGoon was generally used as the main engage tool and to soak up the damage for the rest of the team if a full-fledged team fight broke out. It wasn't the prettiest job on a team that was built around talented solo players, but he did his job well and helped his team pick up the top seed in the group stages.
Storm's fairy tale split would come to an end in the quarterfinals against NaJin White Shield. The rookie team from Storm was able to muster up a good fight and even take a game off Shield, but it wasn't enough to get them further in the tournament. Shield were a team that Storm was trying to become — having picked up three rookies in the previous season and starting to rebuild their roster. Their first season as a rookie team mirrored how the upstart Storm's went, making a strong statement in the group stages before getting knocked out in the first round by a veteran team.
For Shield, they didn't even take a game in their first season with their rookies Ggoong (mid), Zefa (AD), Gorilla (support) in the lineup, getting swept by CJ Entus in the quarterfinals. NaJin didn't make any rash decisions, though, knowing the growing pains of a new team and not making any changes in the off-season, coming back with the same group for spring and making the semifinals by beating Storm. They fell in the semifinals after beating Xenics, but the next season they'd keep the same roster, and in their third season of playing together made the finals of Champions as one of the league's best squads.
Storm never got that chance to mature. They were never allowed the chance to look at their mistakes they made in the Bo5, improve on their macro game, and add new strategies, compositions and ideas to their already monstrous technical talents. After making a gigantic splash in the winter season, that was it for one of the most exciting teams in Champions history. They were just too good, flashy, and exciting for their own good. By the time the next season rolled around, the entire team was gone, the best team they ever put together picked away by the rich vultures in the sky that circled them all season long.
Coco and Swift, the dynamic duo that stunned CJ Frost in the group stages, were of course picked up by Frost the very next season. Frost wanted to get new blood into the lineup following a blowout at the hands of Samsung Ozone in the winter quarterfinals. Xenics' golden boy and his mechanical marvel sidekick were plucked away from the team that brought them together before they could even reach their full potential.
Piccaboo was picked up by SK Telecom T1, the organization that had already signed Storm's other standout support up to that point, Impact now in the top lane.
Arrow left Xenics to join the newly promoted KT Rolster Arrows, finding the squad that would pick up Storm's insane offensive-fueled play style after they disbanded. He would join another young squad looking for an identity alongside players like Rookie and KaKAO.
GimGoon went to Samsung Blue to complete the separating of the team with the most promise since the SK Telecom T1 K team that would win a domestic title in their second season of pro play.
This didn't kill Xenics Storm. They went through this before — although not nearly as drastic — due to their issues with not being able to stand to the big teams when it came to money. Storm reloaded their roster, scooping up some new kids from solo queue and the amateur scene for the next very season, having to watch as the players that could have brought them home a championship played for opposing teams.
And the cycle continued from there. Xenics' next big standout, Ohq, would exit the team following a disastrous season with his new team and sign with NaJin e-mFire as their future starting AD carry. It was a never-ending cycle of finding talent, polishing said talent, and then watching as they were drawn away from the team that gave them their chance at pro-gaming by teams that could give them larger salaries.
Today, the 'Golden Storm' team of almost two years ago are thriving as veterans in the scene.
Coco is still on CJ Entus, still the golden boy on his new team, playing as the main carry and doing everything for his team to win games as one of the world's top mid players.
Swift leads his own rookie squad with Qiao Gu in China's LPL. The team went through the secondary league last season, and they came into the premiere league with momentum that took the rest of the league by surprise. He's matured as a player and is now one of the best junglers in the world, and is the main force behind possibly the world's best team fighting squad.
Arrow and Piccaboo are back together as a team on KT Rolster. Arrow has already won a Champions title, picking it up in his second season on KT. Piccaboo bounced from SKT to KT, and he's found a home next to Arrow again in the bottom lane, still ignoring him mostly in lane to go off with KT's jungler Score to create havoc across the map while Arrow sighs in the bottom lane on Sivir.
GimGoon, the one member of the Storm team to always be forgotten, is even finding himself as a leader in today's scene. He didn't have the best results in Korea, so he moved over to China where he joined the Energy Pacemaker organization, signing with their team EPA in the secondary league. GimGoon's gone from the simple tank on a team of individual monsters into being a carry himself, the forgotten Storm prospect being the driving force in his team's recent promotion into the LPL for 2016.
In a parallel universe where Xenics were a big telecommunication company, the Storm team that impressed everyone back in the winter of 2013 is still together. Coco, Swift, and Piccaboo grow together as a core, Arrow becomes more consistent with his farming as time goes on, and GimGoon settles into his role as a player who can switch from a carry to a tank or whatever the team needs him to be.
When we talk about SK Telecom T1 today and their chances at Worlds, we could similarly be discussing the Xenics team alongside them. The two best teams in scouting talent in Korea's history in League of Legends, SKT T1 and Xenics have repeatedly plucked amateurs and solo queue heroes from the online world and turned them into stars on the big stage.
The only difference being SK Telecom T1 spends the most money out of any team in the Korean scene, and Xenics doesn't have the cash to keep up with any of the elite squads in the country.
All Xenics can do is watch from the sidelines as possibly Swift, Coco, Arrow, and Piccaboo all go to Worlds, fulfilling their potentials as world-class players on the biggest stage possible. They will dream of that parallel universe where they had the funds to keep their players for at least one or two more seasons, imagining the team that could have conquered not only Korea but become the best team on the planet.
Tyler "Fionn" Erzberger is a staff writer for theScore eSports who covers the North American LCS and Korea's Champions. You can follow him on Twitter.