With the support of one of the world’s most passionate fanbases, Brazil’s paiN Gaming will carry the hopes and dreams of an entire country on their shoulders when they load on to the rift during the 2015 World Championship.
After witnessing the packed stadiums and hearing the deafening roar of the Brazilian faithful, it’s hard to not be impressed by the region’s fervor for their teams. It’s a fire that was sparked back in 2013, but grew into a bonfire in 2014. The legacy of KaBuM’s victory over Alliance at the 2014 World Championship served as the region's international coming out party as it put Brazil on the map as a competitive region and raised expectations within the community. Yes, the wildcard teams are still a long shot to advance past the group stage, but the fact that they’re even on the radar is a step in the right direction.
All of which is to say that the stage is set for paiN Gaming to make a mark on League of Legends' biggest stage.
The Road so Far
When it was announced back in 2013 that Wildcard regions would be included in the World Championship, Brazil already had one of the most well-established foreign Leagues outside of the major regions. Leading the charge was paiN Gaming, a well respected Brazilian mainstay.
paiN made their international breakthrough in 2013, topping rival CNB eSports Club in the Season 3 Brazilian finals to punch their ticket to the Wildcard event. Although they had a strong showing, taking first in the group stage, paiN ultimately lost out to Lithuanian squad, GamingGear EU, and narrowly missed their shot at Worlds.
After coming so tantalizingly close to witnessing one of their teams make Worlds, Brazil's League of Legends scene exploded. As the region became more competitive and teams such as CNB eSports Club, KaBuM! eSports, INTZ eSports and Keyd Stars continued to rise in strength, paiN experienced a tumultuous few years. This was also due to an influx of imported talent, especially from Korea, which affected the stability of their roster and saw some of their best players leave the team for greener pastures. Notably, long time AD Carry superstar Felipe “brTT” Goncalves left to join the super-team, Keyd Stars, while paiN added the Korean duo of Han “Lactea” Gi-hyeon and Kim “Olleh” Joo-sung.
Ultimately paiN’s new imports failed to spark a consistently high level of success and although they found a few wins here and there, the results were not what the team was hoping for. The final straw came at the 2014 Brazil Regional Finals, when paiN made a semifinal exit at the hands of their Brazilian rivals, CNB eSports. That year, paiN had to watch from home as KaBuM! eSports went on to represent their country at Worlds.
The current roster started to come together in early 2015, with the departure of the Koreans and the reacquisition of brTT which came shortly after they imported veteran French support Hugo “Dioud” Padioleau. Much like their previous roster, paiN went through a period of mixed results but improved significantly throughout the year.
After taking a disappointing third place in the 2015 CBLOL Summer Playoffs (April 2015), paiN made one final adjustment by swapping out top laner Whesley “Leko” Holler for Keyd Stars’ Matheus “Mylon” Borges. paiN’s winter season was once again a mixed bag, as they lost games to weaker teams that were filled with gameplay rife and poor decision making. However, they came alive in the playoffs, not dropping a single game en route to a dramatic first place finish over INTZ eSports.
It’s been two years in the making, but in a few weeks, paiN will finally get their shot at Worlds.
The Current State of the Team
The current incarnation of paiN Gaming is stacked with legitimate aces at every role. But while that can be their biggest asset it can also serve as their biggest weakness.
paiN’s core strategy revolves around a triple threat from the top, mid and AD Carry positions, all of whom are among the best at their respective roles in the region and have all the tools to be a threat on the international stage.
As the longest standing member of the team, dating all the way to 2011, mid laner Gabriel “Kami” Santos is a full-blown superstar in Brazil and is widely recognized as one of the most talented players the region has ever produced. He’s undeniably the face of Brazilian League, and is one of the few players from the region whose name is known across the world.
Joining his teammate in the limelight is AD Carry brTT. At first recognized for his outstanding Draven play, brTT has since emerged as a phenomenal all around marksman. He famously scored a Penta Kill in paiN’s 2013 Wildcard appearance, but was ultimately unable to carry his team to Worlds.
Completing the trio is Mylon, a top laner who gained notoriety for his carry champions but has since expanded his pool to include traditional tanks as well as more aggressive options. His addition to the team added another deep threat to the roster, but his versatility has also become an asset for paiN.
If Mylon, Kami and brTT are the flash of the team, the tandem of Thulio “SirT” Carlos and Dioud are the bedrock on which paiN is built. Shockingly solid in both play and decision making, SirT leads paiN in terms of shotcalling and objective control. He’s rarely flashy, but SirT is a seasoned veteran whose ganks and warding sets his teammates up for success. The same goes for support player Dioud, who complement’s brTT’s agro-style with a deep game knowledge and strong synergy with SirT.
The individual mechanical prowess of paiN's players is beyond question, and they are world class in many respects. One of the roadblock on paiN’s path to making worlds was finding the proper way to integrate the farm needs of their core players, and especially after the addition of Mylon, the squad initially struggled to cope with having three high impact players sucking up all the gold. Now that those issues have been smoothed out and paiN is executing as a well oiled machine, the inherent skill of their players has allowed them to rise above the pack and win games they otherwise shouldn’t have.
However, a group of superstars lumped together does not a team make and it is in the team aspects of the game where they have the most room for improvement.
What thus far has hindered paiN from true greatness is their tendency to take wholly unnecessary risks when playing with a lead. Too often, paiN has made questionable decisions when pushing towers or approaching Baron, leaving themselves exposed and dropping kills where a more slow, calculated approach would have been a better play. Gambling with a lead does not fly on the international stage, and playing loose in that respect loses you games in the blink of an eye.
Their games against INTZ eSports in the CBLOL finals were a highlight of this very issue. Throughout the series, they made awkward movements across the map, losing out on towers unnecessarily or opting into inferior trades, especially for dragons. The games often ended in mad-scramble base races which were the product of paiN’s inferior rotations and risky decision making. They managed to pull out a 3-0 win, but it was anything but pretty.
What paiN has worked on, and must continue to work on, is a question of balance: the balance between the impulses and play-making desires of their star players and the needs and sacrifices required to be a top team. Thankfully, paiN have started to recognize this need and made adjustments accordingly.
Once again against Kaos Latin Gamers in the Desafio Wildcard Tournament, paiN didn’t close out the matches as efficiently as they could have, but the signs of improvement were definitely there. KLG didn’t pick up a single dragon in all three games, and the macro level decision making from paiN was better. Certainly not perfect, as paiN still found themselves on the losing end of some fights despite holding on to significant gold leads, but much better.
Considering the level of talent on paiN, the sky's the limit if given the time to grow. This appearance at Worlds is the perfect chance for paiN to not only test their mettle on an individual basis against the best players on the planet, but witness first-hand the high level of strategy and coordination they can aspire to.
Outlook for World
Not to put too fine a point on it, but paiN’s prospects for Worlds can best be described as “grim”.
Historically, Worlds has not been kind to the Wildcard teams and this year should be no exception. The combined record of the four Wildcard teams from the 2013 and 2014 Worlds is a dismal 2-26, which is not exactly a glowing legacy to be following.
That’s not to say that there’s no hope for paiN Gaming, simply that it’s a tough ask for them to compete with some of the best teams from across the globe. Even though paiN got placed into an ideal group, the prospects are still bleak. Each and every year the Wildcard regions draw closer and closer to the top regions, but at the moment there’s still an all but insurmountable gap between paiN and making it out of groups. But on paper, paiN has the best chance of any wildcard team in the past three years to take a win.
In that regard, paiN is certainly the most skilled wildcard team to ever make it to Worlds, at least on an individual basis and theoretically their lanes have the ability to go toe-to-toe or even come out ahead. However, with the meta game being so reliant upon team and map play, paiN’s strategic flaws will be exposed as all the more glaring. When going against the truly top teams in the world, their deficiencies will be picked on and exploited, and their missteps near objectives will cost them dearly. If they can avoid throwing at a major objectives and leverage the skill of their players, a win is in the cards for paiN, however unlikely.
At the end of the day, paiN is almost certainly a lock for last in Group A. A single win is a possibility and would launch the crowd both in Paris and back in Brazil into a frenzy, but don’t hold your breath — realistically, the best that paiN can hope for it to play spoiler.
First and foremost, paiN should hold onto every moment with a white knuckled determination to gain as much knowledge as possible. For paiN, this trip is more of a learning experience and gaining some much needed international exposure than any legitimate hope of making it beyond groups. If anything, a win would be icing on the cake.
What should be expected from paiN is a no-holds-barred-never-say-die effort which earns them the respect of an international audience; and in so doing not only justify their fan’s faith, but send another wake up call to the world that Brazil is here to stay.
Nic Doucet is a News Editor for theScore eSports. You can follow him on Twitter.