World Elite. That's no longer the official branding of Team WE, but it carries a heavy connotation. During late 2012, no name was more apt. WE won the IGN Pro League 5 and continued to dominate without dropping a domestic series for several months.
Right now, WE sits at twelfth place in LPL — a designation not even available in the three other major leagues due to their smaller size — far below their earlier heights. Tracing how they got there and how they managed to find a seed at the Intel Extreme Masters World Championship is a wearisome task.
In 2013, riding the highs of WE's domestic dominance, their control of the LoL Pro League seemed like a foregone conclusion, but contenders like OMG, Positive Energy, Invictus Gaming, and even Royal Club kept the league relatively competitive early on. WE didn't make playoff finals that Spring, and they failed to qualify for Worlds in the summer. By the time 2013 Summer Playoffs rolled around, WE had opted out of the tournament to settle their roster issues.
Internally, in-fighting supposedly plagued the team and mid laner Misaya chose to retire, stating that arguments were part of his motivation. Coach Aaron took jungler Clearlove and support player Fzzf to form the now domestically dominant Edward Gaming. AD carry WeiXiao and top laner CaoMei remained on the team for the 2014 season.
Accounts of alleged drama surrounding Aaron's rise as an analyst of WE surfaced and a proposed alliance between the two teams was terminated at the last minute. It's unclear what impact the events following the split had on the strained relationship between fans of Edward Gaming and WE and the public perception that followed both teams.
Initially, Edward Gaming had more success than WE, beating out every team other than OMG in 2014 LPL Spring. WE's new players kept them showed surprising prowess, and allowed them to find a third place regular season finish and a spot in the playoffs. Mid laner sukiM and jungler Ruo started to develop over 2014 Spring, and eventually the team looked primed to break out. It didn't seem unlikely that, despite a fourth place playoff finish, the squad would vie for first place in the summer season.
Roster changes struck again. The team's new Korean coach, Hiro, benched both sukiM and Ruo in favor of Korean players with unimpressive resumes. Ninja of Prime Optimus, and ActScene, previously of Jin Air, would join WE as mid laner and jungler.
Most predicted WE would have to start from scratch again to overcome the language barrier, but amid a landscape of changing rosters, WE found sloppy wins.
With their second new mid laner and jungler since Misaya's retirement, WE still retained their signature aptitude for extending the laning phase. The team, lacking in coordination in 5v5s, thrived off the lane swap and roaming support meta game that allowed WeiXiao to solo farm against the top laner. WE managed to stay in the running for first place in LPL with both Edward Gaming and OMG for the first half of Summer.
During that time, Intel Extreme Master Shenzhen rolled around. The event took place in July 2014 and contained two online semifinals and one LAN final - all Bo3. In general, the tournament was mired by poor scheduling and execution with several delays, last minute reschedules and a small prize pool. The one highlight was WE's triumph over Edward Gaming in a 2-1 series, granting the team one of only two first place titles that were not claimed by EDG in China that year.
Then a massive patch change hit, altering AD carry itemization, dragons, and turrets, the 2v2 became the more prevalent bottom lane. This was where WE hit speed bumps.
In Week 6 of LPL, WE played three Bo2s. They ended the week with a score of 1-5 against first place OMG, seventh place Young Glory, and fourth place Star Horn Royal Club.
WE unravelled all over again. WeiXiao remained fixated on the lane swap formula, and WE would give up dragon after dragon while he farmed the top lane. Either that, or WeiXiao and Conan would lose their 2v2 to Conan's over-extensions. WE, once prized for their team fighting, could not make up the difference in scattered altercations where communication issues remained evident.
Once in a close race for first place, WE ended the split on the cusp of fourth. Their placement came down to the wire. Edward Gaming would play both LGD Gaming and WE in the final week of the regular season. LGD, then at fifth place, could slip into fourth if they at least took a game off EDG and WE failed to do the same. Bitter fans of WE, who had previously shunned EDG for splitting apart the legendary Chinese team, ceased their attacks leading up to Week 10.
It didn't work. In a sloppy series, LGD took a game from EDG, but the next day, EDG would smash WE definitively in a 2-0. In the standings and almost every regard, WE and LGD tied for fourth place. They had the same number of points, the same number of 2-0 wins, 1-1 draws, and 0-2 losses, and an even head-to-head record at 2-2.
Yet the LPL rulebook gave the win to LGD on a game time technicality. LGD's average game time in their victories over WE was shorter than in their losses, and so they were granted the fourth playoffs seed, and WE lost their shot at the World Championship for the second year in a row.
Not long after Playoffs, WE players CaoMei and WeiXiao would both announce their retirement. While it later came out that CaoMei left professional gaming when fatherhood called, one has to wonder if WeiXiao, the star player of team WE, would have remained on the squad had things gone differently. Coach Hiro would part ways with WE, supposedly due to his lack of commitment, and the roster would be completely overhauled for 2015.
Initially, the only players that remained from the 2014 WE lineup were mid laner Ninja and support player Conan, but as the 2015 LPL Spring season progressed, WE would choose to replace Conan with ex-WE Academy support YuZhe. YuZhe only excels with Leona, and otherwise boasts middling performances at best.
Aluka, the top laner of WE, is easily the worst top laner currently performing in LPL. He never seems to win a lane. He can perform well in lane swaps, but will only be effective on super tanks. Priority picks like Gnar barely make a splash in his hands. This seems even more alarming when one considers his pedigree as top laner for Positive Energy when they managed a first place win in 2014 LPL Summer.
Styz, the second new face on WE, had a promising 2014 LPL Spring performance on LGD Gaming before he was banned for half a year for trying to break contract. It's hard to say what's eating him this year or if his performances were falsely inflated by star support player Pyl on LGD. He receives frequent criticisms from the Chinese fan community for occasionally doing less damage to champions in any given game than Aluka.
Ninja has been performing above and beyond expectations for a change, occasionally putting out double digit kill scores and deathless games, but only on niche champions like Ezreal and Anivia, or on Kassadin. He has served as the secondary carry for WE and has netted the team unexpected wins in Week 6.
The true star of the roster is Spirit by a wide margin. He served a very support-oriented function for Samsung Blue, but his game impact and jungling on WE is the only thing keeping the team from losing every game. Especially since Nidalee changes went through and Rek'Sai's nerfs made her less frequently banned. The amount of map pressure Spirit can exert with those high mobility picks has been ridiculous, as he appears to be everywhere at once.
His next best champion is Jarvan IV, as Jarvan's Cataclysm's falsely boost WE's otherwise abysmal and unfocused team fighting by splitting the playing field and isolating targets.
In LPL, WE has been a near complete disaster. Their Week 6 wins were belied by a poor showing in Week 7 sending them to the absolute bottom of the standings.
Perhaps this is precisely what prompted additional roster changes in time for Intel Extreme Master Katowice.
The IEM website currently shows that xiye, former WE Academy mid laner, and Mystic, former Jin Air AD carry, will be replacing Ninja and Styz for Katowice. ESL has confirmed the team will choose to run this roster for the event.
Mystic's place at Number 1 on the Chinese Ionia solo queue ladder for a brief stint partially instigated the move. On Jin Air, Mystic showed promise, and WE might be looking to test him against international competition where they don't expect to do well before making a more permanent change.
The question becomes whether Mystic's theoretical upgrade over Styz is enough to offset the removal of Ninja. While Ninja isn't consistent or near the list of best mid laners in LPL, his occasionally otherworldly performances have kept WE afloat, and right now he looks like Spirit's only ally in his quest to hard carry.
Xiye, on the other hand, had a fixation with Annie mid in LPL Spring that was easily countered by teams running double Locket of the Iron Solaris. Expectations aren't high.
Reportedly, Xiye has been duoing with Spirit extensively. WE has a lot invested in this trial. The last minute substitutions will make WE much more difficult to scout and could give them an advantage.
Even so, the most viable strategy will likely revolve around banning out Spirit. If a team in WE's group chooses to remove Jarvan IV, Rek'Sai, and Nidalee from his clutches, they shouldn't have much trouble taking out the whole team. Xiye will be the X-factor. If he's improved since his appearances in the LPL Promotion, the team could take a game in their group.
But make no mistake, WE is the worst team in LPL. The fall was a hard one, and WE may never be an elite team on the global scale again.