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Road To Worlds: The Garena Region
Until this year, when it came to the World Championship, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macao were one region, while the rest of southeast Asia was another. For the 2014 season, the two sub-regions combined their World Championship berths, with the main qualifying path being the Garena Premier League. The winner of the Summer Split would claim one spot, and the next 4 teams in the Circuit Points standings would fight it out in a ladder-style tournament.

After Taipei Assassins defeated ahq e-Sports Club to win the Garena summer split, the Regional Finals were set. Ahq had earned enough points to be the top seed and would enter the tournament in round 3. The Azubu Taipei Snipers finished second despite not participating in the Summer split at all thanks to their second-place finish in Winter and third in Spring. With Taiwan occupying the top two positions, the opening-round match took place between Vietnamese sister teams, the Saigon Jokers and Saigon Fantastic Five. With both sides favoring early aggression, it promised to be an explosive series.

Round 1: #4 Saigon Jokers vs #5 Saigon Fantastic Five

Saigon Jokers were coming off a loss to SF5 in the quarterfinals of GPL Summer and brought a new strategy into the first game of the Regional Finals. During champion select, they held their top and mid picks and counter-picked SF5’s Jayce mid and Alistar top with Ryze and Cho’Gath. The result was smothering, with an almost 6k gold gap just from the two solo lanes. Saigon Jokers brought the game to a close by pressuring down mid with their item advantadge. When Ryze snared Jungleology’s Kha’Zix and forced him to leap away in retreat, the Jokers pounced on the rest of the team, ripping through SF5 to take a 1-0 lead.

SF5 were quick to adapt, and in game two they held their mid pick till last, first-picking Lulu as a champion who could go either top or mid. When Jokers went with Ryze/Cho’Gath, SF5 locked in Orianna, a champion who could dominate Ryze in lane. Again, mid lane was a landslide, but this time it was in favor of SF5 and mid-laner Optimus’s Orianna. The Orianna pick was such a dominating force that both of the Jokers’ middle turrets went down within four minutes of each other (13.5 and 17 minutes) and with minimal help. In the end, Saigon Jokers were late to contest a Baron attempt by SF5, and then their inability to get onto MinaS’s Tristana led to a clean ace in river for SF5 and a 1-1 series tie.

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SF5 had momentum after game 2, and an early error by Saigon Jokers doubled their advantage in game 3. After Jokers jungler Safety invaded SF5’s red buff, he immediately went to his own red, walking through the mid lane in full view of SF5. Jungleology spotted this and immediately went to Safety’s blue after starting at his own blue. The lack of a blue buff meant Kha’Zix’s ability to farm early jungle was crippled, and SF5 showed no mercy. A double gank mid and bottom gave a kill in each lane to SF5, and the Rengar snowball was underway. Jungleology ganked every time his ult was off cooldown, and consistently picked up one or more kills. Meanwhile, Saigon Jokers had not destroyed a tower, and Kha’Zix didn’t get a blue buff until 11 minutes in. Unfortunately, that blue was too late. Jinx, Rengar, and Alistar put on a clinic while building a 9-0 kill lead. That 9-0 became 14-0 after a clean ace after SAJ tried to dive Alistar, and SF5 continued to push multiple lanes, splitting the Jokers up, and multiple skirmishes gave SF5 their second ace before the twenty minute mark, by which point the domination was so complete that Saigon Jokers surrendered. SF5 had beaten their sister team 19-0 in kills, and did not lose a tower.

Saigon Jokers tried to recover for game four by initiating a lane swap. SF5 countered the move, and for a while it was even in laning phase. A rogue Galio pick for Jokers gave QTV’s Lulu some real issues in the early game, bullying her hard. When QTV baited Galio and Rengar into diving, it opened up a counter gank for Kha’Zix. Saigon Fantastic 5 picked up a double kill and rushed Dragon, opening up a 4k gold lead inside eighteen minutes. Saigon Jokers had picked a late-game comp with extremely weak siege (Vayne, Galio, and Ryze), and for the second straight game, they were unable to knock down a single tower. SF5 patiently ground down all eleven towers en route to a dominating series victory. Ahead of them laid the Taipei Snipers, and a chance at Worlds for the first time in club history.

Round 2: #3 Taipei Snipers vs #5 Saigon Fantastic Five

Taipei Snipers (TPS) were able to see the way SF5 wanted to play from Round 1 and immediately set out to counter it. Jungleology was targeted with Rengar and Kha’Zix bans, and Taipei Snipers picked up Twitch as their AD carry and sent him top while Maokai and Thresh took the bottom lane to soak experience. SF5 kept their duo lane in the bottom lane, and their top laner with their jungler. An early gank bottom opened up dragon for all 5 members of SF5, and TPS moved to contest with everyone but Twitch. A huge fight broke out that SF5 took 4-2. Instead of recalling, Elise, Alistar, and Thresh looked to kill dragon while all very low. TPS respawned and rushed to Dragon, not only pushing them off, but smiting dragon away and picking up a kill to take an advantage in gold.

SF5 were at a disadvantage early, as GoDJJ’s Twitch had farmed this entire time and was two levels ahead of MinaS’s Tristana by the time the lanes reset. The two teams skirmished constantly, but the Taipei Snipers were able to win the objective war, only giving up two towers the entire game and winning a decisive Baron fight. That Baron eventually forced the deciding fight in mid lane and TPS took game one in thirty-six minutes thanks to mid-laner OhReaL’s 9/1/12 Orianna.

Game 2 saw Saigon Fantastic Five try to build a Yasuo-focused team, and again, Taipei Snipers had the answer. This time, it was Lux mid. By using Lux’s wave clear to keep Yasuo from roaming and having TPS jungler Mountain pressuring the outer lanes, TPS kept the Yasuo in check. An early double kill for OhReaL in top lane gave his Lux everything she needed to keep Yasuo chained to mid. The rest of TPS controlled the map, and finished game two in a 22-4 stomp, pushing SF5 to the brink of elimination.

Rather than try and finish off SF5 quickly, the Snipers picked an off-meta team Game 3. With Amumu jungle, Kassadin top, and Ashe/Thresh in the bottom, it seemed they were treating game three as a victory lap---or a chance to try something new. Jungleology found himself on his preferred champion Rengar, and against a jungle Amumu, he carried the early game with multiple ganks. Two sloppy teamfights allowed SF5 to open up a five thousand gold lead. In the end, TPS top laner Zonda’s poor positioning continued to make himself vulnerable to dives by SF5, and he was often the first champion focused down. Zonda’s absence allowed SF5 to keep pushing down towers and eventually grind out game three to stay alive despite a strong Baron steal from TPS Mountain’s Amumu.

Rengar found himself back on the bench for game 4 while Taipei Snipers chose to run the Amumu/Kassadin comp again, but this time with Lux mid to counter SF5’s Yasuo. Again, Zonda was the weak link as TPS swapped and Kassadin and Thresh bottom were picked off by four members of SF5. Zonda immediately teleported back down, and earned a Zenith Blade for his trouble. Jinx killed Kassadin again while Leona sacrificed herself, but the two kills Jinx picked up offset any xp and gold disadvantage the lane swap created. As the teams kept fighting Jinx picked up 3 more kills, and finished her Infinity Edge by the eleven minute mark. The game slowed down, and SF5 decided to attempt Baron. For the second game in a row, Amumu was able to Bandage Toss in and Smite it away, but like the previous game TPS struggled to get onto Minas, and SF5 picked up an ace for two. SF5 kept turning the screws, and when Optimus’s Yasuo caught Tristana with an ult, SF5 finished off the game.

No team in the GPL had ever come back from a 2-0 deficit in a best of five series, but Saigon Fantastic Five had all the momentum, and decided to run another Yasuo composition with Jungleology choosing Jarvan this time. This time disaster struck Taipei Snipers early.They shoved the bottom lane hard, looking to dive with Lee Sin. Jungleology anticipated it and SF5 baited them in, hitting them with Jarvan’s combo when they dove. Both top laners teleported in, and Lulu ripped through TPS, picking up a triple kill for nothing. The early advantage from the 6 assists helped SF5 make it through the early game, but as the action continued, TPS slowly started to pull themselves back into the match. A well-positioned fight in SF5’s jungle was the big equalizer due to Taipei Snipers securing an ace-for-2.

With the pressure of keeping their Worlds dream alive, both teams played more carefully as the late-game approached. For the first time in the series, ten minutes went by without a single kill. At thirty-eight minutes, a two-for-two let SF5 pick up the first inhibitor of the game. Both sides respawned and healed, and SF5 headed to the bottom lane. A Yasuo whirlwind caught onto Morgana, and the dive was on. SF5 managed to pull TPS out from underneath the tower, and a clean four kills meant the end of the Taipei Snipers. Saigon Fantastic Five had come back from the brink, and now were one match away from their first World Championship.

Round 3: #2 AHQ eSports Club vs #5 Saigon Fantastic Five

The Saigon Fantastic Five were on the cusp of their first worlds berth, but in their way stood one of the titans of the Garena region. AHQ had missed their first chance to qualify against the Taipei Assassins, and were in no mood to let their second chance go to waste. From the very start, AHQ targeted Jungleology’s Rengar, but let his Kha’Zix through. Both teams went towards top river and found each other before minions had spawned, and AHQ dove onto Thresh, picking up an early first blood.

A catch onto Jungleology in AHQ’s jungle later on started a massive team fight, and AHQ outplayed the Vietnamese side, picking up an ace-for-two and pushing bottom tower before recalling and rushing down Baron. SF5 didn’t know Baron was under seige until it was too late; AHQ secured Baron Nashor and immediately dove onto Lulu and Kha’Zix. Over the final fifteen minutes, AHQ completely controlled the tempo, picking and choosing their fights until SF5 was too far behind to stop them.

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Game 2 saw a clearly rattled SF5 side go for a protect-the-ADC composition, with Zilean mid and Vayne for MinaS. The game started even, with standard lanes, but SF5 went for an early dragon without a kill or any way to push back the bottom lane. AHQ collapsed and punished SF5 with two kills going to AHQ mid-laner Westdoor’s Zed. Optimus had no real way of dealing with Zed’s assassination potential, and when a gank mid took down Jungleology, Zilean could only retreat while Zed and Lee Sin pushed down his tower. Soon after, Jungleology’s jungle became unsafe, and when SF5 tried to contest dragon, AHQ picked up an ace, only losing two. From there AHQ slowed the game down by starting a ten minute Baron bait that eventually ended up with AHQ diving onto SF5 and picking up an ace-for-one. Once AHQ finally secured the Baron, the rest was academic.

There would be no miracle comeback this time. SF5 began game 3 with a one-ban penalty after not returning to the stage in time, and that allowed Westdoor to take Fizz mid lane against Jayce. SF5 again tried the lane swap and early 4-man top strategy, and this time they were able to knock down the tower before resetting the lanes. The problem was that AHQ’s Lucian had been farming non-stop in the bottom lane while SF5 pushed, and when MinaS’s Jinx went bottom, she was already nearly two levels behind. SF5 slowly recovered and closed the gap thanks to two solid ganks on Fizz and getting the outer middle tower, but they overextended looking for the middle inner turret. AHQ punished them by scoring four kills without any losses.

That mistake was punished further as Fizz and Nocturne dove Optimus’s Jayce under tower. With Fizz picking up his second kill, the snowball began rolling. Another four kills set up a Baron for AHQ, and the writing was on the wall. AHQ stretched their gold lead, sieging down towers with their baron buff, and waiting for a second baron. When it spawned again, SF5 were unable to contest, and AHQ picked it up and looked to finish. Fizz dove deep into the back line, the rest of the team chased through and picked up a final ace. They finished the base shortly thereafter and secured a spot in the 2014 Season World Championship.

While Saigon Fantastic Five were the Cinderella story of the tournament, the Vietnamese underdogs were outplayed start to finish in their final match. AHQ demonstrated not only a deep understanding of Saigon Fantastic Five’s preferences but also a ruthless ability to control the tempo of all three games. The rest of the world knows about the Taipei Assassins, but AHQ are a team that could make some noise in the right group. They’ll get their chance in three weeks, when the group stage for Worlds begins. You can keep track of all the action here on eSportspedia, as we near the end of our journey along the road to worlds.

Published on 29. Aug 2014
Written by David "ReleaseTheAnts" Stull
Edited by Thomas Watts and RheingoldRiver