By Petar Vukobrat
August 27, 2019
Team Liquid vs. Clutch Gaming. The reigning, defending LCS champions — a team that is gunning for its fourth straight title in a row — against the unlikeliest of underdogs: Clutch Gaming. We’re entering the fifth and final game of the series. The decider. Silver Scrapes is being played, which to the uninitiated means stuff’s about to get serious. There’s not a soul in attendance that isn’t nervous.
You pinch yourself, thinking this is nothing more than a confusing dream. The sheer notion of Clutch Gaming going blow for blow with the best and most successful North American team ever assembled simply boggles the mind. It defies reason.
It doesn’t compute. And yet it’s happening.
Up until that point, the series was an absolute masterclass. Both challengers adapted and traded heavy blows game after game. We saw their biggest virtues along with their debilitating, inherent flaws. If Clutch wins, they will pull off what can rightfully be deemed as the biggest and most unexpected upset in LCS history. If Liquid wins, they will retain the chance of writing history.
While the team didn't walk away with a win, @ClutchGaming captured the hearts of #LCS fans and gained respect across the globe with an honorable performance against @TeamLiquid.— Dignitas (@dignitas) August 20, 2019
?️Highlight video with in-game comms: https://t.co/uIGCHCfgzP pic.twitter.com/ZAIP7OeKxM
Once Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng locked in Sona, however, the air in the arena slightly changed — the experienced fans in attendance knew how things would most likely resolve. And no one was very happy because of it, Doublelift included.
Simply put, the fifth game was a one-sided shellacking. And just like that, thirty-five minutes into the game (with an insurmountable thirteen-thousand gold lead), Liquid emerged victorious. An anticlimactic ending, if there ever was one.
But no one bothered to focus much on their hard-fought triumph. Instead, all eyes were locked on Clutch Gaming, a ragtag group of five players who almost defied the odds; five players who almost got the job done.
One quick glance at Heo “Huni” Seung-hoon’s face is all you need in order to realize what utter devastation looks like. A face, mostly defined by a single aching expression, that paints a crushing picture.
A face that shows us just how much these players sacrifice on a daily basis in pursuit of greatness; in pursuit of the honor of being deemed as “the best” for a split of a second, before someone else — seemingly more talented and better equipped — takes that away from them. And we never really know of their struggles. We see them exit the LCS stage much like any other competitor, and yet most of them spend their nights and their less productive moments dreaming of being showered in confetti; of hearing their names chanted by thousands; of etching their pseudonyms in history.
Year after year, the LCS underdogs enter the season with a chip on their shoulder. They’re sick and tired of seeing the same faces being celebrated, of seeing the same logos and brands hang from the ceiling in the LCS studio. The North American pantheon often seems unassailable. After all, no team has been able to persevere at the top of region for longer periods of time other than the four giants whose banners hang above the stage.
As for the rest of the region, they’re forced to perpetually fight for scraps. It takes an immense amount of courage and grit, to enter an arena filled with hundreds or thousands of fans who have already made up their minds. And there’s no way to persuade them otherwise — they’ve already chosen their favorites long before stepping foot into the arena. They know the colors and the logos they cheer for. These underdogs are forced to enter a world that has already labeled and defined them as unworthy; as futile challengers whose part is only to lose and strengthen someone else’s narrative.
But over the years a few faces managed to stand out. No one was able to upset the status quo and leave a mark in the grand scheme of things, but they are making progress. Clutch Gaming are just one of the many challengers that are rising the ranks. The gap between the East and the West has shrunk, and the same is happening within North America as well. It is still a top-heavy region, but bit by bit, things are changing.
Every time an LCS titan is challenged, there’s a reason to celebrate. Such a thing benefits everyone involved, regardless of the outcome. The North American region is ripe with talent, albeit most of it lies unused, and the fact that players like Tanner “Damonte” Damonte, Sun “Cody Sun” Li-Yu and Philippe “Vulcan” Laflamme are getting recognition for their play is, at the very least, an exciting step in the right direction.
The LCS pantheon is slowly crumbling, at least ever so slightly. A future in which we see a brand-new champion crowned is one within spitting distance; it is within reach. But for such a future to materialize, these underdogs need to continue developing. The organizations need to continue expanding their staff and the scene itself needs to further mature. Once that happens, maybe Clutch Gaming really will get that elusive fifth-game win.
One thing is for certain: the underdogs are fed up with the current state of affairs. They want a part of the spotlight, and they know it’s long overdue.