It’s impossible to talk about competitive League of Legends in Latin America North without automatically thinking about Lyon Gaming (LYN). They’re an inseparable duo, like Xayah and Rakan, NA and international disappointment or SKT T1 and Summoners’ Cups. Since its creation, the now Liga Latinoamérica Norte (LLN) has had only one champion, only one team that has nine times lifted the trophy and, thus, only one organization that has represented the region at international events, Lyon Gaming.
Their roster has changed over the years, but Lyon’s players are consistently recognized for being the best. Whether the players are considered the best because they always win or, the other way around, always win because they are the best is irrelevant. The team wins championships and that is the only thing that matters. Nevertheless, even if Lyon has maybe one of the most impressive trophy rooms in competitive LoL history, they have never proven to be on the same level as their international adversaries.
This phenomenon happens worldwide. There’s always that team that dominates their domestic league year after year, but disappoints when on the international stage. This has happened to China for the last two years and favorable results at Worlds still continue to elude North America, specially Team SoloMid (TSM). Lyon Gaming suffers from the same condition, but in a much smaller scale.
Previous to the introduction of the Play-In stage to the international scene in 2017, Lyon Gaming exclusively faced teams from smaller regions, called Wild Card regions. Since 2016, two tournaments were organized to determine which Wild Card teams would have the honor of representing their region at the World Championship or the Mid Season Invitational (MSI). These were the International Wild Card Invitational (IWCI) and the International Wild Card Qualifiers (IWCQ). Before these tourneys, Lyon Gaming had never participated in a qualifier to the big international competitions, as the old system only contemplated one latinamerican team; the one who emerged victorious from the duel between northern and southern champions.
Lyon debuted for the first time at the IWCI 2016, obtaining awful results. Out of the seven played games, the team was only able to win one, finishing dead last. It was the first time the organization attended an international competition and they performed horribly. During the second half of that same year, their roster suffered notable changes. The team acquired a new ADC, Matías WhiteLotus Musso, and a new jungler, Sebastian Oddie Niño. Lyon resurged as an unstoppable force in Latin America North and, after qualifying to the IWCQ by winning the championship, decimated everyone who opposed them. They finished with a 6-1 record in the group stage of the IWCQ, taking first place. One Best of Five series was the last obstacle they had to overcome to qualify for the World Championship.
Their opponents were Albus NoX Luna (ANX), previously known as Hard Random. The team, hailing from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), had proven their strength at the IWCI, reaching the finals. The roster was identical for the IWCQ and, during the group stage, they were the only team who took a game off Lyon. After a grueling five game series, ANX triumphed over Lyon and classified to Worlds, where they would make a miraculous and historical run to the quarterfinals. It was a crushing defeat for the mexican lion; they had clear opportunities to take the series but in the end they couldn’t.
The start of the next year looked promising for Lyon. They kept most of their starting line-up, with the exception of their support. They were still the best team in Latin America North and took their eighth cup without breaking a sweat. Thanks to this, they obtained a direct pass to the MSI 2017 Play-In. The Play-In completely replaced the IWCI and the IWCQ. Instead of having a separate event for Wild Card Regions, these would be included in a competition prior to the main tournament. The Play-In format for MSI 2017 is simple, two groups of four teams play six games between themselves. The first place from each group moves on to face the North American or Taiwanese champion in the Knockout stage, playing one Best of Five series. The two losing teams compete against each other to determine the last participant for the main event.
Unfortunately, Lyon Gaming was not able to advance to the knockout stage. Their group featured GIGABYTE Marines, a vietnamese team that ultimately qualified for the main event. GAM proved to be too much to handle for the eight time mexican champion and defeated them both times they squared off. Although their first encounter was close, the second one was disastrous for Lyon. Again, Lyon returned home only a couple games away from making history.
After another disappointing international showing, Lyon Gaming started their Summer Split dominating the LLN without mercy. They crowned themselves champions for the ninth time, in spite of having very irregular and inconsistent play in the finals. They instantly qualified for the World Championship Play-In in China with the renewed hope of finally being able to show up and represent their region on the international stage.
The Play-In for Worlds is different from its MSI counterpart. In it, four groups of three teams play four games between themselves. The group’s top two teams advance to play a Best of Five direct elimination series. These victorious teams move on to the main event of the Championship.
The teams, however, that participate in the Worlds Play-In vary from MSI. In the MSI Play-In, no premier regions take part in the competition until after the group stage. Nevertheless, the Play-In for Worlds adds the third best team from NA, EU, China and Taiwan to the list of eight Wild Card teams that will be fighting for a spot in the main event. This makes it so the level of competition is higher and complicates the chances for a Wild Card team to get through to the next stage.
Lyon Gaming’s group is probably the hardest and most unlucky one for them. Group A contains the renowned chinese squad of Team World Elite (WE) and the legendary russian team of Gambit.CIS (GMB). WE might be the third representative from China’s LPL, yet many analysts consider them to be the best team from the region and guarantee that they will confidently make it to the main event. This leaves Lyon and Gambit fighting for second place.
There isn’t a clear favorite between these two squads, but Gambit’s history is enough to make a Lyon fan tremble in fear. GMB is 40% Albus NoX Luna, 40% Moscow 5, and 100% northlatinamerican kryptonite. The veteran players of Gambit, Danil Diamondprox Reshetnikov, their jungler, and Edward Edward Abgaryan, their support, surpass their counterparts in experience and skill. If Oddie lets Diamondprox get out of control or he repeats his hyper aggressive plays that cost him the early game in the LLN finals, Lyon will have a hard time getting back into the game. Even more so, Lyon has to find a way to limit Edward’s impact on the map and punish him, and his marksman, when the opportunity presents itself.
Ali Seiya Bracamontes, Lyon’s star mid laner, has a personal vendetta to settle with Michael Kira Garmash, the ex-ANX player, after being eliminated him from the IWCQ 2016. The matchup in the mid lane will be crucial if either team wants to tip the scale in their favor and, will most likely be the closest one in terms of mechanical skill. However, Seiya has lacked consistency for a player of his stature, and this could cost Lyon some games.
Nevertheless, there is still hope for Lyon and his name is WhiteLotus. Lyon’s game plan is evidently centered around getting their bot lane ahead. Many of their victories in the LLN were achieved this way. WhiteLotus is without a doubt their best player and if given the chance, he will carry his whole team to victory. The argentinian bot laner has an average damage share of 32.3%, the second highest in the whole world. This means he’s doing almost a third of his team’s damage every game.
In spite of this, WhiteLotus’s playstyle is extremely aggressive and sometimes cocky; he positions way in front of his tank line, flashes forward to chase down kills and barely pays respect to potential plays the enemy could execute to eliminate him. If not corrected, these shortcomings could be detrimental for the mexican team’s results.
As of right now, Lyon Gaming’s future is unclear. The team to beat is Gambit, no doubt. If Lyon can achieve this, they will be one step closer to fulfilling their dreams and the dreams of thousands of latinamerican fans, to attend a World Championship. Even though the odds aren’t stacked in their favor, Lyon has the potential to prove they are a quality team on the international stage. However, don’t let the lion’s roar scare you, as its strength is yet to be tested.