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E-sports in 2015: the best moments, matches and events

e-sports_2015

2015 was easily one of the best years we’ve ever had for e-sports. There were larger tournaments, bigger plays, more glory at more pro circuits with more players making a living playing on them – and yes, even more cash on the line than ever before. It’s been a stunning one across the board and it would take 50 articles to pull all the highlights. Here’s my picks for what I enjoyed most, broken down by game and put together with a little help from PCGN contributor and e-sports superhero Chris Higgins. He never chokes.

One day you could be on this level if only you knew the best Dota 2 heroes for beginners.

Let’s start with what’s always the best of the year, shall we?

Ultra Street Fighter IV

Best Event – Evolution 2015

Not only the best fighting games event of the year but generally the best gaming event of any year, Evo 2015 was no exception.

The best match from the earlier rounds was Bonchan, playing Sagat, vs. Alex Valle, playing Hugo, in Ultra Street Fighter IV. It’s important to know going in that Bonchan is respected as one of the strongest players in the entire world, easily the best Sagat, and came second at last year’s tournament. Valle, meanwhile, is an old-school American player who had a dominant period about 15 years ago but is now mostly a tournament organiser, casual competitor and hero of the people.

Hopefully the reaction tells you everything you need to know. Not only does Valle take it with a less popular character, in a matchup that’s supposedly unfavourable, against one of the best in the world, on home soil, on stream, at the biggest tournament of the year… but to grab four straight rounds and make it look so very easy by the end? That’s why this year was so good.

Best Top 8 – Ultra Street Fighter IV, Evolution 2015

This is probably the best finale to a tournament I have ever seen. For any game, e- or otherwise. It was a ludicrous series of upsets, close matches, comebacks, heroes becoming villains and back to heroes once again – and one broken stick. Any one of these matches could be the best of the year (well, if it wasn’t for… you’ll see). Here’s Capcom’s official playlist of the whole thing:

If nothing else, watch the Loser’s Finals and Grand Finals for some of the tensest, weirdest Street Fighter ever played, and PR|Balrog vs. Nemo for the heartbreaker of the weekend.

Best Match – Tokido vs. Fuudo, Canada Cup 2015

Canada Cup, Canada’s premier event of the year and the Royal Rumble to Evo’s Wrestlemania, played host to one of the best sets of Street Fighter I’ve ever seen. Fuudo and Tokido are both long-running veterans with multiple good finishes, titles and Capcom Cup spots between them. Tokido also happens to be my favourite player, using my favourite character. Over half an hour, they slugged it out, with nearly every game going the full three rounds.

If you don’t like this, you don’t like watching Street Fighter – it’s got comebacks, reads, bracket resets, everything that turns watching some dudes play a videogame into an enthralling spectator sport.

Dota 2

Best Storyline – Evil Geniuses, Team Secret, Aui and Arteezy

What a whirlwind of drama, action, dollar bills and memes this year of Dota 2 competition has been. Nowhere was this more true than around hot favourites for The International 5, Team Secret, their eventual downfall, the winners Evil Geniuses, and the roster shakeups that followed.

It started with Arteezy, one of the best players in the world, leaving EG to join Secret at the beginning of the year. Secret then went on something of a killing spree, knocking over a lot of big tournaments and heading into TI the favourites. They crashed out of the tournament at 7th-8th, never looking dominant despite a good start. EG went on to win.

EG win TI5

Then a few days later, amidst rumours, angry tweets, and the collapse of Team Secret’s roster into only team leader and hero of the people Puppey remaining, it was announced that EG’s position 4 player Aui_2000 had been kicked … for the returning Arteezy. Aui went on to form Digital Chaos, who have been performing okay-ish in qualifiers of late, Team Secret reformed around Puppey, and EG continued on their merry way.

Except not: the TI5 champions haven’t had nearly as much success since, losing early in the first major tournament afterwards, dropping the MLG finals to the new Team Secret, and taking third at the Frankfurt Major. They’re hardly vendor trash, but from being the de-facto best team in the world they’ve dropped to an estimated third. Meanwhile the new Secret goes from strength to strength.

Or at least they did, until…

Best Team – OG

The rise of OG is the sort of thing that doesn’t actually ever happen in reality. They’re an underdog team of crowd favourites, including the fabulously named BigDaddyN0tail, who’ve consistently shown they can mix it with the best, no more so than at the Frankfurt Major.

Dropping into the losers bracket during the group stage, it looked like another newish team was ready to go 2-2 and unceremoniously disband in a few months. Then they beat Mineski and Virtus.pro – legit teams who had been knocked out of upper bracket by juggernauts.

They followed it up by taking down CDEC Gaming in a pair of games that never looked particularly close. Their next opponents were EHOME, who were also making a lower bracket run and again OG moved on.

EG and Secret meanwhile had met for their usual battle to see who would take the winners spot in Grand Finals and who would, the assumption goes, have to win another match to inevitably get back there for the best of five showdown. Secret took it, EG dropped to meet OG, and from the tone of all this and the title of the section, you’re probably able to guess what happened next.

Not only did OG complete the lower bracket run into Grand Finals, but once they got there they managed to dispatch Team Secret as well, taking the Frankfurt major and a cool million dollars and change. It was a legendary display that is all too rare in the world of double elimination. Nothing lasts forever, but in 2015, OG were the best in the biz.

Biggest Play – The Disastah

There have been more clutch plays, there have been more skillful plays, there have probably been better plays, but no play has been larger, made more money, turned a game so significantly, or cause me to pop in quite the same way as the $6,000,000 echo slam from The International 5. I’ve already waxed lyrical about watching it in slow-motion this year, so just enjoy Tobi’s puberty getting revenge on him at the worst possible moment:

While we’re on casters, here’s an honourable mention for ODPixel having some sort of spiritual, pseudo-sexual experience on air during a recent game between Na’vi and OG

We’re still searching for rime’s eardrums, buried deep on the moon. One day they will be discovered, and with them perhaps we’ll find out what ODPixel was planning to say next.

StarCraft II

Best Series – Lilbow vs. Hydra, WCS Season 3 Finals

At easily the best e-sports event I’ve ever been to, Lilbow vs. Hydra in the quarterfinals was the highlight. It switched very quickly from convincing stomps by a highly skilled player on one who looks out of his depth, to the majesty of game three onwards.

If you’ve no time for the full thing, the real action starts around 43 minutes into that video. Lilbow, two games down to Hydra (the tournament favourite and hot tip to go far in the upcoming global finals at Blizzcon), is dead in game three. Not just behind, plain dead. All Lilbow has is a final push that will be easily defeated and his Korean adversary can move on towards his inevitable top placing.

What he actually does, of course, is push across the map, use good army control to sit his ball of units between two of Hydra’s bases and slowly bleed him out. Watching the event, I had already opened my laptop to write his obituary. I will never assume a game of StarCraft to be over again.

More spectacularly, he goes on to take another pair of games, winning not only the underdog matchup but managing to bring it back from the brink for a reverse sweep. From that point, his victory at the event – despite even more super-strange games, like the base race against MaNa in the finals – seemed like a foregone conclusion. That weekend, he was invincible.

Best Game – TY vs. Parting, Dreamhack Winter, Game 4

I had, by this point in the year, thought I’d seen it all in professional StarCraft. As the first major tournament after the release of Legacy of the Void there were bound to be surprises at Dreamhack, but I wasn’t expecting it to top what had come before. That is until TY and Parting met in a third round Lower Bracket match to redefine what it means to have a close game.

The action starts about 1:04:00 into that video. Two games to the good in a best of five, TY just needs to win this game to move on towards top four as the sole surviving Terran participant. He opts for something a little cheesy, building high tech production structures next to Parting’s base, sacrificing any hope of late game power in the hopes of finishing his opponent off quickly with fast reinforcements and a strong composition.

What follows is the most knife-edge StarCraft I have ever seen. There are moments where Parting is masses of supply behind with an inferior composition of units, but manages to position his forces effectively so TY cannot bring his early power to bear. The level of control by both players is immaculate, and it’s easily one of the best games of StarCraft II ever.

League of Legends

Best Team – The Unkillable SKT T1

I am not a regular watcher of League of Legends, but a common thread appeared when I asked around for interesting moments from the last 12 months. Beyond player drama, the defining sentence was “Worlds was boring this year, SKT beat everyone.”

In the world’s hardest league, playing against the best players, SKT lost a grand total of twenty two games all season, out of well over a hundred played. Only one of these happened at the world championship, in the grand final against KOO Tigers that seemed over before it began. As for actual matches? Five.

In an entire season of League of Legends, between two LCK splits, two playoffs, one invitational and the World Finals, SKT lost five matches. It cost them that Invitational, going down in a close 3-2 set against China’s wonderfully named Edward Gaming, but everything else they could have wanted to win this year they did.

SKT were so dominant – and so predictably dominant, with an end result to the World Championship anyone could have called – that there was a worry they could make the game dull all by themselves. Nobody wants to see the same people win in the same ways every single time (unless they’re Ronda Rousey, RIP). Thankfully, 2015 had one final surprise.

Biggest Surprise – Ever win the 2015 Kespa Cup

The Kespa Cup is Korea’s year-end celebratory-ish championship in November. It’s a for-cash tournament not ran by Riot, the winner qualifying for IEM’s huge Cologne tournament next year. Along with the ten main LCK teams, four offline qualifiers let other teams get in on the action. They’re not expected to win, or even do particularly well, but it gives them some experience against bigger teams, lets them show their worth and maybe means their star players will be picked up by the larger organisations for main roster spots.

What they really aren’t supposed to do is beat all four LCK teams they come up against, sweeping world-conquerors SKT two games to zero and then CJ Entus, an equally high-ranking team, 3-0 in the finals. Ever did exactly that, looking mostly unstoppable and only dropping a single game against the four top-flight teams they faced.

Most hilariously of all, they aren’t even qualified for 2016’s LCK. They lost during the promotion games in September and will have to wait until the Summer to get another shot. It’s very possible, given the volatile nature of e-sports teams that don’t have major tournaments to compete in regularly, this will be the last we see of them in this form. A bright supernova of talent that burned out all opposition and then disappeared.

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive

Viva Brazil – Luminosity take 2nd at Dreamhack

It was a good year for underdog stories, and our final section has one of the best of all. Luminosity’s fairly new Brazilian roster entered the FACEIT Stage 3 finals at Dreamhack without much hope of a good finish. They’re decent players on a decent team, but in a group of death containing three titans of the game – EnvyUs, NiP and Fnatic – their 0-2 and out looked sure.

They didn’t kick it off well, losing their first map 16-0 to Fnatic and instantly dropping into the lower bracket of their group to face reigning Dreamhack champions EnvyUs. I’ll let the official frag video from the team take over from there:

It was an incredible run ending in bittersweet defeat at the hands of Fnatic again in the finals, but this time Luminosity managed to grab a game and more than a few rounds off the eventual winners. Hopefully they carry it forward and give South American fans something more consistent to cheer for.

That’s everything that stuck out to me. I’m sure there are plays, matches and entire games I’ve forgotten or didn’t pay enough attention to this year. Let us know your favourites in the comments. Or just link to Evo Moment 37 over and over and over again.

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