Prior to the final slate of group stage matches, Team WE jungler Xiang “Condi” Renjie issues a challenge.
“For today, I feel we have to first beat the Vietnamese team, and as for SKT, I don’t want to go even with them. Either they explode or we do. I want the match to be a fight to the death,” he says in a broadcast interview. It airs before their first match of the day against the GIGABYTE Marines.
When the dust settles after Day 5 of the 2017 Mid-Season Invitational group stage, Team WE emerge 2-0, delivering on Condi’s challenge. Jin “Mystic” Seong-jun simply laughs at his jungler’s assertion and promise of revenge.
“Even though we didn’t get to first place, I’m satisfied with getting out of groups,” he tells Yahoo Esports. “With that said, my goal is to win the entire tournament.”
That goal seems near-impossible given SK Telecom T1’s reign over the group stage — and international League of Legends tournaments of the past three and a half years — but Team WE have refused to give SKT that first place spot in their minds. While other teams have marveled at SKT’s prowess, Team WE have focused on self-improvement by becoming their own harshest critic.
In Condi’s words, either SKT explodes, or they do.
If anything is holding Team WE back, it’s their own mistakes, a fact that the team has been acutely aware of since their arrival in Rio de Janeiro for the 2017 MSI. With each passing day, the answer from various members of the team is that they haven’t returned to their LPL finals form, that they still need to tighten up their communication and trust.
Like mid laner Su “Xiye” Hanwei, Mystic was a part of Team WE at their last international event – the 2015 IEM World Championship at Katowice – where the Chinese team unexpectedly finished in second place.
“Back at IEM, we only had two days of practice and new members. That was our first official tournament with that team,” he says. “I also didn’t speak Chinese well so I had a lot of issues in team communication. Our hopes were not high, but luckily we had some good performances. In this tournament we are here as the LPL representative. We are playing with the hopes of our Chinese fans and I feel more obligated to win the tournament this time.”
Their best-of-one win over SKT in the group stages begins with the announcement that support Yoon “Zero” Kyung-sup will start for Team WE over Nam “Ben” Dong-hyun. It’s a match that has no effect on the standings. Viewers aren’t too shocked at the switch, although Mystic and his teammates are somewhat surprised.
“Actually, Zero didn’t play a single scrim,” Mystic says. “All of a sudden our coach asked him to play a game. I’ve been playing together with Zero for two seasons so we already felt really comfortable.”
Along with Zero’s return to the starting lineup, Team WE also counts on a risky Lucian pick for Xiye to overcome SKT. “When we were practicing in scrims, Xiye talked about the Lucian pick and he played it a couple of times,” Mystic says. “Even before this game, he’s been asking to play Lucian a lot of times.”
Although SK Telecom T1’s Han “Peanut” Wang-ho grabs Team WE’s blue buff off an early invade thanks to Bae “Bang” Jun-sik and Lee “Wolf” Jae-wan’s aggressive push in the bottom lane, Condi quickly goes to work in the mid lane, grabbing Xiye an early double-kill. From there, Team WE snowball their advantage, forcing SKT back.
“SKT are also merely human beings,” Mystic says. “They also make mistakes. I think it’s going to depend on which team makes fewer mistakes as both of our teams head into the bracket. By looking at our own mistakes we can improve.”
In order to face SKT again, Team WE will have to go through Europe’s G2 Esports first, a team that they swept in the group stages. More than their group stage record, Team WE are confident in their early game, driven by Condi, and ever-increasing teamwork.
“Of course, even though my Chinese has improved, there will always be a few limits in our communication,” Mystic says. “But I think our play is finally clicking.”
Emily Rand’s love of the 2013 KT Rolster Bullets will never die. You can follow her on Twitter.