The last and only time Team WE made it to a League of Legends World Championship in 2012, 11 hours of pause and looping iterations of Silver Scrapes marred a best-of-three quarterfinal match against Counter Logic Gaming EU. At the close of an embarrassment that sent WE home early, the team continued to train for the IGN Pro League 5. WE then met Fnatic, a team that had not even qualified for Worlds, in the grand final and took Fnatic out in a decisive 3-1 series that catapulted the Chinese team into the spotlight of League of Legends esports immortality.
Fans of Team WE will still refer to themselves as "the 60E" or "the six billion" as, surely, nearly everyone in the world is a WE fan.
Team SoloMid, WE, and Fnatic all hold sway as primary legacy organizations representing North America, China and Europe, respectively. This isn't just because each team has claimed long-standing domestic dominance -- WE and Fnatic certainly haven't -- but because each organization has brought its respective region the greatest chance and first tastes of international glory.
The 2017 world championship will be the first official Riot world championship with all of them in attendance.
Despite not returning to worlds since 2012 and losing every member of the starting roster that won IPL 5 (Ming "Clearlove" Kai's departure still puts a sour taste in a few fans' mouths), WE retained a great deal of its fandom and notoriety. Part of its charm was reinforced when WE placed second at the Intel Extreme Masters Katowice, defeating the domestically undefeated Korean powerhouse GE Tigers, but ultimately losing to North America's Team SoloMid.
While the title of most dominant team in North America didn't come for years after its inception in 2011, TSM remained at the top, along with CLG and Cloud9, and ultimately was the only North American team to win an international event with a top Korean team in attendance. Fnatic claimed the first League of Legends World Championship title for Europe and has since become the only western team to make a semifinal or higher in three separate appearances at a Riot world championship. It is also the only team to have remained in the EU LCS every split for four years straight since its inception.
Because of WE's split after it failed to qualify for worlds in 2013 and tumultuous rebuild, opportunities for all three legacy teams to collide have been scarce. With both WE and Fnatic in the play-in stage and the possibility for more games in the next round, opportunities for these legacy organizations to clash exist early on. Anticipation and high viewership await.
But do these three rosters have the gas in the tank to leave the same historic mark with which their exuberant fans have come to associate them?
Though Fnatic has advanced to three separate worlds semifinals, a 2014 run as a second-seed that ended abruptly at the hands of Oh My God and auto attack cancels at the Nexus in a 70-minute game, draws doubt. 2014 stands out as the only world championship Fnatic attended when it didn't win the League Championship Series Summer Split that season (aside from Season 1 when LCS didn't exist).
But even in its worst competitive domestic season to date, Fnatic appeared on the 2016 Intel Extreme Masters World Championship stage and advanced to the grand final over highly ranked Chinese representatives, Royal Never Give Up and QG Reapers. Martin "Rekkles" Larsson is having a career season a little more than a year later, and between himself and Paul "sOAZ" Boyer, Fnatic brings two of the most seasoned international competitors to the table in Europe's third seed.
Team WE has faithfully represented China well at nearly every international event it has attended since late 2012. After nearly sweeping the online Enter the Dragon post-world championship, it used strong wave manipulation to drag out games and decisively overcome Fnatic on the European team's upswing with Rekkles as a fresh addition to the roster.
In the absence of legacy AD carry and leader Gao "WeiXiao" Xuecheng, the formidable Jin "Mystic" Seongjun has taken up the mantle. As one of the few players who can consistently make the first pick Kog'Maw work, Mystic plays well with strong solo lane pressure early and will thoroughly abuse the existence of supportive junglers and shielding supports to take over team fights. Mystic and mid laner Su "xiye" Hanwei remain from the 2015 IEM Katowice roster that unexpectedly overran GE Tigers to make the final as the last place team in the LPL.
But WE fell short at its first international appearance with its current lineup. After winning the LPL Spring Championship this year, Team WE entered the Mid Season Invitational group stage with unexpected fervor. It smothered a more patient G2 Esports and broke even with North America's Team SoloMid, after a slow start. Despite an impressive group stage finish, WE fell short in adaptation in the best-of-five series.
However, WE has taken up a rare honor. Having led the LPL to a Rift Rivals victory by taking the first game in the grand final from SK Telecom T1, it cemented itself as the only non-South Korean team to boast an even head-to-head record against the most dominant team in LoL history.
That leaves only Team SoloMid. Its claim to international success is the most tenuous of the three. Though TSM has advanced further at a world championship than any other North American organization by claiming a semifinal appearance in Season 1 and qualifying for quarterfinals in 2014, its past two appearances at MSI and worlds have been underwhelming.
TSM perhaps put up more of a fight than expected at MSI without star AD carry Yiliang "Doublelift" Peng, but North America had high expectations for it in the 2016 world championship. After devoting time to a grueling practice schedule and, allegedly, doing everything right to prepare, TSM fell short and lost 2-0 to perhaps the only team at the event that could compete with it in an aggressive early game. Royal Never Give Up's dive bottom lane approach worked especially well for them in blue side games, and Team SoloMid's approach of playing mid to bot didn't come with a backup plan.
At Rift Rivals, however, Team SoloMid bunched together only weeks after finding its stride after Doublelift's return. Its matches against European opponents made TSM appear to have created a separate plane above other western teams. While some may look at the holes in TSM's early game when it doesn't immediately win mid lane, TSM's ability to abuse side waves and capitalize on mistakes make it actually appear more dimensional coming into this Worlds than last year's event.
Chances are ripe for any of TSM, WE, and Fnatic to make heroic runs. If WE finds itself in Group D, the clashes between China's legacy team and the most popular team in the West will no doubt pull heavy viewer numbers. If both make it out of group stage and the top seed gets slotted against Fnatic after a harrowing run in Group A or B in the quarterfinal, storylines from historic international events come to a head. Record-breaking viewer counts could follow. Wars between fanbases span international lines.
Because TSM, WE and Fnatic are the teams ardent supporters have turned to for grabs at glory. We may not all be WE fans, but chances are most League of Legends fans have cheered for either WE, TSM or Fnatic at least once. Any victory snatched between them will stand out for years to come.