Welcome to a world where Optimus calls upon Levi as his second-in-command and together using tech from Stark industries, they strategically Slay enemies according to Archie’s devious plans. Together they are the GIGABYTE Marines (GAM) and have heroically made a mark for Southeast Asia (SEA) at the Mid-Season Invitational (MSI) 2017.

(Source: lolesports.com)

Known at first as ‘one of the wildcard teams from a wildcard region’, the Marines surfed the biggest wave when they took the North American champions Team SoloMid to 5 games in the Play-ins. Though they lost that series, they went on to defeat Turkey’s SuperMassive 3-1, nabbing the final spot in the Group Stage.

(Source: lolesports.com)

This was huge. The last time SEA was represented at a major League of Legends international tournament was in 2012 when the Saigon Jokers clinched 9th-10th place at the Season 2 World Championship with Archie on the roster.

Unlike major regions that only have a single tournament, the Garena Premiere League (GPL) is more like the SEA games. Each country holds their own local Garena-sponsored leauge, and the winners of each nation compete for the GPL title. Vietnam won the last three.

Saigon Jokers winning GPL Spring 2016 (Source: LoL esports SAM)

So while the world was suddenly curious about who GAM were and how their dominance came out of nowhere, no one in SEA batted an eyelid. Three of five Marines, Archie, Optimus and Slay were groomed by legacy team Saigon Jokers who consistently ranked top four in the GPL from 2012 to 2016 in all but one split. Guided by Korean talent Lee In-cheol as head coach and analyst Heo Yeong-cheol, these are the very players who learned how to step up against former World Champions Taipei Assassins and AHQ before the League of Legends Master (LMS) officiated in 2015.

With Taiwan finally reclassified, Vietnam and Thailand rose to the top of the SEA playing field. Because power dislikes vacuums, it is unsurprising that the GIGABYTE Marines, formally Boba Marines, eagerly filled the void left by Saigon Jokers after disbanding in late 2016. Levi and Slay joined that same year and together, clinched first place in the Vietnam Championship Serie A (VCS A) Spring 2017 with a perfect 12-0 record. Punching a playoff spot in GPL Spring 2017, they waited for their opponents in the semifinals.

GIGABYTE Marines winning the Vietnam Championship Serie A Spring split 2017 (Source: http://thegioitre.vn/)

Despite entering with a perfect record, GAM’s vessel almost capsized. Looking like they flew to the Philippines just to get swept away by the tide, they found themselves two games down in a best of 5 against a seasoned Kuala Lumpur Hunters (KLH). Game 1 ended swiftly in just under 26 minutes with an 11k gold deficit. Game 2 closed in 39 minutes with a 6k deficit even with Levi on Lee Sin, one of his top 3 performers.

GPL Spring 2017 semifinals: KLH vs GAM, Game 2 (Source: https://youtu.be/7UYcUeLTg-0)

What changed course?

Notably, the way GAM reversed-sweep KLH in those three games foreshadowed how they would later set sail at MSI. In the first nautical mile of Game 3, they gave KLH four power-picks and allowed the Malaysians to build a traditional team composition: Lee Sin in the jungle, Rumble top, Syndra mid and utility-ADC Varus with a less conventional Nautilus support. The Marines boldly responded with Ziggs in the bot lane, a decent counter against the immobile marksman that later drew bans at MSI.

GPL Spring 2017 Semifinals: GAM vs KLH, Game 3 (Source: https://youtu.be/IrDE8A2m8E4)

Disregarding any need for tanks or late-game scaling, GAM is true to their ham-style. They shine when Optimus is on a kill-pressure mid laner, Levi on a burst jungler, Stark on an annoying top laner who teleports to cause havoc, and have their bot lane facilitate an early rotation. In-game, GAM repeats the same tactic with different champions: Early 4 to 5-man collapse at bot, kill anyone in sight, seize first-tower, collect 400 gold.

Though the Vietnamese are all about early-game drifts, they never once gave up their lead against KLH or Thailand’s Ascension Gaming where they glided 3-0 in the finals. Opponents may get kills, but GAM will get more. As long as either Optimus or Levi were fed, mid to late game is about GAM getting more fed through better team-fighting. Stark in particular makes key teleport plays to catch enemies out of position into securing objectives.

GAM Stark (Source: flickr.com/photos/lolesports)

Tacking against the wind, the mothership revealed its course.

While it was not easy booking a passage to MSI, as the Group stages went by it became apparent that it was even harder to sustain the journey. The GPL-representatives out-microed other wildcard regions, but found themselves getting out-microed and out-macroed in Groups. With faster rotations and deeper wards placed by competitors, suddenly their smoothly executed early game kills at bot into first tower slipped through their fingers. Even when they responded with cross-map engages, inches turned into miles as their opponents’ HP bars refused to reach zero. The Marines became outnumbered quickly.

With a total of 406 kills in 42 games played at MSI2017, GAM’s non-stop aggression was praised by the West for staying true to their playstyle and exhibiting tenacity against the best teams in the world. SKT T1’s coach cCarter echoed, sharing with Slingshot, “I felt like what we prepared wouldn’t work against them because they are a team that goes for constant aggression regardless of the situation.”.

For Southeast Asia, MSI2017 is now marked by GAM’s showcase of Garena servers’ persistent trend: To get leads, kill. To recover, kill or die trying.

GAM backstage at MSI2017  (Source: flickr.com/photos/lolesports)

Aggressive playstyles have had their share of scrutiny. Last Worlds 2016, Albus Nox Luna made history by becoming the first Wildcard team to enter the Knockout stage. When a team from Russia manages to take a game off the ROX Tigers, everyone pays attention. Exhibiting champion prowess and unexpected aggression at unexpected times, the question remains: Will Wildcard regions’ success always be defined by aggression? How far can it take them?

GAM’s micro moves definitely stood up to the best in the world and they did our region proud by taking single-games off teams from major leagues. While making the first move and securing kills for objectives may work very well in SEA, it seems that a little more subtlety is required to excel on the international stage. Not everything that flies requires jet fuel. Sometimes, all that’s needed on the path to victory is a hot air balloon.