For most of the season, Golden Guardians has only needed one team fight. In Game 5 against 100 Thieves, they found that one teamfight.
Facing a deficit for almost the entirety of the game, they somehow managed to find themselves in a position to battle back at 28 minutes. Rushing a Baron just a minute prior managed to absolve a 1.1k gold deficit despite the jarring 3-to-10 kills-to-deaths stat line. Now, they were looking to halt 100 Thieves’ attempt at securing Infernal Soul.
They didn’t. But then magic happened.
Kim “Gori” Tae-woo would jump into the backline, taking advantage of a cleanse-less Jinx. Seemingly on a mission, he would lock down the carries on 100 Thieves, limiting their influence on the fight with the assistance of Eric “Licorice” Ritchie’s Gwen. Winning the teamfight three kills to two, a notably 100 Thieves’ favored crowd with CEO Matthew Haag in attendance was quiet. It was perfection.
Golden Guardians were going to do it.
One final team fight saw the rumor be confirmed. Star marksman Peter “Doublelift” Peng would overstay in an attempt to secure more creeps. The man who replaced him previously on Counter Logic Gaming would remind him that the future is now and Trevor “Stixxay” Hayes would put together one of the most incredible skirmish performances, narrowly escaping death multiple times in the pursuit of victory.
The screams of few could be heard and the reality was sinking in. Golden Guardians were not only advancing, but they were also eliminating one of the most popular organizations in the process.
And it was amazing.
Prior to the series, Golden Guardians were circling the drain. Despite an incredible seven-game winning streak in the middle of the season — the longest in the organization’s history, they had only won two out of their last seven games. Even worse, their season ended on a sour note with a loss to the widely mocked Dignitas. It was a disastrous situation for a team that had seemingly put the pieces of their puzzle together upon Gori’s arrival.
Gori was quietly showcasing uncharacteristic mechanical blunders. Stixxay — who touted a commanding KDA during the win streak — was suddenly dying. 21 deaths in the final seven matches– second most among marksmen in the LCS. He wasn’t able to contribute as much, recording a meager 604 damage per minute and only participating in 59.5% of Golden Guardians’ kills. And what was worse was the reminder of the highs and the very low lows of Licorice — once again returning to a low point with fans clamoring for his removal.
But League of Legends is a beautiful game. With an additional week to prepare thanks to the LCS tournament bracket format, the team felt more than prepared for 100 Thieves’ game plan. And in a Game 5 that saw 100 Thieves gain massive comfort picks in Milan “Tenacity” Oleksij’s Sion and a Jinx-Thresh bottom lane, Golden Guardians beat the favored team in what felt like a “f*** you, we’re better” moment.
Across the five games, the stats agree. Golden Guardians averaged a +1039 gold lead at fifteen, lead in first turret rate (60%), plates per game (6.8), herald control rate (60%) and first dragon rate (60%). 100 Thieves arguably would reach the moments in games that they prefer — displaying clear advantages in the mid-to-late with their front-to-back team-fighting, recording a 1.23 kill-to-death ratio on the series. Yet it was never enough.
Golden Guardians were not even close to perfect this series. And that reality inspires confidence in what the team may be able to accomplish. Upsets rarely happen in “perfect conditions,” they require a mess, a team to be uncomfortable. It is what makes their potential match-up against Evil Geniuses — and a potential match against the loser of Cloud9 versus FlyQuest — fairly intriguing. The team does not do one particular thing well, they just take advantage of opportunities in front of them.
They have another opportunity to showcase why they are one of the better teams in North America. A five-game series against Evil Geniuses to secure the final spot in Raleigh is going to be a tightly contested match-up between two teams that haven’t necessarily established their footing. And for the first time seemingly ever, Golden Guardians are going to be the fan favorites in the match-up. It is a weird feeling to be excited for GGS once again. It is also a weird feeling to be excited about this roster so soon.