A week after Canelo Álvarez fought Gennady Golovkin in one of the biggest fights in boxing history, Mexico's Lyon Gaming came out with a flurry of punches of its own on the first day of the League of Legends World Championships in Wuhan, China.
In the play-in rounds, which lead into the sixteen-team group stage, Lyon was placed in the proverbial "Group of Death," alongside home favorite and Chinese powerhouse Team WE and Commonwealth of Independent States champion Gambit Gaming. Over the history of professional League of Legends play, Gambit and Team WE have crafted long legacies in the international scene; at one point both clubs we're known as the best in the world.
Lyon, on the other hand, hidden away in the Latin America North region, has failed to reach the same heights on the international level. While it has continuously conquered it's domestic league with nine-straight regional titles, making it to the Mid-Season Invitational or Worlds has often been a struggle. Sometimes two or even one victory away from qualifying, Lyon has been stopped at the goal line, sent home with dreams dashed.
With the reconstruction of the tournament format to allow all thirteen regions around the globe to compete in this year's fight for the world title, Lyon was given its chance to test itself against the likes of Team WE and possibly other favorites from one of the major regions. Coming in, it was going to be the true litmus test of how strong Lyon truly was. Is it a case of a strong side, unlucky not to have more chances to play at the highest level, or simply a big fish in a small pond situation, the fish exposed and gobbled up when allowed into more treacherous waters?
Although the sample size is almost as small as it can be with Lyon only playing two games so far, the pride of Mexico has not shrunken under the pressure of playing with the world's best. In what was believed to be a showcase match for crowd favorite Team WE to open up the event, the first match turned into the closest and most thrilling contest of the day. Lyon Gaming unexpectedly took control of the first half of the game against the Chinese squad, winning team fight after team fight through picture-perfect positioning and heroic plays from star members Ali "Seiya" Bracamontes and Matías "WhiteLotus" Musso. Where Team WE would take fights thinking it could roll over the internationally inexperienced side, Lyon held strong, Seiya setting things up on his Syndra for the club's Argentine ace, WhiteLotus, to come in with the cleanup with his hyper carry Kog'maw.
Lyon played well above expectations but still couldn't close what would have been one of the bigger upsets in the history of Worlds. Seiya and WhiteLotus, deathless throughout, both faced the grey screens together for the first time at the end of the game.
Come the second game of the day versus Gambit, though, there would no lull in the middle of the game for Lyon. From start to finish, the LATAM North representitive never let go of the lead in a game that could very well decide which team escapes the highly contested group with Team WE. WhiteLotus and Seiya once more starred as the team's one-two carry combo and Lyon scored a victory.
Now it enters the second (and final day) of its play-in group at an even record, having to face both Team WE and Gambit Gaming once more to see which two teams qualify onto the next round.
On the scene's grandest stage, WhiteLotus has already taken a large step forward into notoriety. The lanky ace of the multi-national squad, WhiteLotus stood toe-to-toe with one of the top AD carries at the event, South Korea's Jin "Mystic" Seong-jun, in the tournament opener, participating in 100% of his team's kills, outputting more than 40% of his team's overall damage in the game, and finishing with an otherworldly mark of 1,044 damage per minute. In a loss, it was one of the grander Worlds debuts anyone has ever produced through the tournament's seven-year history.
After being recognized as one of the better star players in the wildcard regions the last few years, the Argentine AD carry made it clear on day one that narrative needs to change -- he's a star player in whatever region he's in. Lyon Gaming, poised to get out of the "Group of Death" will head into its rematch with Team WE looking to do the same. Domestic champions for over four years now, Lyon not only fights for Mexico but for the rest of the region as a whole, wanting to make sure in its first World Championship, Latin America North and its undisputed king are never looked down upon again.