It was a noteworthy year for esports in 2017. There were big team investments, miracle runs and record-breaking prize pools -- but there also were letdowns in competitions and wild organizational issues. In the third installment of our ESPN esports end-of-the-year acknowledgements, we look at the most disappointing moments in the booming industry.
DIG/IMT do not qualify for LCS
When the North American LCS begins its 2018 season in January, two of the top four teams from its previous season will be absent. After initiating a 10-club franchise model, both Immortals and Team Dignitas were rejected from NA LCS. What were surefire picks for franchising, especially with Immortals' finals appearance in the most recent NA LCS season and Dignitas being backed by the NBA's Philadelphia 76ers, suddenly turned into one of the most disappointing stories of 2017. I guess you can't always just "trust the process." --Tyler Erzberger
RunAway loses APEX finals twice
After two straight tries in the OGN APEX finals, RunAway is the best Overwatch team to never win a tournament. Whether it was Ryu "Kaiser" Sang Hoon losing heart after various throws or Chung-hee "Stitch" Lee not being able to salvage team mistakes, both iterations of RunAway crumbled in the end, with one more win separating them from the trophies. It's too bad; those spectacular pink sweaters would've looked great during a trophy presentation. --Steven Nguyen
Punk falls apart at Evo
Victor "Punk" Woodley entered the Evolution Championship Series in July as the unanimous favorite to win, and he looked every bit the part of a champion for the majority of the weekend. He dominated his way into the grand finals without dropping a single set to anyone and needed just one more victory to secure history. His last roadblock was Hajime "Tokido" Taniguchi. Tokido came into Evo with little fanfare and momentum; his last No. 1 finish at a major tournament was two months prior. But in the grand finals, Tokido's veteran presence paid dividends. Despite needing six victories to Punk's three, Tokido was the steamroller with all the incentive, resetting the bracket with a decisive 3-1 mark. Punk's mental strength left him, and he unraveled from all the pressure that the Japanese Akuma generated. The second set was even faster than the first. Punk played out-of-control; he walked forward into Tokido's waiting medium kicks, dashed up into jabs and dropped necessary punishes. Tokido simply walked forward, took advantage of the fast pace and finished off the comeback for his improbable tournament victory. --Timothy Lee
FaZe is knocked out of the Krakow Major
After months of grand finals appearances, FaZe looked poised to contend for the Major trophy at PGL Krakow. Some even considered the team a favorite to take it home, only rivaled by SK Gaming and Astralis. Whatever the case might be, no one expected FaZe lose its first three matches and find itself eliminated from the group stage without a single victory. Rarely in CS:GO history has such a good team performed so poorly at a Major. The shock of the result, as well as the internal issues that caused such a performance, led FaZe to make two roster moves, despite months of success prior to Krakow. FaZe went on to perform well with its new roster, but the Krakow Major remains one of the most disappointing performances in Counter-Strike history. --Sam Delorme
And the unfortunate winner is: IMT/DIG not qualifying for LCS
In no sport will you find half of the top four teams not playing in the league the next season.
That's exactly what will happen in 2018, though, as fourth-place Dignitas and finalist (yes, a team that made the league final is dead) Immortals were rejected in the NA LCS transfer from an open, promotion/relegation competition into a 10-franchise league with the accepted clubs being promised a long future in the NA LCS.
For Dignitas, this is a nightmare it could have never seen coming at the start of the year when it announced the Philadelphia 76ers ownership was taking over the team's operations. More money was dumped into the once-great organization, and although the team sputtered in the spring season, a strong finish to the year put Dignitas a match win away from the league final. The team failed to overcome champion Team SoloMid in the semifinals, and a loss in the North American Regional Qualifier put a swift end to the club's season and dream of a World Championship appearance.
It's hard to imagine, but it's even worse for Immortals. Since joining the NA LCS in the spring of 2015, the team spent money to go out and create the best teams possible, finishing with a first-round playoff bye in three of the four seasons it competed in. When it came to accomplishments, Immortals had a track record of success, and it barely missed out on a quarterfinal spot at this year's Worlds. What appeared to be the start of the next great North American rivalry at summer NA LCS final between IMT and TSM in Boston -- with the latter pulling out an incredible comeback to take the win -- will now be remembered as IMT's swan song to its North American fans.
Dignitas trusted the process. Immortals trusted its pedigree of success. Neither had their faith rewarded, and all they're left with is more questions than answers from Riot Games ... and ESPN's award for the biggest esports disappointment of the year. --Tyler Erzberger