Happy belated holidays, everyone! With the winter break over, the pre-season for season 3 has swung back into action, with many major and minor tournaments across all 3 continents scheduled for January.
This is the second in a regular installment of a look around the landscape of the top teams in our world rankings.
As in our previous analysis, teams in Asia retain their overall dominance, occupying 14 of the top 25 spots, and an impressive 6 of the top 7.
Korea's Olympus Champions Winter has not disappointed in terms of quality and entertainment, producing astounding matches and innovative strategies featuring the best players and teams in the world. We're now down to the final four, with the favorites of Azubu Blaze, Azubu Frost, Najin Sword, and KT Rolster B all advancing to the semi-finals. The final matches over the next month should be amazing.
Meanwhile, in Chinese competition, Team WE continued their post-IPL dominance, winning the HAN Pro League and advancing to the semi-finals of the G-League Season 2 with ease. Royal Club and Positive Energy (previously Team WE's 2nd squad) have recently looked promising as well, though the latter has yet to even take a game from Team WE. Next week, the StarsWar League Season 2 begins, with the highest level of League of Legends competition outside of Champions Winter, featuring some of the best teams across China, Korea, and Taiwan, with Team WE, SKT T1, Najin Sword, and TPA all making appearances.
In Southeast Asia, the Garena Premier League has resumed with their second season. The Bangkok Titans, who occupied the bottom of the ladder all last season, have actually defied expectations by winning their first two games. However, it will still remain a tough act for them or any other team in the competition to give TPA a challenge for first place.
Teams of Note
The Best in the World
World #1 - Team WE - The top ranked team in the world has still has yet to lose a single set since the world championships! They now boast a 50-6 record since then. The start of StarsWar League Season 2 will be their toughest test since their win at IPL5, with its crowd of strong Korean teams and both Taipei Assassins and Taipei Snipers gunning for the chance to dethrone the current League of Legends king.
World #2 - KT Rolster B - The number 2 team in the world boasts a spectacular 12-2 record in the Champions Winter, with their star AD carry Score continuing to shine. Next week's epic clash against Najin Sword in the semi-finals will be one of the matches of the month.
World #4 - Azubu Blaze - Blaze, once the dominant LoL force in Korea, continues to look vulnerable, barely squeaking by Incredible Miracle in the Champions Winter quarterfinals after being down 0-2 in the set. They'll face their sister team Azubu Frost once again (tonight!) in one of the most highly anticipated matches of January. Can they extend their winning record against Frost (currently 7-3)?
World #5 - NaJin Sword - After struggling through November (they barely broke .500 with a 12-11 record that month), the Maknoon show has returned to form, complete with an "I'm Rengar and farming in your base at 8 minutes" moment, and advanced to the semi-finals of Champions Winter in convincing fashion.
World #6 - Taipei Assassins - After a disappointing showing at IPL 5, the reigning world champions took some time off and regrouped for the holidays. Like some of their other Asian brethren, they also decided to form a second squad, Taipei Snipers, with Mistake moving to support on that team. They've begun 2013 well, sitting atop the Garena Premier League tables. Their true test, however, comes in a week's time when the StarsWar League Season 2 kicks off.
World #7 - SK Telecom T1 - Famed e-sports organization SK Telecom officially entered the League of Legends scene by acquiring the team of former Azubu Blaze top-laner Reapered right before IEM Cologne. Their performance at Cologne, where they beat ex-Mousesports, Millenium, Meet Your Makers, and Fnatic on route to a first place finish vaulted them into the #4 spot in our algorithm, though they dropped a bit after a tough 3-2 win over Positive Energy in a StarsWar Hero Arena match later in December. Starting with next week's StarsWar League Season 2, they'll have another chance to prove that they deserve their high ranking against a plethora of quality teams.
World #10 - Azubu Frost - After squeaking by CJ Entus in the quarterfinals, Frost are now set for another re-match against their brother Blaze in the semis. Although they haven't looked the most convincing in their wins the past month, this match-up should be epic.
World #18 - Royal Club - Those who follow the Chinese scene have been recently singing praises about Royal Club, and for good reason. The Western world was introduced to them in December through their amazing performance in the IEM Katowice Asian Qualifier, where the squad blazed through teams left and right, with the help of Uzi, their 16-year-old wunderkind AD-carry. Now they have a chance to prove their hype in the StarsWar League Season 2, their biggest stage yet.
World #19 - Xenics Storm - Xenics Storm is the only team from the NiceGameTV LoL Battle (NLB) Winter group stages that advanced to the quarterfinals, beating Team OP in two convincing 2-0 sets (NLB is the second highest tier competition in Korea, and features teams that didn't qualify for Champions Winter), and thus breaking into the top 20. They'll have a tough test against CJ Entus in the quarterfinals next week, however.
World #25 - CJ Entus - CJ Entus, having posted mediocre results since their inception, surprised folks in December, exceeding expectations by first qualifying for IEM Cologne, and then beating CLG EU and taking a game off of Fnatic in Germany. Most recently, they stretched Azubu Frost to their limits in 5 gruelling matches in the Champions Winter quarterfinals.
World #33 - Positive Energy i-Rocks - Team WE's second squad improved drastically in December, boasting wins over Royal Club, OMG, Invictus Gaming 2, and even taking 2 games from SKT T1 in a best of 5 (although they still haven't won a match against Team WE). In late December, they decided to branch out on their own and split from the Team WE organization, renaming themselves to Positive Energy.
Unranked - Taipei Snipers - The Taipei Assassins organization officially formed a second squad on January 3, with MiSTakE moving from TPA to TPS' support role, NeXAbc on AP Carry, GoDJJ as AD Carry, Zonda as Top, and OhReaL as Jungler. While TPS won't be participating with the domestic Garena ProLeague competition, they'll be participating in international tournaments, starting with the StarsWar League Season 2.
Europe occupies 7 of the top 25 spots in the rating list. The landscape at the top of the continent has shuffled a bit since the last time we looked around Europe in early December, with Millenium and Copenhagen Wolves surging into the picture.
Teams of Note
World #3 - Fnatic - Fnatic ended the year on a high after significant struggles early in 2012. Their only losses in sets in December have been to Team WE and SKT Telecom T1. Their challenge now will be finding an AD carry that can fill Rekkles' shoes now that Riot has confirmed that he cannot be a salaried player in Season 3.
World #8 - Moscow Five - Things have been relatively quiet for the Russians since IPL5, with a mix of good (a 4-0 drubbing of Curse EU in The Siege grand finals, 2-1 over CLG EU at the Katowice Qualifier) and bad results (0-2 against Meet Your Makers in the 4players.de All or Nothing). They'll be looking to start 2013 with a bang at next week's IEM Katowice.
World #9 - Millenium - After losing in Cologne to eventual finalists Fnatic and SKT T1, the mash-up of former Eclypsia and Curse EU members went a tear, accumulating a 14-2 record, qualifying for IEM Sao Paulo and Riot's Season 3 Offline European Qualifier, and winning the 4Players.de All or Nothing 9.
World #13 - ex-Counter Logic Gaming Europe - Early December was relatively disappointing for the ex-CLG lads, placing 6th at IPL 5 and IEM Cologne, and failing to qualify for IEM Katowice. After a gruelling schedule in the latter half of 2012, they've taken some time off from tournament play since then in an effort to recharge and prevent burnout. They also decided to leave the CLG organization, and are currently in talks with other potential sponsors, with rumors of a possible Evil Geniuses signing.
World #14 - Copenhagen Wolves - December was a break-out month for the Wolves, compiling a 27-8 record, and winning the Eclypsia Christmas Cup. However, they've yet to show that they can consistently beat the best of Europe (they're 0-4 against Fnatic, and 0-3 against Millenium). They'll be hoping to keep the hotstreak alive in the Season 3 Offline Qualifier.
North America still remains behind the other regions: they occupy only 4 of the top 25 spots, and 0 of the top 10. That being said, the turmoil of recent roster changes in the top NA teams is now settled, and the season 3 qualifiers are just around the corner, giving a chance for one of the many amateur teams that qualified to break out into stardom.
Teams of Note
World #11 - Counter Logic Gaming - Although CLG has been top dog in North America for a while now, they've recently dropped quite a few matches during their hunt for a new support after the departure of Locodoco, with a mediocre 14-10 record since IPL 5. However, they recently finalized their support role by picking up Aphromoo from Team FeaR, and signed up LiNk115 as a substitute for season 3. Changes in their management structure signal a new beginning for CLG in 2013.
World #15 - Curse NA - Seemingly consigned to play Team FeaR in a tournament match every other day, the 2nd best team in North America is one of the rare teams to not suffer through recent roster changes. They've hovered around the same rating for a while now, finishing in the top 2 of every tournament they've entered since IPL 5.
World #24 - Cloud 9 (ex-Quantic) - December was a comparatively good month for the squad in terms of results, if not sponsorships, compiling a 27-16 record. They qualified for Riot's Season 3 Offline Qualifier in Los Angeles and managed to finally take a set against their nemesis, Curse NA.
What are your thoughts? Who are you rooting for in Season 3? Let me know in the comments!