North America could be good this year
How the WNS could win the first WNS Major
North America has sucked for a very long time. When I first started watching esports at 13, our only hope was Cloud 9’s Counter-Strike team. That team, which would go on to compete and eventually win internationally, so transcended American expectations that it’s players are national heroes. Half the roster were given carte-blanche to form their own Valorant teams, the other half are Shroud, Sean Gares, and N0thing who will be full time streamers until they die.
My point is, I understand the skepticism when I say “North American Wild Rift looks good right now”. When I predicted on my podcast with WCS caster Omo that North American teams would “get out of groups and be a credible threat internationally within the next two years”, he laughed. After Tribe Gaming’s losses at the Horizon Cup, Wild Rift seemed like business as usual in North America. Tribe Gaming had dominated the region, and players had seemed content with their level of play coming into the international tournament where they went 0 - 4. Some fans had even thought that Tribe would win the tournament.
That’s the script we usually follow. One team dominates the region— through mechanical talent, or a modicum of team coordination— and then gets eaten alive by teams that move faster and play better on the international stage. It’s a pattern that’s been hard coded into our region. And it’s why I think this year will be different.
Tribe Gaming returned to North America and got beaten by Sentinels, their first loss ever in competitive play. Sentinels have made some upgrades, but they didn’t win through mechanics. They beat Tribe on the map. That alone would be a good sign. Any team out drafting and challenging Tribe’s map state is a major step up for the region. The real victory came later in the day though, when Immortals won a clean finals victory over Sentinels. Again they won through quicker map timings, better macro play, cleaner ganks. The things that matter so much more in international play.
I knew Tribe Gaming would lose at the Horizon Cup after I reviewed a single day of Summoner Series. I watched in horror as they arrived first and uncontested at all eight drakes they saw across three matches. There’s no way to prepare for international competition when the difference maker in your region is “arriving first at dragon”. The considerable individual talent of their roster didn’t matter in the face of better coordinated teams.
These expectations meant that I left Horizon on a somewhat positive note. Tribe hadn’t gotten out of groups, but I didn’t expect them to. They had shown me that our players weren’t worse than any other region. Their game wins versus TSM and a weakened SBTC proved it. The problem was mostly tactical, and primarily experiential. It wasn’t reasonable to expect Tribe Gaming to counter KT Rolster’s hard farming and clean team fighting. Rolster had been practicing against the best teams in asia all year. Tribe hadn’t been playing the same game until they got to Singapore.
The worst possible outcome of the first WNS qualifier was that Tribe Gaming would return and dominate. Had they picked up where they had left off, with an easy win against a blindered region, I would have dreaded the next season of competitive play. Instead North America proved across two qualifiers that they’ve been working the problem. Teams are playing faster, contesting objectives better, and drafting smarter. Sentinels took exciting risks with [Redacted to save my solo-q experience], Immortals quick ganking style mirrored that of the best asian teams, and Cloud 9 demonstrated impeccable teamfighting in their mid-game.
Between the upstarts, and a sure-to-be-hungry Tribe Gaming, North America looks competitive. Immortals are the provisional favorite, but by no means a clear one. With just one tournament to go on, they’ve got everything to prove. New additions to the ladder from the second qualifier may even enter the conversation, with a rejuvenated YAWN and the somewhat raw talent of Reflexion lurking at the lower half of the bracket. The only thing that can go wrong, is a favorite. If Immortals or Tribe win the tournament without dropping a game, North America might have reentered the death spiral that has consumed so many of it’s competitive scenes. I’m betting against that.
I think that this year, North America will be able to make good on the talent of it’s players against international competition. I’m rooting for everyone in the WNS, and betting on the region this year. If I’m wrong, we’ll find out this weekend when the double elimination bracket begins.
I’m going to hide this plug for my new Wild Rift podcast with Omo below the divider. It’s the web design equivilent of Aurellian Sol in a bush. The podcast launched here on EsportsTj.com, but it can be found on Google Podcasts, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and most other podcast apps.
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