When you talk about the esports genre that are MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena) games -- you know, the ones played primarily five-on-five on a map battleground where the objective is to destroy the opposing team's base -- a few clubs pop up in the discussion. You have the ongoing dynasty of SK Telecom T1 in League of Legends, Team Secret's newly built "super team" that failed to make an impact in its first offline tournament in Dota 2, and Cloud9, the current world champions of Heroes of the Storm.
But only one organization, MVP from South Korea, has a wide-reaching hand in all three games.
SKT T1 might be the kings of Korean esports; MVP, however, have a different title -- the kingmakers of Korea.
A Brief History
The team started out with the boom of StarCraft II more than five years ago, and the club succeeded while many of its competitors failed in that space. A dozen or more teams began or attempted to start in Korean esports around 2010 and 2011, but almost none of them are alive today. They either burned out as SCII's popularity stagnated and money influx plummeted, or were run out of business when the big corporation teams from KeSPA set its sights on the smaller teams' star players.
MVP was one of those small fish in the early days. Even now, when it has wildly successful teams in numerous titles, you could consider it one of the tiniest standing clubs in Korean esports. Instead of letting itself get bought out or picked apart, MVP has always been the quickest organization in Korea when it came to embracing new esports.
When League of Legends hit South Korea, it invested in two teams. When Nexon and Valve started to pay attention and filter money into a fledgling Korean Dota scene, MVP took one of the first seats at the table. The same thing occurred when Blizzard began making headway in Korea with Heroes of the Storm, as MVP quickly scooped up top amateur talent to create a pair of squads.
So, for a relatively small organization, how has it been able to juggle so many teams in a variety of games and succeed?
Well, it's the same reason why MVP is still around and a lot of the teams created around at the same time are not. Plainly stated, the brains behind the operation are some of the best in competitive gaming.
When MVP was in possession of one of the best League of Legends teams in the world, MVP Ozone, at the end of 2014, the organization decided to sell the team off to one of those giant competitors, namely Samsung. The rumored amount for the sale of Ozone and its sister team MVP Blue was around $500,000, and it allowed the club to take a step back from the world's largest esport and focus on the growing ones around it.
Dwarfed by overall funds, MVP wins through timing and building the perfect team. The organization was the one to scout and sign one of the top three players in League's history, Cho "Mata" Se-hyeong, who led the upstart Ozone team to a title in his rookie season. Although he's now in China with the LPL's Royal Never Give Up due to the selling of the League of Legends teams at the end of 2014, Mata and the rest of the talent MVP picked up in 2013 are still making waves in the scene today.
Last Man Standing: MVP Phoenix
In Dota, MVP isn't a small fish or a big fish in the Korean scene. It's the only fish.
Valve attempted to make Dota 2 a major competitor in the esports market in South Korea. But despite all the money pumped into it, it didn't scratch League of Legends. Whether it was the darker, realistic art that turned away the fans or the simple fact League was sitting comfortably in the lead, Dota 2 had a small rise of attention when Nexon and Valve paid attention to it and collapsed following their involvement.
Currently in Korea, MVP is the savior for Dota fans in Korea. The big KeSPA teams never took interest in the poorly trending game, and the other teams that cropped up during the money-infusing period quietly died off when everyone saw the writing on the wall. At the end of 2015, the Korean Dota 2 server, which was a graveyard, was closed down. The committed professional players from MVP had already switched over to China's server before their home server closed, testing their mettle against the best players from the rival region.
With everything against MVP Phoenix -- money, lack of interest from its home country, no new amateur talent rising up -- the team has been able to push itself into the conversation as one of the best teams currently in the Dota 2 world. While other teams are signing with big sponsors and doing insane roster swaps, Phoenix is practicing with its fellow members to become the top team entering the International this summer.
No player represents the current mentality of Phoenix greater than its ace in the mid lane, Kim "QO" Seon-yeop. One of the most mechanically gifted players in all of Dota 2, he's worked himself from the bottom rungs of the professional world to one of the scene's current spotlight players. Next to OG's Amer "Miracle-" al-Barqawi, QO is the player that has had the biggest breakthrough season in 2016.
MVP Phoenix has been on an upward trend since the 2015 International, where it surprisingly finished inside the top eight. From there, Phoenix got top six at the MLG World Finals to close out 2015, fourth place at the most recent Major in Shanghai, and has won two premier tournaments in a row with Dota Pit Season 4 and WePlay Season 3.
Heading into the Manila Major, you could make a joke that only about 10 or so people in Korea play Dota 2. Yet, against all odds, MVP Phoenix, built by the hands that created MVP Ozone, one of the greatest League teams of all-time, is heading into the Manila tournament with five players who have a chance to win it all.
The Unbreakable Fortress: MVP Black
MVP Black, the organization's Heroes of the Storm team, is a stark contrast to Phoenix. Since its introduction as a team, Black has been considered one of the best Heroes teams in the world. HotS as a title isn't close to League of Legends in terms of dethroning the giant from its grip on the country, but Blizzard's diligent work with the title means its future in Korea is much brighter than Dota's. The game is on OGN, the country's cable video game channel, and the worldwide league structure results in consistent big tournaments for MVP and other Korean teams to participate in.
After recently winning the Global Spring Championship without dropping a single map, the current state of Heroes of the Storm has been dubbed the "Black Age." MVP Black possesses some of the best talent on the planet individually, and the team's chemistry along with top-notch work behind the scenes has given it an advantage over the competition.
Black's dominance of Heroes is almost unheard of in competitive gaming. Before losing a map to arguably the world's second strongest team, China's eStar Gaming, in a Chinese tournament, the reigning global champion was on a historic 41-map win streak. MVP would come back in the series to win 2-1 and then take its next series in the playoff stage 3-0. The club is currently on a 45-1 run in its past 46 matches.
45-1. 41 games in a row. Complete and utter dominance. Outside of Ninjas in Pyjamas' legendary 87-0 map record in Counter-Strike, MVP Black's 41 game run might be the greatest team run in esports history.
To put things into perspective: MVP Black did drop a map to eStar, but it was only after the team had to travel from China back to Korea for a domestic league match and then back to China when Black dropped a map to another team. That map was against one of the best teams in the world, and MVP swiftly returned the favor by winning the series and blowing past its opponent in the next match.
If MVP Phoenix is the rebel fighting against the world to succeed, then MVP Black is the steely, unbreakable fortress untouchable in the current age of Heroes.
"Against all odds, MVP Phoenix, built by the hands that created MVP Ozone, one of the greatest League teams of all-time, is heading into the Manila tournament with five players who have a chance to win it all."
A New Hope: MVP reenters League of Legends
Coming full circle, MVP, having already succeeded in Dota and Heroes, decided to return to its MOBA roots this past spring season with a new League of Legends team. However, in true MVP fashion, the organization didn't buy one of the amateur teams floundering at the bottom of the standings. MVP did what it always does -- and that's scout for unpolished talent in the online world, sign them to the team, and bring the best out of them.
The new MVP League team consists of a mash-up between relative rookies who never got a chance on their former teams and amateur players who never played in the professional leagues before. In its first season as a minor league team in Korea, MVP finished in second place behind rookie supernovas ESC EVER and qualified for the summer season of the LCK, beating a team it could have possibly bought in the off-season, Kongdoo Monster.
The current MVP team is weak. It's without an identity like its brothers in Phoenix and Black. The team made it into the top echelon of Korea, but its current play lacks behind even the less consistent teams in the league. Unlike ESC Ever with golden rookies Lee "Loken" Dong-wook and Kim "KeY" Han-gi, MVP are completely plain -- a well put-together squad without much fanfare behind any of the players.
Come this summer, MVP will get back to work, molding the new team to hopefully match the group of players that comprised MVP Ozone.
And if anyone complete such a feat, it would be MVP. The quiet maestros pulling the strings meticulously behind the stage, shadowed by the large corporations who conquered and dissolved all of its former peers.