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When the students become the masters -- the rise of MAD Team over ahq

ahq e-Sports Club vs INTZ e-sports at the 2016 World Championship - Group Stage at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco, California, USA on 2 October 2016. Provided by Riot Games

Taiwanese League of Legends has two symbols of success: Flash Wolves and ahq eSports Club. The former proved its worth at this year's Mid-Season Invitational and is currently the top dog in the LoL Masters Series (LMS), but the latter struggles to remain relevant and occupies last place in an increasingly competitive region. After dealing with roster issues last split and missing playoffs for the first time in LMS history, ahq has lost its chance to attend a fifth straight World Championship.

Conversely, tts former sister squad, now called MAD Team, is making waves in the LMS and is well-positioned to make a run at qualifying for the World Championship this year. Ahq is stumbling as one of the old guard, having lost its way, but MAD team closely resembles the red pegasus that was successful for so many years. MAD couldn't be any more different from ahq on paper -- and that's why it's successful -- but the style and spirit is very much the same.

Ahq's descent

A team generally doesn't make it to the World Championship four years in a row without doing something right, but ahq was arguably doing something wrong the last few years in favor of sustained qualification. Veteran players such as Liu "Westdoor" Shu-Wei, Chou "AN" Chun-An, or Xue "Mountain" Zhao-Hong had magical moments for ahq at the 2014 and 2015 World Championship, but quickly became less effective both domestically and internationally, failing at both the 2016 and 2017 World Championships.

Notably, ahq was also the only team to run the exact same lineup for the 2015, 2016 and 2017 World Championships. Ahq occasionally flirted with change, whether it was Wong "Chawy" Xing-Lei starting mid in favor of Westdoor or Wang "baybay" You-Chang starting in favor of Mountain, but largely committed to staying "good enough" to represent Taiwan. It was a fair approach given the shallow talent pool in the LMS -- and ahq did attend four straight World Championships -- but that sacrificed growth for short term stability. After another poor showing at the World Championship in 2017, change finally came, but it was arguably too late.

Ahq started this year in the spring split with a multitude of new faces in the lineup: Tsou "Wako" Wei-Yang, Liu "LBB" Ping-Hsin and Hsiao "Tuna" Yu-Wei. Wako was a free agent mid laner that recently departed Wayi Spider while LBB and Tuna were trainees promoted as ahq's new bot lane from within. Chen "Ziv" Yi and Mountain remained as veterans to keep things together, but the lineup still struggled to produce results.

Wako was a satisfactory replacement for Westdoor, but the new bot lane duo of LBB and Tuna failed to outperform the veteran duo of AN and Albis. Ahq wasn't able to play its game around bot lane without significant lane pressure and it wasn't long till ahq plugged Albis and AN back in, in hopes of patching that hole. Of course, the results didn't change and ahq ended the Spring season in sixth place -- a record low for the organization.

Summer followed a similar script as ahq continued to rely on the talents of old, slotting Westdoor into the jungle after longtime jungler Mountain left to China for Oh My God. As charming as it was, Westdoor failed to bring the magic to save ahq and it was unlikely anyone could have made a huge impact. Former Hong Kong Esports support, Hsu "Nestea" Bao-Yuan, did end up providing a brief spark with his entrance to the jungle late this Summer, but even that had its limit.

Ahq was outpaced by new domestic talent taking root and the advent of Korean imports, unable to procure new talent and unable to qualify for playoffs. Meanwhile, a new team in the LMS -- MAD Team -- placed third overall in the Spring Split and currently holds second place in Summer with players from ahq's promoted challenger team, ahq Fighter. Ahq not only lacks the talent to compete, but is watching its relinquished talent succeed under a new banner.

MAD Team's Rise

As previously mentioned, MAD Team originated from ahq's challenger team -- ahq Fighter -- that qualified at the end of 2018 Summer. In its current primary roster, Wu "Liang" Liang-Te, Hsiao "Kongyue" Jen-Tso, and Chen "Uniboy" Chang-Chu came from ahq Fighter, while the bot lane of Huang "Breeze" Chien-Yuan and Ke "K" Kai-Sheng were signed as free agents after departing Wayi Spider. Not much was expected from the roster at first, but the mashup of players proved to be an explosive concoction of young talent that matched the old style of ahq eSports Club.

In spring, Lien "Benny" Hsiu-Chi received most of the jungle time over Kongyue, but the team goal was very much the same: get Breeze and K ahead. Breeze and K's year-long experience as a duo served as the foundation for three wholly new rookies and their bot lane domination lifted the team to playoff dreams. MAD built up its style around collapsing on bot lane pressure, much like ahq back in the day, and took games off established units like Flash Wolves and J Team.

MAD was all about laning advantages in Spring and stunned Machi Esports in playoffs to earn itself third place in its first split at the highest level. The carry duo of Uniboy and Breeze was well-defined and the team thrived in sloppy skirmishes where it could out-skill the opponent. Unsurprisingly, the macro from MAD wasn't impressive, but the straightforward identity of a brand new team was refreshing.

MAD liked to fight and time and time again, it proved it was the best at it. The desire to fight should come as no surprise, given that the team's coach is none other than ahq's former support and analyst Tsai "Greentea" Shang-Ching, who always promoted aggression first, think later. Greentea's aggression is what changed ahq long ago in 2015 and he is doing it again for MAD.

Kongyue's integration into the jungle as a rookie only added onto this, augmenting the MAD identity and bringing a stronger early game awareness to really lock teams out in early skirmishes, much like Mountain did for ahq in the past. He's more of a carry jungler than Mountain was, especially favoring the Kindred, but the same approach is still there. His inclusion is what brought MAD to the next level its at in summer, second only to Flash Wolves in the standings.

The spirit of ahq

MAD Team sits near the top of the LMS standings while ahq occupies dead last. MAD Team is chock full of new talent while ahq is stocked up with the old. MAD Team is probably going to the World Championship this year and ahq isn't. MAD and ahq couldn't be any more different, but despite all that, the two are quite similar.

MAD has a slightly different flavor to it with a more traditional mid laner in Uniboy, as opposed to Westdoor, but its wins closely mirror that of ahq's during its heyday. Most importantly, MAD Team emphasizes teamfighting the way that ahq used to and that makes it especially exciting. MAD's core might be young and inexperienced -- as they showed at Rift Rivals -- but that also means there's a world of potential lying in wait.

As a relatively unproven band of young players, MAD Team is proof that there is still explosive talent to be found in Taiwan. The World Championship is closely approaching and while ahq won't be in attendance, MAD has a chance to start a new legacy with fresh faces that further the spirit of ahq eSports Club.