From pups to wolves - Flash Wolves' road to MSI

Members of the Flash Wolves wait backstage. Provided by Riot Games

A bit of history

The League of Legends Masters Series (LMS) made huge strides in 2015, going from perennial group-stage dropout to a realistic threat, making it out of groups at three straight international tournaments. In all of these instances, the team was generally not favored, but for the first time in what seems like forever, a Taiwanese representative seems like it might defy that trend.

Most see Flash Wolves as a team that should progress to the knockout round at this year's Mid-Season Invitational.

The LMS and Flash Wolves have both come a long way in the year and a half since Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macao seceded from the Southeast Asian Garena Premier League (GPL). The GPL had its time in the sun in Season 2, as the Taipei Assassins procured that season's World Championship title and third place at the famed double-elimination IPL 5. However, it lacked any significant depth past the Taipei Assassins, and Taiwanese teams still dominated the GPL. There was a glimmer of hope for the region when resources an influx of resources made for vast improvements, but that proved to be merely a honeymoon period.

Those newfound resources would dried up due to Riot's seeding system, which only accounts for the GPL and not the more competitive Taiwanese League of Legends Nova League (LNL). The league's skill ceiling began to stagnate as a result of the lack of competition in the GPL, caused by region-based slots keeping the more competitive Taiwanese teams away from another World Championship.

Flash Wolves was even denied the opportunity to play in the GPL, despite being stronger than numerous Southeast Asian teams. The eventual implementation of the LMS in 2015 would prove to be a real boon for Taiwanese League of Legends and Flash Wolves, as it sought to redeem itself after being rejected by the GPL at the end of 2014.

Flash Wolves did more than redeem itself -- it became the best team in the LMS and posted a stunning 19-2 record on its way to earning the first seed in its first LMS split. A freshly age-eligible Huang "Maple" Yi-Tang and new addition from solo-queue, a Rengar god, Hung "Karsa" Hau-Hsuan, catapulted the young team to the top. Unfortunately, the team was met with the unexpected opposition from a surging ahq e-Sports Club in the 2014 Spring LMS Finals and was promptly dismantled 3-1.

After all that time on top, it was put down with hardly a whimper in response.

Since then, Flash Wolves struggled to defeat ahq e-Sports Club, unable to overtake it the entirety of the following Summer Split. However, Flash Wolves did manage to keep pace and attend 2015 World Championships alongside its fellow countrymen, making it out of groups with ahq.

Now, several months removed from the World Championship, Flash Wolves is the one that has come out on top in the LMS Spring Split, having defeated first seed, ahq e-Sports Club, 3-0 in the LMS Spring Finals.

Growth in Spring Split

It wasn't easy for Flash Wolves. It still struggled against its rival during the regular season, extending its losing streak against ahq to 11 before finally taking a game at the end of the season. Its 0-2 opener against ahq was disappointing to say the least, as ahq's star top laner, Chen "Ziv" Yi took down opposing top laner, Yu "MMD" Li-Hung, in the 1v1 and snowballed the victory on his own merit.

Maple had his own standout performance during the series, easily out-laning Wong "Chawy" Xing-Lei and Liu "Westdoor" Shu-Wei, but it wasn't enough to keep the team afloat. Yet again, Flash Wolves would be unable to deal with ahq, with the skill discrepancy too large.

Among other things, the team finally made attempts to improve its line-up, with the retirement of Chou "Steak" Lu-Hsi and attempted inclusion of Huang "Breeze" Chien-Yuan at AD carry.

It's well-known that the core of Flash Wolves' roster at the Season 5 World Championship dated back to the original Season 3, lightning-in-a-bottle, Gama Bears. Moving on from years of synergy including Hsiung "NL" Wen-An and Steak was not so simple. While the team was theoretically improving in its respective positions, Hu "SwordArt" Shuo-Jie and Karsa were expected to lead for the first time while Maple was the only consistent factor in Flash Wolves' games.

Disconnect plagued Flash Wolves early on, as it attempted to assimilate its new players. MMD and Breeze were clear improvements individually, as they performed well, but it frankly didn't matter. Flash Wolves lost and fell to its lowest low, losing 0-2 to newly promoted team, XGamers, in a stunning upset. It looked the worst it ever had, with Karsa fumbling numerous ganks and SwordArt being downright invisible.

It was tough enough for Karsa and SwordArt to adjust to primary shot-calling duties for the first time, much less assimilating new members into the roster. That hardly stopped the Wolves though, as the 0-2 loss to XG seemingly set off a new initiative. Finally settled on a starting roster featuring NL over Breeze, the team hoped to stabilize its play. The puppies subsequently picked it up and only lost three more games in the Spring Split as the roster began to develop a new identity for itself in 2016.

Flash Wolves began to put the "Flash" in its team title, becoming one of the stronger early game teams in the league. Karsa and SwordArt finally found their footing as the best one-two punch roaming duo in the league. They became known for forcing tower dives and driving just about any advantage home, leading the league with an average win time of 30:42. Meanwhile, the team's first place counterparts, ahq, was playing a much slower game and limping through the early game, pulling out wins with superior team-fighting and late game macro.

The style began to stagnate for ahq while Flash Wolves innovated its play, continuously taking steps to overcome its longtime rival.

Dethroning ahq and moving on to MSI

Flash Wolves eventually made its claim to second place and was the second seed in the gauntlet, only having to win one series before having the opportunity to face ahq e-Sports Club. Flash Wolves has a history of choking in gauntlet situations, but this time it was poised and prepared, taking a 3-0 set against Machi in the second match. The Wolves looked terrifying and for the first time in a long time, it looked ready to tear apart ahq.

Despite this, it was still coming in with a historical 5-10 record against the team. Considering ahq's dominant regular season, Flash Wolves was still very much seen as underdogs.

It didn't take long for it to prove that perception wrong. It dominated ahq in nearly every facet of the game. SwordArt and Karsa controlled the pace of the series, stifling any invasion into their jungle and rendering Xue "Mountain" Zhao-Hong ineffective in his aggressive invades.

Karsa flexed his ability to play carry junglers like no other in Taiwan, as he outclassed Mountain multiple times on Elise, Graves, and Nidalee. Maple proved to be amazing in this series as well, completely outclassing Chawy and Westdoor, putting together a KDA of 38 while dying only once in the series. Flash Wolves, as a team, stacked 50 kills to ahq's mere 16 in a dominating 3-0 route, with all wins being 35 minutes or less.

After a year of chasing ahq and being stuck in its shadow, Flash Wolves is finally the king of the LMS and is looking forward to MSI.

The wolves are coming into the Mid Season Invitational proving it's the best the region has to offer. The players are notably on hot streaks, with Maple having the best split of his career and with Karsa taking over the current jungle meta incredibly well, having always favored carry junglers over tanks, with Nidalee and Lee Sin being his most famous champions. SwordArt has even leveled up his game, roaming and creating picks on Alistar and his beloved Thresh.

The team has a decent profile for MSI, with the meta favoring a combination of tank top laners and carry junglers, with the main carry force coming from the mid lane. MMD has been known to be unstable, but in a more forgiving tank meta, it should be of little issue internationally. Maple has also had a fair amount of strong performances internationally and shown he can duke it out with some of the best.

The Flash Wolves is not only set up with the possibility to break out of groups, but potentially have its best chance ever at being a finalist at an international event. But Royal Never Give Up, G2 Esports, and Counter Logic Gaming won't be put away so easily so it's up to Flash Wolves to show if it can do the necessary damage.