The fifth nexus of the series fell. KT Rolster, a League of Legends team of superstars that failed to win anything of note in 2017, howled and celebrated in their booth. They were freshly-minted 2017 KeSPA Cup champions.
In the opposite booth, bottom lane duo Kim "PraY" Jong-in and Kang "GorillA" Beom-hyeon turned to each other with wry smiles. Top laner Kim "Khan" Dong-ha wrinkled his nose and smirked. A sheepish Han "Peanut" Wang-ho buried his face in his hands before laughing and spinning his chair. Only mid laner Gwak "Bdd" Bo-seong looked upset about the loss. The rest of the team appeared disappointed but excited about the year to come and the team's place in the spring split of 2018 League Champions Korea.
"We weren't satisfied with being runners-up and getting second place," GorillA said. "But since Peanut joined our team rather late, we only had two or three days to play as a team. We were able to show our best performance that we could have showed."
Peanut's recent arrival and messy but exhilarating KeSPA Cup finals loss was a hopeful nod to Longzhu Gaming's future. It was also overshadowed by a point repeated by fans since Longzhu announced Peanut was joining: this team is the next ROX Tigers.
"Of course it's great to play again with an ex-teammate," GorillA said. "But this 'ex-Tigers' has been following us a lot for the past year."
The initial ROX Tigers lineup was a phenomenon -- a shocking but brilliant surprise in a new competitive landscape. Some members were written off as has-beens (PraY). Others were labelled as talented players who would never be able to reach their potential due to one mishap or another (Song "Smeb" Kyung-ho). The Tigers were the LCK's "Replacements." They entered the league with modest expectations and when they disbanded in 2016-17, they had cemented their legacy as the South Korean team of the post-exodus LCK world. SK Telecom T1 may have won most of the trophies, but the Tigers defined the professional panorama like no other team. There will never be another team like the 2015-16 Tigers.
Like any popular cultural touchstone, their near-mythical status only grew. OnGameNet defined an entire LCK season with all five former Tigers in different uniforms fading into starry silhouettes. Fans kept track of which ex-Tigers members had to go through their former teammates to qualify for the LCK finals, the Mid-Season Invitational, another LCK finals, then the World Championship.
Throughout Longzhu Gaming's rise in the summer of 2017, the narrative shifted slightly. This new iteration was dubbed the "second coming of the Tigers" because duo PraY and GorillA managed to guide and lead yet another talented core of young players successfully. Top laner Khan was compared to Smeb; mid laner Bdd was compared to Lee "KurO" Seo-haeng.
"I'm just trying to think of [Peanut] as a new Longzhu teammate rather than an ex-ROX Tigers teammate," GorillA said.
What we want when we say we want the Tigers back is that feeling of watching the team, a team that is irreplaceable. Time only marches forward. PraY and GorillA weren't even the same bot lane duo in 2015 that they were in 2016 while on the Tigers, and both have changed despite sticking together on Longzhu. Similarly, Peanut has transformed as a jungler and a player during his time on SKT.
"When I first saw Peanut when he joined ROX Tigers, I just thought, 'This kid is full of energy,'" PraY said. "He's really a fun guy and an enjoyable person. After he played a year on SKT and after he joined Longzhu, I thought that he matured a lot. He became very calm and learned how to control his emotions during the game."
With these words, the veteran AD carry captures the essence of why framing Longzhu as the next Tigers is a slight to the current iteration of the roster and their achievements. Each and every one of these players has changed since ROX, and will continue to change. In fact, PraY is counting on that for the team's continued success.
"I'm not sure if the other players are on the same page as I am," PraY said. "But I personally thought that we had a great result this year. Even though we grouped up right before the summer split, we ended up winning the entire split and we went to the World Championship. I just thought that -- since we had this performance with only practicing a certain amount of time -- if we had one more year, we could do so much more."
It's one thing to be nostalgic for the old Tigers, but it's another when that nostalgia pigeonholes the current Longzhu lineup rather than exploring the team's current strengths, weaknesses and storylines. Judge the new Longzhu as Longzhu, Peanut and all.