By Leonard 'OMO' Loh
As I walked to the check in counter at Changi Airport, ready to begin my holiday, I received a text message - “OMO, how long are you in Hong Kong for” it read.
2 days before the All-Star Event (ASE) began, it was confirmed that the Vietnam All-Star team which had so dominantly won the Garena All-Stars in Ho Chi Minh were unable to get their visas for the trip to Los Angeles to continue the string of Vietnam’s incredible performances on the international stage since MSI 2017. This was also when the 5 previously shortlisted replacement candidates (and 1 replacement coach) finally received official confirmation that within 48 hours, they were expected to be in Los Angeles as the new SEA All-Star team.
Representing Thailand were players Im ‘Patrick’ Jin-hyeok and Park ‘Jisu’ Jin-cheo. The only Vietnamese player who managed to get his Visa, Đỗ ‘Levi’ Duy Khánh, would still be making the trip and finally 2 players and a coach from the runner-up Singapore All-Stars roster completed the team; myself, Charles ‘Kra’ Teo and Joel ‘Dantiz’ Poon.
Barring Wang ‘Chawy’ Xinglei, we would be the first Singaporeans on Riot’s international stage representing our home country and region. Although this wasn’t quite Worlds, with Riot’s changing direction in making All-Stars more of a serious competition, the weight and magnitude of this was considerable and weighed on us throughout the tournament.
With the Singaporean and Thai players flying in just a day before the tournament, we were the last squad arriving. My first meeting with Patrick and Jisu at the airport and the ride over to the hotel was awkward to say the least. With the language barrier in the way and no one to translate, it was not the best start to the trip.
Since Kra and Dantiz took a later flight from Singapore (I came directly from my holiday in Hong Kong), we had time to settle into the amazing beachfront hotel Riot booked for the event. As we were checking in, we had our first glimpse of our competition as we watched the LCK players board the bus to Disneyland.
L: Street outside our hotel // R: View of the sunset from my room
With everyone assembled at the hotel, barring the Vietnamese superstar Jungler, we boarded the shuttle to the NA LCS Studio which was across the street from the Riot Games office where Levi had been practicing in NA Solo Queue for the last 2 days.
When we first saw Levi, he had earphones on and was immersed in a Solo Queue game. Motivated by his devotion, the other players took his lead and loaded into game themselves. We spent our first day in Santa Monica getting whatever Solo Queue practice we could before games began on the second day. Unfortunately, after just 2 games, Kra and myself began succumbing to jet lag. I vaguely remember falling asleep at our desks and staggering back to our rooms like zombies in the evening to try and catch up on some sleep.
As the team assembled in the hotel lobby after breakfast to wait for our shuttle to the NA LCS studios, we began attempts at team talks. However, once again due to the language barrier, this was extremely difficult to accomplish but from what little we did manage to sort out, we decided to test it out in a hastily arranged set of scrims.
This would be the first of three scrim sessions that we would have over the course of the 2 day Group Stages. We got brutally ran over in all three sets of scrims.
However, once we actually got into our first match versus one of the favorites for the tournament with their bootcamp prior to All-Stars and the eventual Champions in China’s LPL, the game was surprisingly even in the early stages with our own Singaporean Bot Lane even scoring a 2 for 1 Double Kill against Uzi and Meiko. The best part was listening to the simple communication system we had worked out prior to the game. Considering the language problems the players were suffering from, although tragic, was hilarious in retrospect.
With our relatively decent early game against the LPL, we knew there was a chance for us against North America and following that, Brazil.
As we approached the North America series, the players started opening up and speaking out with their own confidence rising amongst a team of complete strangers. As we drafted a simple to execute team composition with lots of crowd control, 2 tanks, a support Shen flex pick, a non lethality Marksman and a Lee Sin for Levi to pop off on - confidence was high as the draft played into exactly what we had planned for backstage.
With Captain Levi leading the charge with the full on dive composition, Southeast Asia took down North America in under 30 minutes. This for me, and most of the team, was the highlight of our trip. As an emerging region, with 2 part-time players from Singapore going up against one of the Major regions and taking them down on their home turf was incredible. Especially since for many of us, these were players that we watch play on Twitch with hundreds of thousands of other viewers (Kra learnt support from watching Aphromoo play).
Riding off the huge wave of confidence and adrenaline we got from beating North America, we came into the Brazil game highly confident. Once again the draft played into our pregame plan, although due to some mishaps and the early game power of Olaf, we fell behind early and had to play from behind to turn it around for a win.
With these 2 wins, Southeast Asia qualified for playoffs as the #2 seed from Group B, going up against the #1 seed from Group A in Taiwan’s LMS.
The mood of the team was extremely high as we actually made it to playoffs as a hastily thrown together squad with barely any practice and language barriers. We decided to close the day off with a small celebration at a steakhouse near our hotel. The steaks were delicious but so huge and filling that none of us could finish it, barring Kra who went on for seconds with lobster (the fat beef didn’t quite suit Levi’s palette, so unfortunately he only had a few bites).
From the moment we arrived at the studio for Playoffs, it was clear that the atmosphere had changed - there was an air of electricity and excitement that wasn’t quite there during the weekday games. It was also the weekend so the crowds were much larger than what we were used to during the Group Stage.
Going into the games, the team atmosphere was good as we considered that we had nothing to lose given the LMS’s amazing performance thus far, especially with their dominant performance against Korea’s LCK. We resolved to play our hearts out on that stage. Although the Taiwanese squad was the superior team and took us down in a dominant 2-0, we had a couple of moments where we showed sparks against the finalists of All-Stars 2017.
With our games being over, we headed over to Disneyland early on our last day in LA before heading out shopping (which left us exhausted and falling asleep in the studio during the LMS vs LPL Finals).
After the games ended, we made our way to the Riot Games After Party (where we spent the bulk of our time playing PUBG - Jisu was hands-down the best player). Just like that, our international All-Star foray was over and it was time for this impromptu team to go our separate ways.
Attaining 3rd/4th for Southeast Asia was a tremendous achievement for us and hopefully this serves as motivation or inspiration for the players at home that with hard work and perseverance, we can definitely aim to stand toe to toe with the best at the international level. Despite only having a few days with this rag-tag bunch, it's heartwarming to see how everyone worked so hard even though we were at such a disadvantage. I sincerely look forward to the day that Singapore can stand upon this international stage again and get to challenge these goliaths on our own terms.
The SEA All-Star team was recently on Reddit for an AMA. Feel free to read through to find out the answers to your burning questions: Has Levi gotten any offers yet? What's Kra's favourite thing about Reddit? Why did Patrick choose the name Patrick?