ggChronicle continues our “Twelve Days of eSports” series with a comprehensive profile of the Russian powerhouse Moscow Five. Every day between now and the World Championships, we will release one article highlighting each of the teams going to Los Angeles. Don’t forget to check back daily for our new content, and be sure to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
If this were 1972, America would be afraid that Russia invented a new super-weapon. In Moscow Five, the Western World have a precise, efficient, and deadly foe. With militaristic discipline, their players practice hard, make an effort to reach out to fans, and treat League of Legends as their profession. In short, they are the elite of League of Legends eSports.
Moscow Five made a name for themselves before they earned their moniker. Their legendary Empire play, named after the team’s previous sponsor, caught the public’s eye as they eliminated the well-established SK Gaming in the Intel Extreme Masters: Kiev Qualifiers. Most notably, Team Empire aroused Moscow Five, a gaming organization created in 2001 that sponsored competitors for Counter-Strike 1.6, WarCraft 3, FIFA, and Defense of the Ancients. Moscow Five promptly signed the team and entered IEM Kiev with a banner that League of Legends players would learn to fear.
Only recently inspiring nightmares, the squad’s inception dates back nearly two years. Alex Ich, Genja, and Darien played together under the MTG tag but never reached prominence due to a lack of practice. Genja and Alex Ich moved on to different squads. After failing to qualify for IEM: Kiev in a first attempt, Alex Ich and Genja decided to part with their team. Genja decided to recruit Darien, while Alex Ich suggested frequent ranked game partner GoSu Pepper for the Support role. GoSu Pepper, in turn, recommended Diamondprox. Acquiring Diamondprox was a gamble due to his relatively low (1800) Elo for a professional player, but he catalyzed Moscow Five.
Since their explosion onto the scene their strategies have served as the gold standard. While the big plays impress, it should not be forgotten that these players are all incredibly sound mechanically. A closer look at the aforementioned Empire play reveals that the team was massively ahead in creep score. These skills define the M5 legend.
Moscow Five enters the Season Two World Championship as the favorites – no team has better odds. Considering that M5 does not have a ton of experience outside of their own region, but they have met new challenges and have absolutely dominated.
A Good Year
In their past five major LAN events Moscow Five recorded four first-place finishes, only failing to take the gold at Dreamhack, where they lost to CLG.EU.
In comparison, their online performances have been lackluster. In the ESL Major Series Season X, they took third place losing to EloBlade . In the Elite of Europe, they took third, beating TSM. In the ESL Major Series Season IX, they took second to x6tence and in the Corsair Vengeance Cup they took second to CLG.EU.
Moscow Five have a bad reputation in online events; they have been criticized for not taking them seriously. Indeed, many fans have expressed outrage at their perceived troll picks, and likewise teams have felt disrespected. There may be an innocent explanation, as Alex Ich explained in his interview with Duowan LOL translated on reddit by vizhi:
“We just [practice really weird things for] tournaments, because we think that scrims are never played [seriously]. And you can’t bring anything new to [LAN] tournaments until you [try] it [elsewhere].” [edited for clarity]
This argument makes perfect sense as teams tend to try fringe tactics in practice matches, or play very rudimentary to avoid giving away innovative strategies.
The Darker Side
Alex Ich’s explanation for their apparent trolling, above, holds some weight. For those more prone to doubt Moscow Five’s intentions, there are incidents that back a more devious belief.
In the IPL 4 Qualifiers Moscow Five had an outburst against MonoManiac (~1 hour in) wherein Alex Ich and Diamondprox insulted their opposition’s intelligence and told them less than politely to be quiet. For most players, it would be obvious that the “LOL” spammed in chat was an instance of ParadoXical laughing at himself. But Moscow Five was dealing with high ping, in a high stress situation, and there was a gap in communication. Moreover, M5 comes from a background where talking in All-Chat is considered unprofessional.
Shortly after the incident, they released a video from the team, apologizing and repenting for their actions. For the most part, they have remained true to their word and no such outbursts have occurred since. While some individual players have histories of a bad attitude, the same could be said most other professional teams. Importantly, they kept their vow to improve their behavior, winning them adoration from numerous fans and respect from professional teams.
“The way to kill other [heroes] so fast is: you see hero, you kill hero. It’s not special.”
This quote, attributed to Moscow Five’s Genja, downplays the importance of their strategies. They constantly tweak their game with favorable results, but their mechanical prowess is a constant. Every tournament, they have a new champion, strategy, or plan to confuse their opponents.
In Kiev, Moscow Five debuted the aggressive counter-jungling that forever changed the competitive scene. The idea was not new or revolutionary but they used it to unparalleled effectiveness and devastation. They introduced the concept of a full-force, hostile takeover of the enemy jungle. They squat the opposing jungle and dare their enemies to evict them. They expanded this strategy in Hanover by allowing Genja to hold the bottom lane alone with an early Blue Buff on Urgot. Meanwhile, GoSu Pepper’s Alistar roamed with Diamondprox, allowing them to wreak havoc.
Their strategies have evolved into an unparalleled use of jungle resources – their own, and their opposition’s. They tend to simultaneously pick up the two major buffs, and other professional teams follow suit.
Most recently, Moscow Five have started to use as many Guardian Angels as they can. This is the natural progression of the go-to defensive item following the Quicksilver Sash nerf. It is a good item and it suits them. Moscow Five has the tendency and capacity to outplay their opponents in team fights, especially those that are drawn out. With Alex Ich summoning Zilean as one of his staples, it is not impossible that we could see a five-Guardian-Angel-Yorick-and-Zilean combination for nigh-unending, epic battles.
Top Lane – Eugene “Darien” Mazaev
Darien has earned himself significant consideration as the best Top Lane player in the world. He has historically been known for his stellar Shyvana and Gangplank play and has expressed affinity for resourceless champions. Gangplank received significant nerfs, and Darien took it to heart, saying, “pirate was [nerfed,] so was mustache.” He may have mourned over the weaker Gangplank and Shyvana — who also received a number of nerfs following IEM Kiev — but Darien did not miss a step, despite his lack of a mustache.
He is creative in his picks and effective in his choices: he pioneered Fiora and Wukong in the competitive scene and has turned matchups in his favor with the use of Elixirs of Fortitude. His Shen, however, has become a must-ban against him, as he has shown how effective Trinity Force is in allowing Shen to do Phreak-ishly large amounts of damage. He is 5-0 as Shen in LAN tournaments, as referenced by this this impressive infographic.
The perception of fans is noteworthy, but the highest form of criticism and compliment comes from your opposition. Darien may be the only one to have forced a professional player to swap roles, as he did to SK Gaming’s Kev1n, referenced in a dignitas article:
You recently switched from top to AD and have now gone back to the top lane. What was it that made you want to change to AD and after trying it out what made you miss the top lane?
Kev1n: To be honest I changed from top to AD because of one reason and that is Darien from M5. I was so demotivated because I lost every single lane vs. him so hard that I could not stay at top anymore. Some weeks after I switched to AD, I realized that Darien isn’t that unstoppable as I thought before, I realized that I could beat him after this break and I kind of missed the top lane feeling. Just to be on his own 1v1, to be careful of junglers etc.
Darien manages to consistently dominate his lane, which draws aggression from the jungle and middle lane, leaving him free to storm the opposition’s jungle. A large part other teams’ success in the Worlds will be neutralizing Darien. Opposing teams cannot hope to beat him outright or counter-pick his vast pool of champions but they must do their best to contain him in the top lane.
Middle Lane – Alexey “Alex Ich” Ichetovkin
Alex Ich has often been considered the face of Moscow Five. Originally, the team — first Empire, and then Moscow Five — was considered his team. He remains the ambassador for the team as he is the only one that is comfortable speaking English.
He also earned the right of being the face of the team through his stellar play. Alex Ich has expressed an affinity for tankier AP champions such as Mordekaiser, Ryze, and Galio, and has amassed massive creep scores as all of these champions. More recently, he has picked up champions such as Ahri, Janna, and Zilean in the Middle Lane. The latter champion was not usually picked in the European scene, but brings utility that AP players trend towards. Zilean’s ultimate allows for the same sort of extended team fights that Moscow Five has been favoring with the use of multiple Guardian Angels.
Despite his vast pool of champions, Alex Ich remains faithful to the classics:
Duowan: Which AP champion do you like the most?
Alex: Ryze I think. As soon as champ doesn’t have skillshots and got lots of dmg, he will be my favourite
His love of Ryze distinguishes Alex Ich from his Top Lane – Darien loves Lux for the exact opposite reason: she is entirely reliant on skillshots. This is Alex Ich’s way, wherein he tends to simplify things and keep the appearance of humility.
He reiterated a statement attributed to Genja on reddit when he said, “see hero, kill hero.” Though his simplicity and humility are endearing, strategy and thought is core to the group. Moscow Five has appeared to be the only team consistently running plays, following strategies, and have long been following a rigid practice schedule. Moreover, most of the team, including Alex Ich, include Chess in their top hobbies. And while Alex Ich does not have much time for Chess as he works on building a family, his opponents will continue to worry about how many steps ahead he is.
Lately, the team has shifted from being Alex’s team as other players of Moscow Five have started to take the limelight.
Jungle – Daniel “Diamondprox” Reshetnikov
Diamondprox shines in Moscow Five’s spotlight due to his stellar performances. He won MVP honors both at IEM Kiev and the Season Two European Regional Finals, calling himself a great counter-jungler rather than a great jungler. In Kiev, he revolutionized the game by his aggressive counter-jungling and has always recognized that any sort of aggressive strategy revolves around his entire team supporting him.
As the most recent addition to M5, Diamondprox limited himself to a small pool of champions. Adept at Lee Sin and Shyvana in the teams first showings, he did not show much variety. He has since picked up a few champions but his reflex has remained the same: pick fast and sustainable junglers who can build incredibly tanky and make their presence known around the map.
Most recently, he has been sporting Udyr in the jungle to a great effect. He has mentioned his lack of comfort with champions such as Nautilus and Skarner but wields them when necessary. Thanks to his combined team’s skill, you never see more than one ban towards Diamondprox. Whether it’s Darien’s Shen, Alex Ich’s Ahri, Ryze, or Karthus, or Gosu Pepper’s Sona, there simply are not enough bans to go around.
While his formative tournaments’ domination with Shyvana merited bans, there is no doubt that he has been perfecting his trade in more champions. Contenders to the prize will no longer have the luxury of a single ban to protect them from Diamondprox. He may counter you in the jungle, but he learned well – in Soviet Russia the jungle counters you.
The Bottom Line, or Lane
Moscow Five’s bottom lane is by far one of the most interesting and versatile combinations in the professional scene. Despite the fact that they have brought to the table a plethora of innovative strategies, there are certain things you can count on the lane. As SilSol has become synonymous with running Heal/Ignite on the North American servers, so too should a nickname be attributed to Moscow Five’s adherence to having Ignite on GoSu Pepper and Heal on Genja.
There are undoubtedly advantages to a bisected Heal/Ignite combination, but Ignite on the support means that they are more likely to steal kills. It will also likely scale slower as supports tend to fall behind in levels. Moreover, this often leaves the team without an Exhaust, which is the best scaling Summoner Spell. With the downsides this brings, Genja remains safer than most other AD carries, and he has continued to run Heal long after it had fallen out of popularity.
To add to the mystique of the lane, the players tend to rarely agree with each other. GoSu Pepper is known for his aggression in lane while Genja prefers to remain passive. They often have differing opinions on how their matchups should be played. Yet, even with conflicting personalities and strategies, they consistently get positive results.
While each of the Summoners have two champions they’re renowned for, they have shown incredible variety in their compositions. They single-handedly brought Urgot to the forefront — which eventually resulted in his nerfs — by giving him Blue Buff in the finals of IEM Hanover, allowing him to go solo in the Bottom Lane as GoSu Pepper roamed around with Diamondprox. They have used almost every competitive AD carry, including AD Kennen.
While this pair originally did not get the same fanfare as the rest of the team, Gosu Pepper’s Sona has become a character of legends, and they have matched up favorably against every bottom lane they have faced.
AD Carry – Eugene “Genja” Andryushin
Genja, the AD carry, is certainly the least-praised hero of Moscow Five. His play is often flawless, and he makes use of any lane advantage he can get. When he does not, he farms to prepare for the late game.
In Season One, he reached 2.3k Elo playing only Ashe. While it is not uncommon to see him lock her in even now, he has evolved, and shows impressive skill with Corki and Ezreal. He also played both Urgot and AD Kennen in the competitive scene at a time where their viability was questioned.
The criticism of his passivity is largely unwarranted, but Genja’s preference for Heal and defensive items buttresses the impression. This AD player often favors the purchase of an early Zeal on Kog’Maw or Ashe, which grants him extra movement speed in addition offensive stats. He is also one of the only AD carries to diverge from the usual path of buying Berserker’s Greaves as he has historically purchased Ninja Tabi, Mercury Treads, and even Boots of Swiftness.
There is no room for questioning his strategy: his results speak for themselves. He does exactly what is expected from an AD carry – he plays safe, he picks up kills where he can, he avoids dying. Over the course of Moscow Five’s LAN performances, he has maintained the best kill to death ratio of his team.
The question leading into the Season 2 Championships is not “How well will Genja do?” in the Bottom Lane but “Who will we be seeing him dominate with?”. He is likely to use a standard champion from his repertoire and just as likely to bring something entirely new to the biggest stage in League of Legends.
Support – Edward “GoSu Pepper” Abgarian
GoSu Pepper hails from a long history of MOBA play but has found a home in League of Legends. He tends to be part of the main cast of his team’s bigger plays, and has a growing reputation as a kill stealer because of his use of Ignite and his frequent use of a high-damage Sona.
He comments on his favoritism of the latter champion:
Before GoSu Pepper became enamored with Sona, he popularized support Nunu. A perfect synergy for Genja’s Ashe and Kog’Maw play, M5’s support uses Blood Boil to accelerate the late game progression of said champions.
To complement his unorthodox aggression, GoSu Pepper tends toward non-traditional builds. He will rush a Heart of Gold to increase his survivability, and has been known to purchase Kage’s Lucky Pick as a second Gold Per 10 item. More and more frequently, he turns that Kage’s Pick into a Deathfire Grasp to make his Crescendo and Hymn of Valor combination that much more potent.
GoSu Pepper’s Sona will likely be a high priority ban against Moscow Five – an impressive feat for a support player on a team of dominant players.
Alex Ich has gone on record stating that only Moscow Five can beat itself. While their historical performances seem to provide evidence to that fact, some would argue that CLG.EU has their number. Moreover, Moscow Five does not appear to be invulnerable in online tournaments. Then again, neither do any of the top teams at present.
There are a number of wildcards in the Season Two World Championships and anything can happen in these short series. Nothing teams have done over the course of Season Two matters anymore. Almost every team in the finals has the opportunity to increase their tournament winnings by a factor of ten. All that matters is strategy and a consistent execution. Unfortunately, many of the teams have limited experience against each other. Moscow Five has mentioned their concern about the unknown Korean teams. And it is human nature to fear the unknown.
It remains true that M5 would be remiss to overlook the American teams. Nothing so dramatic as the Miracle on Ice need happen to dethrone the Russians. Moscow Five does not have the record or experience that the 1980 Soviet Club did when they went to play at Lake Placid, but they do carry themselves like professionals amid amateurs. They are the favorites, and they fear other regions over the USA, but the Americans once again have home ice. They have a lot riding on their victory. So before crowning Moscow Five, you should ask yourself: do you believe in miracles?