Is this Japan's year to make a mark on the international stage?
The 2021 League of Legends World Championship is right around the corner. Teams like DAMWON KIA, T1, FunPlus Phoenix and MAD Lions are at the forefront of discussion as fans and analysts try and figure out how the biggest event of the year may go. Everyone knows teams like this have high expectations due to their domestic performances. But there may be another name that is looking to break records this year. DetonatioN FocusMe ("DFM"), hailing from Japan's LJL.
While they're far from being considered a contender for the Summoner's Cup, DFM will be looking to do what they or any other Japanese team hasn't done before. Make it to the main event of a World Championship. DFM has been to the region's Worlds representatives for a majority of years now, but hasn't been able to truly make an impact. Sure, they've found bright moments, however, they and their region still have yet to break through past the Play-ins.
Could this be the World Championship where they do? This DFM iteration is arguably the best roster the LJL has ever put together, and after another season of dominance, the players will certainly be putting their all into smashing records and proving the LJL can stand up internationally.
DFM's journey to Worlds 2021
Truthfully, DetonatioN FocusMe's journey to Worlds 2021 was a rather expected one. They absolutely dominated the LJL Spring Split, dropping only two games in the regular season and handily defeating V3 Esports 3-1 in the Finals. This qualified them for the Mid-Season Invitational, though sadly they were put in a group with reigning World Champions DAMWON KIA and LCS powerhouse Cloud9. As a result, they made an early exit from that event. Though it is important to note they did defeat Cloud9 once, as well as almost took down DAMWON in one of the matches.
Moving into the Summer Split, Yang "Gaeng" Gwang-woo replaced Kazuta "Kazu" Suzuki on the starting lineup. Both have been with the team for extended periods of time but even after a stellar split, DFM felt the need to change things up. At first, it didn't seem like the best move, as they lost three games straight out of the gate. But then the team really clicked. After that, they went on a 13 game win streak right up into the playoffs.
In the Summer Playoffs, DFM was once again poised as the heavy favorite. However, their first best-of-five against Rascal Jester went the distance, with DFM ultimately losing in Game Five. Fortunately for them, they were able to crush AXIZ in the Lower Bracket and get their rematch against Rascal Jester in the Finals. Here, DFM showed what they're truly made of. In a convincing 3-0 sweep, DFM cut down Rascal Jester and claimed their spot at Worlds 2021.
DFM's star players
A team is only as good as its players, and DFM has some definite star talent. Without a doubt, the first name that comes to mind when thinking about DFM is Lee "Aria" Ga-eul. The man in the mid lane. Where wildcard region players typically aren't of the caliber to stand toe-to-toe with the best players in the world, the same can't be said about Aria. He boasts a champion ocean and works incredibly well with jungler Mun "Steal" Geon-yeong to roam around the map and find plays with his team. But he's no slouch in lane either, having the mechanics to dominate with picks like Irelia, Akali and LeBlanc. He receives a lot of resources and always uses them to the fullest. He's definitely the player to watch.
Along with Aria, top laner Shunsuke "Evi" Murase is another exceptional player. He's had impressive performances on the international stage before and is back to hopefully do so again. He, like Aria, receives a good deal of resources from his team. Especially as Steal, and sometimes even Aria, have a tendency to gank him and get him ahead. While he might have champion pool issues, he's a very aggressive player who loves to go for solo kills. If he gets a lead, he can really pop off.
Finally, we come to ADC Yuta "Yutapon" Sugiura. He's been with DFM since 2013 and is actually the longest-tenured player to a team, only behind T1's Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok. Yutapon has incredible carry potential himself, though with such strong solo lane players, he's started to take more of a back seat. He has a pretty decent champ pool and can adapt for his team to play whatever role he needs to in the bottom lane, whether it's a weak-side Ezreal or hyper-carry Aphelios.
A tough road ahead
Their journey to the World Championship wasn't too difficult. But DetonatioN FocusMe's Play-in stage certainly will be a challenge. In their group, Group B, are NA's Cloud9, who are the favorites in the group. Behind them are the Unicorns of Love and Galatasaray Esports, both of whom are big threats. The Unicorns seem to always have crazy strategies that can take other teams by surprise while having good players to back them up. On the other hand, Galatasaray is carrying the hopes of the Turkish TCL, who is known for producing teams that can take hard shots at even the world's best teams. Lastly, Beyond Gaming dethroned PSG Talon, whose roster is consistently at international events, so that can be a close matchup too.
It's practically a given that Cloud9 will make it out of this group. The organization regularly makes Worlds and has incredible veteran talent that cannot afford to be underestimated. With the caliber of players they have, it would be a massive upset if they didn't. While nothing is set in stone at the World Championship, it would be foolish to bet against Cloud9 taking first place in Group B.
Considering that, it's a race for second or third place for DFM. UoL and GS may be their stiffest competition, as both teams are real competitors for that spot. However, with this roster, DFM has shown brilliance. Their ability to work together, and especially the strength of the solo laners, means they're not a squad that teams can look at and think "free win". It's far from that. The rest of the competition will be fierce for them, there's no doubt there. But DFM is poised to have perhaps the best Worlds in their region's history.
Is this the year?
The question on every fan's mind is: can DFM make its mark on the World Championship? And can they finally break through to the main event? History would say no. They've been the region's premier team almost every year but have never broke through. Without any promising previous international results, it's hard to have full confidence that this year will be any different. On top of that, in "best-of" series, they've had trouble adapting on the fly. This could be a critical flaw if they make it to the knockout best-of-fives.
Despite that, when looking at this roster, there's a lot of to be excited for. They've displayed domestic dominance in both splits and have great players. Aria in particular has been in the conversation not just as the best player on the team. Or the best player of the season. But as one of, if not the best player the LJL has ever produced. He has so much impact on games when he can roam around with Steal, so if he's able to play his game, it's easy to see DFM taking clean wins.
At the end of the day, all LJL fans can do is hope and rally behind DetonatioN FocusMe. The team will have their work cut out for them, but this appears to be the strongest squad the LJL has ever sent to the Worlds stage, so there's hope in abundance. With everything said and done, there's a great chance that this truly can be their year to shine. All that's left to do is wait for the action to begin on October 5 and cheer DFM on!