MSI 2023 Preview: Golden Guardians

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MSI 2023 Preview: Golden Guardians

North America’s biggest surprise of 2023 is looking to continue the miracle on the international stage.

There have been multiple Cinderella stories in League of Legends in the last year or so. DRX last Worlds, BDS and BLG’s runs in their respective leagues and Golden Guardians in North America. Golden Guardians’ story during the 2023 Spring is one of the most exciting ones in recent LCS history. Three storied LCS veterans who were seen as washed up and past their primes. A former LCK mid lane prodigy who never reached what was promised, and an internationally known jungler looking to prove himself in a major region.

In the end, Golden Guardians fell short of winning the title but still impressed every LCS fan, becoming fan favorites along the way. Even with the eventual loss to Cloud9, everyone will remember the story of this Guardians roster. The pop-off performances from the mid-jungle, Licorice powering up during playoffs or Stixxay’s resurgence peaking with one of the boldest hero plays LCS ever saw.

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Trevor “Stixxay” Hayes of Golden Guardians is seen onstage during the opening ceremony of the 2023 LCS Spring Finals at the PNC Arena on April 9, 2023. (Photo by Reece Martinez/Riot Games)

A team more than the sum of its parts

Despite an underrated roster move of bringing Gori over, Golden Guardians were heavily disregarded in all of the preseason power rankings for the LCS Spring. And it wasn’t all that unfair as the other four players on the roster didn’t have a good Summer. The improvement every player showed once Gori joined the team after Week 3 was very noticeable. River and Gori quickly became arguably the best mid-jungle duo, especially in the early game. Other teams couldn’t win a 2v2 against them and River was everywhere on the map with his ganks and counterganks.

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The bot lane had mixed results in isolation. They found some 2v2 kills but also had some head-scratching moments. But once they got out of lane, Stixxay was one of the most reliable carries in the league while no other support was on huhi’s level when it came to his decisiveness in big moments. While this duo has a preferred playstyle, they were still the most flexible bot lane in the league. Huhi played anything from enchanters to obscure picks like Rell or Amumu and Stixxay was the only ADC willing to flex Tristana. Although they didn’t play much of the current meta picks like Jinx/Aphelios and Thresh or did not find too much success on picks like Zeri, which might give them a draft disadvantage at MSI.

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Choi “huhi” Jae-hyun of Golden Guardians competes during the 2023 LCS Spring Finals at the PNC Arena on April 8, 2023. (Photo by Marv Watson/Riot Games)

One big talking point for Golden Guardians during the split, and probably the biggest worry for their fans for MSI, has been the top lane. Licorice started the split playing the worst League of Legends he played in his entire career. He was a no-factor in most GG wins like the infamous zero kill participation Lee Sin top game, or even worse actively detrimental to their success in some games. He stepped up in a big way during playoffs, picking up carry picks like Fiora and Gwen, punishing the other teams for their unwillingness to play toward top lane. But recency bias is a thing and the most recent memory of Licorice after the split is his consecutive bad performances in the Finals, which especially hurt Golden Guardians as they might be able to win Game 1 with a little help from him. If GG gets that version of Licorice in a tournament with the likes of Bin and Zeus, they might have a tough time ahead of them.

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They already had an unfortunate draw for the Play-in, having to play the harder 1st and 3rd pool opponents in BLG and GAM Esports. But they were always going to need one of GAM or PSG for a chance to make it to the Bracket Stage. NA always had a decent record against non-major regions, even in tiebreakers, and Golden Guardians will need to keep up with the tradition if they want to show their split was not a fluke.

Golden Guardians roster and players to watch

  • Top lane: Eric “Licorice” Ritchie
  • Jungle: Kim “River” Dong-woo
  • Mid lane: Kim “Gori” Tae-woo
  • Bot lane: Trevor “Stixxay” Hayes
  • Support: Choi “huhi” Jae-hyun

Golden Guardians found success in the LCS playing through almost all of their players. Each player in this roster was at some point hero of a game, even Licorice who was criticized heavily and deservedly for his bad performances in the regular season. But looking more carefully, there are two players we can say are the heart of this team, River and huhi. The star jungler is the one who leads his team during the early game and gives his carries room to actually do their job, while the veteran support is the shot caller and the main go button during nearly every late game situation.

For more of our coverage during MSI 2023, follow us on ESTNN.

MSI 2023 Preview: Golden Guardians
Rohat Dicle Kılınç
Rohat is a writer mainly focused on the League of Legends esports scene, and an LCS hopeful.