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The last day of the year is often a time for reflection on those that preceded it, and that is no different in the world of esports. Despite the continued shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic looming over the industry’s collective head, plenty of momentous occasions gave fans something to cheer for in 2021. From League of Legends to Counter-Strike: Global Offensive — from in-game to real life — let’s take a look back at some of the top esports moments of 2021 (in no particular order) before getting ready to make more memories in 2022.
Kirill “Boombl4” Mikhailov proposes after major win
After a hard-fought win over G2 Esports to claim his first Counter-Strike: Global Offensive major trophy, Natus Vincere in-game leader Boombl4 decided to push his luck even more by proposing to his girlfriend back home, live on stream.
— Upcomer (@Upcomer) November 7, 2021
The proposal drew a roar of support from the PGL Major crowd and a shocked expression from interviewer James Banks.
“Oh my!” Banks said. “Well, that is a stage to do it on.”
Boombl4 later confirmed that his girlfriend accepted his proposal on Instagram.
— Declan McLaughlin
EDG Worlds Win
The 2021 League of Legends World Championship brought a lot of surprises in the group stage, namely the mysterious collapse of tournament favorites, FunPlus Phoenix, and a last minute substitution for Fnatic. After the quarterfinals, the tournament looked all but over, with DWG KIA poised to become the second-ever back-to-back world champions with a strong possibility of going completely undefeated along the way.
But T1 weren’t keen on letting DK steal away a Worlds achievement that they themselves had never unlocked. In an incredible series, T1 took two games off the Korean super team before falling 2-3. On the other side of the bracket, Gen.G and EDG played a sloppy — though exciting — series that left fans predicting another 3-0 final for DK. After all, almost nobody expected EDGE to make it there, much less perform well against the team that looked nearly unbeatable.
Then, on Nov. 6, EDG showed up like they never had before and defeated the defending champions 3-2 in possibly the best-ever Worlds final. After the League of Legends Pro League looked broken and defeated the entire tournament, EDG broke their curse and played 15 grueling matches in the knockouts to win the whole thing. In doing so, they made history winning one of the most entertaining Worlds ever in the most watched series of all time.
— Parkes Ousley
KRÜ Esports and Sentinels square off at VALORANT Champions
If there is one thing fans will remember about the first ever VALORANT Champions tournament, it’s the multiple, massive upsets that occurred throughout the event. Out of all the teams that surprised fans and enemies alike, one made headlines by making it all the way to the semi-finals: KRÜ Esports. That said, the first win to start that crazy underdog run came in the group stage, during the final elimination match between KRÜ and Sentinels.
At the time, despite looking as beatable as their last time in Berlin, Sentinels were still favorites to make it to knockouts in their group. They lost a nail biter to Team Liquid, meaning they had to beat KRÜ to qualify. At the same time, KRÜ eliminated Brazilian team Team Vikings but had to beat Sentinels to make it to the knockouts.
When the match started, it looked like business as usual for Sentinels on the first map, Fracture. After winning it 13-7, they started Haven up 8-4. Yet, off the plays from Juan Pablo “NagZ” Lopez Miranda and Roberto Francisco “Mazino” Rivas Bugueño, they fought back to win 13-11. On map three, Sentinels repeated history by finishing the first half up 8-4 again. And somehow, KRÜ fought back again, and off of a triple kill by Angelo “keznit” Mori, beat Sentinels 13-11 for the second map in a row. Considering he fact that this eliminated a former Masters champion and led KRÜ to a deep run, it was one of the best underdog stories of the year.
— Michael Czarnowski
The Minnesota RØKKR reverse sweep Toronto
This was possibly the best comeback esports has ever seen. The Toronto Ultra and Minnesota RØKKR matched up in the grand final of the Stage 5 Major, the last event before CDL Champs. Minnesota came into the match cold as ice after not playing a series the entire day while Toronto was red-hot, coming off two huge wins to get to the final.
After four maps, it looked like that momentum Toronto built would be enough to propel them to their second Major win of the season. The Ultra went up 4-0 in the best-of-nine series, leaving RØKKR fans in the Esports Stadium speechless. The Minnesota roster wasn’t as downtrodden as one might expect, though. Veteran player Dillon “Attach” Price kept reiterating to the roster to not give up, saying, “It’s never chalked.”
With that phrase in mind, the RØKKR went on a tear, winning the next four maps in the series to tie things up at 4-4. The ninth and final map became the most important of the entire 2021 season. Raid Search and Destroy decided the winners of the Stage 5 Major, and Minnesota’s storybook ending came to fruition. They bested Toronto in the map, taking the series and the Major in miraculous fashion.
— Joey Carr
The Shanghai Dragons win the Overwatch League
The 2021 Overwatch League season was the final one played on the first iteration of Overwatch. The season was fittingly tumultuous, but one also widely regarded by fans as the best year of competition so far. While previous seasons were stymied by rigid metas and pandemic uncertainty, the 2021 season saw huge improvements in both competitiveness and production quality.
Teams competed fiercely all year, with nearly every team experiencing the typical highs and lows. But one team, the Shanghai Dragons, were firmly on top for the whole season. The Dragons were dominant once again and determined to redeem themselves after a disappointing end to the 2020 season, something they achieved with relative ease. The Dragons swiftly stormed through season playoffs to claim the championship — the final championship before the league officially moves to Overwatch 2.
— Bonnie Qu
Mang0 wins Smash Summit 11
Joseph “Mang0” Marquez has been a top Super Smash Bros. Melee player for nearly 15 years and was recently named the greatest Melee player of all time. Yet, throughout his whole career, a victory at Beyond the Summit’s prestigious Smash Summit invitational series eluded him. That changed with his historic run to first place at Smash Summit 11 in July.
Mang0 lost to Masaya “aMSa” Chikamoto in the gauntlet phase, then lost to Justin “Plup” McGrath in round one of the main bracket. Nevertheless, the Melee god, known for his deep losers runs, managed to put together what was perhaps his best losers run to date. He reached grand finals after beating Kurtis “moky” Pratt 3-0, Edgard “n0ne” Sheleby 3-0, Cody “iBDW” Schwab 3-1, Plup 3-1 and Juan “Hungrybox” DeBiedma 3-1.
Mang0’s run climaxed against Zain “Zain” Naghmi, who had been the definitive No. 1 player during Melee’s online era. After going down 0-2 in the first set, Mang0 did the unthinkable and pulled off a reverse 3-0, winning two games as Fox against Zain’s Marth on Final Destination. He won the second set 3-2 as well to claim his first Summit title, win the first in-person major of 2021 and receive the biggest prize payout in Melee history.
— Dylan Tate
Karmine Corp vs KOI
Despite the European Regional Leagues (ERLs) being a step below the prestigious League of Legends European Championship, European communities continue to support their local leagues and teams, bringing their presence to global eyes. When Karmine Corp burst into the French Ligue Française de League of Legends in 2021 spring, they didn’t just win 1) the most stacked ERL and 2) the ever coveted EU Masters title, they also won the hearts of the French fans and exploded in relevancy and popularity. Co-owner and the face of the team, Kamel “Kameto” Kebir showed the ERLs and perhaps the world what was possible by bringing his already big fanbase into the LFL and expanding it even more.
But while 2021 did end with Karmine Corp’s historical back-to-back EU Masters win, the real treat for European and LoL fans worldwide was yet to come. The honor went to the team put together by Ibai “Ibai” Llanos, one of Spain’s biggest streamers and online personalities, and Gerard Piqué from FC Barcelona. They revealed the name of the team in a special show match against Karmine Corp: KOI. Their new Twitter account gained more than 200,000 followers in less than two hours.
Three simple letters, two huge fanbases from France and Spain, one spectacular show match.
Karmine Corp already had huge hype behind them going into this. After all, they managed to secure the services of Martin “Rekkles” Larsson. Bloody hell, right? But even then, Rekkles was not the star of the show that day. KOI’s resilience allowed them to clutch a crucial 2-1 win over their French counterparts amid their cheering home fans. Not to mention the peak viewership of that match was 477,279 viewers, according to Esports Charts. The significance is only magnified when compared to the LCS spring finals which peaked at 415,731. This was a landmark for European LoL and esports as whole. It’s telling the world that the ERLs are not merely a tier two scene, and there’s more to come.
What’s more, there’s a second leg of this journey: Karmine Corp will play KOI again in a second show match, this time in Paris on Jan 8, 2022. After the hype of their first encounter, maybe the second match will be one of Upcomer’s top esports moments in 2022?
— E.G. “Megalodontus” Kant
Rocket League Championship Series goes global
Well, sort of. Not all countries in the world are eligible to play in the Rocket League Championship Series, but the reveal for RLCS season 2021-2022 came with the long-awaited announcement that Asia, the Middle East and Africa are finally allowed to take part in premier Rocket League events. The announcement, which also came with several other much-requested features such as the return of LANs and home and away decals for a large number of teams, was met with a level of hype not often seen in the Rocket League community. Twitch chat alone during the announcement spoke volumes.
I've been waiting for this moment for 6 years ❤️
— SRG Ahmad (@AhmadRL_) September 15, 2021
After RLCS Season X, fans started to become disgruntled. With open letters to Psyonix and articles highlighting the frustration, fans and players wondered what was going to keep the RLCS relevant and evolving. Psyonix blew the fanbase away with that single announcement, which would finally see known star players from new regions such as Saudi Arabia’s Ahmad “Ahmad” Abdullah and Khalid “OkhaliD” Qasim, and Japan’s Shogo “ReaLize” Ikeyama, compete in the RLCS.
The Middle East immediately impressed at the first international RLCS LAN in two years at the RLCS Fall Major in December by reaching top eight, defeating various veterans in the process. Asia, meanwhile, failed to take a win — but to compete in the RLCS was everything ReaLize had dreamed of for years.
— Michael Kloos
S1mple wins his first major
Boombl4’s proposal was only one thread in a PGL Major characterized by the culmination of different storylines. Above all else, Oleksandr “s1mple” Kostyliev, CS:GO’s undisputed GOAT, finally got his major. He was the first to hoist the trophy, surrounded by thousands of screaming fans and the best team the Ukrainian sensation has had behind him to date.
In spite of being the phenomenon that he is, s1mple had never achieved the pinnacle of competitive CS:GO — winning a major — until 2021. His career is defined by close calls, getting shut out of the major in the grand final multiple times. But there was absolutely nothing that could stand in the way of the current iteration of Natus Vincere, who are on the road toward an era that may one day rival even Astralis’ reign of terror.
For years, CS:GO fans have thought of s1mple as one of the best to ever play the game. That reputation was marred only by the absence of a major trophy. S1mple’s development as a player and a person were on full display in the leadup to the PGL Major. He brought his gameplay to new heights, a level few could even conceive of, and finally shed the monkey on his back when Na’Vi defeated G2 and made history.
— Coby Zucker