GAM Esports and Saigon Buffalo at Worlds – How good is the VCS really?
While the strength of teams and entire regions are constantly evolving, it is especially hard to gauge the strength of the VCS compared to other leagues around the world. This is primarily due to the lack of appearances from the VCS / Vietnamese teams in large global tournaments.
VCS teams were forced to withdraw from 3 of the major global League of Legends events in the past 2 years; Worlds 2020, MSI 2021 and Worlds 2021. While the VCS had qualifying teams, they were unable to compete due to the country’s travel restrictions which prevent players from leaving and re-entering the country.
Caution for VCS skill ceiling after MSI 2022
The 2022 League of Legends Mid Season Invitational was the first time in two years we have seen a VCS team compete against top international teams.
GAM Esports had completely dominated the 2022 VCS Spring Season, going undefeated with a 14-0 record in the group stage. Due to the format of the event, GAM Esports had been directly seeded into the finals of the playoffs. They then proceeded to sweep their opponents once again, taking down Saigon Buffalo 3-1 in the finals. This earned them the top spot to represent the region at MSI 2022. However, in a surprising twist of events no one saw coming, GAM Esports had forfeited their qualification to MSI 2022.
GAM Esports had opted to compete in another event, the 31st Southeast Asian Games – Esports. This non Riot affiliated event had attracted various teams across South East Asia. Given the Southeast Asian Games had been hosted in Vietnam, GAM Esports likely believed its participation would gain greater exposure for the team. This decision paid off for them, with GAM Esports having yet another perfect run not dropping a single match throughout the Bo1 in groups, or Bo5 in finals.
Turning down participation to MSI 2022 allowed the Saigon Buffalo to qualify, the team who placed runners up in the Spring Season of VCS 2022. Despite being the runners up, the Buffalos did not let down the region, easily qualifying through the group stage. Their 4-2 record in Group A demonstrated while they were clearly behind top established teams like T1, they were able to easily defeat teams from the lesser regions. Unfortunately, their weaknesses against top teams from the larger regions had been apparent in the rumble stage, scraping some wins, but ultimately finishing 2-8 at the bottom of the leaderboard.
How strong is the VCS really?
As demonstrated by Saigon Buffalo, even the VCS runner’s up team had been able to decimate competitors from other minor regions. While the Saigon Buffalos fell towards top teams from major regions, they ultimately do not represent the top strength from the VCS. Not only was GAM Esports the strongest VCS team in Spring, they were leagues ahead of the others.
They were once again the champions of the VCS in the recent Summer Split. While less dominant than before, they still managed to take the top spot in the groups stage, and take down the Saigon Buffalos 3-0 in the finals.
GAM Esports as the VCS’s top team had been seeded in group C alongside Rogue and Top Esports. While it will be an uphill battle against two top 2 teams from the LEC / LPL, GAM Esports can’t be completely counted out. On the other hand, Saigon Buffalo after having a good run in MSI and throughout the VCS, they had been seeded with extremely tough competition; DRX, Royal Never Give Up and MAD Lions. This makes it unlikely for the team to make it past Play-ins at Worlds.
I still think, GAM is strong enough to make it out of Groups and even upset a team in the first stage of Knockouts. This might be the year the VCS makes a deep run in the bracket and finally show that Vietnam is back on the big stage.