Liga Latinoamérica’s champion, Team Aze, entered the 2022 Mid-Season Invitational as one of the least experienced teams in the entire tournament, with four of their five players having never competed at an international event. An 0-2 start in the group stage with losses to Detonation FocusMe and T1 is understandable and maybe even expected, but Team Aze’s coach Rodrigo “Yeti” del Castillo still believes in his team’s ability to rise to the challenge. Qualifying for the rumble stage won’t be easy for Team Aze, but if there’s anything the team loves, it’s a good Cinderella story.
“Last year, Team Aze qualified [for the LLA] in promotion from the second division. We had very little time to actually put this roster together, but made use of some imports with Park “5kid” Jeong-hyeon and Han “Lonely” Gyu-joon. Roberto “Straight” Guallichico, our support, is actually a top laner, but he grew really fast during the split,” Yeti explained. “Basically, we have this Cinderella story that no one in the LLA expected us to win, to be good, especially the first tournament. We were able to shut their mouths, you know. With really hard work and really good understanding and fundamentals of the game, we were able to put together really good synergy.”
Team Aze qualified for the LLA toward the end of 2021, but entered 2022 with an entirely new roster built around up-and-coming players like jungler Juan Dimitry “Dimitry” Hernández González. Mid laner Tomás “Aloned” Díaz Valiente had a wealth of experience from his time on Rainbow7 -- even playing at the League of Legends World Championship in 2020 -- but the team still trended younger and without high expectations. Team Aze started the split a bit slow, but eventually finished second in the regular season and qualified for the Mid-Season Invitational -- a process that Yeti believes will be replicated at this event.
Coach Yeti with Aloned and 5kid backstage at MSI. Photo by Colin Young-Wolff / Riot Games
“We are able to grow up a lot faster than we can in our home region. The game rhythm is a lot faster here, and every team is really good at something,” Yeti said. “You get to learn a lot from every single team every single day as long as you have a good mental attitude and don’t get tilted if you lose four or five games in a row. Eventually, you only get stronger by getting beaten up.”
Team Aze was never really in contention with T1, but in their loss against Detonation FocusMe, they displayed a strong understanding of their team composition and nearly clawed back a game from certain doom. If it weren’t for Detonation FocusMe’s huge early game lead, it’s likely that Team Aze’s Rumble would have taken over late in the game and rendered their enemies helpless. At the end of the day, a loss is a loss, but it’s better to show some fight than none at all.
“I think it was a lot of nervousness, a lot of inexperience dealing with really good teams and really good players that pressure you a lot more than we’re used to back in our region,” Yeti said. “I think it’s part of growing up. We need to get stronger from this. I was proud that even though the early game was hard and we were so far behind, we were able to stabilize and you know what -- it was a game.”
International events are an invaluable experience for everyone, but perhaps none more than teams from minor regions. Not only do these players get the chance to face a different level of talent, they get the chance to travel and see the world. It’s an eye-opening experience both in-game and out of game and that reality isn’t lost on Yeti.
Dimitry poses with the legendary Faker. Photo by Lee Aiksoon/Riot Games
“The culture, the food … everything is so different from what we’re used to,” he said. “This is the part where, only when you win, you get to travel and you’re able to learn from this experience and live life. This is something we are really grateful for. No matter what happens in this tournament, we’re really proud that we got here and that we have the opportunity to test ourselves and keep improving as a team and region.”
Not only is international competition important for the players in minor regions -- it’s also important for the fans.
“It’s a weird time zone, but everyone stays awake or wakes up really early to watch because they love Latin American representation in internationals,” Yeti said. “I’m really disappointed -- I know everyone expected us to start strong right from the get-go, but this is sports. Only champions are here and in this tournament so everyone is a threat. We acknowledge ourselves as a threat too and we’re not worried because we’re going to show that during the rest of the week.”
As Team Aze moves forward, their upcoming match against Saigon Buffalo is practically a must-win. A win against the Vietnamese side ties Team Aze at 1-2 with both Detonation FocusMe and Saigon Buffalo, giving them the most possible avenues toward the rumble stage. On paper, Team Aze isn’t favored against Saigon Buffalo -- who come from arguably the strongest minor region in League of Legends -- but Yeti & Co. are excited to compete with them on the day and remind everyone that they still have a chance to make some magic happen.
Lead photo by Colin Young-Wolff / Riot Games