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Grand Finals Preview – Challengers Uprising Season One

After two months of intense competition, we’ve arrived at the last match of the first Challengers Uprising season. The teams competing for the $15,000 prize pool and 1,000 SGC Qualification Points have gradually thinned out — from over 30 teams in Open Qualifiers, 16 in the regular season, to just 8 at the start of playoffs.

With the end of the road in sight, two remain standing head and shoulders above the competition. Emerging as the circuit favorites from the start, the powerhouse teams 100 Thieves Next (100X) and ANEW Esports (ANEW) had relatively similar journeys leading up to the Challengers Uprising Grand Final. 

While ANEW struggled a bit in Group A and needed to play Polar Ace (PA) in a tiebreaker for first seed, they secured the win and cruised through an easy quarterfinal match against Dark Matter (SNDM). 100X’s reign in Group B was never contested, dropping only one game across seven Bo2s. Their quarterfinal match against Mirage Esports (MIG) followed suit, winning in 2-0 fashion like ANEW.

However, both teams faced heavy adversity in the semifinals. 100X were one game away from getting sweeped 0-3 by PA (in part due to the roster shake-up after Tenacity and Kenvi were promoted to academy), before Nxi delivered three carry performances in a row. ANEW stood on the other side of the narrative — building a quick 2-0 lead before almost getting reverse swept, reeling in the final win in a narrow five game series. 

The semifinal matches serve as a major narrative shift. With newfound struggles and large implications with 100X’s roster change, let’s jump into what to look out for in the Challengers Uprising Grand Finals.

ANEW Esports

With excellent results in SGC competitions thus far (2nd in LWL, 2nd in BIG, finalists with 100X in UPL), calling ANEW an inconsistent team sounds unusual. But once you take a closer look at their matches, it starts to make more sense. This isn’t to say that ANEW is a bad team — even on a ‘bad day’ for ANEW, they’re superior to almost every other team in the circuit, and frequently come up clutch during crunch time (most upset losses taking place during regular seasons). 

But with an exceptionally experienced roster (all five players having competed in at least NA Academy), the question of “why isn’t ANEW just running away with all the titles” emerges. Their series against FrostFire (FF) encapsulates it perfectly, and suggests what we may see on Wednesday. 

ANEW is an explosive team, with MikeYeung and Winter creating the most feared jungle-support tandem in the circuit. They constantly aggress and push early game leads, supported by 5fire in mid lane; whose own aggression builds on the map pressure created by MikeYeung and Winter. While Rodov and Shoryu serve as the consistent ‘rocks’ that ground the team (with Shoryu offering late game carry potential as ADC), the concern for ANEW lies within the jungle-mid-support dynamic. 

In their first two games against FF, ANEW dominated with back-to-back stomps off of strong early game picks like Pantheon (flexed between Winter and 5fire). When the players get rolling, the games can truly feel over by 10-15 minutes; getting consistently accosted by MikeYeung and Winter is without a doubt not fun. 

However, the aggression can quickly turn into volatility when ANEW fails to capitalize on early leads. In game three against FF, the constant trading of kills only ramped up Jinx’s (piloted by Lobozz) late game quicker, and combined with questionable mid-late game decision making for ANEW’s first loss in the series. And game four was a total disaster with MikeYeung, 5fire, Shoryu, and Winter ALL racking up seven deaths each by game end. 

ANEW is a team that lives and dies by their early game playmaking. Watch for MikeYeung’s aggression and pre-15 minute skirmishes supported by 5fire and Winter map movements. If all else fails and they reach a contested late game, then it’s Shoryu’s time to shine. 

100 Thieves NEXT

100X has a huge question mark swirling over the team currently. They’ve been the de facto rulers of the amateur scene so far, but the caveat is that their success mainly came through the Tenacity / Kenvi / Copy / Yeon / Auto iteration. With Tenacity and Kenvi leaving for 100 Thieves Academy on July 21st, the team had to quickly replace its top side, electing to go with FallenBandit for top lane (their head coach too) and Nxi for jungle. 

Although players have changed, 100X’s direction moving forward is most likely remaining the same. Despite being a rookie to the competitive scene, and needing to come in as the jungler (arguably the most dynamic role out of the five), Nxi has slotted in fairly well. With a similar champion pool to Kenvi’s, Nxi has continued on with the carry jungler (Lee Sin, Graves, Nidalee, etc.) style 100X grew used to playing with. 

The biggest change comes in the top lane position. While 100X’s head coach FallenBandit is certainly no slouch (two years of academy experience and won the 2019 TCS), his low game count recently is a significant concern for the team. On top of needing additional time to return to form, FallenBandit’s recent champion pool (Ornn, Malphite, Shen, etc.) has been more facilitative compared to Tenacity’s larger array of carry options.

And even though Copy and Yeon have had strong performances on champions like Zoe & Azir and Ashe & Ezreal respectively, they’ve had the most success throughout the circuit in the secondary carry roles. In 100X’s pre-roster moves matches, their early game pressure and playmaking funneled primarily through Kenvi in the jungle.

As a result, what originally served as a powerful overarching win condition now could be the shackles that bind 100X’s chances of victory. Unless Copy and Yeon step up (and FallenBandit delivers more amazing performances on Kennen), 100X’s hopes will lie in Nxi: their rookie jungler. He has shown glimpses of greatness against PA, with spectacular performances on Nidalee, Kha’Zix, and Lee Sin; but concerns remain with 100X’s recent 1-2 loss against MIG in LWL. 

With the recent roster changes, 100X’s overarching win condition puts the blinding spotlight on Nxi to deliver consistent excellence. Unless Copy and Yeon increase their early game pressure, the onus is on the newcomer to propel 100X to mid-late game when the rest of the team steps up. 

The bottomline prediction: ANEW wins 3-1

The matchup to watch: MikeYeung versus Nxi

At the end of the day, I believe the team with more experience (both in general, and with each other) will prevail. While 100X’s chances of winning are far from slim, needing to put heavy responsibilities on Nxi could cause the team to falter against a formidable duo in MikeYeung / Winter. It’s likely that Nxi and Auto’s lack of cohesion playing together could cause issues, and 5fire’s tendency to counterpick (while Copy is frequently drafted blind and/or utility champions) in mid lane will only exacerbate 100X’s early game disadvantage. However, with the low sample size of actual statistics and VODs on the new 100X roster, I have a feeling that they might have a few surprises for ANEW… 

No matter which team you end up rooting for, this is a match that you don’t want to miss! 

The Challengers Uprising Grand Final will start at 7:00 PM ET on July 29th, broadcasted live on Twitch via our partner Esports Stadium Arlington:

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