Another Run at the Championship: A Look At The Defending Champs So Far

TeJaun RiChard 4/23/2021

We all stood witness at the last UPL Grand Final as Illinois State University (ISU) defeated Revival in what was considered by many to be the biggest upset of the last split. Given the nature of their win and the expectations going into the series, it’s no surprise that some people would leave the finals wondering if they’d be able to keep up the pace going into the current split, whether or not their win was a fluke, and whether or not they’d be able to go for back-to-back wins here in the Upsurge Premier League.

Well, I don’t know much about the finals. They’re still a long way away. However, the defending champs look as dangerous as they’ve ever looked as of right now, week three.

As it currently stands, ISU is undefeated this split, sporting a 3-0 series record and a 6-0 game record. But today I’m not here to tote around their win/loss record and dangle it in front of your faces. I want to dive a bit into just how they got there so that hopefully you can see just what makes them so terrifying going into the rest of the split.

Illinois State University vs. Area of Effect Brady

ISU isn’t really a team known for mercy, and they have a strong grasp typically on how to gain leads, exploit weaknesses, and shut you out of the game before you have a chance to really do much for yourself or your team. This spelled doom for AOE Brady going into this series, who was in the unfortunate position of having to substitute their coach, Richard “Draxyr” Yuan in for their jungler, Kyle “Clam” Bautista.

Now, let me first preface this by saying that I know nothing about Draxyr outside of the fact that he’s the coach, but I would imagine that him subbing in would be a downgrade for the team (otherwise he’d just be starting for them normally, right?)- a weakness to be exploited - and in this series, ISU did just that.

Game one would see Young “Hyper” Seo opt for the Kha’Zix into Draxyr’s Lillia. Waiting until the second rotation in order to secure a stable bot lane for Kim “Disconnector” Do-hyun and Cameron “Nausicaa” Maine and put Miguel “Shamwwow” Magno on his signature Gangplank (which they were okay with blind picking because of enemy top laner Chad “Solitified” Randell being known for playing primarily tank top laners), ISU determined that the bug would be more than enough to set them up in the early game and run over the apparent weak link in the team. It was. Picking up four kills in the first 12 minutes of the game off of the back of some really well-placed catches made with Drew “DrewDozer” Neiburger on Sett, ISU broke the enemy base at 20 minutes and, four minutes later after securing their third dragon, ended the game with a commanding 11K gold lead. Hyper ended the game with a 12/4/3 KDA. “Just Hyper Things”, as the casters would put it.

The champs would throw the casters and the enemy team a huge curveball in game two when they drafted Senna first rotation, only to flex it to support in favor of a Rumble pick for Disconnector. While it was successful, it’s arguably the top difference that won this game. Shamwwow would go on to show just why ISU is willing to prioritize that Gangplank pick for him, as he decimated Solitified’s Shen and walked him out personally to watch the Flame Horizon. With a Trinity Force and Serpent’s Fang in hand, a 450G bounty, and a 120-49 CS lead at 15 minutes, he was more than powerful enough to show us all that the Rumble was never the primary threat on this comp at all. It was him.

Despite a standout performance from enemy bot laner Bradley “Vex” Miller on Kai’Sa who ended the game with a 15/5/7 scoreline, AOE Brady would find themselves “playing football with a 100-pound linebacker” (as William "ChillingWok" Moua put it during the cast) in Solitified, as he wasn’t tanky enough to be an efficient frontline for his team. It just proved to not be enough to stop ISU from putting their 9K gold lead to work, ending the game at 24 minutes.

Illinois State University vs. Crystal Cave Gaming Emerald

You guys may have missed this series because it was held off-stream, but it was perhaps ISU’s most convincing series so far of the three they’ve played. If not in numbers, then it certainly looked that way as a spectator.

This series was a stomp. There really isn’t much to say about it. It was incredibly one-sided.

Game one would see David “Datdat1” Thompson in the ISU top lane in place of Shamwwow, piloting the Karma top pick that would go on with Nausicaa’s Taric pick to enable Hyper to absolutely decimate this game on Olaf. Enemy jungler KingClueless was literally left clueless as Hyper made quick work of him, his jungle, and his teammates, with his teammates not being able to do much because CCG had opted for scaling picks such as Jinx, Lulu, and Cho’Gath. On the backs of Hyper and a 10/0/6 performance by Disconnector, ISU handily closed this game out in a decisive 18 minutes and 43 seconds, with Hyper having a 4 level, 10 kill, and 7K gold advantage over his jungle counterpart.

ISU would make a surprising swap in game two, taking Hyper out for Luis “GFP” Garcia, who would play Volibear into KingClueless’ Lillia, and returning Shamwwow to the top lane. While this game was a lot closer - even lasting 10 minutes longer, ISU would show a different side of them. The Illinois State bot lane would deliver yet another consistent performance, but this time the win would come primarily on the back of DrewDozer’s Yone pick and the pressure he placed on the enemy team not only in the side lanes but in the team fights. ISU would win this game with a 9K gold lead.

Illinois State University vs. Blacklist

This series would serve as a shining example of how powerful Morgana jungle has been on patch 11.8. ISU coach Michael “Pater” Pater would be the one to add both this pick and “absolute denial” (as I call it) to the bag of Hyper Things.

Going toe to toe this time with the Hecarim of John "JohnnstR" Vallespir in game one, Hyper would show that not only can he chase the enemy jungler around the map and kill them, but also prevent them from doing anything meaningful in terms of early aggression without ever really touching them, even on the almighty Hecarim pick. Morgana would prove to be too much for the Hecarim. Without a dive buddy due to the Blacklist’s draft (Fiora, Hecarim, Orianna, Tristana, Karma), the combination of Black Shield and Dark Binding would put a huge break in his stride and make the mighty centaur look more like a pony, enabling ISU to mount a 10K gold lead and end the game at 24 minutes.

Game two would show ISU leading their draft with the same “Morganaphine” combo (consider this name coined by me). Blacklist would adapt by trading in the Hecarim for Lillia, but ISU would make adaptations of their own, opting to funnel a “triple support” draft in order to support Shamwwow on Urgot and DrewDozer on Nocturne. Just like the centaur before her though, Lillia would have no pep in her step as Morgana effortlessly chewed her way through both jungles like termites on wood. With no hard engage on their composition this time around, Blacklist would struggle to deal with ISU’s ability to start, stop, and space out fights at will, with Disconnector and Nausicaa making the team extremely hard to stick to. The hard disengage and insane catch potential from the champs’ draft would smother out any fires Blacklist had in game 2, sealing their fate behind a 13K gold lead as they inevitably watched their base get sieged in.

The champs so far have shown a really scary read on the meta as well as an ability to play completely outside of it successfully. They’re not afraid to get down and dirty during the early game and will easily fight you (on weak and strong picks) in order to etch out leads that sometimes are hard to see within all of the chaos. This, coupled with their ability to draft, flex, and play virtually anything anywhere makes them easily a formidable threat that could easily propel themselves back up to the Grand Finals and, perhaps, a repeat championship.

That’d be insane, right?

In any case, we’ll have to see how they fare along the rest of the way before talking playoffs or finals. But they make a strong case for themselves so far and it’ll be exciting to see the journey, no matter how far it goes.

The champs play tonight in a rematch against AOE Brady, who will hopefully have their starting jungler this time. Though this series will be off-stream, I wholeheartedly encourage you all to set your alarms and join us tonight for Week Four of the UPL 2021 Spring Split. You’ll have great casters, entertaining games, and me there in chat to keep everyone company, so come and join the party. You can find the fun on Twitch and keep up to date with your favorite team via their respective Twitter accounts.

The action starts tonight at 8:00 PM EST.

I hope to see you there!