Alex Ich and Moscow’s Clenched Fist

Alexey ‘Alex Ich’ Ichetovkin has officially announced his retirement from professional League of Legends, marking the end of one of the most influential careers in esport. In season two, this man and his team changed the face of League of Legends.

After appearing on various mixes across Europe, Alex found his first permanent home at the end of season one with Team Empire, soon to be Moscow Five. Alex brought with him unknown solo-queue talents Edward ‘GoSu Pepper’ Abgaryan and Danil ‘Diamondprox’ Reshetnikov to create a team capable of representing the CIS region internationally.

The team found instant success online and caused a stir when they beat SK Gaming to qualify for IEM Season VI – Kiev, a team featuring many of Alex’s former teammates. While some were sceptical about Moscow Five’s chances of translating their online success into wins on LAN, any doubters were quickly silenced as the Russians dominated their opposition en route to the final. There they faced TSM, considered by many the best team in the world. Moscow Five won the trophy and had beaten TSM in a way they hadn’t been before.

They were dominated.

Moscow Five played in a manner no other team was able to replicate. While many teams were content to capitalise on their enemies mistakes, the Russians used aggression to pick up kills and gain an early lead. Once they had the lead, they would group together and use a numbers advantage for favourable fights and stretch the margin even further. The members of Moscow Five were like the fingers of a clenched fist, together much more powerful than the sum of their parts.

Alex Ich emerged as the face of this unstoppable force. In interviews, he came off as charming and earned himself a worldwide following. His blunt answers led him to reveal a vast understanding of the mechanics of the game as well as his opponent’s strategies, often giving him the appearance of a chess master. Though few really knew what happened behind the scenes at this elusive team, it appeared that Alex’s analytical mind was central to their success.

One week after Kiev, Alex Ich faced off against Henrik ‘Froggen’ Hansen for the first time on LAN. If Moscow Five were an unstoppable force, Froggen’s CLG EU was an immovable object. They were everything Moscow Five weren’t. M5 was aggressive, CLG was passive. M5 would force fights, CLG would disengage. M5 would look for kills, CLG would slow down and farm. Their matches were volcanic, tension building slowly over time before the game would erupt with an explosion of fights and destruction. Moscow Five lost against CLG EU for the first time, and certainly not the last.

Internet communities were a flurry of debate. Who was better, Moscow Five or CLG EU? Alex Ich or Froggen? The two players were impossible to compare due to their completely different approaches to the game. In their head-to-heads, Froggen would often come out on top but there’s more to it than individual outplays. Alex Ich was a leader for Moscow Five and his squad won more trophies than CLG EU, even if he wasn’t always the star of the show. Did Froggen possess the same leadership qualities as his Russian rival? The debate raged and eyes turned to the fast-approaching World Championship for answers.

Korean side Azubu Frost entered the tournament as favourites, but there was a feeling that Alex Ich’s Moscow Five were the team most likely to beat them. They received a bye into the quarter-final where they faced Chinese side Invictus Gaming. Invictus was a formidable opponent, but Moscow Five overcame them in a deceptively close 2-0 victory.

Next, they played Taipei Assassins, an unfancied team who had turned heads by upsetting Korean team Najin Sword in the previous round. Moscow Five and Taipei Assassins traded wins and the series went to a deciding map three. The Russians found themselves unable to create opportunities for themselves and eventually lost thanks for their opponent’s superior objective control. Taipei Assassins went on to beat Azubu Frost in the final and the season drew to a close.

Alex Ich and his Moscow Five team had failed to claim the world title but in a way, it didn’t matter. They had proved that there is no right way to play the game. Alex had led his ragtag team of Russian solo queue players to the very top, beating the best teams North America, Europe, China and (when they finally faced them in season three) Korea too. What’s more, they did in a way which was unique to them. In doing so, they paved the way for later teams including Fnatic, Cloud9 and G2. Even in Korea, the influence of Moscow Five can be seen in the likes of Griffin.

Moscow Five at their prime was one of the most exciting teams to watch in esports history. Without Alex Ich, that team, the memories they made and the legacy they left wouldn’t have existed. He is simply one of the greats.