With APEX Season 2 drawing to its climax in three days and Challengers all wrapped up, Korea’s premier league is about to head into promotions. The four top teams from the highly competitive Challengers league will be making their way to the OGN studios in Seoul to play against the bottom four teams from APEX Season 2.
In a change from last season’s promotion battle however, there are now six slots available for these eight teams. Only two of the potential APEX teams will be denied their goal, with speculation circulating among Korean and Western fans that this may eat in to the number of Western teams invited for APEX Season 3.
The Old Guard
Defending their slots in APEX are:
MVP Infinity was a newly promoted team this season, full of vim and vigour. Competing in Group A battered the life out of them though, despite wracking up two maps against both EnVyUs and Meta Athena and looking strong in both games. They unfortunately fell to BK Stars as well and went out of the group in fourth without taking a single win, but at their peak MVP Infinity are a good team.
Afreeca Freecs Red
AF.Red were a team with a lot of hype around them when they qualified this season for APEX. They said in an interview beforehand that they believed they were stronger than their sister team AF.Blue - a claim which may be true but seems unlikely given they are now in Super Week while AF.Blue made playoffs. To be fair to Red, they were placed in the 'group of death' against Misfits, LW Blue and Lunatic-Hai. Many teams would struggle to make third; it is impossible to tell how strong they are though as they failed even to win a single map.
CONBOX Spirit are the team in Super Week with the best record in APEX groups. They went 1-2 and drew with AF.Blue and Cloud9 on win record after upsetting AF.Blue in a close game, but eventually fell prey to the points system. In terms of their team performance CONBOX have been underwhelming and barely made an impression on me despite their win over AF.Blue. They showed flashes of potential last season but after losing Zunba they seem to be missing that 'team colour' so often sought in Korea.
Flash Lux won a match in APEX Season 1 over RG Titan to finish in 3rd place, but they have looked like one of the weakest teams in the tournament for two seasons now. After dodging relegation in Season 1, they are now in Super Week. With only two teams going down or back to Challengers, Flash Lux look like one of the favourites to dive down to the depths.
The teams facing them who battled through Challengers Season 3 are, in order of their placing:
X6 are a powerful rising team within Korea who placed second in the Spring Nexus Cup whilst also playing in Challengers, beating Lunatic-Hai 2-1 in the qualifier followed by two series wins over LW Red to become finalists. In the Grand Final they lost to wNv.KR, a Korean team who almost exclusively plays in online Nexus Cup tournaments but has phenomenal success in them, unbeaten by Chinese or Korean teams online since November. X6-Gaming’s run through Challengers Season 3 saw them lose to MVP Space and Rhinos Gaming Wings near the end, but cleanly beat up every other team for a solid first place finish.
Rhinos Gaming Wings
This team is a familiar face from APEX Season 1, relegated from the premier league after losing in Super Week to Meta Athena and MVP Infinity. They certainly look stronger and more prepared this season, boasting a 9-2 record in the season with only a close upset loss to MiraGe and a 0-3 drubbing from LW Red holding them down. Their first match in the group is a grudge battle against the very team to eliminate them from APEX last season, MVP Infinity; the rhinos are after the poachers this time.
Mighty AOD have been known as a good team in Korea for a long time; they’ve often been able to snag upsets but rarely able to string that form together. They took 3rd in Challengers Season 2 but lost out in Super Week, a performance they won’t be in a hurry to repeat but realistically could. Mighty AOD have traded series with LW Red over the last couple of months but haven’t had success against other top Korean teams, only beating up the middle to lower end of Challengers and the Chinese teams.
MVP Space are in a similar position to Mighty AOD. They had very crisp wins over the mediocre Challengers teams, playing at a consistently good level, but flopped against strong competition. After being relegated from APEX Season 1 where they were used as a punching bag by NRG, Uncia, and BK Stars, the team is facing the end of an uphill battle to earn promotion again. Super Week won’t be easy though, even with more spots available.
The format for APEX Challengers Season 3 Super Week uses a double stage of GSL groups. The teams have already been placed into two groups of four, with initial matches scheduled and laid out below.
Once the two GSL-style double-elimination groups have been completed, the two top teams from each group will be promoted to APEX while the bottom two teams from each group are brought together to form another GSL-style group.
This group, which we’ve named Group C, will function the same way - if you are in the top two, then we’ll see you in APEX. If not, prepare to grind and climb your way back into relevancy in Challengers Season 4.
Tuesday, April 11th
- Group A - Flash Lux vs. Mighty AOD
- Group B - CONBOX Spirit vs. MVP Space
- Group A - Afreeca Freecs Red vs. X6-Gaming
- Group B - MVP Infinity vs. Rhinos Gaming Wings
Wednesday, April 12th
- Group A Winners’ Match
- Group B Winners’ Match
- Group A Losers’ Match
- Group A Losers’ Match
Thursday, April 13th
- Group A Decider Match
- Group B Decider Match
- Group C Game 1 - Group A 3rd Place vs. Group B 4th Place
- Group C Game 2 - Group B 3rd Place vs. Group A 4th Place
Friday, April 14th
- Group C Winners’ Match
- Group C Losers’ Match
- Group C Decider Match
Korea has an incredibly deep talent pool with their teams, extending down into Challenger. Teams outside of APEX have taken series wins online against the top teams in Korea, and reports from Western teams scrimming in the region indicate that the tiers are far less defined that in the West.
When it came to Super Week last season, only a single APEX team survived Super Week. That was also RunAway, the team who - with a couple of roster changes - is now in the finals. Challengers creates strong teams with its fierce competition; we could very well see the next Meta Athena begin their run this time around.
The Challengers Paradox
Strangely, because of the points system used, the teams up for promotion may not actually be the strongest from Challengers though. Both LW Red and RG Titan finished the season with eight wins and three losses - one better than MVP Space and Mighty AOD on seven for four - but couldn’t get enough points by winning clean 3-0s.
APEX Challengers rewarded teams with three points for winning 3-0, two for winning 3-1, and one for winning 3-2. Unfortunately this has the side effect of effectively penalising the winning teams 1 point for every map lost to a team they eventually beat, with teams losing more games but winning the others cleanly placing higher overall.
LW Red went 8-3 in matches and 26-14 in maps (even with a forfeit win due to their coach failing to turn in paperwork leaving them with an automatic 0-3 at the end of the season), and beat MVP Space and RG Wings in the season, but placed fifth overall as in half of their wins the opponent took maps, deducting five points.
Rhinos Gaming Titan were even further crippled by the points system, dropping from fourth to seventh place based on their close wins. The team went 8-3 in matches (fourth best) and 27-20 in maps (fifth best), but as only one of their wins was 3-0, they ended up with as many points as MiraGe Gaming, who sported a negative record of 5-6 match wins.
Interestingly, both teams ended up winning ₩ 50,000 more but missing out on the crucial slots in Super Week. Once again, LW Red failed to grasp the opportunity to join their wildly successful sister team in APEX. They will, no doubt, be hoping that these results lead to a shift in scoring for APEX Challengers, rewarding matches won, or even maps won, rather than clean 3-0 wins.