2021 was one of the best years for Japan in terms of International performance. They managed to qualify for the Main Event of the 2021 World Championship for the first time, after finishing first in their Play In groups, even having to face Major region teams such as Cloud 9, who they defeated in a tiebreaker to secure that first spot. This 2022, they were pretty close again to repeating that feat. They ended up tied for second place in the group, but the tiebreakers set them in 4th place. After overcoming LOUD, they had to face RNG to get a ticket into the Main Event.
Almost everyone was expecting a clean-fast 3-0 as Royal Never Give Up showed the best form in Play Ins behind DRX. But, the first map went convincingly for DFM, not because of a cheesy pick or mistakes from RNG, but through good teamwork throughout the game. Even Game 2 looked again like a DFM win, as they were 3k gold ahead at 15m, with everyone jumping for joy as a Wildcard could finally defeat a proper major region team since 2020, especially against the MSI 2022 winners. But, unfortunately for the show, RNG turned that game around, and DFM was not able to replicate their winning formula, losing 3-1.
I got the opportunity to talk with DFM toplaner Shunsuke "Evi" Murase, one of the most veteran players in the LJL (League of Legends Japanese Championship) and even in Worlds, who after 8 years of competitive play and 9 international appearances, only seem to grow each year, as well as being one of the few charismatic players with his signature thumbs up every time a camera points at him. We chatted briefly about his time as a player, his international performance, and his sensations against other teams such as MAD in the tournament.
Q: It has been almost 8 years playing LoL at a professional level. Do you sometimes get tired, or are you still enjoying the game a lot?
Evi: It has been both. There has not been an easy season in any of the seasons, and although it has been difficult, the enjoyment has basically outweighed the difficulties. I am especially happy when I win an international match.
Q: What is your opinion on Japan's current level? Do you think it is improving year by year? Do you think Japan is the best region outside of KR, EU, NA, and CN, maybe even PCS?
E: I don't know, that's still hard to tell without a direct confrontation. But I think we have a level that is pretty close to VCS and PCS.
Q: If I'm not wrong, you have been the player with the most Kennen picks so far in the tournament. What's your opinion on the champion right now?
E: I think its strength is that it has strong pressure in group battles against ADCs with short range or ADCs without flash in the current meta, in addition to being quite powerful and safe against any opponent in lane phase.
Q: We saw how your series against RNG was closer than most western audiences expect. How do you feel about your performance against them?
E: I think it was good that we were determined to win, no matter who the opponent was. It would have been great if we could keep the momentum going in the second game, but RNG was able to stop us.
Q: But, on the other hand of the bracket, MAD Lions underperformed and were not able to win against Evil Geniuses, a team you and your teammates won during the Group Stage. Do you think you could have won against MAD Lions? If so, why?
E: I don't like to say after the tournament is over whether we will win or lose against an opponent we haven't fought. But I think we had a good chance of winning against MAD.
Q: Which region do you think is the strongest right now, and which team do you think will win Worlds?
E: I think it's LCK or LPL, but that will be proven in this World Championship! Guessing the winner is hard but... GenG or RNG!
I like Evi’s humility in his opinion about his team and Japan as a whole, showing the improvement they have year by year, to a point where I think they are the new threat to Major Regions, and the best team outside of NA, EU, KR, and CN, standing toe to toe with PCS.
On the other hand, I can't stop wondering what would have happened if DFM won the first tiebreaker against EG in the Play Ins. Would have they won against LOUD later? Would they have been able to even overcome MAD, a team struggling to close Bo5s in their favor, to qualify for Main Stage twice? Guessing proves nothing, but it is still thrilling to think about. I honestly think that it could have gone either way, with a 5th game being very easily expected.