The 31st Southeast Asian Games has concluded, with host country Vietnam taking home the highest number of gold medals in esports.

All eyes are now on the country’s esports team, specifically their League of Legends representatives, GAM Esports, who bested the Philippines’ SIBOL and Singapore in the category.

But behind their sweet victory lay unfulfilled expectations for star player Đỗ Duy “Levi” Khánh and his teammates.

They are considered the strongest League of Legends team in Vietnam, consistently topping the regular season standings and becoming back-to-back VCS Spring champions in 2021 and 2022. However, they haven’t been able to participate in any international tournaments due to the COVID-19 pandemic, missing out on two Mid-Season Invitational tournaments and two World Championships.

But when they were finally given the opportunity to compete at their first Riot Games global event, the team announced that they would not be attending. They would be representing their country at the 31st SEA Games instead, looking to bring home the gold medal for Vietnam.

Vietnam shoots for new heights

GAM Esports at SEA Games 2022

Vietnam has already made waves in the gaming community. During Worlds 2017, the performance of the Gigabyte Marines (the predecessor of GAM Esports) left an impression among League of Legends fans and catapulted the Vietnamese region into the international spotlight.

VCS representatives have done well on the global stage in previous years, consistently ranking in the top six at MSI. Juggernauts like G2 Esports, TSM, and DWG KIA have also all previously fallen victim to VCS representatives.

G2 jungler Marcin “Jankos” Jankowski has even been given the nickname “Giang Văn Cốt” by the Vietnamese League of Legends community. He came to be known as the unofficial sixth player of Phong Vũ Buffalo (later renamed Saigon Buffalo), after misplays during the Worlds 2018 Group Stage.

Fast-forward to 2022, and Vietnam made its grand return to the MSI floor with second seed Saigon Buffalo Esports. In Busan, South Korea, Lâm “Hasmed” Huỳnh Gia Huy faced off against Choi “Zeus” Woo-je, and the Shogun-Taki duo crushed the Gumayusi-Keria tandem in the opening minutes of their game.

Meanwhile, GAM Esports would stay in Vietnam to represent their country for the second time at the SEA Games.

The rise of the VCS

GAM Esports Levi at SEA Games 2022 in Vietnam

GAM’s SEA Games journey started way before the three days of competition in May.

Everything dates back to 2012, when Vietnam was still competing under the Garena Premier League (GPL) alongside Thailand and Singapore. The region had always been searching for opportunities that would let it compete against the top League of Legends teams.

Under the Garena League, they dominated the SEA region, becoming seven-time champions in the regular season.

When Riot Games finally established the Vietnam Championship Series (VCS) in 2018, giving Vietnamese teams a direct route to international events without having to play in the GPL, teams continued to improve and make their mark on other leagues.

GAM Esports at SEA Games 2022

In 2022, the VCS decisively stamped its mark on the region once again. Vietnam’s League of Legends team triumphed at the 31st SEA Games, showing why they truly deserved to become an independent region in the scene.

The team was undefeated throughout the event, making a flawless run from the Group Stage to the Knockout Stage. They eventually pulled off a clean 3-0 sweep against the Philippines during the grand final to bring home the coveted gold medal for their country.

Making Vietnam proud

GAM Esports Jackiewind jersey at SEA Games 2022

GAM’s victory at the SEA Games is definitely one for the books — a milestone that few League players will ever forget. Gamers who have invested years into the game, especially those who have been closely following the VCS, will be proud to see the national team step up and gain recognition.

Whether it’s live tournaments on a massive stage or on national television, these global competitions are no longer just mere opportunities to make money or attract team sponsors and investors.

Esports has been thrust into the mainstream consciousness, gaining true legitimacy as a medaled event where national pride is at stake. At the same time, GAM have become heroes to a legion of gamers in the nation, off the back of their relentless efforts and hard work.

This has been translated from Phuong Thao’s original Vietnamese article.

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READ MORE: Vietnam dominates esports at the 31st SEA Games with 4 gold medals