Just one game separated Golden Guardians from a potential ticket to the 2020 League of Legends World Championship. Just one more win was all the team needed to enter a potential winner-take-all best-of-five series with a qualifying seed to Worlds on the line. Just one more win and the franchise would have had a shot at changing the narrative forever.

Heading into game three of the 2020 LCS Summer Split lower bracket quarterfinals on Aug. 23, Golden Guardians found themselves poised to move on to the semifinal round. A date with Cloud9 was on the horizon. All they had to do was topple over a team in TSM that they had beaten in five previous consecutive contests heading into that decisive game. In that moment, Golden Guardians had the league at their fingertips. The entirety of North America was ready to be captivated.

Two hours from that moment, though, Golden Guardians’ season came crashing to a close.

TSM, a team that Golden Guardians seemingly had pinned down to a science, came back from a drastic 0-2 deficit, winning three straight games to knock Golden Guardians straight out of the playoffs. It was a shell shocking, overwhelming, and most certainly premature defeat that left a franchise destined for bigger things asking “what happened?” at season’s end.

But even with a lower finish than the team might have anticipated, there’s still a lot to be positive about when it comes to the successful 2020 that Golden Guardians had, as well as the bright 2021 season that’s on the horizon for the organization.

Despite placing fifth overall to close out the 2020 season, there were many points throughout the year where one could argue that Golden Guardians looked stronger than a fifth-place finisher. At certain points, especially during the team’s summer postseason run, Golden Guardians played up to a level where they could most definitely pass as a top-four team in North America. They were, after all, just four wins away from representing the region at Worlds.

Golden Guardians may have missed out on the World Championship by the length of a hair, but there’s still a lot to be proud of as the team reflects on 2020 as a whole. The highly-touted and long-awaited young talent that the team had waiting in the wings was able to shine on a widespread level at the back-end of the season. And for the first time in the organization’s history, it genuinely feels like Golden Guardians has a core of players that the team can develop moving forward into the looming offseason and the following year as well. If 2020 served as a year in which the organization set the table, then 2021 should be widely anticipated as the year when Golden Guardians breaks through.