The Five Most Unforgettable Stories from ACV
The fireworks are firing, the celebrations are beginning, the Fifth Annual Altador Cup is finally over. As the team captains meet at centerfield to shake hands for one last time, the many fans and supporters begin to find their way to the coliseum’s exit, fully satisfied with the success of this year’s tournament. And who wouldn’t be? Roughly 40 days of twists, turns, upsets and surprises left many teams with a glimmer of hope – an inspiration to look forward to next year. From Rank 1 to Rank 18, every team knew that, at this level of competition, there was no such thing as a day off. The only thing greater than the amount of excitement this cup brought is the vast amount of stories that come along with it: the introduction of a new team, Terror Mountain’s historical streak, Faerieland drawing with Virtupets on Day 31, a stellar rise from 11th to 4th by Roo Island... the stories are endless. Though you could talk to twenty different people and hear twenty equally-good stories, the following five will go down in years to come as the moments that defined perhaps the most exciting cup of all time.
5. Moltara’s “Burned-Out” Record – Welcome to the Cup
The most anticipated story prior to the Fifth Altador Cup was the introduction of an 18th team entering for the games for the first time: Moltara. Expectations were high for Neopia's newest world at the top of this tournament - not necessarily contenders, but at least a force to be reckoned. After the first day of competition, they were in a three-way tie with the Haunted Woods and the eventual-bronze-medalists Darigan Citadel. The bad news? They were in a three-way-tie for 16th place after all three got swept on opening day.
Things didn't look any better for the Moltarans from there. They were unable to live up to the hype they were appraised for; in fact, Moltara showed very little life at all throughout the cup. Moltara didn't celebrate their first victory until Day 7 when the “made more noise" against the faeries of Faerieland. Moltara went through the whole first round of Double Robin without a single win in Yooyuball, and barring a Day 20 draw against Kiko Lake (the only day they had the overall win), Moltara also went through the second round winless in the main event. They hoisted an infamous Yooyuball record of 0-1-33, and including their matches in the Finals against Altador, Moltara owned an overall record of 0-3-35. Fans were disappointed at their team's success (or rather, their lack thereof), but none were more disappointed than the five Moltara stars themselves. However, through such bitter times, Moltara holds their head up high; they can only go up from here. Moltara is literally playing with an even bigger fire in their eyes as they stare down next year's competition. Though winless throughout their first cup, the Moltarans swear that next year will be a different story, as even a single win in next year's tournament will prove as an overall win for this team.
4. History Repeats Itself – A Showdown to Remember
For the last five years, Yooyuball has been the main attraction of the Altador Cup. Last year, during the Fourth Annual Altador Cup, such an honor became threatened when the new side game Shootout Showdown was introduced. Though the Yooyuball competition proved to be exciting, the excitement was shifted over to this new side game, as Virtupets battled through the first round of the Double Robin, undefeated in the newest addition to the cup. Ten games later, when their streak was sitting at its peak, Virtupets was upset from a spotless record when Kiko Lake shattered those dreams. Virtupets' streak of 25 was the highest streak that the Altador Cup has seen.
Was the highest.
Terror Mountain entered this year’s cup with no idea what was in store for them. With a blockbuster trade that sent Terror Mountain's Elbin Kroe to Tyrannia for forward Evrem Guilako, many eyes were turned on whether these new additions would be able to enhance their respective new teams. With all the attention that went into these two Yooyuball teams, Terror Mountain was able to slide by in Shootout Showdown almost unnoticed. One win. Two wins. Five wins. Nine wins. With every Shootout Showdown victory they earned, more heads began to turn. Eleven wins. Fourteen wins. Seventeen wins. The first round of Double Robin ends, and Terror Mountain stands alone as the only undefeated team in the cup. Just like Virtupets in the previous year, no team wanted to showdown with Terror Mountain when their day came. Twenty wins. Twenty-three wins. Twenty-eight wins. The record for the longest streak in an Altador Cup was rightfully theirs - nobody could take that away from them. Terror Mountain had their eyes on one more goal: an undefeated season.
Day 29 was another normal day of competition: Terror Mountain vs. Kiko Lake. Two teams on the lower half of the standings brought little to no excitement for this match-up. At the end of the day, this match-up brought nothing but excitement. Though losing overall, Kiko Lake became the stars of the show. Fresh off their Showdown victory against the former Showdown Kings Virtupets, many people saw this as an easy victory for Terror Mountain, especially due to the fact of Kiko Lake's sub-par record. But what Kiko Lake possessed went beyond the numbers; they had history. Kiko Lake defied all odds and, for the second time in the past two years, shattered the dreams of the lone undefeated team. Though they finished the Cup at the bottom of the fourth tier, Kiko Lake proved that while they are a couple legs and two feet away from standing on the winner's podium, they have a great ally with history, working together effectively hand-in-hand.
3. Curses were Meant to be Broken
It's every team's dream to walk in the coliseum at the end of the cup, to hear the fans screaming, to experience time stopping, living only in the moment, to stand alone in the victory circle, waving the sought-after gold trophy high in the air. The down side? It comes at a price that takes years to pay off.
The Winner's Curse has been around for as long as the Cup has returned from its 1000-year hiatus. After Haunted Woods won the first Altador Cup, they had to settle with a 7th place showing the following year, and has never been able to recover. Darigan Citadel, the following year’s champions, suffered the same fate and, too, had to settle for an average 7th place showing . Third-year champions Roo Island suffered the fall the hardest, dropping down to a 9th place loss the year after their championship.
In a cup that brought as many surprises as normalities, the curse finally showed some sign of slowing down. For the first time since the Altador Cup's return, it appears as if winners are remembering what got them the gold in the first place. Past champions Darigan Citadel and Roo Island looked the Curse straight in its eyes and rose to the challenge. Whether it was through rock-solid consistency throughout the cup or a surprising comeback from the bottom half of the third tier, Darigan Citadel and Roo Island became the first teams to enter the Top Tier after winning their first-place prize. The Winner's Curse looks like it's beginning to wind down, as both of the aforementioned teams are already at the top of many speculator's prediction list for the upcoming Sixth Altador Cup next year. With the curse finally showing signs of collapsing into a forgettable myth, teams looking to win a championship need nothing to fear, as pretty soon, there may be no extended price for walking off the big stage a winner.
2. From Second-to-First to Second-to-Worst
As the thrill of the Fifth Annual Cup begins to dwindle down to a close, murmurs are leaving the mouths of several fans and reporters, murmurs that imply that this cup is the best cup that Neopia has seen yet. And why not? A cup erupting with energy from start to finish, a cup where the lower-tier teams were not a free sweep for the stronger teams, a cup where surprises and upsets became a standard, a cup that broke tradition. It's terribly tragic that some teams had to take a fall for such excitement to become reality. No team fell harder, however, than Team Shenkuu.
The Ninjas hailing from Shenkuu were the favorites of several Neopians to take 1st place. After three straight Finals appearance, including a silver medal from last year's cup, predicting that Shenkuu would follow the second-to-first theory would continue to hold true was a solid guess. That's why it shocked many when Shenkuu spent most of the first round of the Double Robin as nothing more than a mediocre team at best. This was hardly discouraging to several fans, as Shenkuu was not counted out quite yet, not when history proved evidence of surprising comebacks in Round Two. Whether it was the lights, the pressure, or even the increase of competition throughout the other teams, Shenkuu was not able to deliver another routing trip to the finals. What was more surprising than their inability to reach the top tier was their inadequate 11th place standing - the lower half of the third tier. A drop from 2nd place to 11th, a bigger drop than even the victims of the Winner's Curse, leaves many fans wondering what happened to this once-glorious team, and if whether or not they should get used to this underachieving performance. Has Shenkuu run out of gas? Should they get used to their new third-tier home? One thing's for sure; next year's biggest surprise will rest in the hands of Shenkuu, as their own fate of either jumping back into contention after an off-year or suffering a second-straight year of disappointment rests entirely in their stealthy hands.
1. The Final Tier
Throughout all the action, all the drama, and the many surprises and upsets throughout the Double Robin Rounds, no time brought greater excitement than when the dust settled, leaving four teams alone with the only things separating them from eternal glory is each other. The race for the top four slots came down to five single teams: Kreludor, Lost Desert, Darigan Citadel, Roo Island, and Meridell. It was practically musical chairs within the top tier, as nobody was ever settled in their position. All it took was a single off-day for the team in 1st place to forfeit their position to the 3rd place team. It took 34 days of competition, but Roo Island was able to knock Meridell out of its Top Four status that it's been holding for so long and, thus, locking in the finals with a match-up of Kreludor vs. Roo Island and Lost Desert vs. Darigan Citadel.
Each of these teams had a history coming into the finals - a story that added to the intensity of each of the matches. Team Kreludor, fresh off of suffering the worst upset in Finals history by Shenkuu the previous year, was looking to silence any and all doubters that labeled them as "chokers". Team Lost Desert, a powerhouse team for the past four years with four Top 5 finishes and two bronze medals to show for it, was looking to achieve the status that would shift them from a "good team" to a "historical great team". Team Darigan Citadel, after last year's promising results ended up turning into a disappointing consecutive 7th place showing, was looking to seize the moment and make good of their opportunity to become the first team to win two championships. Team Roo Island, a team that had crawled back from as low as 11th place since the tournament's beginning, was looking to prove all of the pre-made predictions wrong and to prove themselves to be better than the 10th place team they were predicted to be.
The Finals was well worth the wait. Though homing the best Yooyuball record throughout the cup (tied with the only team they were unable to beat: Meridell), Roo Island was unable to capitalize on their strength, pulling in two straight draws in two days of play. Kreludor used this greatly to their advantage and struck Roo Island in its weakest spot, as it appeared that the only thing separating Roo Island from another shot at gold was a single game of Slushie Slinger. Things were a bit clearer on the other side of the matches, as Lost Desert greatly convinced the viewers who the better team was. Lost Desert pulled away from the Darigan Minions with a convincing win on Day 1 and a near-sweep on Day 2. It was official: the Number 1 ranked team was facing off against Number 2, while Numbers 3 and 4 battle for the final available medal.
And so it was, two first-timers in the championship with two former champions looking to complete their medal collection with a bronze. Darigan Citadel was facing Roo Island in the Finals for the third time in the past five cups, and things were always looking bright for them. With a victory that resulted in their silver medal in the First Altador Cup, and another victory that clinched them their first gold that following year, Darigan Citadel was the most confident team in the Finals, and the results proved it. Whether it was due to nerves, their highly competitive match they had just experienced, or fear of facing such a merciless foe, Roo Island fell apart in the last half of the finals, allowing Darigan Citadel to severely punish them in every area aspect of the game, just missing out on a sweep with a single draw and a loss in Shootout Showdown. Darigan Citadel emerged this cup as the first team to complete their Gold, Silver, Bronze collection, and will be satisfied until next year, in which their dreams of taking home gold may become a reality once more.
Lost Desert and Kreludor, however, had no history between the two of them; they were just two teams looking to establish for a name for themselves to forevermore be written in the history books. Both teams were playing with a chip on their shoulder, whether it be the countless times they’ve been labeled “chokers” due to last year’s performance or if it was being regarded as a good team that just didn’t have the drive to win it all. Both teams heard what the reporters were saying about them, and in response, they let their playing do the talking (with the intensity of competition between these two teams, their playing might as well have been shouting). Lost Desert had the slight advantage after a day’s worth of playing. Though they took the win in Yooyuball, the shimmering gold trophy was still up for grabs. This is the Finals, after all. However, the match was never any closer than that. Lost Desert, with their numerous experiences of playing on a big stage, quickly adapted to the biggest stage of their life and nearly demolished Kreludor the following day. After four long years of teasing and settling for 3rd, Lost Desert could finally live in the moment that many teams dream would become their reality. Next year’s Winner’s Curse, teams marking their foreheads with a huge target, all of that means nothing to the newest champions. Next year's cup may be just as exciting, maybe even more exciting, but no amount of excitement could surpass the feelings that Lost Desert is experiencing right now – a heart of a champion and they finally have medals to prove it.
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|Alysia's Destiny: Part Four|
As we walked through the gloomy forest, I began to see a dark shape take form through the patches of sky visible beneath the canopy.
"Pellinor's fortress," Jester whispered softly in my ear.