2022 League of Legends World Championship Play-in roundup: Expectations in flames.
- By Edward Brady
The World Championship (also known as Worlds) is the second of the two yearly international tournaments in the League of Legends Esports scene, where players compete on franchised teams for fame, pride, a considerable salary, and hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash prizes.
24 teams from 11 regions across the globe will compete for the ultimate prize in LoL Esports, the Summoner’s Cup. The tournament started with the play-in stage on September 29th, before advancing to the main stage groups which will begin on October 7th before eventually ending with the finals on November 5th.
The play-in stage has concluded. Four teams moved on to the main event while we said goodbye to 8 others. There was a lot that went down over the 6-day stage, so lets break down some of the key themes, moments, and what these teams accomplished. Here are 5 thoughts about the World Championship Play-In Stage!
Let’s get into them.
A tale of 2 groups
When breaking down how the two groups played out, Group A and Group B couldn’t have been much different from each other if the event was scripted.
Mass chaos was the theme of Group A. The parity was tight, and it really was almost anyone’s group to win. Nobody was eliminated until the final day of play, there was a 3-way tie for 2nd when things wrapped up, and we were only one different result (if BYG beat FNC on last day) from a five-way tie for first place!
Group B on the other hand, was quite the formulaic one at the end of the day. Yes, there were some almost upsets, and DRX over Royal Never Give Up day 1, and the general level of play from the LCK 4th seed was a massive shock to many, the group played out as expected. The top 4 was all but set in stone by day 2, Istanbul Wildcats and Isurus looked massively outclassed, and the LCK and LPL reigned supreme.
While it was expected that the higher competition would result in 3 Group B teams going through and only the winner of A, things weren’t quite so clear cut in the knockout round…
A rivalry reignited
North America vs Europe is one of the biggest rivalries in league, but it hasn’t necessarily had all the qualities of a true rivalry.
On one hand, they definitely don’t like each other. Whether it be accusations of NA stealing EU talent, EU accusing Riot of playing favorites to NA, or just the natural result of being the 2 major western regions, the banter between players and casters on both sides of the pond, and the genuine hatred between less-than-civil fans runs deep.
On the other hand, they don’t exactly face each other often, nor is it the most competitive. There has been a grand total of 2 best-of-5s between 2015 and 2022 (2018 Cloud 9 vs Fnatic, Worlds semifinals, 2019 Team Liquid vs G2, MSI finals). Both of those finals were sweeps in favor of the LEC rep, and the latter was the fastest international best-of-5 ever.
Both of those statements changed, though the latter initially looked like it wouldn’t. NA’s Evil Geniuses were placed in group A, alongside EU’s Fnatic. The status quo looked to be upkept on day 1. Despite playing with a substitute support, a jetlagged AD Carry who only entered Mexico the day prior, and zero scrims, Fnatic wiped the floor with EG with almost no effort whatsoever. With EG at 0-7 against the LEC on the year, and them blowing a chance at a tiebreaker thanks to an upset on the final day, their best-of-5 against MAD Lions was seen as a forgone conclusion. In Pick’ems on the LoL Esports website, only 15.1% of users had EG winning the series. It was going to be quite the uphill battle in the eyes of many.
Or so we thought. In reality, it was a 3-0 slaughter, the likes of which are usually reserved for LEC teams in World Championship finals. Inspired seemed dead set on avenging his loss to MAD in the 2021 Spring Finals by running laps around Elyoya. The now 18-year-old (his birthday was last Saturday) rookie Jojopyun got in the heads of MAD with his constant trash talk. He then removed their heads with his excellent play on Viktor, Sett, and Leblanc. MAD Lions could do nothing as Evil Geniuses dominated them from start to finish.
Evil Geniuses become the first North American team to win a series against the LEC, and will be flying out to New York to join Group B, alongside South Korea’s Damwon KIA, China’s JD Gaming, and their eternal nemesis, G2.
Unfortunately, some teams will instead be flying home quite disappointed.
Yes, an elimination hurts for every team, but some regions have less to be excited about than others. Specifically: Oceania’s Chiefs Esports Club, Turkey’s Istanbul Wildcats and Southeast Asia’s Beyond Gaming.
The Wildcats had their 3rd straight dud at an international event, and this was the worst of the lot. They surpassed their back-to-back 1-5 MSI runs by going 0-5. While it isn’t entirely their fault (ANYONE would look bad in that group), they had very few standout moments, and the run epitomized their league’s harsh fall from grace. The TCL went from a region that was a constant threat (knocking out MAD in 2020 and making groups in 2017), to what amounts to an afterthought for the real teams.
Speaking of falls from grace, Beyond Gaming and their region, the PCS, might have it even worse than Turkey. Southeast Asian teams made it to knockouts at international events. They were considered a major region at one point. But thanks to poaching from bigger regions, the PCS is a hollow shell of its former self. Beyond Gaming only won 2 games, both against wildcard regions, and were swept aside by the favorites. They got knocked out by one of the lowest budget regions despite being a pool 1 play-in team. It’s the 2nd straight year of being stuck in play-ins for BYG.
Finally, after watching Chiefs Esports Club’s run, I am fairly certain that we just watched an entire region die live on broadcast. Oceania literally couldn’t have asked for a better set up. They sent a team that went a combined 51-7 over 2022, into a group with no Korean/Chinese teams, the NA 3rd seed with a sub, the EU 3rd seed with zero scrims, and 2 regions that hadn’t done anything recently (also DFM, I don’t know where they fit here).
To put it bluntly this was the best shot the region has ever had and ever will have to do something internationally. They not only couldn’t pick up a single win, they couldn’t even make their losses close contests. There was almost nothing positive to take from the run, and with it, the LCO drops to 0-13 internationally on the year.
The worst part for all 3 is that there is almost no hope things are going to get any better anytime soon. If any TCL stars show up, either NA or EU poach them. If any PCS stars show up, the LPL poaches them. The LCO isn’t even funded by Riot Games. The best years of these regions are long gone and there isn’t a clear path for them to recover.
However, it isn’t all doom and gloom for the fallen. While they may not be joining the field in New York, these 3 teams can fly home with their heads held high and hope for the future. These would be: Vietnam’s Saigon Buffalo, Brazil’s LOUD, and Japan’s Detonation FocusMe
Saigon Buffalo were the single youngest team at the tournament with no player over 20, and the earliest professional debut being their top laner Hasmed in 2019. They were also from a region that had been locked out of international events for the better part of 2 years. Despite this, the Buffalo took the world by storm with their weird picks, and hyper aggressive play. While they might have only gone 2-3 and bowed out in the 1st knockout round 3-1 to MAD, the Buffalo have a great foundation (their mechanics were legitimately great) and a bright future ahead if they stay together.
LOUD were the ones to fire the opening salvo in sending Group A into pandemonium. Brazil’s glory days of taking games off top teams have been behind them for quite a while, and they were in dire straits from 2017 to 2020 (no group stage appearances in international events, dead last in 3 straight Worlds). Despite some promise from the region shining through last year and at MSI, LOUD weren’t expected to do much of anything.
So imagine everyone’s shock when they ended up taking down one of the strongest wildcards in recent memory DFM, and the European 3rd seed Fnatic. They even held a lead and were in a prime position to win against Evil Geniuses. LOUD finished the group in a 3-way tie for 2nd at 3-2, and if they had just cleaned up a few mistakes, they had a shot at 1st!
Even though they lost the tiebreaker to EG, and dropped 3-1 to DFM in the knockouts, LOUD has given the CBLoL two things they haven’t had in a long time. Respect from the world, and a bright hope for the future.
Not wanting to be usurped as the modern kings of the wildcards, Detonation FocusMe had a tournament to remember. Despite having much lower expectations after losing 2 of their biggest names and a 1-5 MSI run, DFM made their mark on the Worlds stage.
It was a slow start with an upset loss to LOUD, and a winnable game against Fnatic that got thrown thanks to poor macro. But from there, it was a rollercoaster that just went up. After a solid victory over The Chiefs to keep their hopes alive, DFM crushed Beyond Gaming, and
on the very next day, they beat Evil Geniuses! That win was big for 3 reasons. It was EG’s 1st loss to a minor region all year, it allowed Fnatic to keep sole control of 1st and thus a main stage spot, and it forced the 3-way tie. Even though they lost the 1st part of the tie to EG, they made it to the final knockout round with a convincing 3-1 over fellow wildcard darling LOUD. And in that final round, they did what was thought to be the impossible.
They took a game off of Royal Never Give Up.
It doesn’t matter that it was only 1 game, it doesn’t matter that RNG took the series 3-1 convincingly after that, that one glorious moment was both one of the biggest wins for the LJL ever, and one of the biggest upsets in LoL history. One of the smallest regions in the ecosystem drew blood from a 3-time MSI winner. Even though they are headed home, they can do so with their heads held high.
Finally, with the 4 play in teams drawn into their respective main stage groups, here is a small outline of what we could expect in each one.
Group A: The LPL and LCK teams are the clear favorites. Cloud 9 lack the firepower, and Fnatic lack the firepower and consistency to keep up with the top 2. Barring yet another C9/FNC miracle run, all the west will be doing is fighting for 3rd while an interregional rivalry enters its next chapter.
Group B: The only thing the western rivals will be united in is misery. JDG is a tournament favorite and the 2020 champs are a proven squad and a potential dark horse.
Group C: This was the group with the best hopes for the west. DRX’s play-in run might’ve dashed those. The 3-for-all between RGE, TOP, and DRX should be competitive, and I wouldn’t be surprised if GAM plays spoiler.
Group D: A tournament favorite and the current MSI champions are in a group with the champs of a fading league, and the silver medalist of the (historically) worst major region. It should go about how you would expect.
The tournament will resume at 4pm CST on October 6th with Cloud 9 vs Fnatic. You can catch all the action on https://lolesports.com/, the LoL Esports YouTube channel, or https://www.twitch.tv/riotgames.
You can also find more detailed coverage on https://ebworlds.wordpress.com/