A preview of the 2021 League of Legends World Championship.
The World Championship (also known as Worlds) is the second of 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.
22 teams from 12 regions (The Vietnam Championship Series couldn’t send their 2 teams due to covid travel restrictions) will compete for the ultimate prize in LoL esports, the 70-pound Summoner’s Cup. The tournament will start with the play-in stage starting October 5th, before advancing to the main stage groups which will take begin on October 11th before eventually ending with the finals on November 6th. As the teams prepare to do battle in Reykjavík, Iceland, let us look at our participants and how they got here.
This piece will preview Group A of the main event. Two of these 3 teams are heavy favorites to win it all while one of them had to bite the bullet and get drawn into the group of death. The first team to be drawn in was…
Name: Damwon Gaming KIA
Roster: Khan (Top), Canyon (Jungle), Showmaker (Mid), Ghost (ADC), BeryL (Support)
Region/Seed: LCK (South Korea) #1 Pool: 1
Summary: Slow start, but the reigning champions of Korea and the World find their form eventually and crush all opposition.
Damwon Gaming KIA has been one of the fastest rising organizations in LoL in a very long time. Only joining the LCK after winning the promotion tournament in 2019, they quickly made themselves a household name making it to Worlds quarterfinals in their first year. 2020 would be when they truly broke through, as they won their first domestic title in summer and won the World Championship in dominating fashion, cementing themselves as the best team in the world. Despite losing Nuguri to FPX (more on that below), they found a suitable replacement in Khan, who despite coming off a poor year at FPX is one of the most storied Korean top laners to play the game. With Damwon (with a new KIA sponsorship and name change to boot) looking to continue their dominance, and with Khan only having one year left before mandatory military service to pick up an international title, his last ride being with DK was a perfect fit.
2021 has been more of the same with slightly more resistance for DK. They won Spring Split easily but fell in 5 games to the LPL champs Royal Never Give Up at MSI finals. Summer was a bit of a different story with a difficult 2-1 victory over fellow Worlds rep T1, but also a 2-0 loss to the fallen giant KT Rolster.
Then things started to get weird as Ghost (who was underperforming and shouldered most of the blame for MSI alongside BeryL) was benched, but not for a replacement ADC. Instead, DK put in a sub jungler Malrang, swapped Canyon to mid lane, and swapped Showmaker to ADC. While roleswaps are certainly not a new thing, some of the best players in the World have done it, (Perkz, Ambition, CoreJJ, Caps etc.) doing it in the beginning of Summer with little foreshadowing is. Weirdly enough it worked. It gave time for Ghost to mentally reset, and aside from a freak loss to bottom feeder Fredit BRION, DK won all their series.
Ghost came back and Showmaker and Canyon moved back to their original positions in week 4 and DK kept up their winning ways…. Mostly. While Damwon would keep picking up wins against the top teams and they were never considered to be not good, Damwon didn’t quite have the aura of invincibility they had in 2020. Despite Showmaker and Canyon looking like 2 of the best players in the world individually and the best mid-jungle 2v2 in the World, DK had flaws and would drop games. Ghost and BeryL were a step behind the other elite LCK bot lanes. Khan would have some very bad games. There were other good teams. DK evidently heard their doubters as they would crush the final two weeks of play to take 1st place at 12-6. Even though teams could feasibly stand up to them, Showmaker and Canyon (both 1st team All Pro) were such an X-factor that it made Damwon the favorite for the LCK title on their own. And that was before you added the rest of the team (Khan was 2nd team All Pro) who were very good into the mix.
DK would truly tell the world they were still the Damwon they all knew and feared throughout 2020 and 2021 come playoff time. They would sweep the NS that beat them twice in the regular season. Despite the resurgence of their jungler Peanut (who won LCK MVP) and the new blood in the bot lane of Deokdam and Kellin, they just couldn't stand up to the defending champs. The topside of Damwon would outperform NS consistently as Showmaker, Khan, and Canyon were the stars of the show in games 1, 2, and 3 respectively. BeryL hit many great engages while Ghost was as consistent source of damage.
This would set ups one of the most hyped-up finals in years. Damwon KIA vs T1. The defending champions and one of the best teams in the world vs the most storied LoL organization of all time. The new kings vs the old gods. One of the best players in the world in Showmaker vs the undisputed greatest of all time in Faker. Despite the name recognition of T1, Damwon KIA were the heavy favorites going into the finals.
In front of a record braking 3.5 million viewers, Damwon took out T1 3-1 to win their 3rd straight LCK title. Khan, Canyon and Showmaker would be the stars of the show in their victories. In game 1 Khan would obliterate Canna’s previously undefeated Gwen as Camille in lane and use the advantage to dismantle T1 as he ended up going 11/0/7 and picking up his 900th career kill in the process. Despite Faker landing some good Azir ultimates, Showmaker would be the more consistent performer, serving as a big source of damage on Ryze. Showmaker would bust out the Kassadin in game 2 but the true carry was Canyon. The “bully Canna” strategy still proved dividends as Khan and Canyon got very fed very fast. Khan could lock down a member of T1 to set them up for Ghost’s Ziggs ultimate while Canyon was nigh unkillable. Every DK member was outperforming their T1 counterparts, most of them by sizable margins. While they would stumble in game 3 as T1 would get a massive fight early on and snowball it. The game would only last 21 minutes as the substitute ADC Gumayusi and Canna would step up and carry the game on Jinx and Kennen.
The final game was a brutal back-and-forth with T1 holding a 3k gold lead. However, some uncharacteristically bad decisions from Faker would give Damwon the opportunity to retake the lead. One bad one realm warp in the mid lane that left the support Keria behind and put them behind enemy lines ready for Khan and Ghost to poke them down. DK would catch him out twice to get more gold on the carries. With the gold dead even, Faker made the baffling decision to take a dragon fight on low health bars. DK would take full advantage of it. Khan would poke down the low members of T1 to set the stage for the man in the mid lane, Showmaker.
That quadra kill would win Damwon KIA the game, the series, and their 3rd straight title. Showmaker himself would become the fastest LCK player to reach 1000 career kills and receive finals MVP.
Expectations: An easy pick for the title
Being the MSI runner-up, back-to-back-to-back LCK champions, and the defending World Champions, DK’s resume speaks for itself. They were the favorites coming into the year and they are a favorite now. Canyon and Showmaker are an incredibly scary 2v2 mid-jungle with two of the best individual players at the tournament and the rest of DK are still elite in their roles. The team always shows up in the clutch and they have experience on the biggest stage. As the finals showed, very few teams can stand up to Damwon KIA when they are at their best. They are simply too good on a mechanical level in every role and how they play the game as a team. The only possible weakness is that the bot lane didn’t look fantastic in the regular season and that Khan had some bad games, and even then, I have faith in the Damwon coaching staff (head coach kk0ma has won 2 MSI championships, 10 LCK titles, and 3 World Championships) to fix any and all issues before the tournament. Damwon KIA know what they need to do to defend their title, and God help any teams that get in the way.
…Although, one team might just be able to stand up to the LCK juggernauts
Name: FunPlus Phoenix
Roster: Nuguri (Top), Tian (Jungle), DoinB (Mid), LWX (ADC), Crisp (Support)
Region/Seed: LPL (China) #2
Summary: 2019 World Champions back in form, but stumble at the end
Funplus Phoenix were the 2019 World Champions, taking out a Fnatic that escaped the group of death, their LPL brethren and 2018 Worlds winner Invictus Gaming, before finally sweeping Europe’s G2 Esports 3-0 on their home soil in front of an electric Paris crowd. They had a disappointing 2020, not even making it back to Worlds but looked to turn things around by dropping their only addition Khan, for the newest Worlds winner Nuguri. While Nuguri hasn’t been inherently better than Khan the rest of the team seems to have found their form. After dealing with health issues in the Spring, Tian looks to have regained much of his 2019 form, playing well with the team, and making big plays. Lwx, despite having a few questionable games, is a top tier ADC who can hang with and beat the best of the best. Crisp is looking like one of the best supports in the World. His hooks on Thresh (when he’s allowed to have it) are almost heatseeking.
But the biggest benefactor to FPX’s success is the man in the mid lane and the face of the franchise, DoinB. He has not only achieved his 2019 World Championship form but has surpassed it. Pick any key stat you can think of, KDA, DPM, CSPM, etc. and there is a better than even chance that DoinB is either leading or top 5 in it. 17 unique champions in Summer, some only he plays. In FPX’s 39 games, you could count his bad ones on one hand. It is almost universally agreed upon by players, analysts, and fans alike that DoinB is currently the best or at worst 2nd best player in the entire world.
All these players clicking at the right time would pay dividends throughout Summer, as FPX never dropped below 4th and went 13-3 with a +17-game difference to take 1st place in the regular season. 1st was a tightly contested race between them and EDG, but DoinB would slam the door shut on them in the final match of the season 2-1 to end the split on an 8-match winning streak. The only losses were to an LNG that won 7 games straight and two questionable series against Invictus Gaming and Bilibili Gaming. The rest of the season was a masterclass performance from the storied squad. Tian achieved 3rd team all pro, LWX got 2nd team, and DoinB earned 1st team All-Pro along with the LPL MVP award. FPX’s playoff run would begin with a 3-0 sweep of LNG Esports. The miracle run was no match for the Super Carry himself as DoinB made one of the best plays of the season in game 1.
LNG were good, and they kept it competitive in games 2 and 3, but LWX would step up in game 2, and Nuguri would slam them in game 3. Their semifinals match against Team WE for a Worlds berth was more of the same. WE were hardly bad, FPX was just better. DoinB (who stasis’d a blitz hook with no vision) and Nuguri would carry game 1. DoinB got his Irelia and Tian popped off on Viego in game 2, and Crisp couldn’t miss a hook on Thresh if he was actively trying to (that hook onto Ale’s Wukong in the early game was a thing of beauty) in game 3.
Unfortunately, in a repeat of Spring, a top 2 seed would get upset in the quarters only to make a run through the lower bracket and pull off an amazing 3-1 upset with the ADC making an incredible play in game 4.
Edward Gaming and Viper took RNG and GALA’s place in summer as Tian had a rough game 1 while Jiejie would run all over him and facilitate every EDG member to carry. In game 2, Scout would be the star of the show, flipping the script on DoinB taking over the game, going 10/0/4 and getting a quadra kill at a baron fight.FPX would fall apart early but show signs of life off the back of a great Rakan engage from Crisp. LWX’s Varus getting the shutdown gold from Jiejie and Scout was a huge part in mounting a comeback. Scout would do his best to carry EDG over the finish line but LWX’s arrows would rip through the hearts of EDG. FPX would look to carry this momentum with an incredibly strong game 4. They would do so, going up 11 kills to 3 with a 6.4k gold lead and infernal soul available, but Viper would get an incredible quadra kill on Aphelios and it was all EDG needed to mount the comeback and finish off the series.
Expectations: Another heavy favorite for the Summoner’s Cup
Yes, FPX are another one of the heavy favorites (alongside fellow LPL representative Edward Gaming) for the World Championship. Despite the underwhelming ending, FPX can hold their heads high, as they have struck fear into the hearts of every would-be competitor for the Summoner’s Cup. FPX mostly win game by picking early fights as they know that they are better than their opponents. This leads to explosive games with high kills and plenty of highlights from every player. You can see this from their stats as FPX has the shortest average game duration in the LPL (29:40), most overall kills (627), the highest combined kills per minute (.95) and the highest average number of kills per game (16.1). Although DoinB has been and will likely be the biggest factor in their success, they don’t live and die by him. The other 4 members of FPX are more than capable of carrying games on their own. Every player has been to Worlds before and won it, so it is very unlikely that they are going to crack under pressure of being the favorites as all of them have done this before. The list of teams who stand a realistic chance at beating an on-form FPX is a short one. One of them resides in this very group in Damwon KIA.
The matches between these two teams are must watch for any fan of competitive LoL. 2 of the top 3 going at it. DoinB vs Showmaker for the title of best in the world. Nuguri and Khan vs their old teams. “Who got the better deal?” The storylines and the quality of play make this group one of the most hyped-up matches of the season. It could very well be a preview of the finals.
…So, who are the unlucky souls that got stuck as the third member of the group?
Roster: Odoamne (Top), Inspired (Jungle), Larssen (Mid), Hans Sama (ADC), Trymbi (Support)
Region/Seed: LEC (Europe) #3
Summary: The hype train derailed at the worst possible moment (practically tradition for RGE at this point)
Rogue is making their 2nd appearance at Worlds in the organization’s 3-year history. After an abysmal start to the LEC (2-16 in Spring 2019) Rogue have made a name for themselves by trusting in young talent, making enough moves to patch up weak spots but not making moves for the sake of them, having amazing regular seasons with top players in every position, and have established themselves as a popular team to root for.
Rogue has also become famous for some very poor in-game decision making and a tendency to choke under pressure. And this split showcased both ends of this spectrum perfectly. For almost 80% of the 2021 LEC competitive season, Rouge looked like one of the scariest teams in the LEC.
Rogue got 1st place in the Summer regular season, multiple individual awards (including the LEC MVP for Inspired) and were Statistical favorites for the LEC trophy. All they had to do was take it home come playoff time. What could possibly go wrong? A lot as it turns out.
What should have been an easy stomping turned into a nightmare as Rogue barley scraped by Misfits Gaming. They looked dominant in games 1 and 3 but gave over some of their crucial picks in games 2 and 4. Game 5 was only saved thanks to Inspired’s Pentakill on Viego to turn around an overextension by Rogue (more on those later). While Inspired did do an incredible job that series and made a very impressive mechanical play, that pentakill mostly happened because Misfits bought no healing reduction and because he was on Viego. The series never should have been that close to begin with and honestly, Misfits deserved to win.
While they would get a shot at avenging their horrific choke-job in the LEC Spring finals (reverse swept and threw a 10k gold lead in game 5), it was not meant to be. MAD absolutely crushed them in game 1. Game 2 was an incredible back-and-forth slugfest that lasted almost 50 minutes, that had Rogue on the losing end because neither Trymbi nor Inspired felt like body-blocking a Viego W for Hans Sama. And game 3 was practically Déjà vu from Spring as Rogue got out to a roaring start in every lane but threw another 10k gold lead as MAD Lions outfought them at every turn to lose the series and fall to a lower bracket match vs Fnatic.
It didn’t get any better. In fact, it actually got worse. At least Rogue had a 3k gold lead in game 2, before throwing it at a Baron fight (because really what else where you expecting?)Games 1 and 3 were complete and utter dismantlings of Rogue and everything they ever held dear. Almost no one showed up. Odoamne was outclassed by Adam, Inspired looked nothing like his usual MVP self, Larssen did nothing in the clutch, Hans Sama was never in a position to carry, and Trymbi had the worst series he’s ever had in his short career.
Needless to say, Rogue isn’t coming into this tournament with much momentum but with THIS group draw?
Expectations: Massive obvious flaws + group of death MAY = dead on arrival
Don’t let all the ranting about the playoff failure fool you. Rogue is a good team with very talented players.
Top laner Odoamne efficiently patched up Rouge’s weak point last year. He does so much for Rogue with so little help and has earned the title of “The Weakside King”. Inspired has looked like one of the best junglers in the LEC if not the World. His masterclass pathing and mechanics even earned him the regular season MVP award in Summer. Larssen has been in the conversation for great mids in EU since his debut, he may have had a weaker than usual start to the Summer, but he patched things up over the split. Hans Sama is having a career year, looking the best he has since 2017 and having the most 2v2 kills of any LEC bot lane. And Trymbi has made a fantastic transition from the EU Masters scene. Becoming a true threat and a consistent support after ironing out the rookie nerves with Hans Sama’s guidance.
Rogue’s early game is an absolute masterclass. They are dominant laners who can get huge leads and snowball a game off it. The coaching staff knows this and drafts around it. With that being said, Rogue have shown two very obvious weak points that good teams will exploit.
This team cannot play the midgame to save their lives. Rogue getting an early lead is a constant and expected thing, but what they do with it sometimes is just baffling. The team gives the opponent too much room to breathe and doesn’t push the advantage. Other times, they’ll push the advantage way too much and get everyone caught out on a random overextension letting the enemy team get back in it. Their teamfighting is just subpar at best. These issues have been around ever since the core came up in 2019 and not only has it not been fixed, its only gotten more noticeable as this flaw holds a team of very talented players back from winning a title.
It’s gotten so bad the Korean fanbase has coined the term “Rogue Time”, a period between 20 and 30 minutes in were Rogue just makes the worst decisions and completely botches their lead.
The second flaw is that this team crumbles under adversity almost every single time. This is yet another flaw from 2019 that has yet to be fixed. From Larssen’s Corki Package in the fountain against Schalke 04 in 2019 playoffs to getting swept by a 9-9 Fnatic as the #1 seed in 2020 Summer playoffs. To NEVER beating G2 in the regular season, to Larssen’s Ardent Censer Orianna and going 1-5 at Worlds, to Larssen jumping into MAD on Tristana in game 3 and being stuck on the other side of a wall during the key fight doing no damage in game 5 (noticing a pattern here?), to the most recent escapade of finishing the playoffs 3-8! The team has the label of chokers for a reason and there has been nothing to suggest that Rogue can conquer these massive mental blocks.
Those flaws would have made for a challenging Worlds run regardless, but when placed in a group with TWO former World Champions and heavy tournament favorites? It’s all but a death sentence. The only way Rogue gets out is by fixing all their mistakes and playing massively above anything we’ve seen so far.
The World Championship will kick off on October 5th with Korea’s Hanwha Life Esports vs China’s LNG Esports at 6am CST You can find the full schedule at https://lolesports.com/, and catch every match there, on the LoL Esports YouTube channel, or at https://www.twitch.tv/riotgames.