A preview of the 2021 League of Legends World Championship.
Play-in Group A pool 1 seeds
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 the two pool 1 seeds in Group A of the Play-in stage. As the Play-in groups consist of 5 teams with two distinct levels of play, it made sense to split them up like this. The first team to be drawn into the group was…
Name: Hanwha Life Esports
Roster: Morgan (Top), Willer (Jungle) Chovy (Mid), Deft (ADC), Vsta (Support
Region/Seed LCK (South Korea) #4
Summary: Disastrous Summer Split saved by great gauntlet run.
Hanwha Life Esports hold the LCK spot formerly owned by KOO Tigers in 2014/15 and ROX Tigers in 2016/18. Under those two names, the Tigers were a formidable foe in the LCK. Making it all the way to the World Finals in 2015 before losing to SKT and being a part of one the most memorable 5 game series in LoL esports history at Worlds 2016. The SKT vs ROX semifinals is still one of the best matches to watch to this day.
Unfortunately, ever since being acquired by Hanwha Life (an insurance company that also owns a baseball team), Hanwha Life have not lived up to their previous names. Their best record was 10-8 and 6th place (no playoffs) in 2018 Summer, and they have spent most of their time in the LCK’s basement. This culminated in a historic lowpoint in 2020 when they finished the Summer Split 2-16 in and 9th place despite having Viper on the team.
HLE wasn’t going to lie down and take it, so they got to making huge changes in the offseason. No members of HLE 2020 are at Worlds in 2021. They picked up Morgan from LPL org Team WE. They promoted Willer and Vista from the challengers and academy teams respectively. But more importantly, they picked up 2 players from Worlds quarterfinalists DRX.
They picked up Deft, an ADC who has been around since 2013, played in 2 separate regions, and has been one of the game’s most elite ADC’s ever since his debut. He’s won 2 LPL titles on Edward Gaming, 1 LCK title on KT Rolster, and went to Worlds and made great runs on teams like EDG, KT, Samsung Blue, and DRX. It was definitely a good pick up but it paled in comparison to who they chose to be their mid laner.
They picked up Chovy. Ever since his LCK debut on Griffin in 2018, Chovy has been one of the fastest rising stars in the LCK, if not the World.Even though he has yet to win any trophies, his stats and the eye test speak for themselves. He almost made Worlds in his 1st split and topped his group and made it to quarterfinals in 2019. He became the first professional League of Legends player to achieve a 100 overall KDA in a professional league in January 2019. He was the 15th player in the LCK to reach 1000 Kills and was the fastest player in the LCK to do so (before Showmaker beat his record in 2021 Summer). He was a proven talent, and these moves were primed to take HLE to the top. It started fairly well in Spring. Sure, there were some concerns that when HLE wasn’t clicking, it was just Chovy being a one man show, but HLE still finished 12-6 and 3rd place. The playoff run wasn’t spectacular as they went to 5 games with Nongshim RedForce, and got swept by Damwon KIA, but it was Damwon, getting destroyed was the expected result. And this was just the beginning, with time for the roster to gel, surely summer would be the breakthrough split.
And then Summer Split actually happened.
To put it simply, Hanwha Life was a BAD team in Summer. They didn’t adapt well to the meta and had a terrible start. By week 3, HLE was 1-5. Top and Jungle weren’t stable positions and saw frequent subbing in and out. They had the lowest KD and 2nd worst mid/late game rating of any team. They had some of the worst Dragon and Baron control, as well as worst WPM of any team. Both of their top laners were some of the worst in the LCK. Their 3 different junglers weren’t much better. Top and jungle were merely footnotes in their victories and abysmal in their losses. It wouldn’t be much of a stretch to say that Hanwha Life are fielding the worst top laner and worst jungler of any major region team. Deft suffered significant regression in summer. Although he wasn’t the worst ADC in the LCK, he looked very little like his elite form in years past. The only bright spot of HLE was Chovy. And what a bright spot he was. It is very little exaggeration to say at their lowest point, HLE was Chovy and 4 wards. Chovy was first among all LCK mid laners in gold, CS and XPD at 10 minutes by a wide margin. He had the highest CSPM, 2nd highest DPM, highest gold share and wards cleared of all mid laners. He also played over 20 different champions over the summer. Despite his team collapsing around him, Chovy was as good as ever, even taking 3rd team All-Pro despite the poor season and stacked talent levels.
Even with Chovy’s masterclass performances in the mid lane, and some improvement towards the end, Hanhwa Life Esports finished 7-11 and in 8th place. For a team that was expected to contend for a title at the beginning of the year, disappointing would be an understatement. It was only thanks to their championship points earned in Spring, and the extra help of DK earning the LCK a 4th seed that HLE had a realistic shot at Worlds. They would have to do it the hard way through the gauntlet with two series standing between them and a spot, and one more for seeding. Despite having 0 momentum, apart from game 1 of their 1st series, HLE crushed their opponents on the way to a Worlds berth. Against LiiV SANDBOX, not only was Chovy his normal self, but the rest of HLE finally clicked. Deft in particular stood out as he probably could of carried games 3 and 4 by himself with how well he was playing and how far ahead he got. The series was an almost total stomp in favor of HLE and the team was finally turning it around.
Their deciding series against Nongshim RedForce was even better. NS were never even in position to fight back, much less take a game against HLE. The true surprises of the game were Morgan and Willer. Despite the former’s not great summer, and Willer being the last member to enter the battle for starting jungler, the two had some great performances on carry champs like Camille and Viego. It wasn’t even like NS were a bunch of no-names either, that team was contesting for 1st for a good part of summer, and their jungler Peanut won LCK MVP. HLE were just much better on the day and began to fully live up to expectations.
Their seeding match against T1 wouldn’t quite end the way they wanted with a 3-2 loss, but the fact that HLE put up a fight at all against the summer finalists is impressive and promising. T1 came within 1 game of sweeping them, but HLE’s mental was very strong. Chovy would do Chovy things as he would carry games 3 and 4 on Sylas and Orianna respectively. The Faker vs Chovy match which was so hyped up coming in did not disappoint.
Willer and Morgan would also step up with carry performances of their own in the victories. They lost game 5 thanks to a great pick onto Deft by Canna, but it was clear that HLE had learned a lot from the underperformance in Summer.
Expectations: Playins will be a warmup, but it’s an uphill battle to go any further.
Hanwha Life Esports making it out of Playins should not even be a question. Its been proven time and time again that having individual skill is enough to make it out, even if the team has weak spots or poor decision making. HLE have skill in spades. Chovy is one of the best mid laners at the World Championship, and he is expected to feast on the minor region mid laners while comfortably outmatching the major regions. If Deft can have consistent carry performances alongside Chovy like he did in the gauntlet, HLE could be a real threat come group stage time.
Unfortunately, HLE is still not without issues. Their drafting has been questionable at times. I have doubts that Morgan and Willer can truly compete with the best of the best. I’m not sure how fast and how well HLE is going to adapt to the meta. HLE is a team with clearly defined weaknesses in one of the most stacked Worlds we have ever seen. Playins will be a warmup and a good opportunity to test the waters and see what works for them. Come group stage though and I have my doubts that the team can truly make a deep run. If they make it out, the format dictates that HLE is guaranteed to go into group C. I’m not entirely sure how well they will match into PSG and Fnatic. I fully expect their matches to be explosive ones as both teams’ best players (Xiaohu/Chovy) are matched against their opponents’ biggest weak points (Cryin/Morgan). To go far at Worlds, HLE are going to have to show that their gauntlet form was the true benchmark that they are at, and then improve upon it immensely.
Name: LNG Esports
Roster: Ale (Top), Tarzan (Jungle), Icon (Mid), Light (ADC), Iwandy (Support)
Region/Seed: LPL (China) #4
Summary: The ultimate dark horse makes it to Worlds off the backs of an incredible playoff run.
LNG Esports have been around in the LPL since 2015 under the name Snake Esports. They were about a middle of the pack organization. They were not without talent (World finalist jungler SoFM, and EDG top laner Flandre played for Snake). They were never in the LPL’s basement and even made it to the regional qualifiers twice. But they were never truly elite. 5th-6th/7th-8th were the name of the game for Snake. Unfortunately, ever since the rebrand in 2019, things haven’t gone so well. The 6th place finish in summer 2019 would be their best as they had back-to-back 5-11 finishes in 2020, 2nd to last in Spring, and only 3 spots higher in Summer. They decided to make significant changes in 2021. They would sign Ale from Dominus Esports and bet on rookie M1kuya for top lane, keep the bot lane of Light and Iwandy and pick up long time Oh My God mid laner Icon. But the true splash in the offseason was the signing of Tarzan.
Tarzan was the former jungler of LCK team Griffin and was one of the hottest rising stars in the world. He helped bring Griffin from the Challengers scene, to making it to LCK, to even making it to Worlds in his 2nd year of being an LCK pro. Unfortunately, if you recall the group B preview, Griffin was destroyed by a massive legal scandal involving a battle between a player, the director, and the coach, that saw most of their players scatter to the winds. Tarzan would go down with the ship, even as his 4 teammates went elsewhere and suffered for it, playing with drastically worse teammates. Griffin would finish 10th in Spring and get relegated for it. I don’t think I have seen a faster and harsher fall from grace than the Griffin organization. A promising dynasty undone in a matter of months.
How promising was this organization? Griffin had Tarzan, Chovy, and Viper on their team. All 3 players are in contention for best in their role at Worlds this year and the former 2 are almost the sole reason their two orgs had such a quick turnaround.
Tarzan would join up with LNG and spring split would be a mixed bag. The team would jump out to a roaring 4-1 start but collapsed in the middle of the season. They would only barely sneak into the playoffs as the 10th seed at 8-8 and were quickly bounced out by Suning in round 1 3-0. The only change LNG made in summer was naming Ale the starting top laner. LNG would experience an intense form of Déjà vu with a strong start and weak finish to the season come summertime. LNG would come out the gates swinging with a 7-0 record. LNG was beating everyone, from bottom feeders and fallen legacy organizations like Victory Five and Invictus Gaming, to 2020 Worlds reps JD Gaming, to the two top dogs of spring in FunPlus Phoenix and Royal Never Give Up! LNG almost looked unstoppable during the beginning of the season. The team played smart, with one of the highest vison scores of any team in the LPL. The X Factor was, of course, Tarzan. With his solo laners being on fire, Tarzan was able to show why he was so feared on Griffin. He had the 3rd highest KDA, 2nd lowest average deaths and 2nd highest CSPM of all junglers. He also had 14 different champions played. The stats don’t do him justice. He is the main reason LNG got out of the LPL’s basement and had a career year. He has masterful mechanics and game sense. He is one of the best junglers in the world and LNG knows this and play around it. With LNG having such a large cushion, what could possibly go wrong?
Try a 3-6 finish to the end of the split. LNG would show that they had some flaws to work out. Ale and Icon had some poor games, and Ale in particular was a volatile top laner. He would either carry or get destroyed. Light and Iwandy were only decent, nothing too special. They would have some ugly losses to teams they were compeating for seeding with. LNG would limp into the playoffs once again with a 10-6 record. This put them at 8th place. Tarzan would perform well for the entire season, picking up 1st team All Pro despite being on an 8th place team, but expectations were low for LNG. They were seen as a team that lived or died by Tarzan and brought little else to the table. With 0 championship points from spring, LNG would have to pretty much run the table to get to Worlds.
Little did people know that LNG would go on an incredible streak during the playoffs, defying the odds every time. The first team on LNG’s long road to glory was the 2020 World finalist Suning. LNG would come out of the gate swinging as they almost swept the finalist to knock them out of Worlds contention! Game 1 saw Suning get a sizable early lead, but LNG would fight back as Light’s Vayne hit 3 items and absolutely melted the frontline of Suning. Ale would find flanks on Kennen while Light would carry the fights with constant DPS as LNG came back to take game 1. Game 2 wouldn’t require a comeback. Ale would bait in 2 members of Suning with Viego’s invisibility and Icon and Tarzan roamed up to pick up 2 early kills at 4 minutes. LNG would fight Suning early and often. Light would go untouched on Ziggs while Ale and Tarzan would be the stars of the show on Viego and Volibear. Suning bearly had a chance to play the game. Suning would show they weren’t just going to lie down and die by taking games 3 and 4 off the backs of Angel and Huanfeng, but LNG would seal the deal in game 5 thanks to a Lulu mid pick that worked wonders. Icon would shut down any dives onto Light and make Tarzan unkillable as he dived onto Suning’s backline. They would eliminate the 2020 World finalists 3-2.
Their next match and the true test would be against 2020 LPL champion TOP Esports. While TOP had a rougher season then they would have preferred, their ace in the hole was their mid laner Knight. Knight was the 2nd team All Pro mid laner, had the most Player of the Game awards of any LPL player in Summer at 14, and set the record for most solo kills in a single split in history at 35. He also was around the top of the leaderboard in key stats like Avg Kills, CSPM, and GPM. TOP Esports also had big names in Flash Wolves legend Karsa, and 2018 world champion JackeyLove, but even if none of the other 4 members were preforming, Knight would do his best to drag them over the finish line. With such a big trump card and so many advantages on paper, few were willing to give LNG a chance.
So imagine everyone’s surprise when LNG beat TOP Esports 3-1. Game 1 would be a brutal back-and-forth game. Knight would be his normal self, almost carrying the game solo early on Akali. But LNG were the better team. Icon would do even more damage than Knight, Light, Iwandy, and Ale would all massively outperform their counterparts in the late game fights, and Tarzan would be a global presence with his Nocturne, dealing much more damage than Karsa, as LNG would win the almost 48-minute bloodbath. TES would fire back in game 2. Even though Ale would get an impressive 1v2 kill onto Karsa, that would be about all LNG got. Game 2 was fairly one-sided as Knight ran over Icon, Karsa was better early than Tarzan, and 369 and JackeyLove were consistent forms of damage. With the series tied up 1-1, LNG would show that they weren’t rattled at all in game 3. Icon would have a perfect KDA on Orianna. He did much more damage than Knight and he was the main carry of the game. Ale once again proved better than 369. He had a significant lead early thanks to some help from Tarzan and was the one who found the game winning flank to ace TES even though they had ocean soul. TES were putting up a fight, but it was clear who the momentum favored. LNG would bust out the Yasuo/Diana combo for game 4 that would work wonders in the late game. Even though TOP Esports held the gold lead for most of game 4, LNG would fight back in the late game. Tarzan and Icon would pull off a beautiful Yasuo/Diana combo as Tarzan prevented the soul point for TOP and won the fight. LNG would win the rest of the fights and knock out the 5th seed 3-1. There would be 0 teams from the LPL at 2020 Worlds making a return and LNG were responsible for half of their eliminations.
Next up on the list was 4th seed, MSI winner, and Spring Split champion Royal Never Give Up. If you don’t count their last game of the season that was completely meaningless, RNG was entering playoffs on a 10-game win streak! On paper, RNG should have crushed LNG as they weren’t exactly known for faltering in key moments. This is where the miracle run ended right?
Nope. LNG took out the MSI Champions 3-1 and made it look easy. Even with Xiaohu getting a massive early lead on Kennen in game 1, RNG would make an uncharacteristic throw at Baron, which LNG took full advantage of. Icon would turn the tides with a massive performance on Leblanc and LNG would take game 1. Even though Icon had a rough game on Renekton mid going 0/7/9, Ale more than made up for it by taking over on Jax. He had a 65% kill participation, ended 6k gold ahead of Xiaohu, and ended up going 9/3/4. Light and Tarzan also went deathless as they outperformed their RNG counterparts. Game 3 wouldn’t go as planned, mostly because they gave over Xiaohu’s undefeated Lucian. But game 4 would more than make up for it with a 45-minute slugfest with Tarzan landing great Lee Sin kick after great Lee Sin Kick. Even with GALA making the hero play at baron, LNG would slip the dagger in the heart when Icon realm warped all 5 members onto him in the mid lane to catch him out and end the series 3-1.
Unfortunately, the miracle run ended there as their next two series were 3-0 sweeps against the #1 and #2 seeds FPX and EDG, but that great run gave them a shot at the regional gauntlet with two b05s standing between them and Worlds. The first was against Rare Atom, who finished the LPL regular summer split in third before being upset by Team WE in playoffs. LNG would prove that the playoff run was not a fluke with one of the most brutal 3-0 sweeps of the season. At almost no point was RA even remotely competitive in the series as all 5 members of LNG were better than RA. Only game 1 was even a competition and Light put a stop to that with Light playing well on Aphelios. Tarzan wouldn’t die once in 3 games. Games 2 and 3 only lasted 23 minutes. RA got a total of 4 kills in the final 2 games. Their series against the LPL’s ticket office Team WE would only be slightly less one-sided. Tarzan would run over game 1 on Olaf. They almost came back in game 2, Ale’s Irelia would almost win game 3 by himself with great plays in lane phase and teamfights, and Tarzan would have a repeat performance on Olaf in game 4. WE would end up going 1-12 in their final 4 series and they would punch the tickets of all 4 LPL Worlds representatives.
Expectations: Head and shoulders above most the Play-in teams, going to be a dogfight in the group stage.
The key to LNG’s success at Worlds can be traced back to one man. Tarzan. This is the man that puts LNG head and shoulders above almost any other team in Play-in stage. He led almost every category you could think of in the jungle in LPL playoffs. Like HLE, the only competition for Group A will be each other. Getting to see two of the 3 former members of Griffin square off in the Play-in stage should be a treat for any LoL fan.
When they make it through, LNG can only be drawn into Group D to make one of the most volatile groups at Worlds. You could make an argument for any of the 4 teams in that group to make it out and LNG are no different. Although Tarzan was always elite and the biggest part of LNG’s success, the other 4 members of LNG stepped up over the course of Playoffs and Gauntlet. Ale had much more carry performances while cutting back on the bad games, Icon stood up to some of the best mid laners in the world, and Iwandy and Light looked good. If LNG can shake off nerves (Only Tarzan has significant experience at Worlds), perhaps they will shock the world once again.
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 athttps://www.twitch.tv/riotgames.