A preview of the 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 D of the main event. This group is also an exciting one. It’s a mix of established orgs and new blood. All 3 had less than stellar ends to their last Worlds run and they are looking to redeem themselves. You can make an argument for all 3 to get out and none of them would be too farfetched. The first team to be drawn in was..
Roster: Armut (Top), Elyoya (Jungle), Humanoid (Mid), Carzzy (ADC), Kaiser (Support)
Region/Seed: LEC (Europe) #1
Summary: The new kings of Europe cemented their dominant reign over all would-be challengers.
If you were to look at a history of LEC/EU LCS splits, you would see that MAD Lions joined the league a year after franchising in 2018. In actuality, MAD Lions are the rebrand of former EU LCS org, Splyce. Splyce was a fairly elite organization. They never quite were able to overthrow the two overlord who ruled over EU since its inception in Fnatic and G2, but they had some storied players wear their jerseys (Wunder, Nisqy, Humanoid, and Kobbe were all Splyce players at one point or another). They made it to Worlds twice, getting stuck with a very hard group in 2016 where they went 1-5, and almost getting 1st over FunPlus Phoenix and taking a game off SKT in quarter finals in 2019.
MAD formally joined the LEC in 2020, where they made a name for themselves by trusting in young talent, (Humanoid was only player coming in with significant LEC experience and even he only had 2 splits under his belt) yet performing admirably, being one of very few EU organizations to take a best-of-5 off of G2 in their first playoffs ever. Unfortunately, the Worlds run ended in a rather embarrassing fashion with them only barley not finishing dead last and, in the end, failed to make it out of Playins, the only team from a top 4 region to do so.
MAD decided that changes needed to be made and got to work building a roster for 2021. One of their coaches left for the LCS team Evil Geniuses, and they decided to let go of their top laner Orome, who was considered (and honestly was) a weak spot. They also dropped their promising rookie jungler Sha0w after his poor performance at Worlds. For the replacements, MAD decided to trust in the young talent again at jungle as they signed SuperLiga (Spanish regional league) prodigy Elyoya. For the top lane, they picked up the man who dunked on Orome in the Play-in stage, Armut. He won the TCL two times on two different teams before joining MAD.
As for how those moves worked out, ever since then, the LEC has been MAD Lions’ world and the other 9 teams are just living in it.
MAD Lions finished Spring Split in third place with a 10-8 record. Elyoya won Rookie of the Split, and come playoff time, they swatted Rogue aside 3-1 in round 1, beat the “upgraded” super team G2 who was expected to just run over the league 3-1 and made them look bad in the process, and capped it all off by coming back from a 10k gold deficit in game 5 to reverse sweep Rogue in the finals 3-2. They didn’t disappoint at MSI either. They got out of Play-in groups with no struggle despite having one of the groups most primed for upsets going in, went a respectable 5-5 in groups taking a game off of Royal Never Give Up in the process, and took the Defending world champions Damwon KIA to 5 games!
Things wouldn’t exactly kick into high gear right away come Summer Split time. MAD Lions hadn’t had much time to rest up after the tiring MSI grind, and the players and coaches were very vocal that they were suffering from burnout and would turn it around soon enough. This would manifest in a bit of sloppy play (Armut wasn’t looking too hot for most of early Summer), and a few questionable losses here and there (lost to Excel Esports, only team to not make playoffs ever and SK Gaming, who were the punchline of the LEC), but overall, nothing too serious. MAD would never drop below .500, they still had great players in every position with Humanoid and Kaiser being some of the standouts, and they were never considered bad or even mediocre. Things would fully click eventually as MAD Lions won 4 out of their last 5 to close out the split, including impressive victories over teams like fellow Worlds reps Rogue and Fnatic, as well as one of the other hopeful challengers in Misfits Gaming. While they had the highest average game time in the LEC (33:30), MAD also was known for having one of the best mid/late games in EU, as they had an incredible tendency to just not die even if the early game didn’t go as planned. Their superior teamfighting and objective play (highest baron% in LEC) would drag victory from the jaws of defeat on more than one occasion (that finals against Rogue being a very noticeable case). They also had plenty of moments where their personality shined through. Including… what ever this was in their final match of the season vs Misfits.
MAD Lions would end up finishing 12-6 and 3rd place in Summer. Humanoid would get 2nd team All-Pro while Kaiser got 3rd team (note: All-Pro LEC was voted on by fans, so popularity played a big part. Take with a grain of salt). Despite the regular season having some bumps, MAD Lions where still an easy pick for the LEC title. MAD Lions would decide to enlist a little help, bringing on veteran top laner and former Splyce player Vizicsacsi as a position coach for the playoff run.
The rest of the LEC found out the hard way that they weren’t kidding they said they would get better come playoff time.
Their first match would be with a franchise the young organization has had frequent run-ins with in G2. MAD’s original claim to fame was beating G2 in playoffs and the two have started to spark a rivalry, especially the narrative of “the new kings vs the old kings” coming into full force. The MAD Lions would prove that the “new kings” were here to stay. Despite coming out flat in game 1, MAD would quickly fire back in game 2. Armut would show how much he had grown under Vizicsacsi’s guidance as he solo killed Wunder on Gwen for 1st blood and only suffered one early death. G2 would get an early 5-2 kill lead and significant gold onto Rekkles, but Elyoya and Armut would take over after getting some early kills back. The game would be surprisingly quick. Caps would try to take over game 3 for G2 on Leblanc, getting a sizable early lead and being more than capable of blowing up any MAD Lions member unfortunate enough to step in his range. G2 had a 3k gold lead 13-5 kill lead with gold on the main carries. But Armut would lead the charge back on his signature Gnar (most played, won MAD the crucial game 5 in finals). MAD would find picks, win teamfights against all odds, and just refuse to die as they would quickly make take the lead back. The game would be a bloody affair with G2 getting Ocean Soul and Baron at 36 minutes. But Kaiser and Armut would find a crucial pick onto Rekkles (still don’t know why he was in that bush) that would allow them to kill the nexus even with Caps and Rekkles being so fed. MAD’s stubbornness would pay off once again to put them up 2-1. That game would prove to be the backbreaker as MAD soundly defeated G2 in game 4. Armut would stomp the game on his other signature pick Wukong (12 games, 11 wins, undefeated in domestic play). Elyoya knew Armut could carry the game and pressured his lane early and often. G2 would fire back by diving bot, but MAD’s point of power proved stronger while Carzzy and Kaiser weathered the pressure. A 5-0 ace in MAD’s jungle and a baron after it all but sealed G2’s fate while a huge Cyclone from Armut would finish the dominant game and qualify them for Worlds.
Up next was a rematch of Spring Finals against Rogue. Given that Rogue barely scraped by Misfits while MAD looked great against G2, MAD were seen as coming in with the momentum, but the series could still go either way. RGE/MAD is yet another blooming rivalry with two of the youngest orgs who came in around the same time, made their names off of investing in young talent, and were both talked up as EU’s “new kings”. Although their storylines were similar, MAD Lions proved that Rogue were anything but a match for them with a 3-0 sweep. What was once a thrilling 5 game series turned into 3 different flavors of humiliation for Rogue on the biggest stage. Game 1 would be a standard massive stomp from start to finish. MAD got 1st blood and double TP advantage at 3 minutes and it never got any easier. Kaiser’s Rakan found beautiful engages at every turn (that engage at the final dragon fight was something special) while Armut and Humanoid ran over Odoamne and Larssen. The final kill score was 20-2. The 2nd game would be a 49 minute back-and-forth bloodbath. MAD would fire early with many early kills, but Rogue would bring it back with an incredibly big shockwave+Aphelios ult combo. MAD would weather the momentum and beat the comp specifically created to teamfight in a teamfight at Baron. The game would be a game of momentum, both teams came within seconds of ending the game back-to-back, but neither team could close it out. Hans Sama would put up some truly insane damage numbers on Aphelios, but Elyoya would thread the needle between Odoamne and Trymbi to hit him with a Viego W to finish the final fight before it began. While I still haven’t quite figured out how both tanks failed to bodyblock a tiny Viego W, it still showcases MAD’s mental resilience that hey could hold on for so long and pull out a win.
Game 3 would be a repeat of Spring Finals as Rogue got themselves out to a 10k gold lead. But MAD Lions would still win almost every fight by large margins. It would be a slow and perilous climb with little room for error, but MAD didn’t drop their guard once, and beat back Rogue’s massive early lead to win the series 3-0. MAD beat Rogue in 3 separate and equally satisfying ways. Rogue was the #1 seed and they made them look like amateurs.
The finals would see them face off against Fnatic. It was a battle between two squads that were never given respect. Even with MAD not losing a single LEC b05 in 2021, predictions in their matches against G2 and Rogue were surprisingly even, or even favoring their opponents. Whereas the previous giant G2 would be given the benefit of the doubt when they were at the top of the mountain, MAD Lions would have to earn that respect time and time again. The shadow of 2020 Worlds always hung over them and even with all their success, it was still in the back of people’s minds.
Meanwhile, Fnatic lost their franchise player to their biggest rival at the beginning of the year and very few had them as true contenders for the title. Many of their players had their own personal chips on their shoulder as they were deserving targets of the community’s ire. Nisqy was criticized for FNC not signing an ERL mid laner. Upset was criticized for “choking”. Hylissang took flame for playing “too aggressive”. Both Bwipo and Adam had their share of doubters.
This matchup between the new king and the other legacy org would start off strong for MAD Lions. In the battle between the fan favorite top laners, Armut would come out on top in game 1 (and the rest of the series, but, spoilers) going 4/1/10 to Adam’s 1/6/2 in the Gnar/Wukong matchup. Elyoya would be everywhere in the early game while Humanoid would be a terror on Ryze. The game was blown open after MAD got 4 kills for none in the river. Fnatic would fight back and even pick up a baron, but Humanoid would get a quadra kill on Ryze. In game 2, Fnatic would prove that they were a worthy challenger to MAD Lions and significantly better than any other team in the LEC. They actually held onto a massive lead against MAD Lions. That certainly didn’t mean MAD didn’t try to pull their usual shenanigans, they would get some picks, go even in fights, and Elyoya would even steal a baron, but Fnatic’s lead was just too much for MAD to handle. Although the kill score would be even for most of game 3, MAD Lions were always significantly ahead in gold. Armut and Elyoya would be the main carries, going a combined 16/0/22 as they put MAD at match point. Game 4 was just the victory lap as Armut and Humanoid decimated their Fnatic counterparts as MAD ran over game 4 on their way to defending their LEC title. This series was even more impressive as Nisqy and Adam where two of the most hyped up members of Fnatic throught the playoff run. Humanoid and Armut proved themselves superior in all 3 victories. Armut in particular would be the man of the hour as he won his 2nd straight Finals MVP. The only best-of-5 MAD Lions lost all year was to the World Champions in a 5-game series. The LEC runs themselves were flawless.
Expectations: The best of the west can hang with the best. Can make semifinals with a not unrealistic chance of winning the whole thing.
MAD Lions have established themselves as a true contender and at this point, there are few reasons to doubt them. Kaiser and Carzzy have proven themselves as a truly elite LEC bot lane. Humanoid is making a name for himself as the next great EU mid. Armut and Elyoya have had breakout years and are establishing themselves as fan favorites. Although every member of MAD Lions is skilled and there isn’t a real weak point like some other teams at Worlds (only Carzzy maybe?), the main reason I’m excited for MAD Lions isn’t because of their individual mechanics.
The reason to believe in them is simple. MAD Lions absolutely refuse to lie down and die.
The team has shown an almost unmatched ability to deal with adversity. Coming back from massive deficits has practically become a MAD standard by now. Their excellent mid and late game have allowed them to win some games any other team would have lost. When behind, MAD don’t panic, have clear plans, and have the mechanics to execute on the plans. They’ll win fights from massive deficits; they’ll get objectives when they have no right to. This team does not go gently into the night. My main concern is that MAD is in the position to come back from 5-10k gold leads in the first place. It doesn’t exactly paint a good picture of their early game. Better teams like FPX and EDG could slam the door shut and not let them back in, but I have faith that MAD can mechanically keep up with almost any team at the tournament. Their clutch factor is almost legendary. Although the other spot in the group is up for grabs, I have a lot of confidence that MAD will make it out. The dark days of 2020 Worlds are well behind them and although I wouldn’t bet money on it, (more because of how stacked this Worlds is than anything MAD do wrong) MAD have a realistic shot at lifting the trophy at the end of it.
Name: Gen. G
Roster: Rascal (Top), Clid (Jungle), BDD (Mid), Ruler (ADC), Life (Support)
Region/Seed: LCK (South Korea) #2
Summary: Strong start, but the season ended with a whimper.
Once upon a time, Gen. G’s roster and LCK spot was owned by Samsung. And they were one of the most consistently good organizations in Korea. They fielded two sister teams in Samsung Blue (an incredibly elite team that finished 4th at Worlds 2014), and more famously, Worlds 2014 winners Samsung White. That team was one of the most dominant rosters and practically changed the way teams played and looked at LoL as a game. When Riot axed sister teams, the newly named Samsung Galaxy were no slouches either. They made it to the finals at Worlds 2016, taking SK Telecom T1 to 5 games before losing. More impressively, they ended the SKT dynasty in 2017 with a 3-0 sweep in the World finals.
Unfortunately, Gen. G have never quite been able to live up to their history as SSG. They only made it to Worlds through the gauntlet in 2018 and went 1-5 and got last in the group stage. They didn’t even make it to Worlds 2019. And they bowed out in an uninspiring 3-0 sweep to G2 in the quarterfinals last year.
Having made 0 changes to the roster in 2021, Gen, G’s season has been a mixed bag. Their Spring split was fairly solid and straightforward. They finished 13-5 in Spring, swept T1 in the semifinals but got destroyed by Damwon KIA in a 3-0 sweep. They had a technically better placing than 2020 Summer, but they were still leagues behind Damwon and a very distant 2nd best.
Gen G’s summer split on the other was… weird. The split started out great for Gen. G. They jumped out to a 6-0 record by week 3. They held a comfortable 2 game lead over their next closest competition and were looking like one of the scariest teams in the LCK. Most of this came off the backs of BDD and Ruler. BDD has been one of the most elite mid laners in an incredibly stacked region while Ruler hasn’t slowed down much from his World Championship form.
Despite this, Gen G. would begin to look a little shaky in the middle, and especially towards the end of the split. They would still beat the middle and bottom of the pack teams they were expected to beat, but they were starting to get upended by some of the teams challenging for the top of the table like DK and T1. They were seen as one dimensional, not aggressive enough, too reliant on individual skill difference being the deciding factor. They were still seen as good, and they had some very talented individuals, but they weren’t seen as the true favorite like Damwon. The team didn’t really have surprises, what you saw was what you got. They were seen as a binary team. Is Gen. G better? If so, they crush the opponent leaving little room for them to get back in it. Is the opponent better than them? If so, the opponent just rolls over them and Gen G doesn’t do much to stop it.
Gen. G would finish the split 12-6, finishing 2nd losing out to DK on h2h and game differential. This meant that they would get a bye into the 2nd round of playoffs. Both Ruler and BDD received 2nd team All-Pro spots. BDD’s 2nd team was special because he beat out mid laners like Faker and Chovy for it. If Gen. G leveled up, perhaps they had a real shot at the title after all.
They didn’t. Their playoff run started and ended with a series against T1. Game 1 would be a fairly one-sided stomp thanks to BDD’s Azir and Ruler’s Aphelios taking over the game. Gen. G were already ahead early and had the scaling advantage so T1 couldn’t fight their way back in it. However, the other 3 games would see T1 outclass Gen. G on every level. Canna was given his undefeated Gwen and put Rascal 6-feet under throughout the entire game. Ruler wasn’t given room to free fire as Aphelios and BDD’s Zoe was underwhelming. Rascal would be outmatched by Canna once again as he went 0/6/4, but to his credit, its not like he had much help in the Jungle department. Clid only dealt 4.9k damage over the course of 51 minutes. Sure, he was supposed to be a tanky frontline, not an assassin, but he dealt less damage than both supports! Nobody had an answer to the question of “how do we stop Teddy from taking over” in game 3, and they wouldn’t find one in game 4. Game 4 would be much closer, Rascal popped off, going 8/2/2 on Camille being a big threat in the side lane. But this time, Neither BDD, Clid, or Ruler would step up. BDD’s Yasuo never had a chance to get ahead and snowball. He only ended up dealing 5k less damage than Faker and went 2/5/5. Ruler dealt consistent damage but couldn’t really close out any kills. He would have a sizable damage number, but only 1 kill to his name, and his counterpart Teddy completely took over the game. And Clid wasn’t blowing people up on Diana like he needed to. All of this would result in Gen. G fallinf 3-1 in the semifinals. It is only thanks to their championship points from Spring and that DK stomped T1 in the finals that Gen G. has the LCK 2nd seed.
Expectations: A talented squad but have clearly defined weaknesses. Should get out but it’s hard to see them doing much more.
As said in the summary, Gen. G does have talent. BDD and Ruler especially could be the keys to Gen. G making a deep run. However, I also feel like Gen. G has no real surprises up their sleeve, no X-factor for when they are on the ropes. They are the definition of a solid, honest team. They mostly play 1 style of LoL very, very well, but don’t have much to offer if a team can get past it. When loading into a game, Gen. G asks their opponents a simple question. “Are you better than us?” While this works wonders when crushing the middle and bottom of the pack, and it means they don’t really randomly drop games to teams they should beat like some of the other big names, it also means they have few answers when a team is individually better than them. They can’t really count on a player like DoinB to bail them out, nor do they have a clutch factor like Damwon, or just refuse to die like MAD Lions. I fully believe that Gen. G has the skills necessary to get out, even to stomp the group. However, come knockouts time, I just feel like Gen. G is going to crumble and fold over against any of the top teams. I don’t see how they match the aggression of an FPX, or how they beat someone who plays their game better than they do like an EDG.
Gen. G is in a weird spot that they are the team I have the most faith in not collapsing in the group stage but have 0 faith in them to go much further than that. If they want to have a chance at the Summoner’s cup, not only are their staple players going to have to play as well as they did in the regular season, but their less noteworthy payers are also going to need to step up fast.
Name: Team Liquid
Roster: Alphari (Top), Santorin (Jungle), Jensen (Mid), Tactical (ADC), CoreJJ (Support)
Region/Seed: LCS (North America) #2
Summary: The super team had a very rocky split. Made massive improvements in playoffs but didn’t show up for finals.
Team Liquid has been around for quite some time now and has become famous for a variety of things over the years. They used to be known for always finishing in 4th place back when they were Team Curse. Then when they merged with Team Liquid, they became famous for roster drama and being in the basement. However, since the dawn of franchising in 2018, Team Liquid have become famous for something else. Spending the big bucks on the biggest of names in pursuit of glory. Their high spending ways would grant them 4 straight LCS titles and even upset the defending World Champions Invictus Gaming 3-1 at MSI 2019 to make it to the finals. Unfortunately for them, their reign of dominance came to an end in 2020 as they finished 9thin spring, 3rd in summer, and went 3-3 and didn’t make it out of Worlds Groups.
To remedy this, they bought out Santorin from Flyquest, who made both finals in spring and summer, and picked up Alphari, one of the best EU top laners stuck on the 10th place team, from overseas. TL looked great in 2021, winning the pre-season Lock-in tournament, and making it all the way to finals before losing in 5 games to Cloud 9 in Spring. And that last one has a giant asterisk as Santorin wasn’t playing because he was suffering from migraines.
However, if there is one word I would use to describe TL’s summer split, it would be tumultuous.
It began with the first game of the season, as after a loss to major rival TSM, TL swapped out Alphari for the academy top laner Jenkins. The change came out of nowhere and TL was quite vague about the reasoning. Alphari would take to Twitter to criticize TL for saying it “wasn’t a spur of the moment decision”, and this would begin a long period of drama, infighting, and shot firing, with many fans, players, coaches, and analysts taking to the 280-character battlefield of Twitter to weigh in on the benching. There were accusations of Alphari having performance and attitude issues, accusations of coach Jatt being a diva who couldn’t take criticism, the TL PR team was completely in over their heads. Accusations were being thrown left-and-right and nobody knew who to believe.
Alphari wouldn’t see a game in a TL uniform until July 9th, missing 14 games of the 27-game split. Sure, Jenkins was decent enough, but he was not an elite top laner, and certainly not at Alphari’s level (almost no LCS top laner is). It would be noticeable as TL would start to lose the games that Alphari could be counted on to bail out the rest of the team. The saga would eventually end with Jatt’s resignation due to pressure from inside and outside the organization on June 24th. How much of the more vitriolic accusations is still up for debate, but in the end, it seemed like the two parties left on good/decent terms. It wasn’t as ugly a breakup as many were expecting.
An even bigger issue popped up when Santorin revealed that the migraines hadn’t gone away. He was placed on medical leave in week 4. He was subbed out for Armao. A man who is great in academy, reportedly great in scrims, but just couldn't cut it at the LCS stage when given his shot on TSM and Dignitas. Although he had a shot at reversing that narrative as Santorin would be out until week 9 due to migraines, he really didn’t. In his 15 games of playing, out of all junglers who played the full 15 (Flyquest and Evil Geniuses played subs for a few games), Armao had: the lowest kills, 3rd highest deaths, 2nd worst KDA, worst KP, KS, 2nd highest death share, 2nd lowest gold@10,2nd lowest cspm, 2nd lowest DPM, and worst WCPM. And he was filling the shoes of one of the best junglers in Spring.
TL would finish 5th in the regular season with a 15-12 record in Summer with an overall record of 27-18. CoreJJ would make 1st team All-Pro and Tactical would make the 3rd team. Their most notable and galling stat line was that they were a combined 6-14 against the teams above them overall (1-4 vs 100t, 2-3 vs C9, 3-2 vs EG, 0-5 vs TSM) and were 2-10 against them in summer. Despite the poor records, nobody really had any idea what to make of them. As a result of the Alphari drama and Santorin’s health issues, Team Liquid played a whopping 4 games with their full roster. It was expected that TL would get it together in the playoffs, but expectations were still uncertain.
Team Liquid would get a chance to answer these questions immediately as their first match was against the 4th seed Cloud 9. The other multi-million-dollar super team had quite a few struggles of their own as they finished the split with the same summer record as TL. Cloud 9 were the favorites as they had won their most recent confrontation with TL having their full roster. Team Liquid came out swinging with a statement victory in games 1 and 2. Santorin would make big things happen early, working with Jensen to get 1st blood on Perkz in game 1. He would get Alphari and Jensen incredibly ahead and the game was never even close. Jensen may have been the main carry on Lee Sin, but Santorin was the reason he was able to do so. No lane went positive for C9. In game 2, Santorin would pick up the Lee Sin and TL would coordinate a 4-man dive onto top early. Although the game started slower, it would be even more of a stomp than game 1. C9 only got 3 dragons, 2 towers, and 1 kill as Team Liquid cruised to an easy victory. Santorin would once again be the star of the show early while Jensen took it home in the late game. The other 3 members of TL were playing great as well, but those two were exceptional. Although Cloud 9 would take game 3 off of a great fight in top lane from Zven, and C9 would put up a fight in game 4, Team Liquid would eventually take the series 3-1. Game 4 was a very bloody one early as both supports would spend more time in the mid lane than with their ADC. Team Liquid would execute better in the fights to secure the series and avenge their finals and regular season losses. Jensen’s Lee Sin looked leagues above how he played in the regular season while Santorin would prove just why TL gave him a big contract with expert play after finally beating the migraines. His baron steal in game 4 was the final nail in the coffin for any hope of a C9 comeback.
Team Liquid’s revenge tour would continue when they squared up against #1 seed TSM. They were hungry to knock their other big rival and one of the “big 3” who beat them every single time in regular season down a peg or 6. Game 1 would be a long one, lasting 43 minutes, but there were very few points where it felt like TL didn’t have control. Tatical and CoreJJ would punish a level one overextension from TSM’s bot lane, Alphari would do much more than Huni despite being counterpicked, and Jensen was still on fire going 10/3/5 on Leblanc. TSM shooting themselves in the foot plenty of times with the aforementioned level 1, but PowerOfEvil failing his Shurima Shuffle and planting into a wall, and Lost facechecking a bush at a dragon fight while Huni’s Irelia ultimate hit no one. Game 2 would be more of the same TL dominance after an incredible fight around Rift Herald with a key ultimate from CoreJJ’s Bard. TL would kill 4 members of TSM and blew the game open. TL got all 4 dragons, double TSM’s kills, and won in only 28 minutes with a 10k gold lead. Tactical, Jensen, and Santorin were some of the key players alongside CoreJJ as nobody on TSM could stand up to them. Game 3 didn’t go as planned as Jensen had one of his worst games of the season going 1/6/2, dying twice in the span of two minutes. The game was a complete stomp in TSM’s favor, but Team Liquid would win game 4 before it even started.
Huni picked Lee Sin top, something that has been specifically nerfed to be a not priority solo-laner. Spica got Jarvan IV, a champ that had a resounding 1.3% presence in Summer across major regions and went a whopping 3-7. PoE moved away from control mages onto Leblanc. Lost got picked Aphelios while SwordArt chose Bard, Lost was on a champion with no escapes with 3 members of TL capable of diving on him while SwordArt didn’t pick a champ capable of stopping that. On top of Team Liquid already being the better team on the day, this massive draft difference allowed Santorin, Tactical and Alphari to destroy TSM in game 4 to end the series 3-1.
The final team to face the revamped TL would be the 2nd seed 100 Thieves. Team Liquid would play them in both the semifinals and finals. The first match against them would be a hard fought 5-game series. 100 Thieves would definitely put up a fight, but the heroic efforts of CoreJJ, Santorin, and Alphari would win the day. CoreJJ’s Rell engage in game 1 would take over that game, Santorin would bring the series back from the brink in game 4 with a great Olaf game, and Alphari would wrap the series up with a trademark carry performance on Jayce, going 6/0/12.
Unfortunately, that rematch in the grand finals wouldn’t exactly go as planned.
Literally nobody showed up. Not the coaches, who let Closer get his 4-2 playoff Viego twice after getting ran over by it in game 1, and certainly not the players. The team was slow on the draw to 100T’s 5-man dive with rift herald in the bot lane in game 1. Off of it, 100T got all 5 turret plates, first tower gold, 2 kills onto Closer’s Viego and 2 onto FBI’s Varus would give 100T an incredible early lead. No TL player was even close to their 100T counterparts and were only 3 kills and 2 towers away from 100T getting a perfect game. Games 2 and 3 weren’t any closer. Alphari, while still somewhat showing up, wasn’t the carry TL needed. Santorin, who was looking unstoppable coming into the series regressed to levels of play not seen since he was suffering migraines. Jensen had one of the worst series of his long and storied career, going a combined 0/11/6 over the span of 3 games. He had almost no impact. Tactical and CoreJJ looked completely outmatched by FBI and Huhi. The series was a complete wash and an incredibly disappointing 3-0 sweep.
Expectations: Big names and talent, but it’s hard to have faith in NA.
On paper, Team Liquid should have a very real shot at making it out of groups. If you discount the finals as a fluke and summer as not having their full roster for most of it, Team Liquid looks like one of the strongest teams the LCS has ever sent. You have Worlds staples in CoreJJ and Jensen, Tactical looks to have cleaned up the questionable deaths that plagued him in spring, Santorin is staying healthy and is back in form, and Alphari has been a rock for TL that can always be counted on to carry a game. These are good players, and while there is not much inherently wrong with them, I still find it hard to believe that TL will make it out. This thinking mostly comes from two factors.
1: Team Liquid at international events have a history with starting slow. TL has been to this stage 3 times. They have gone 3-3 and finished 3rd in the group every time. Just look back at their 2020 run. They played well enough to beat 2019 Worlds finalist G2 Esports at the end of the 1st round robin and took down eventual group winner and eventual finalist Suning. Yet they didn’t make it out. Why was that? Because they looked terrible against G2 at the beginning of the 2nd round robin, didn’t even show up in round 1 vs Suning, and got punched in the mouth by Machi Esports. It wasn’t even like Machi were good, that squad didn’t win another game and TL destroyed them in the rematch. They had stomped in the play-in stage, so it wasn’t even like they weren’t warmed up. They just squandered a free win for no reason. At almost every international event they have been to over the past 3 years, TL has shown a complete inability to hit the ground running. If you look at how they end their events, they usually played well enough to get out, they just dug themselves to deep of an early hole to get out of. Once again, in a tournament where your season can be ended in 6 games, you cannot afford to start slow. And I have my doubts that TL has truly fixed this issue.
2: Team Liquid is a North American team. Yes, I know the phrases “NA bad LUL” and “airport speedrun” have been overused but they exist for a reason. The LCS has shown time after time, event after event, that they are almost completely incapable of matching the other 3 major regions blow-for-blow in skill and game sense. NA is the only one of the major regions not to win a World Championship (even the PCS/LMS won one in 2012). No LCS team has made it out of groups since 2018. Only one team even made it to semifinals. While the root causes of why the LCS is so behind are complicated issues and that discussion always has (and inevitably will this year) after every international failure, little has been done to fix anything. Although the why has been contested, the fact is that North American League of Legends teams have given fans and analysts very little reason to believe in them when it comes time for international events.
While Team Liquid may have the talent necessary to finally escape the group stage, they are going to have to break through several layers of stone around this cold dead heart before I give them any hope of getting out. I, and many other LCS fans have been burned too many times to give them any benefit of the doubt before they start winning.
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.