Red Bull eSports
Meet the teams gearing up for Worlds 2017 in China and learn what to expect.
After all, this is the first year that they’re doing away with the premier/wildcard circuit dichotomies. Instead, every major server region in the game will now have at least one full-fledged representative at Worlds — with the caveat that seeding preferences are determined in part by how they did at the Mid-Season Invitational all those months ago.
That’s probably unwelcome news for newly minted North American fans, or those that are checking back in after a hiatus and forgot what was at stake during MSI. After all, for all the hullabaloo about franchising and celebrity names signing up esports teams — North America lost.
They gave up first-seed privileges to the Taiwan/Hong Kong/Macau LMS region instead.
First seed or not, nobody’s taking the Worlds slot away from Team Solomid. Or, it seems, the NA LCS MVP slot from Bjergsen either. America’s Darlings may not have a lot to prove this time around — when you’ve been on the world stage as often as TSM has, and still so desperately short of making real headway against Korea, what your fans mainly want to see is whether you’ll do better than last year.
On one hand, they set themselves a low bar last year, falling to the ninth-12th place slot in 2016. On the other hand, the path on up is harder this year thanks to losing the coveted first seed to dodge their respective frontrunner peers from China and Korea — squandered last year when they failed the tiebreakers against China’s Royal Never Give Up.
Immortals, on the other hand, have little to prove except how far they can measure themselves up against the rest of the world. This is, after all, their first outing at this caliber of competition. They’ll be joined by Cloud 9 – the North American Regionals’s winner, and an organization with veterancy in the Worlds race.
G2 taking the crown and leading the charge comes as no surprise to anyone. The EU’s single most dominant team, for all the flaws and struggles they’ve previously dealt with, remains effectively unchallenged within the borders of the economic bloc.
The same cannot be said for Misfits. In fact, their ascendancy comes as something of a surprise. Even in the leadup to the summer finals, they were not expected to attend Paris, not with Fnatic laying in wait, boasting a roster and talent that seemed set to give G2 their first challenge in some four splits. With the narrative going that Misfits were basically “discount G2,” their sudden shift in pick-ban strategies and macro play stunned even G2 coach Youngbuck.
That didn’t mean Misfits weren’t completely demolished in the final match of the regular season, but it did mean that G2 perhaps took them more seriously than they would’ve otherwise.
Unlike North America, Europe retained its first seed despite a poor showing at Rift Rivals (which, granted, had no weight on it at all, making it more for funsies). The third seed was ultimately claimed by Fnatic in the EU LCS Regionals run.
The Chinese summer finals were as exhilarating as always, featuring a tense full-fledged five-game match between EDG and RNG for the final slot. But while it seems as if the “Chinese Aggression” meme is alive and well, if the relentless cross-map fighting is anything to go by, that may be as much a point of concern as it is a point of pride for fans of the region.
The style works against most of the world, is the main issue — emphasis on “most.” But the Chinese-Korean rivalry is one-sided: mostly, it’s just the latter kicking the former up and down Summoner’s Rift. While the close match between the region’s finalists were exciting to watch, it also didn’t seem to indicate any real evolution in the sort of macro play that’s cost them games in previous years.
Hong Kong Attitude
Small island; big impact. Though the Flash Wolves’s fourth place finish at MSI was far short of their ambitions, it was enough to turn the script around on the region’s treatment as an awkward go-between sandwiched between the first-seeded Premier Regions and the Wildcards. It was also enough to secure them a much coveted third seed, as attested by the first-ever attendance of team Hong Kong Attitude.
But whether or not Taiwan performs well on the world stage is very much up to chance, as the now-venerable Flash Wolves and AHQ squads have found it difficult to keep the pace up even at home. That either signals an unfortunate weakness in the region just as they’ve finally secured a coveted first seed … or that maybe some attention should be given to HKA’s performance in a few weeks.
The fact that SKT T1 failed to secure the summer crown was a legitimate surprise. Longzhu Gaming’s veteran duo of PraY and GorillA have gained a much-deserved crown after so long — and now seek to extend that to a Worlds title too. Given that “able to take games off SKT T1” is the standard by which the world at large is measured, they have a serious claim to the title to boot.
That doesn’t mean that SKT’s out of contention. It isn’t 2013, when the Samsung twins shook the world with their claim as the single strongest organization to play at that level — a legacy that their successors struggle to match, though making it back on the world stage is certainly a good start.
The unexpected ascendancy of the Gigabyte Marines at MSI, knocking over SuperMassive Esports in the Play-In rounds to qualify for the group stage, has given the beleaguered Southeast Asian region a reprieve. Since Taiwan spun off to form its own premier circuit, taking the Worlds seeds with them, the SEA bloc has struggled to claim the limelight — Brazil, Turkey, even Australia all claimed a bigger presence in the international scene, and this despite SEA’s long history on the world stage itself.
The Marines were last place at MSI 2017, but not without doing significant damage in the process. Winning matchups against TSM and Team WE came as a surprise to everybody involved, probably including themselves. That dark horse influence, from a region with a chip on its shoulders, will make the western regions in particular a bit nervous.
Fenerbahce Esports (Turkey)
Kaos Latin Gamers (Latin America South)
Lyon Gaming (Latin America North)
Dire Wolves (Australia/New Zealand)
Team One (Brazil)
Gambit Esports (CIS)
As the regions guaranteed for the play-in qualifiers, they have everything and nothing to prove. The former Wildcard regions may finally not have to cannibalize each other for a Worlds ticket, but their stylistic and skill qualities range from budding (as is with Brazil) to bizarre (as is with the LatAm circuits). To be frank: nobody expects even the best of them to make it past the group stages.
All the same, the established teams and regions are rather hoping not to fall victim to the Kabum! curse this time around, where one of them inevitably suffers an upset win. Usually at the hands of the Brazilian squads, who have long vied for a space at the premier kids’ table.
Overall: the structure and narrative of League of Legends Worlds is distinctly familiar. Korea at the top, China fending off the west, but the devil’s in the details. The new play-in format expands Worlds to include, well, the rest of the world. With the third seed of every major region but China now at risk of an upset against former Wildcards, it could entirely be that NA gets a double-dose of salt on the wound — or that echoes of the nightmares of Rift Rivals sends a shudder through European spines again.