League of Legends worlds is right around the corner, and the potential matchups have our staff chomping at the bit. In anticipation of the group stage draws, we've got some questions we'd like to see answered as the biggest esports event of the year approaches.
Which four teams would you love to see drawn (within regulations) in the upcoming group stages?
Tyler Erzberger: Give me TSM, DRX, Rogue and LGD Gaming as a group that I'd find extremely tantalizing.
All four teams have excellent mid laners that they know how to play around in late-game team fights, but they're all flawed squads with a whole lot to prove in Shanghai. Even TSM, the No. 1 seed in this hypothetical group, is more than likely going to be seen as an underdog in this group by a majority of pundits and the fans-at-large. We'd also get to see the culmination of the "Who's better between TSM and Rogue?" debate that has been thrown for the past two years on social media.
This would be a truly open group where I think all four teams could advance and it'll depend on how well they prepare once they enter the Shanghai bubble and begin quarantining/practicing.
Emily Rand: Similarly I'm going with TSM as the pool 1-seed since it allows for more interesting teams to be drawn in below. In the group with NA's first seed, something like TSM, JDG, Gen.G, and Talon could be possible. Depending on who qualifies as South Korea's third seed matters a bit, but I think the most interesting group in this scenario would have both Gen.G and TSM, then Fnatic and LGD. This would be a weird group of teams for a few reasons.
For starters, Gen.G is already a somewhat specious third seed (if they qualify, and it looks like they will, although feel free to return to this to make fun of me, you've earned it) considering that they lost in a unique and unfortunate situation that involved a large pause and playing on two separate patches within the same series. Despite the fact that DRX did beat Gen.G in both of their regular season meetings, there's a strong case that, had the pause not happened, Gen.G would have made it to the LCK finals and potentially given Damwon Gaming a bit more competition. Few people would believe in TSM getting out of this group but it's also not like either Fnatic or LGD have been particularly consistent this summer either. This wouldn't be a group of death but a group of uncertainty, and would heavily revolve around who adapted first or best. Although most teams in this group are known for playing standard (see: "boring" in popular lexicon), there's a lot of nuance from team to team that would make watching them all try to adapt as the worlds meta evolves interesting
Arda Ocal: We 100% need Rogue and TSM in the same group for the memes. That's a given.
JD Gaming (2)
And from the play-in, give me a surging team like, say, SuperMassive, and of course I'm not picking them because I'm Turkish and have any bias whatsoever, absolutely not. A matchup between the TCL summer champions and the LCS summer champions TSM who also have a Turkish player on their roster? A Broken Blade vs Armut top lane matchup? Turkey rejoice.
Of all the players currently qualified, who are you most excited to see play in Shanghai?
Erzberger: Jeong "Chovy" Ji-hoon is the easy answer here for me. I've been a champion of the prodigal South Korean mid laner from his first days on the now-defunct Griffin roster and he continues to make gigantic strides in his development each offseason. This year, he's fully grown into an all-around superstar, capable of not only being one of the scariest laners in the entire world but also showing a greater awareness of everything else happening around him. While DRX has continued to slump as 2020 has gone on, Chovy's only ramped up in power, essentially dragging his team to the world championship with his one-man army performance in the playoffs.
As long as mentor/longtime head coach Kim "cvMax" Dae-ho keeps him on champions that enable him (unlike the world quarterfinals in 2019 where he was saddled on tanks), we're in for a show once Chovy lands down in Shanghai.
Rand: For those who don't already know, MAD Lions jungler Zhiqiang "Shad0w" Zhao was scouted by Chinese teams prior to this season. I'd love to see how he does against LPL and LCK teams both in scrims and onstage.
Ocal: Luka "Perkz" Perković and Rasmus "Caps" Borregaard Winther of G2. I just generally want to see how G2 will do this year at Worlds, after coming so close last year. There are so many great narratives here: G2 had struggles this split, from personal tragedy with Perkz's father passing away during the split to something as simple as Caps and Perkz swapping lanes again. The team was losing, people were doubting them, then G2 pulled the ol' Jay-Z "allow me to reintroduce myself" in the playoffs and won both splits. Like the LEC casters have said countless times, "they've earned that right". Now, after all that, I really do want to see if this team can win Worlds, and it goes through those two star players.
Do any of North America's three seeds have a chance of making the knockoff rounds at the world championship?
Erzberger: They have chances, but it's going to be a hard road for any of the three to make quarterfinals or beyond this world championship. It could very well come down to a lucky group draw or a team like LGD Gaming or MAD Lions faltering in play-ins, but more likely than not, all three North American teams will be considered underdogs once group stage begins (and that's if Team Liquid even makes it there).
If North America is to find itself in the knockout rounds, the region's best chance is probably TSM. This isn't the same all-dominant TSM roster that came into the 2016 and 2017 world championship tournaments looking to become the first North American team to make a worlds final, but the pieces from those teams are still there and they have an intriguing rookie in Mingyi "Spica" Lu who has only gotten better as the stakes have risen throughout the year.
Søren "Bjergsen" Bjerg is in the best form he's been in since TSM lost at the 2017 world championship in China all those years ago, and what is old has become new again, as North America will be hoping the faces of the league in Bjergsen and Yiliang "Doublelift" Peng can pull off some magic on the worlds stage.
Rand: I'm never going to say an entire region doesn't have a chance only because the seeding is so faulty to begin with. Group depending, nearly any team can make it out with the luck of the draw and a slight meta shift.
That caveat aside, based on what we've seen from the LCS, LEC, LCK, and LPL finals, it's going to be a rough one for North America barring a complete and total regional collapse (like 2015 LPL at worlds or 2018 LCK at worlds). I've said this on multiple platforms but League of Legends as a whole is down in terms of gameplay quality - likely due to changes brought from COVID-19 pandemic complications - but that doesn't change the fact that NA teams still look behind their regional counterparts in a lot of gameplay aspects. Even if a game devolves into trading blows through teamfighting, other regions have a lot more practice skirmishing and fighting.
Of the three NA teams, (GROUP DEPENDING) I actually think FlyQuest could be the most interesting. This is a team that I believe could learn a lot from scrims against stronger opponents prior to the main event stage and possibly cause a bit of a splash similar to Tristan "PowerofEvil" Schrage's 2017 Misfits team in making it to a quarterfinals spot and giving another major region team a really tough fight.
Ocal: Never say never, but I wouldn't place a bet either. Hopeful, doubtful, cautiously optimistic, understandably pessimistic ... you wouldn't blame a NA fan for being any of these. But in terms of potential on paper, the hype just isn't there vs Team Liquid from last year. That doesn't mean it can't happen.
There is still one invite left open for the world championship: the South Korean No. 3 seed. Who do you think between KT Rolster, Afreeca Freecs, T1 and Gen.G is making it to worlds?
Erzberger: I think it comes down to a battle between T1 and Gen.G. Although Gen.G has been the better and more consistent of the two, it's difficult for me to pick against T1 and Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok. T1 has had Gen.G's number for most of 2020 and though Gen.G should have advantages in parts of the map, I believe Kim "Canna" Chang-dong's ascent as a top laner is the X-factor in the series if it comes to be. I also don't want to sleep on Afreeca who might play spoiler to T1 if they get past KT Rolster as they did in the summer playoffs when they knocked them out in the wildcard round.
This is tough, but I just can't pick against T1 when it comes to worlds season. When all the chips are down and it's a best-of-five to see who is going to worlds, even if I'm wrong, T1 has to be the answer as long as Faker is still in that starting roster.
Rand: KT and Afreeca play tonight and regardless of the winner (or how much it breaks my KT Rolster fan emotional core that I've buried deep within my beating heart) I don't think either of these teams are making it. Bring on Gen.G, who I think would have made it had it not been for a pause and having to go to the live patch mid-playoffs series against DragonX. I won't be shocked if T1 makes it, but the differences in how they use Lee "Clozer" Ju-hyeon and veteran leader Faker speak somewhat to a misunderstanding of how Faker could be used best. At the very least, their drafting puts significantly more pressure onto Faker when he does start and Gen.G have looked more coordinated and comfortable as of late.
Ocal: T1 not being at worlds would be seen just plain weird, but Gen.G have been a great team for a great chunk of the season, so they wouldn't seem out of place qualifying either.. Those are the two teams I would think make it out, with the edge to T1 because like G2, they seem to know how to win when it absolutely matters, with Spring playoffs as a great example (and all those World championships too I guess).
Which wildcard region team do you think has a chance of surprising at the world championship?
Erzberger: Unicorns of Love! The CIS region that is chock-full of Eastern Europe's top talents is often overlooked in the play-in stage, but after what UoL did at the 2019 world championship, it's hard to say any other team has earned the hype behind them coming into 2020. CIS almost made it into the group stage in 2018 when Gambit narrowly lost to Cloud9 in the play-in qualifier and the same thing happened last year when a majority of this same Unicorns roster lost 3-2 to Splyce in a qualifier that would have gotten them into the main event. That 2018 C9 roster made it all the way to the semifinals at worlds that year and Splyce, the team who upended UoL in 2019, got to the quarterfinals and almost upset T1.
Lev "Nomanz" Yakshin is a player to keep an eye on during the play-in stages. In a tournament that is full of fearsome lane-dominant mid laners, Nomanz isn't someone that is going to get pushed around. CIS has historically been the strongest wildcard region alongside Turkey and Vietnam, and with an now-experienced Unicorns ready for a second ride at worlds, this could be their year to breakthrough to the main event for the first time since Albus Nox Luna in 2016.
Rand: UoL is definitely the best choice given everything that was already mentioned by Tyler above. Another team to watch out for is Papara SuperMassive where we had the reunion of bot laner Berkay "Zeitnot" Aşıkuzun and support No "SnowFlower" Hoi-jong, who made it to 2018 worlds together, also on SuperMassive. This is a good meta for jungler Lee "KaKAO" Byung-kwon as well.
However, the team I'm rooting for is INTZ. I have a special emotional attachment to CBLoL and their teams, and generally root for the Brazilian entry every year despite knowing that they are significantly behind even other minor regions in a lot of aspects. This INTZ team is an interesting one, having made their path from relegations/promotions all the way to Brazil's worlds representative over the course of a split. Keep your eyes on mid laner Bruno "Envy" Farias who, again GROUP DEPENDING, could give other mids some trouble.
Ocal: EN BÜYÜK SUPERMASSIVE, BAŞKSA BÜYÜK YOK!
Just Google it. I'm fully on the SuperMassive bandwagon :)