Just four teams remain in what has been perhaps the most thrilling and unpredictable World Championship in League of Legends history.
For the last five years, the biggest event in LoL has been dominated by South Korea, winning every Worlds from 2013 onwards. As of 2014, every South Korean team in attendance reached the playoffs, and from 2015 onwards every final has been made up of two Korean teams.
At least for this year, however, the Korean Age is over. All of those records have been broken. Every LCK team is out of the running. Left standing is four teams that have already made history, but only one will be remembered as World Champion.
No matter how it plays out, this semi-final will be historic. For the first time since the Season One Championship – which many discard when considering the broader history of Worlds, with how different it was to every World Championship that has come since – a western team will play in the final of the biggest tournament in League of Legends.
One of these two teams will carry that mantle, and with the original tournament favorites already taken care of on the other side of the bracket, there’s a very real chance that whoever does reach the final could ultimately lift the trophy.
Coming into the event it was Fnatic that of all the western squads had the most hype. Some analysts even went so far as to suggest this might be the strongest western team to ever appear at the World Championship.
So far Fnatic has done a good job living up to that praise. On the final day of their group stage they defeated Invictus Gaming in back-to-back matches to take the top seed, showcasing the immense potential that had been talked up ahead of the event, before defeating EDward Gaming to reach the semi-finals.
With such a high billing, making the semi-finals is arguably where Fnatic should have been headed based on pre-tournament expectations. With how the rest of the tournament has unfolded, however, this is now a team that should be looking to take it all.
Standing in their way is a Cloud9 carrying the momentum of a truly remarkable story. Their Summer split in the NALCS started with the team’s most iconic players being sent to the Academy team, and a poor run of results that left them in dead last.
With the line-up reformed with both the veteran stars and the young talents, Cloud9 began their climb back. An incredible win streak to close out the regular season brought them to second place, before reaching the finals of the playoffs. Losing out to Team Liquid there, they then fought through the regional qualifier to even make it to Worlds.
Even at Worlds itself, Cloud9’s tournament has several times hung on the very brink of elimination. They were pushed to five games in the qualifying match of the play-in against Gambit, and in the group stage were forced to replicate Vitality’s incredible upsets over Gen.G and Royal Never Give Up in order to progress.
Every step Cloud9 have taken seems to have been along the path of improvement, and in the quarter-finals that shone through with an impressive 3-0 victory over Afreeca Freecs, making history by sending home the final hope of the LCK.
Prior to the tournament, predicting a Fnatic-Cloud9 match would have been a no-brainer. The magic of Cloud9’s run is undeniable, however, and in a tournament full of firsts it’s far from inconceivable that C9 could become the first North American team in a Worlds final.
This side of the bracket was supposed to be clear-cut. Tournament favorites KT Rolster and Royal Never Give Up would meet in the semi-finals, there to fight the real battle for the trophy. The rest of the world could have their fun in the group stages, but the titans would still claim the ultimate glory.
In what is undoubtedly the biggest flip of the script in both this and arguably any World Championship, neither of those teams now stands in this semi-final. It is instead G2 Esports and Invictus Gaming who will fight for a place in the final.
Though both are incredible results in their own right, upset of the tournament – perhaps the biggest upset in the history of Worlds – has to go to G2, who defeated Royal Never Give Up in a thrilling quarter-final.
Until now, Royal hadn’t lost a single tournament they’d participated in this year. They won both LPL splits, the Mid-Season Invitational, even Rift Rivals and the Asian Games. This is the team of Jian ‘Uzi’ Zi-Hao, the best player in the world this year. Yet the EULCS third seed managed to eliminate them.
Unfortunately for G2, in some ways their toughest test may yet be to come. Invictus Gaming is an incredibly tough match-up on paper, arguably a harder task than even eliminating tournament favorites RNG.
G2 is a team that excels through their solo lanes, Martin ‘Wunder’ Hansen in the top lane and Luka ‘Perkz’ Perković in mid. It was the combination of these players that really put away Royal, with Perkz in particular coming up with some of the biggest hard-carry performances of the tournament.
On Invictus Gaming, however, are arguably the most formidable solo-laners of the whole tournament, and not just including those left in contention.
In the mid-lane stands Song ‘Rookie’ Eui-jin, widely accepted as the best mid-laner in the world and ranked the number 2 player overall coming into Worlds. So far at Worlds itself, he’s certainly done nothing to discredit that ranking.
Meanwhile, in the top lane Invictus can pick between Kang ‘TheShy’ Seung-lok and Lee ‘Duke’ Ho-seong. The former is the highest-ranked top-laner still in the competition, the latter is a former World Champion. No matter which steps into lane opposite Wunder, the G2 top-laner will have one of the toughest tests of his tournament.
While Fnatic-Cloud9 might get most attention from western fans as the match-up that’s guaranteed to put a western team in the finals, the outcome of the G2-iG series will be what determines the narrative for that final.
Whether the final is ultimately an all-European affair, the ultimate inter-LCS showdown, or another shot for China to finally claim a World Championship, for perhaps the first time in five years it truly feels like any of the top four teams could claim the Summoner’s Cup.