June 22, 2018 -- Fnatic benches back-to-back EU LCS MVP Rekkles, who then spends weeks wondering if marksmen will even make a return to the meta.
July 1, 2018 -- After three weeks of roster shuffles -- including benching the franchise’s faces in Sneaky and Jensen -- Cloud9 sits at 1-5 and dead last in the NA LCS standings.
August 25, 2018 -- G2 Esports is swept from the EU LCS Summer Playoffs by Misfits Gaming. They go home to prepare for the gauntlet for the first time ever.
October 17, 2018 -- At 5-0 and on the brink of clinching the #1 overall seed from Group D, Invictus Gaming proceeds to lose two straight games against FNC to drop to #2. They then draw tournament favorite KT Rolster in the Quarterfinals.
Cloud9 becomes first NA LCS team to advance to Semifinals
Let that be a lesson to the world: nobody, and I mean nobody, defeats Cloud9 in the Quarterfinals five times in a row. C9 has been the sole reason fans from North America haven’t given up entirely on the region over the years, and now that faith has been rewarded. This Worlds hasn’t made very much sense to any of us, so of course it had to be an NA team that knocked out the last remaining Korean team. And of course it wasn’t their star solo laners who led the way but their oft-memed ADC -- one of the longest tenured players for any team in the world. Sneaky also didn’t just carry C9 in team fights like he has done so many times in the past -- instead, he dominated his lane three times in a row on Lucian, thus the “Sneaky in lane” meme has somehow transcended its original meaning and is now a double-layered meme. All six members on C9’s roster have shown up big at one point this tournament, though, and now they have a chance to give NA fans the biggest possible piece of ammo in the eternal struggle for Western supremacy between NA and EU fans. And more importantly than anything else, we are six wins away from a Sneaky skin. This is not a drill.
Euphoria is more than just a podcast
But it is also a podcast that was developed this year and now EU is doing well -- coincidence or conspiracy? Europe has crowned 12 champions since the EU LCS started in 2013. 11 of those have been Fnatic or G2 Esports -- it is fitting they’re the last two remaining teams for Europe after a wild Worlds run that was in large part inspired by Team Vitality’s youth and vigor. This whole tournament has been a testament to the strength of EU and the depth of their talent -- the region of rookies has a lot to look forward to. I feel like the next three or four teams who missed out on a trip to Worlds from EU all could have left a deep impression in Busan as well. And including 2012 and 2015, this is the 3rd time Europe has placed two Semifinalists in the global era of Worlds. This accomplishment is matched by Korea of course and… no one else! China has only managed the feat twice (2014 and 2017). The tricky part for Europe, though, has always been at this stage -- not only have they never advanced to the Finals (except for Season 1), they actually haven’t managed to win a single Semifinals game since 2013 when FNC managed to take one. A Finals victory would cement them as the second best region historically and the best one this year, but another short trip would just be an echo of the past. Fortunately for fans, Europe has never looked stronger, and their odds have never looked better. A clash between FNC and G2 in the finals could forever enshrine the victor as the “Kings of Europe.”
The case for an IG win
So the bulk of you reading this are Western fans. I was born in Michigan -- I’m Western-born through and through. So I get it when you say you want a Western team to win. I really do. But much in the same way that an EU win won’t really satiate NA fans, four straight Korean wins did not satiate the Chinese fan base. When we break things down to a West/East dichotomy, we start to erase some of the fine nuance between the regions. China has suffered as much heartbreak as any other region, and expectations from their fans may be even higher than that of the West. Take 2013 or 2014 when Uzi lost back-to-back Finals. Take 2015 when the Korean exodus to China ended in a catastrophe for the region. Or 2016 when Korea seemed, somehow, even further away. Or 2017 when RNG was up 2-1 on SKT before Faker reestablished the gap. IG themselves failed to win either LPL split this year despite going 18-1 in the regular season. They are one of the oldest teams in the world, and longtime fans have never had any real success to show for it. Until now. IG is the last hope for China, and for them, too, this represents their region’s best chance ever at winning Worlds. Doing so would redeem not just their entire year, but China’s entire history -- it is by far the largest region. It has the most teams and the most robust financial backing. There are team-owned stadiums and their fans are some of the most dedicated in the world -- nowhere else will you find such a diverse fanbase when it comes to gender. Like NA and EU, China has lived in Korea’s shadow for all these years. And like NA and EU, they believe their moment is now.
Korea joins the audience
In a year where vision control (which Korea was so dominant at) was significantly changed thanks to the removal of Tracker’s Knife from junglers, it is, perhaps, apt that no one saw this coming. The unceremonious exits of both Afreeca and KT Rolster in the Quarterfinals sealed the LCK’s fate on their home turf -- just weeks after unveiling LoL Park, where they’ll play next year, we are already shifting our gaze towards a new era for Korea. It’s just two weeks sooner than anyone had expected. Maybe those expectations were because Korea had won four years in a row before this. Maybe they were justified -- KT Rolster at least looked dominant in Group Play. But maybe -- if you were an analyst who just started watching this year -- maybe the signs were there all along. I don’t think it was a fluke or a coincidence, either. Afreeca was swept and KT was a single hit away from the same fate (not to mention Gen.G’s Group Stage). And, of course, they lost at MSI, Rift Rivals, and the Asian Games this year -- there were plenty of signs that Korea’s dominance would not be as strong this year. Still we thought of them as the final boss because that’s all we’ve ever known. But deep down, maybe KT fans already expected this -- when Game 5 hit, probably all of them knew how it would end. So to you especially, KT fans, I am just here to say that eventually it won’t end the way you expect.
So only Caps, Rookie, and TheShy remain from the Worlds Top 20 list this year. It’s pretty crazy to just look through this list and realize that all the others are already eliminated. Just between KT and RNG, nine players from this list were eliminated in a single day. I’m a no-brain NA Solo Queue player, so I’m not really in a position to give you an accurate revision of these rankings, but it’s pretty clear we’d see a lot more Western players on this list given a chance to revise. What I do expect is for next year’s list to have a few more Western players on it. Even if this year ends up being an anomaly, I think they’ve earned it -- at least on individual levels, they’ve really shown up this tournament. I think the remaining teams have done well to shatter the illusion that Korean players especially are just mechanically superior to the West. Even Licorice, Blaber, and Zeyzal are going to be rallying points for talent in NA -- we’ve long been a laughing stock, and I’ve seen the highest levels of Solo Queue first hand. Most of the negative perceptions about NA Solo Queue have some truth to them, but I think what we have learned is that with the right environment, an NA talent can blossom. And maybe that’ll inspire players to take Solo Queue more seriously. And maybe it’ll inspire teams to take a few more chances at cultivating that talent. Even if it looks like it’s just running it down mid sometimes.
Things we actually said earlier in the tournament
1. Kai’Sa is OP
2. Koreans will just win again anyway
3. JackeyLove is a choker
4. Hjarnan can’t play anything but Heimerdinger
5. Anyone saying that G2 will not make it out as first seed in their group is trolling. I'm sorry but there's just no way. Supermassive has some good players but the meta doesn't suit them and individually they are outclassed.
6. I guess this is what a main region vs wildcard should look like
7. This is the year of Uzi
8. NA doesn’t take anything seriously -- playing Fortnite is obviously a sin and players should be willing to practice 18 hours a day without food or sleep and they should only need one molecule of oxygen for every molecule of hydrogen
9. Group B is death for C9 and Vitality
10. Good macro will always win
Leaked 2019 script: ‘GAME OF THROWS’
In a large hall, Western teams are drinking wine from gold miniature replicas of the Summoner’s Cup as they throw darts at the LCK logo. KT Rolster has retired to star in a K-drama about breaking hearts. There is laughter and loud chatter.
C9: I guess we just win all the time now?
TSM: haha yeah
Fnatic: not you
G2: we’re going to play Heimerdinger in the jungle this year lol
Fnatic: it’s good to be king
C9: same… like floating on Cloud9 hahaha
Vitality: that’s the 10th time you’ve cracked that joke in the last hour stfu
TL: anyway, let’s focus
Fnatic: fourth has a point -- we wouldn’t want…
*DOOR BURSTS OPEN AS 100 GUARDS FLY AGAINST THE WALLS. A SILHOUETTE STANDS IN THE LIGHT.*
Fnatic: what the hell
Imaqtpie: *slumps over, revealing the true cause behind him*
Faker: let’s get this bread
Preview: FNC vs. C9
Fnatic conquered the EU LCS this year, but Cloud9 also managed to 2-0 Vitality in the Group Stage, so it’s not like they haven’t proven their mettle at all against EU. Both teams are scorching hot right now, too -- Cloud9 is 6-1 since the start of the second round robin, and Fnatic is 8-1 after losing the first match of the tournament to IG. The pivotal matchup to watch will be between the rookie top laners in Bwipo and Licorice, but FNC has the luxury of subbing in a veteran in sOAZ to disrupt any sort of comfort Licorice might find. And while mid lane should be an explosive clash of talent -- EU’s old prodigy against its new one -- I think they’re more likely to go even with each other than for one or the other to be outclassed. That’s similarly true for bot lane with Rekkles and Sneaky -- neither are the type to necessarily dominate the lane like you might expect from Doublelift or Uzi. But Hylissang’s experience over Zeyzal could be a big difference -- he seems to time his roams better and more frequently, and that extra pressure may tip mid lane in Caps’ favor. Broxah and Svenskeren have both put on their carry pants on at different points in this tournament, and it’s exciting for me that Lee Sin will be a contested pick between the two, but I also don’t think there’s a clear advantage here. Blaber could come in to change things up, but that seems unlikely given how good Svenskeren has been of late. Ultimately, I think Fnatic has slight advantages in the side lanes, and that favors them in this matchup.
Preview: IG vs. G2
Both of these teams have played a lot around their dominant solo laners, but Rookie and TheShy have been next-level when it comes to the lane phase especially, and they will finally give Perkz and Wunder (who’ve also been dominant in lane) a tough matchup. In bot lane, I think JackeyLove is the stronger laner, and in team fights (if it even gets there and if G2 even decides to fight), I feel like he’s more likely to take over and carry a fight versus Hjarnan who’s not going to get caught out and die but also won’t hard carry it. G2’s been underestimated all tournament, though, and maybe that’s what I’m doing here, too, but I just feel like they don’t have the same advantages against IG that helped propel them past RNG. Letme and Xiaohu are great team players, but they weren’t as adept at 1v1 fights like TheShy and Rookie have been all tournament. I do expect G2 to continue to play to their solo laners, though, and this will be the best chance for them to prove to the world that they are not just elite players, but among the best, period. It’s an opportunity I think they will relish given their performances in the tournament thus far and that may ultimately be what motivates them to the top. This matchup is just less of a juxtaposition in styles, and IG will have the tools and the comfort to respond to a 1-3-1 split push composition from G2. So without a disruption in the picks we’ve seen so far from G2, I think this series leans heavily towards IG.