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Worlds 2017: Euphoria or Eulogy?

Do European teams have what it takes to escape the Group Stage at Worlds 2017?

The dust had barely settled after Tuesday’s Worlds Group Draw and the salt started flowing, and oh boy did it flow. From coaching breakdowns to pro players reminding old rivals of past clashes, and even the good old “who are you?” BM, the Group Draw consistently sparks banter befitting such a major esports event. European players will have had a keen eye on where their heroes on kings of Europe G2 Esports, Worlds newcomers Misfits, and Season 1 World Champions Fnatic landed in the group make-up. 

Let’s take a look at how the groups landed from a European perspective and assess EU’s chances of escaping the Group Stage at Worlds 2017.

Group Draw results

G2 and Misfits will have mixed feelings about their Groups prospects.

G2’S MSI CURSE

G2 champions

G2 conquered Europe once again, but it may have been for naught.

We’ll start with reigning EU LCS champions, and the only team to take the European crown four splits in a row, G2 Esports. The decorated roster, owned by former European star mid-laner Carlos “Ocelote” Rodriguez, finally overcame their international jitters this year as they represented the EU LCS at MSI in Brazil, clawing their way to a showdown in the Final with SK Telecom T1. Though they couldn’t claim victory against the legendary Korean organisation, they showed their talent and won over many fans back home and earned EU a pool 1 seed at Worlds. After watching the Group Draw, however, they must be wondering what it was all for.

Just like TSM in 2016 after CLG earned North America’s pool 1 seed at Worlds, G2 drew a colossally difficult group; in fact, they even drew the same teams! Last year’s finalists Samsung Galaxy and Chinese second seed RNG famously eliminated the most-hyped TSM in history in the Group Stage, and now they’re poised to do the same to G2 Esports. 

Should G2 be worried? To an extent, yes; this is a tough group after all, but the situation isn’t as dire as many would believe. Firstly, this G2 is a much better team now than they were back at Worlds 2016. The roster had been together for only a single split at the time, with rookies Expect and Perkz still in their first season of competitive League of Legends. Worlds was a learning experience, one they clearly took to heart going into MSI. They had a shaky start to the 2017 summer split, but much of that can be attributed to fatigue—after all, there was no vacation going into MSI this year. Despite that, they still managed an end-of-season resurgence and swept Misfits in Paris with ease. G2 remains a strong team, and with that extra year of experience and a strong international performance under their belts, they’ll feel confident coming into this group.

Then there’s the matter of their competition: 2016 was a breakout season for Samsung Galaxy, the organisation finally recovering from the mass talent-hemorrhage following Samsung White’s victory in Korea at Worlds 2014. They entered Worlds 2016 ahead of KT Rolster, before making a run towards a thrilling five-game final loss to SKT. This year the story looks somewhat familiar; they again qualified as Korea’s third seed ahead of KT Rolster, though that’s less of an accomplishment for the org than it was last year. Samsung haven’t really kicked on from 2016, and certainly look like the most vulnerable Korean team at the tournament. They’ll still expect to qualify from the group, but it won’t be an easy task for Crown and crew.

RNG once again enter the fray as the Chinese second seed after their five-game loss to EDG in the LPL summer finals, as star AD carry Uzi was once again unable to win a tournament. As has become the norm with Chinese teams over the last few years, it’s nigh impossible to predict how they’ll perform at international tournaments. Uzi himself is a two-time Worlds finalist, but since his last appearance in the final of Korea 2014, Chinese teams failed to make it through the quarters. On their day RNG can beat anyone in the world with the talent at their disposal, including rookie support and shotcaller Ming who had big shoes to fill after Mata’s departure, but they’re inconsistent at reaching that level. A consistent team like G2 should be able to manage RNG if they can keep the early game close, but this could also be a banana skin, as TSM found out last year.

MISFITS

Alphari

Can Alphari prove himself against top opposition like MMD and Hauntzer?

Misfits are the latest European team to go from Challenger to Worlds in their first season, following Origen in 2015 and Splyce in 2016. They beat EU LCS favourites Fnatic to make it to the EU LCS Final in Paris, and though they were handily swept aside by an in-form G2 Esports, they’ll surely believe they have a chance to escape this group.

In Flash Wolves they drew perhaps the weakest pool 1 seed in the tournament; the serial LMS champions flopped in 2016, exiting at the Group Stage, and though they were hyped-up leading into MSI 2017, they lost both their games to G2 Esports before losing to SKT in the semis. In Maple and Karsa they have one of the best mid-jungle duos in the world, but have consistently struggled to match that talent in the rest of their roster. 

Misfits’ Alphari in particular will fancy himself against MMD, Flash Wolves’ stable-but-uninspiring top laner. Though Maple is arguably Flash Wolves’ star player, Misfits’ PowerOfEvil is coming off his best split in the EU LCS and showed that he is a top-tier mid laner. His consistency is his biggest strength, along with his arsenal of surprise picks and builds, and he’ll need that to be successful in a best-of-one round-robin format.

Misfits may struggle, however,against North America’s first seed, TSM. The veteran organisation has never missed a World Championship, and though they couldn’t meet their goal of reaching top 4 at least year’s competition, they’ll look to make up for that this year. They dismantled their European opponents at Rift Rivals, taking the crown for NA, and showed no signs of slowing as they claimed yet another North American championship, their third in a row.

Misfits may arguably have a slight advantage in the top lane and jungle, but the rest of the map may struggle, particularly in the bottom lane. With Doublelift back in a TSM shirt they’re a much stronger team than they were at MSI, where they narrowly missed out on qualifying for the knockout stages and earning themselves a pool 1 seed, though following the draw they’ll count themselves lucky they didn’t. Doublelift and Biofrost revived their dominant partnership from the 2016 summer split, and they’re bound to cause trouble for Hans Sama and Ignar, both of whom (along with the rest of the Misfits roster) are making their first Worlds appearance. 

It’s worth noting that Group D becomes far more difficult should Team WE advance from the Play-In stage, as they would almost be guaranteed to be drawn into this group.

Play-In Draw

Fnatic should escape their Play-In Group with ease.

FNATIC

Rekkles

EU LCS MVP Rekkles missed Worlds last year, and he'll need to conquer the Play-Ins this year.

Fnatic will rue their loss to Misfits in the EU LCS playoffs as they missed a guaranteed place in the Worlds Group Stage after dominating the regular season. Now they’ll have to try their luck in the Play-In stage, and though they’ll be favourites to advance from their Play-In group they are not guaranteed a spot at the tournament proper.

Their opponents, Young Generation and Kaos Latin Gamers, hail from the Garena Premier League and the Copa Latinoamérica Sur respectively. Young Glory qualified as the first-ever second seed from the GPL, after Gigabyte Marines qualified for the tournament proper based on their MSI performance. Kaos Latin Gamers qualified as the winners of the Latin America South closing season, a return to form after a disappointing opening season in which they placed last.

Realistically, Fnatic should be advancing through this group in first place without dropping a single game, after which they’ll face the runner-up from another group for a spot in the Worlds Group Stage. Here they’ll particularly want to avoid Gambit Gaming in particular, winners of the CIS region and a team Fnatic have scrimmed previously. They’ll know Gambit’s quality, especially with veteran players Diamondprox and Edward, as well as former Albus Nox Luna players and Worlds 2016 quarterfinalists Kira and PVP Stejos.

Should they make it out of the Group Stage, all eyes will be on the draw; since teams can’t be placed into a group with another team from their region, we’re left with only two possibilities: Group A (EDward Gaming, SKT Telecom T1, ahq e-Sports Club), already dubbed the “group of death”, or Group B (Longzhu Gaming, Immortals, Gigabyte Marines) which is hardly an enticing prospect, featuring the Korean champions, NA LCS runners-up, and the impressive GPL champions.

Let’s be real here: nobody wants to step foot in Group A with the Chinese champions, LMS runners-up and freaking SKT, the three-time World Champions. It’s not that Fnatic couldn’t advance from that group, especially if China underperforms this year, but their chances are significantly lower. Fnatic would fancy themselves to qualify from Group B, however, likely in second place over Worlds debutants Immortals. 

For now, however, Fnatic will concentrate on the Play-In and worry about their group later.

Which European teams do you think will advance from their group and make it to the Knockout Stages? How far can they realistically go in the tournament? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!