At last year’s Worlds, Misfits took tournament favourites SKT to a five game series, only narrowly losing in the end. It seemed like a blip 12 months ago, but after 2018’s group stage, it’s starting to look more like a trend. One in which western playstyles are coming out on top.
Typically, Worlds group outcomes have seemed pre-ordained. The Korean team on top, followed by the Chinese, European and North American squads. Sometimes upsets happen, since all games are played in a Best of 1 format, but Korea would always have their three seeds in the Quarterfinals.
This year was different: during the first day of the Group Stage, G2 Esports were able to win against Afreeca Freecs. Petter "Hjarnan" Freyschuss’s Heimerdinger came in clutch in the 1-3-1 setup that G2 heavily prefer. After the game, Afreeca’s coach even admitted the team didn’t show enough respect in the pick and ban phase.
The meta this Worlds has largely consisted of teamfighting compositions going blow for blow in the mid game. That’s what Korea deemed the best playstyle, and it’s how all of their teams play. Junglers focus on the mid lane while ADCs and top laners scale up to prep for the mid game. But it might not be what leads one team to ultimate victory this time at Worlds.
Take that first EU LCS vs LCK clash in the Groups. The way G2 played against Afreeca defied the Korean meta completely. G2 didn’t draft for team fights; they drafted for the split push. Heimerdinger and Camille are great at keeping waves pushed in, but they lack meaningful damage in a full 5v5. G2 never opted in for those; instead they danced around the Baron, keeping Afreeca guessing on where to go. The result was that Afreeca ran around like headless chickens, walking back and forth in the jungle while G2 took towers and inhibitors.
Team Vitality, meanwhile, may be out but they too stunned current world champions Gen.G at their first attempt with a more European ethos. Vitality love roaming to the bot lane to pick up early kills: Daniele "Jiizuke" di Mauro and Mateusz "Kikis" Szkudlarek are on their best game if they play diving champions like LeBlanc or Nocturne. This goes completely against the Korean approach. Gen.G like to play controlled, while Vitality want a fight at every opportunity they get.
This is why in both games Vitality played against Gen.G, Vitality had the upper hand. The French squad kept engaging team fights, even when it seemed unlikely they would come out as winners. Their draft allowed them to go deep, and Gen.G simply weren’t ready. A slight misstep in position would spell certain death, which meant that they played the game mostly on their side of the map. This gave Vitality all the control they needed.
In the end, Vitality didn’t make it out of groups. However, they showed the world that you don’t need to follow the Korean meta in order to win. Team Vitality were able to knock out one of the Korean seeds on their Worlds debut, and that won’t be forgotten any time soon.
While Fnatic weren’t placed with any Korean teams in their group, they were still matched against the best Chinese early game team and the best mid lane at Worlds. While Fnatic lost the first game due to a bad Baron call, they managed to win their second and third games in spectacular fashion.
Fnatic have a long history in League but, like G2 and Vitality, are still very much innovative in their playstyle. Mads "Broxah" Brock-Pedersen showed that Lee Sin is still a great pick to snowball early game leads, but what makes Fnatic special is that everyone on their team is able to carry a game.
In their games against IG this week, Rasmus "Caps" Winther was put in a massive CS deficit in the early to mid game because Song "Rookie" Eui-jin was able to counter-pick. Yet Caps was a lot more impactful in later game team fights due to the help he received from his other laners.
In the end, Fnatic were able to top their group and they now have a viable route through to the finals. This could be the year Fnatic finally lift the Summoner’s Cup once more.
Whether or not they do, history has already been rewritten at Worlds 2018. This is the first time that the LCK weren’t able to get all three of their seeds into the Quarters. Gen.G, the previous Worlds victors, were knocked out by teams who didn’t follow their meta and who didn’t play in a way that they expected.
After this group stage, Korea has shown a vulnerable side. The same Korea that was unbeatable in the past picked up more losses than ever before in the Group Stage. Ultimately, Korea’s biggest weakness might just be their lack of creativity– creativity that the west is full up on.
In a few weeks, we will crown another champion and it’s very possible that, for the first time in six years, it won’t be a Korean team – and that’s thanks to the emergence of new playstyles in a hemisphere aiming to regain the initiative.