Could it really happen? That’s what European League of Legends fans have been wondering all year. Could 2019 be the year when a European team wins the World Championship? Ever since Fnatic reached the Grand Final in 2018, the feeling that Europe has improved massively has been growing. Then, G2 Esports won the Mid-Season Invitational. Now, three European teams have made it through to the Worlds knockout stage for the first time ever.
It’s not going to be easy. Splyce had to battle through the Play-Ins and overcome a surprisingly tricky group to make it through. Now, they’re up against the three-time World Champions SK Telecom T1. Fnatic lost twice in the opening week of the Group Stage, and somehow pulled off a miracle run in Week Two to qualify. Now, they’re up against the Chinese champions, FunPlus Phoenix, who went 27-4 in LPL Summer. Even G2, who dominated Europe this year and went 3-0 in the opening week of Groups, faltered and fell to second seed. Now, they’re up against DAMWON Gaming, who, despite coming through Play-Ins, have shown they’re one of the best teams at Worlds this year. Who will make it through, and how do those match-ups look?
G2 Esports vs DAMWON Gaming
Let’s start with G2, who are still one of the favourites to take the entire tournament. Crashing out at the quarterfinal stage would be devastating for them and their fans, and DAMWON are certainly a dangerous team. Individually, they’re some of the finest players Korea has to offer, which is shown by how they’ve climbed the solo queue rankings since arriving in the region. There’s a rivalry between these two teams on the ladder, too. At time of writing, DAMWON’s jungler Kim “Canyon” Geon-bu (aka JUGKING on EU West), is at the top of Challenger. Right behind him is G2’s Rasmus “Caps” Winther (on his TheShackledOne account).
Plus, DAMWON are on a streak right now. After a surprise loss to Liquid in their first match, they dominated each game after that. In Week Two, midlaner Heo “ShowMaker” Su lived up to his name and didn’t die once. AD carry Sin “Nuclear” Jeong-hyeon only died once, and Cho “BeryL” Geon-hee put in a classic, selfless support performance.
Meanwhile, G2 are on a streak of their own, albeit slightly less impressive. They went 5-0 to start Worlds, but then Griffin put them to the sword, and then again in the tiebreaker. The meme going around the Internet was that the G2 players were taking it in turns to have troubled performances at Worlds 2019, but the joke became a harsh truth when they slipped from an almost certain first seed slot into second.
That said, we’re into the best-of-five format now, which is where G2 should start to shine. They showed against Fnatic in the LEC Summer Finals that even if they lose a game or two, G2 will always come back fighting, and history has shown this year that they will probably come out with the win. Let’s not forget that G2 have individual skill in abundance as well, and they have proved this year that when it comes down to it, G2 can play League of Legends on a different level to anyone else on the planet.
Fnatic vs FunPlus Phoenix
Winnable. That’s the first thought that pops into your head when you think about Fnatic vs FPX. Everyone thought FPX would be an absolute powerhouse at Worlds 2019, after their amazing run in LPL Summer, and with the likes of Kim “Doinb” Tae-sang in the mid lane and Lin “Lwx” Wei-Xiang in the bot lane. However, their Worlds run so far hasn’t been as impressive as we thought. ‘The Group of Life’ should have been a breeze, going up against teams like J Team and GAM Esports, but they actually lost twice, only scraping through as first seed thanks to a tiebreak win over Splyce.
On the other side of the coin, Fnatic came through ‘The Group of Death,’ which left their critics scratching their heads and their fans jumping for joy. After a 1-2 start, they said there was no way that Fnatic would come out ahead of either SKT or Royal Never Give Up. But that’s exactly what they did, sending Jian “Uzi” Zi-hao and the rest of RNG home in heartbreak, getting revenge for their defeat in 2017.
The key to this match, based on what we’ve seen at Worlds so far, is Martin “Rekkles” Larsson playing actual AD Carry champions. In Week One he played Garen twice and Morgana, and Fnatic had a torrid time. In Week Two, he played Xayah three times, going 16/3/28. Tim “Nemesis” Lipovšek can’t be overlooked either. His Veigar took apart Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok and the rest of SKT in Week Two, and his mastery of Cassiopeia is undeniable.
If G2 are one of the favourites for the tournament this year, Fnatic can’t be far behind given how close the final match was in Athens at the LEC Summer Final. They too will be sorely disappointed if the quarterfinal is their final stop on the road.
Splyce vs SK Telecom T1
Most analysts have already written off Splyce, up against the mighty SKT, whose only loss came at the hands of Fnatic with their “Worlds Week Two Buff.” The SKT squad doesn’t need much introduction, but in case you’ve forgotten, in the mid lane you have “The Unkillable Demon King” Faker, and in the bot lane you have the teamfight positioning monster Park "Teddy" Jin-seong.
There is hope, though. Splyce’s Marek "Humanoid" Brázda has had a standout rookie season in the LEC, and has quickly become one of the most feared mid laners from the region. Also, Splyce are one of the teams that managed to take down FunPlus Phoenix in Groups, so they’re no stranger to taking out first seeds. When it comes to Splyce, as we’ve seen so far at Worlds, anything is possible.
Griffin vs Invictus Gaming
With all the buzz around Europe, the heartbreak of North America, and the might of the Korean teams at Worlds so far, it’s been easy to overlook the reigning World Champions, Invictus Gaming. Griffin beat G2 twice in a row at the end of the Group Stage, and IG aren’t as strong as they once were, but this could turn out to be one of the more exciting games of the knockout rounds.
Eight teams must now be whittled down to four, with a spot in the World Championship semifinals on the line. In 2015, the last time Worlds was held in Europe, two EU teams made it to the semis. In 2019, there’s the potential for all three. Still, the question remains: Could it really happen?