There was an electric atmosphere in Madrid, Spain, as eight of the best League of Legends teams in the world clashed with three carrying the hopes of a passionate home-crowd.
Fnatic, Splyce and G2 Esports walked into the Palacio Vistalegre to fight for their chance to remain in the Spanish capital with the Worlds semifinals taking place in the same venue a week later. With exceedingly high expectations for the LEC teams, some thrived under the pressure while others buckled under the spotlight. Here is what happened in the 2019 League of Legends World Championship quarterfinals.
Invictus Gaming vs Griffin
Kicking off the quarterfinals was a best-of-five between behemoths of the LPL and LCK. Griffin had been extremely impressive in the Group Stage, but as we saw last year, reigning World Champions Invictus Gaming turn into a different animal once the Knockouts begin.
Nobody knew what version of IG would arrive in Madrid and the first game didn’t do anything to clear that up. Yu "JackeyLove" Wen-Bo answered the Garen/Yuumi botlane by picking Kog’Maw and it worked… to varying success. When the young starlet wasn’t attempting teleport flanks on the immobile carry, he was ripping through Griffin with triple and quad kills to give IG the lead.
On the other side of the map, Kang "TheShy" Seung-lok was absolutely dominating Choi "Sword" Sung-won. His Yasuo had a near-100 CS lead in game one and it was his fantastic Kayle ultimate which turned the tides for his team to complete a comeback in game two.
Griffin hadn’t played particularly poorly but awful decisions had thrown the first two games out of their reach. It was third time lucky for the Koreans as Park "Viper" Do-hyeon became the hero with a penta-kill putting his team back in the series. Though some credit has to go to Lee "Tarzan" Seung-yong whose incredible Elise cocoon stopped Wang "Baolan" Liu-Yi’s Rakan ult in its tracks.
Yet, the LCK squad’s hopes were quickly squashed by TheShy once more. Kayle is supposed to be weak in the early-game but the World Champion managed to find kills on his lane opponent which eventually snowballed into a victory. IG’s knockout stage form is back and with some of the strongest individual players in the world, they could retain their title.
Fnatic vs FunPlus Phoenix
The Palacio Vistalegre was a sea of black and orange for the second quarterfinal match and although thousands of passionate Spanish fans showed up to offer support, Fnatic didn’t quite.
Following wins against SK Telecom T1 and Royal Never Give Up, Fnatic were expected to make another deep run into the World Championship. However, those hopes disappeared after the first two games.
The Europeans appeared to be out of sync on stage, making it FunPlus Phoenix’s series for the taking. Martin “Rekkles” Larsen has spoken in the past on Fnatic’s YouTube channel of how he liked playing traditional ADCs as it gave the team a ‘Plan B’ if the early game didn’t go their way. Yet, the team inexplicably tried the Garen/Yuumi combo once again and, as it did in the Group Stage, it failed miserably.
Meanwhile, Tim “Nemesis” Lipovšek had his signature Twisted Fate pick – which had been permanently banned from him all tournament – for the first two games, but he wasn’t able to have an impact. It must have been frustrating for the Slovenian, but as he has said himself, “a weapon has no emotions”. The 20-year-old kept his composure and helped Fnatic pull one back thanks to his Veigar pick, which had also bested Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok.
However, the damage had already been done. FunPlus bounced back without really breaking a sweat. And while this was somewhat of a rebuilding year for Fnatic, the storied organisation will never be satisfied with an early exit.
Splyce vs SK Telecom T1
With SKT facing a “weaker” European team in a Worlds quarterfinal, it was hard not to cast your mind back to 2017 when Misfits pushed the Korean titans to an incredible five-game series. Tore "Norskeren" Hoel Eilertsen even picked Blitzcrank which Lee "IgNar" Dong-geun had terrorised the LCK side with years prior.
SKT were heavy favourites but Splyce were holding their own with franchise player Kasper “Kobbe” Kobberup playing out of his mind. Though the LEC’s squad’s weak mid-game was costing them dearly, with their LCK opponents repeatedly finding game-changing openings around the 20-minute mark.
The series seemed destined to finish 3-0 but Splyce dug down deep and mustered a special performance. All five players stepped up, though Andrei “Xerxe” Dragomir enjoyed a particularly fruitful game with a dominant 7/0/7 performance on Rek’Sai to give Splyce some hope.
The energy in the Palacio Vistalegre was electric with the crowd fully behind the European underdogs, cheering every single kill they could find. But in the end, SKT simply had too much for Splyce to handle, and advanced to the semifinals 3-1. Splyce were sent home, but they can be proud knowing they proved most people wrong and certainly overachieved from what was expected of them.
G2 Esports vs DAMWON Gaming
That left LEC and Mid-Season Invitational champions G2 Esports as Europe’s last hope – and there couldn’t have been any more pressure on star-studded squad. And to make matters worse, G2 had suffered horrendous scrim form against DAMWON Gaming’s young and hungry side; this was certainly going to be an extremely tough test.
While scrims can certainly indicate the potential of a team, performing on stage is a different matter, and it didn’t take G2 long to stamp their authority on the series. Luka “Perkz” Perković is thriving in the current meta with Xayah one of the strongest ADCs available. The Croatian likely won’t be given the pick many more times following his game one spectacle.
Yet, DAMWON fought back, though their inexperienced players struggled to pull the trigger. It took the LCK side five Dragons, three Barons and an Elder Drakes to tie up the series, with G2 hanging on for far longer than their gold-deficit should have allowed.
Unlike in the Group Stage, G2 were making clean plays and very few errors, and sent a statement in game four as highly-rated top-laner Jang "Nuguri" Ha-gwon was crushed, falling to multiple dives as Rasmus “Caps” Winther spent just 31.3 percent of the match in his own lane thanks to his control over Heo "ShowMaker" Su, another world-renowned talent. G2 finished the series at 3-1, showing the Spanish crowd just how they do things.
Worlds will return to Madrid next week where the Palacio Vistalegre will have its foundations rocked by the deafening chants sent G2’s way in the semifinals. With the weight of Europe’s hopes solely on their shoulders, the LEC team will take on SK Telecom T1 for a second time this year – and will hope to make history once more.