The League of Legends World Championship was one of the most entertaining events in Esports history
This year’s League of Legends World Championship has cemented itself as being inarguably the most entertaining event that the game has ever experienced in the form of upsets, surprises, and viewer retention. Let’s take a look back at the event and highlight some aspects that helped shape this narrative:
Of the eight seasons that the game had competitive play, Korea has taken home the championship trophy five times. Of these five championships, Korea had also secured four-second place finishes meaning there were a Korea vs. Korea finals in four of the five worlds events that they won. It is no surprise that Korea is identified as the strongest region with all others competing for second place, but this year went against the grain of what was considered to be normal for a League of Legends fan.
Dating back to the first international tournament at the beginning of the year, a Chinese team by the name of Royal Never Give Up (RNG) was able to contest the Koreans and best them at the 2018 Mid-Season Invitational in a very close 3-1 series. This victory for China created in what not only analysts but also viewers perceived as a turning point in which competitive play would soon have a new supreme region. Following this event, Korea was also bested at Rift Rivals and the 2018 Asian Games Main Event for League of Legends by China. As the victories began to accumulate, fans started to speculate bigger questions. “Will Korea break their five-year streak of winning worlds?”
Looking into the past showed that Korea was not invincible. Some notable instances include North America’s Counter Logic Gaming taking a game off of Korea’s reigning champions SKT at the 2016 Mid-Season Invitational. Secondly, Europe’s underdog team Misfits who just qualified for the EU LCS through gauntlet only a year prior. Misfits went to take SKT to a 5-game series in the quarterfinals of the 2017 World Championship. Finally, Royal Never Give Up played SKT in the series right after Misfit’s historical performance and also took SKT to a final game in what most would consider being two series that could have been decided by a coin flip. There have also been instances where teams were able to take games off of Korea in best of 1 setting such as Flash Wolves outperforming KOO Tigers in the Season 6 worlds group stage and being one of the very few teams to place ahead of a Korean team in groups. Albus Nox Luna was also able to take a game off of ROX Tigers in the Season 6 worlds group stage like a wild card team from Russia. With such an abundance of evidence leading to the understanding that Korea was not invincible, it only took time for a team to finally be able to beat them in a series.
During the 2018 World Championship, underdog teams rose to the occasion and proved that China’s victories over Korea that year meant that the title for who could become the best region was in contention for who desired it most.
Starting off in the group stage, the defending champions Gen. G was not able to make it out with an upsetting 1-5 while one of the tournament favorites, RNG, struggled in the same group and were on the verge of elimination. Who were the two teams who were able to rival these two and push them to their limits at such an early stage of the tournament? A North American team (Cloud 9) who was previously tied for the last place in their domestic region for the summer split, and a European team (Vitality) who had a lot of inexperienced players and never played at worlds before. Group B, what was previously known as the “Group of Death”, became the group of life and hope of the tournament as it showed all other teams and regions that anything is possible and that each should play to their full potential. Vitality was one of the most exciting teams to watch with their extremely active play style, however, they were not able to make it out of groups due to Cloud 9 beating them in a tie-breaker and Gen. G losing to RNG which would have put them in a tiebreaker against RNG for second place. Had one game’s results gone differently, Vitality could have made out of groups.
A very emotional interview from Vitality’s head coach, YamatoCannon, was made shortly after their loss and could be contested as the words that allowed emerging regions to play confidently and stick to their own style. For years the world tried to emulate Korea given they yielded the best results but in the process lost identity in themselves. Seeing Vitality completely play against what was known as the “meta” and yield decent results was nothing short of inspirational.
The hype of the tournament began to grow as the event commenced. During the quarterfinals, both remaining Korean teams were defeated leaving no more Korean teams in the tournament for the first time ever. Afreeca Freecs was swept by North America’s gauntlet winner Cloud 9 marking North America’s best Worlds tournament performance by making it to semifinals. On the other side of the bracket, KT Rolster was beaten by Invictus Gaming in a 5-game series that pushed both teams to their limits. Invictus Gaming was an extremely dominant team in China who fell short to RNG and lost to them in the summer split championship in a 5-game series. Finally, RNG who was the tournament favorites felt as though they had nothing stopping them from claiming their first world championship with no Korean teams to compete against and all of the remaining talent being either from North America, Europe, and one Chinese team that they have already defeated. What would probably be the biggest upset of worlds, European team G2 who managed to squeak out of groups past a lackluster Flash Wolves was able to rise to the occasion and take RNG to a 5-game series sending them home earlier than expected. There are no words that could accurately portray the raw level of emotion experienced by fans around the world as they witnessed history in the making as the semifinals were composed of two European teams, a North American team, and a Chinese team. Although the hype died down a bit as the event progressed, we were guaranteed a new region holding the championship trophy by the end of the tournament. Through great series China’s underdog team Invictus Gaming became the new world champions by sweeping Fnatic in the finals and displaying a hunger to be the best in the world.
To sum things up, worlds have been nothing short of a roller coaster where some regions rejoicing for exceeding expectations while others weep from yielding bad results at the direst time. As eventful as this past month was, it shaped a lot of speculation for the future in regards to what will happen in the time to come. North America has always been a lackluster region internationally with very small instances in C9 and CLG showing what the country is worth. Meanwhile, Europe and China seem to be the two best regions in the world at the very moment and don’t look to slow down. With the approach of the off-season, there is plenty of time for teams to rediscover themselves and start next split with a hunger that can possibly lead them to great success.