The League of Legends World Championship kicks off this weekend, with 16 teams from across the globe battling to lift the Summoner’s Cup. With the traditional meta in tatters and the dominance of China and Korea less certain than ever, this year’s tournament promises to be one of the most entertaining yet.
After the chaos of last week’s Play-In stage, in which lower seeds and representatives from minor regions attempt to win their place in the main tournament, the battle lines have officially been drawn. Four groups of four teams will now compete in a double round-robin, with the two most successful teams from each group progressing to the knockout stages.
While those knockout games are best-of-three or best-of-five slogs, in which mental fortitude can be just as important as basic ability, group games are one-and-done affairs. An experienced team is likely to stomp a less experienced rival, but a bolshy opening gambit can rout even the best in the world, throwing a group wide open and, as the gulf in ability between major regions continues to narrow, expect some long-term fan favourites not to make the next stage of the competition.
Thanks to the presence of not one but two ‘groups of death’ at Worlds 2019, that fate is more likely to befall teams than ever. Groups B and D should see their higher-seeded teams progress with relative ease, but in group A American stalwart Cloud9 has drawn MSI winner and European first seed G2 alongside Korean second seed Griffin. Over in group C, it’s an even closer clash at the top, as one of either 2018 runner-up Fnatic, Chinese powerhouse RNG, or three-time champions SKT T1 will be heading home early.
With nearly 50 matches taking place over the course of the next week or two, you’ll struggle to catch everything, but it’s those matchups that are likely to prove the most high-stakes. In groups where any three or even four of the teams in play could reasonably expect to progress, a single slip-up could spell the premature end of a Worlds run. From a European perspective in particular, I’ll be paying close attention to Fnatic’s clashes against RNG and SKT T1. I’m inclined to suggest that G2 will squeak past Cloud9 to qualify alongside Griffin but, with no third seed in this year’s tournament, I refuse to put too much hope in the host region until I see if Fnatic can get past some of Asia’s finest.
If you fancy something a little less nail-biting, those other two groups are likely to provide plenty of entertainment. In Group C, Gigabyte Marines, fresh off Vietnam’s promotion to a two-seed region, offer an aggressive playstyle that’s asked serious questions of some of the world’s biggest teams in recent years. Team Liquid will have some work to do to progress past China and Korea in Group D but, with a team full of veterans and marksman Doublelift claiming he’s in the form of his life, they could certainly be ones to watch.
When it comes to the meta, Worlds 2019 also promises a few surprises. New arrivals Neeko, Yuumi, and Qiyana all saw action in the Play-In stages, and while established strategic protocol holds much more sway over League of Legends than some of its MOBA rivals, we could be in for a number of unexpected picks. We’ve already seen a number of unconventional choices, from top-lane Tristana to a very peculiar Gragas/Yasuo combo in bot lane. Success has been mixed, admittedly, but with Groups about to begin and a number of the tournament’s biggest names known for their ability to fly in the face of the meta, expect in-game tradition to take a beating over the next few weeks.
Korea dominated League of Legends’ international scene for more than half a decade, and it’s only in the past couple of years that other regions have started to really nip at the heels of the all-powerful LCK. But last year, as China’s Invictus Gaming triumphed over Fnatic in the final, and as G2 lifted the trophy at MSI this summer, the strength of the game’s former powerhouse was truly called into question. The script for Worlds 2019 hasn’t been written yet, but it’s clearly going to be packed with twists and turns.