Esports expert Andrew Noland discusses the disappointing performance of the dominant Eastern teams as Korea underperforms in the World Championships.
The world turned upside down this past weekend in the billion-dollar esports industry of “League of Legends.” Nearly all of the Eastern titans were felled at the hands of the West in the quarterfinals of the World Championships, and both Europe and North America, for the first time in seven years, live on as semifinalists in the world championship.
The miracle started when KT Rolster, the Korean #1 seed and pre-tournament favorite, found themselves knocked out by upstart Chinese team Invictus Gaming in five games. Veterans Smeb and Mata could only stare at one another as the “Defeat” banner flared across their screens and they walked off the stage, resigned to another year of high expectations followed by devastating underperformance.
But it turned out that, as dawn broke on Saturday morning, a greater upset was yet to come. G2 Esports, the European #3 seed, a team that was knocked out of the European Playoffs in the first round and only barely made it through the Play-In and Group Stages, wrested the seemingly inevitable “Golden Road” from the other pre-tournament favorite Royal Never Give Up. Off the back of midlander Perkz’s immaculate Aatrox and Leblanc performances in Games 4 and 5 respectively, G2 tore legendary ADC Uzi’s destiny from him and robbed us of a rematch of the Chinese Summer Finals.
The West suddenly possessed a glimmer of hope. If Europe’s theoretically worst team could take down the highly-regarded best team RNG, then North America’s third seed Cloud9 had a shot to beat Korea’s last team, the Afreeca Freecs. In dominating fashion, C9 did exactly that a with a clean 3-0 sweep behind mid laner Jensen’s outstanding Game 1 performance and top laner Licorice’s punch to steal the baron in Game 3. Korea suffered its worst finish in history.
The only way to complete the perfect Western quarterfinal was for Fnatic to uphold its #1 seed and take down Chinese #3 seed Edward Gaming and cement the first Western finalist since Season 1. After a devastating loss in Game 1, Fnatic bounced back to win the next three games and therefore the match despite superstar mid-laner Caps’ terrible performances. Rookie top laner Bwipo stepped up in Game 4 to take the West home and will face Cloud9 in the greatest Western clash of all time.
For “League of Legends” fans, the question on all our minds is what happened to the best region in the world? Korea simply collapsed in this World Championship. One can argue that it was from the weight of expectations in front of the home crowd, but, as Korean LoL expert PapaSmithy showed, more factors played into the region’s downfall. Korea fell behind the meta and the teams underestimated their Western opponents.
As the Western teams prioritized early aggression and reckless teamfighting, Korea’s standard vision-suffocation strategy failed them. Europe and North America’s best, for the first time, played their own styles and succeeded: G2 prioritized their solo lanes, C9 empowered their junglers’ aggression and Fnatic relied on their skirmishing to one-two punch EDG out of each play.
In short, the gap has officially closed. China’s Invictus Gaming stands as the sole hope for retaining the East’s dominance. What does this mean for the average North American player? It might mean everything. NA teams will begin to invest in rookie talent and solo queue trolls cannot claim that we will lose to our Korean overlords anyway. Last, it gives hope to every Western team to play to their strengths and play their game. To flame Team SoloMid and Team Liquid one last time, playing like a worse Korean team has failed every time. If Western teams build upon the formula of developing their own meta, this tournament’s miracles might turn into the norm.