In 2018, the West had their best quarterfinal performance ever at the League of Legends World Championship. Three western teams, two from North America and one from Europe, all qualified for the semifinals. Fans and players alike were delighted; this was their best chance at a victory that had evaded them for seven long years. But standing like a bouncer at the peak of the mountain was the last team, Invictus Gaming from China. Unbothered by the fact they were the last Eastern team left, they refused to bow to the hopes of the West, beating first G2 and then Fnatic in order to claim China’s first trophy.
This year, the script changed. North America did not even make the quarterfinals much less the semis. Korea got three teams in quarters along with China’s two, but Europe pulled out their best performance ever and got three. Last weekend, four of those teams — two from Europe and two from Korea — were eliminated, leaving us with only four more hopefuls for the trophy.
Invictus Gaming was not supposed to be here. After a shocking semifinals exit to Team Liquid at the Mid-Season Invitational, they struggled through the Summer Split, ending up in 7th-8th place and only making it to Worlds on points. They looked like a shell of last year’s victors, leading many to think that they might not even make the playoffs. But IG bounced back, dominating Korean favorites Griffin in a 3-1 victory that saw toplane star TheShy dominate over Griffin’s controversial veteran, Sword. The Chinese team surges into the semifinals looking more and more like the roster that shocked the world last split with every game they played.
The second Chinese team, FunPlus Phoenix, wasn’t supposed to be here, either. The young lineup came out of China in first place and earned an automatic trip to the Group Stage, where they were slotted into what was considered the easiest group. They faltered even in this group, barely making it out and finding themselves facing Fnatic, Europe’s most successful team at Worlds. But in the quarterfinals, FPX seemed to find themselves, putting up far and away their best games on the world stage as they wrecked Fnatic in a 3-1 series that found them reaching a rematch with Invictus Gaming. It was vengeance for the third Chinese team, RNG, who Fnatic defeated to make it to quarters; and it was a sign that China came to win no matter how low their expectations were.
SK Telecom T1 are no strangers to coming to win. The Korean squad made it to four grand finals in the last grand years and is without question the winningest team in League of Legends history. They came ready to play this year, with a revamped roster built of some of the biggest names in Korean League. After a dominant group stage, jungler Clid and Mid-Laner Faker, the best player in history, led the Korean team to a 3-1 victory over European underdogs Splyce, further cementing their position as a favorite for their fourth trophy.
One of the most debated things in League of Legends history is whether or not the first Worlds in 2011 should count. Some insist it should, because it was Worlds, while others point out that it was really just NA versus EU. But looking past the controversy and the debate, if we just simply pretend Season 1 was an important tournament but not Worlds, Europe has never won. The West has never won. Until this Spring, the West had never even won an international championship, but G2 ended that streak with a dominant victory over Team Liquid. Now, after a victory over Korean 3rd seed Damwon Gaming, the European superteam has only got to win six more games to win it all. It would be vindication for players who have fought for years for a chance at this success.
But more importantly, it would be a breath of hope for the half of the world who have had to sustain themselves on tiny victories. A win in the play-ins, an escape from a group, a semifinal appearance, a chance. For too long we have had to fight to believe because too many times we’ve been betrayed by our hope. We’ve been disappointed year after year, yet we still insist that we’re making progress, that we can win, despite all evidence to the contrary. This year, G2 is fighting to prove that we are right.
Ashton Stansel is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.