Last Friday, the play-ins stage of the League of Legends World Championship began. 10 teams from around the world, many of them representatives from minor regions like Brazil, Oceania and Japan, faced off in an effort to earn passage into the knockout stage and, hopefully, a trip to the group stage.
In Group A, favorites MAD Lions of Europe and Team Liquid of North America faced off against INTZ of Brazil, Legacy Esports of Oceania and Papara SuperMassive of Turkey. MAD Lions won their first game, beating INTZ on the back of an impressive game from mid-laner Marek “Humanoid” Brázda, but lost their next three games, in part because of their jungler, Zhiqiang “Shad0w” Zhao seriously struggling.
Team Liquid began the stage strong, with rookie ADC Edward “Tactical” Ra putting on an exceptional game of Twitch, with support from Jung “Impact” Eon-yeong in the top lane. The fact that he played well was reassuring for many North American fans considering Tactical’s minimal stage experience.
INTZ continued to struggle through the play-ins, losing games to Papara SuperMassive and Legacy Esports. However, on Monday, the struggling roster had a moment of hope when they won a hard-fought game against Team Liquid. INTZ’s support player, Ygor “RedBert” Freitas, and mid-laner Bruno “Envy” Farias played exceptionally well as Tactical struggled to find success.
Papara SuperMassive came out of the gate dominantly. They began their run by taking down both MAD Lions and INTZ with top laner İrfan “Armut” Berk Tükek putting on a great performance. He continued to find success on Monday with a great Wukong game, but the team struggled, losing to Legacy Esports and Team Liquid. They found themselves in the group’s third place with a 2-2 record. They’ll face MAD Lions, who won a tiebreaker with INTZ to avoid elimination, on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, things in Group B were just as surprising. LGD Gaming, the Chinese team that was expected to easily take first place in the group, lost three of their four games. Despite often having early leads, the team would throw these leads away, allowing other teams in their group to capitalize. They had to play a tiebreaker to avoid elimination, managing to beat Japan’s V3 Esports to keep their chances alive.
On the other hand, PSG Talon, who played with three substitutes, dominated their group and ended with a 3-1 record and a spot in the group stage. Rather concerningly, Hsiao “Kongyue” Jen-Tso and Chen “Uniboy” Chang-Chu, the jungle and mid lane substitutes, were a large part of their victory which means the team could struggle in the group stage.
Rainbow7, a majority-Argentinian roster from Latin America’s LLA, struggled early on. They lost games to PSG Talon and V3 Esports, but managed to beat LGD and UOL to come out with a 2-2 record and claim third place in the group, giving themselves a chance to do the unthinkable on Tuesday. If they can win one best-of-five, the LPL’s fourth seed will be eliminated from the World Championship. Even considering that LGD was notably the worst LPL team to attend, it would still be shocking to see them go out especially if MAD Lions also fail to qualify.
The LCL’s representative, Unicorns of Love, got off to a similarly impressive start. After missing the group stage last year by one game, losing 3-2 to European third-seed Splyce, the Unicorns were on the road to a spot in groups without even playing a best-of-five. They beat PSG Talon and LGD, but lost a game to Rainbow7. That loss put them into a tiebreaker for first with PSG Talon, a tiebreaker that they lost. They now face the winner of the MAD Lions, Papara SuperMassive, on Wednesday to determine who will advance.
Meanwhile in Group A, Legacy was forging a dominant path of their own. They took down INTZ in their first game then defeated the MAD Lions. In a game between the 2-1 teams that would determine second place, Legacy won an impressive series over the TCL’s Papara SuperMassive. Despite losing their tiebreaker against Team Liquid, causing the North American squad to advance directly to groups with a 3-1 scoreline, Legacy still secured a solid chance to make it to the group stage. They’ll play the winner of LGD vs. Rainbow7.
By Wednesday, three minor region teams might be qualifying teams from the play-ins. Or, if history doesn’t repeat itself, the Unicorns will face the MAD Lions. 12 months ago, the MAD Lions didn’t exist. Splyce did. If the MAD Lions make it to that series, the Unicorns have to do more than just beat a European team. They have to overcome the demons that stopped them on the doorstep in 2018.
For Legacy, a team from a region that has never had a representative in the group stage, there is a lot more on the line than just their own pride on Wednesday. They carry a region on their shoulders and they’re going to need every single burst of strength their fellow countrymen can give them if they want to finally be the first team from the OPL to qualify for the group stage.