MADness in the Play-Ins

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Papara SuperMassive (SUP) celebrating after a win. Originally tweeted by LoL Esports (@lolesports) on September 29, 2020.

On Tuesday, the third and fourth place teams in each play-ins group faced off against each other for a chance to remain in the tournament. LGD Gaming, from China, faced off against Rainbow7 from Latin America. In the other group, the MAD Lions from Europe faced off with Turkey’s Papara SuperMassive.  

The first series was sadly not close. Rainbow7 looked unimpressive in its games against LGD. It reverted back to the Rainbow7 of the first few days of play-ins, while LGD showed that it had a pulse for the first time at Worlds in a clean 3-0 victory that catapulted it into a game against Legacy Esports of Oceania on Wednesday.  

The other best-of-five was much closer. MAD Lions were the favorites going into the group, but Papara SuperMassive looked better throughout the stage and were in many ways the favorites heading into the series.  

It was a much closer series than the first; Papara SuperMassive was strong out of the gate, but MAD showed good play too, managing to take two games largely on the back of midlaner Humanoid, who continued to be the best-performing player on MAD. 

On the other side of the rift, Armut and KaKAO were putting on a show. Armut continued to be quite possibly the best top laner in group A, while KaKAO had some great smites and played a fantastic Lillia, showing why the champ has a high ban rate even while she’s struggled to find success. Creative picks, like pulling out a rare Malphite for Armut, helped the Turkish region win their first best-of-five against a major region team in the history of the World Championship.  

The last time an LCL team found success was Albus Nox Luna, the most successful Wildcard team in history. Now, the Unicorns of Love is once again standing on the precipice of groups, and this time Europe isn’t standing in its path.  

As good as Papara SuperMassive looked against the MAD Lions, that was also a team that had struggled through the play-ins so far. The Unicorns have had no such struggles and will be a much more difficult opponent for the Turkish team. It is exciting that, whichever team wins, we will have a solidly performing wildcard team in the group stage this year.  

Legacy has perhaps the harder fight. Despite playing very well in it group, it now has to face LGD Gaming in a best-of-five series, something Chinese teams tend to be very good at. While LGD has struggled throughout the tournament, it was very solid on Tuesday compared to its prior performances and if they show up again on Wednesday, Legacy is going to have to be incredible. 

Here is the thing; for the first time in a long time, it legitimately feels like it can. In any other year, the idea that an Oceanic team would have any chance in a best-of-five against a Chinese one would be laughable. Even now, it feels difficult to imagine that Legacy can pull out any success. But it was just as unbelievable to think that a Turkish team would win a best-of-five against a European one and early Tuesday morning, it did.  

Don’t get me wrong; Legacy is still the massive underdog heading into its series. A Chinese team losing in this fashion, going out before Groups even begins, would be a huge blow to the region that is meant to be the best in the world and Legacy making it, becoming the first Oceanic team to qualify on the backs of a victory over a Chinese team, would be one of the biggest underdog runs in Worlds history.  

On the other side, no matter if UOL or Papara SuperMassive win, it will be a shining moment for their region. Both regions have struggled in recent history at Worlds and so to qualify for groups, especially after how chaotic this year has been for everyone, is a huge accomplishment.  

It’d be vindication for the Unicorns, who were so close to breaking the losing streak in 2019 but who couldn’t. SuperMassive already did the hard part for them; they beat the European team that the Unicorns couldn’t last year. Now, the Unicorns once again have one more hurdle, and SuperMassive has one more step to take before they pull off an incredibly improbable run over two solid teams. 

The stage is set, the teams are ready, and now all that remains is two more best-of-fives to determine who will go into the history books and who will be forgotten in the sea of wildcard teams who weren’t quite good enough.  

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