The final groups have been set. On Wednesday, the Unicorns of Love and LGD Gaming qualified for the Group Stage after demolishing Papara Supermassive and Legacy Esports, respectively.
It is the first time since Albus Nox Luna’s successful Worlds that an LCL team has made it to the group stage and the Unicorns did it in style. They brought out creative drafts, like a Vayne mid lane or Ziggs bot lane. While SuperMassive didn’t play poorly, especially in game three, the Unicorns felt a step above and managed to finally qualify for the group stage. They’ll be joining Group D, which also has DRX, FlyQuest and Top Esports.
The favorites in that group have to be Top Esports and DRX. Top was the best Chinese team in the summer split, and mid laner Knight may be the best player at Worlds. DRX was very much a back-and-forward team in Summer, managing to qualify after a miraculous 3-2 semifinals victory in Korea, but has enough explosive power in Chovy, their mid laner who is also up for “best individual player at Worlds,” to shine.
Group A consists of G2 Esports from Europe, who are heavy favorites after their recent international success last year, Machi Esports from the PCS, Suning from China and Team Liquid from North America. This group is one of the only ones in which Team Liquid has any chance; Machi is not predicted to be exceptional and Suning isn’t the Best Chinese team at the event, but they and G2 are still favorites to advance.
Group B, which is definitely the so-called “group of death” this year, has Damwon Gaming from Korea, JD Gaming from China, Rogue from Europe and PSG Talon from the PCS. Talon is a serious underdog; JD and Damwon are both highly successful teams who have a very good chance to make a deep run in the playoffs. Damwon was without doubt the best Korean team this year; Gen.G and DRX both looked several steps below them. The second seed is likely JDG, who played a good split in China, but there is a little wiggle room for another team to squeeze something out.
Group C, which is very much B’s opposite, contains Fnatic from Europe, Gen.G from Korea, LDG Gaming from China and TSM from North America. This is perhaps the best draw TSM could’ve asked for; Fnatic had issues all split, Gen.G only just qualified as Korea’s third seed and LDG had a huge pile of bad performances in the play-ins. In no way is TSM a favorite to make it out of this group. Calling any North American team a favorite would be disingenuous, but they could manage some upsets.
These groups are exciting because most of them feel like there is potential for underdog teams to succeed. This Worlds has already been full of underdog stories and surprises, and the Unicorns are the one miracle that is left standing. Three of the favored teams heading into the play-ins survived, but one didn’t. (Though with their subs PSG probably didn’t really fit the favored category anymore.) The MAD Lions are going to be watching these games from a distance and in their shadow are the Unicorns, who for the first time in their team’s history have made it.
This is as good of a result as PSG or UOL could ask for, and that takes some of the pressure off. There is only space to grow from here; both teams can only do better than the very low expectations most fans are putting on them. When you can only improve and there is no room to fail, it is a lot easier to pull off underdog games. Every game in these groups is a best of one, and that makes them very volatile. If you do one thing wrong you will lose that game and there is no game two to fix it in.
The Group Stage begins Saturday at 4 a.m. EST with a game between FlyQuest and Top Esports. And there, on that stage, anything will be possible.