As fans around the world watched the 2020 Play-Ins Stage of the World Championship for League of Legends, it seemed like COVID-19 might’ve legitimately had an impact on the teams and players. The teams from smaller regions like Russia, Brazil and Turkey put on exceptional performances, surpassing the historical expectations set for play-ins teams. The Turkish lineup, Papara SuperMassive, eliminated the fourth seed out of Europe, MAD Lions. LGD Gaming from China made it but barely; they were one game away from being the first team eliminated from Worlds.
But once the Group Stage started on Saturday, it was clear the magic hadn’t necessarily carried over. The event opened with a dominating win by TOP Esports over FlyQuest. The dominating wins continued as the Unicorns of Love were demolished by DRX, Rogue claimed a win for Europe of PSG Talon, who have their full roster again and DAMWON Gaming of Korea beat JD Gaming, a Chinese roster.
The close game on day one came when LGD Gaming, who had struggled in the play-ins, came up against Gen.G. At 45 minutes long, it was the longest game by 11 minutes, and ended up as a close game. While Gen.G seemed to have the edge, LGD was not as far out as most people would’ve predicted after their abysmal start to Worlds, and it took the full 45 minutes for Gen.G to claim a very shaky victory.
North America’s woes continued; they would not claim a win until Day Three, when FlyQuest managed a victory over the Unicorns. As of Monday, North America has a pitiful one win and five losses. PSG Talon and the Unicorns, two of the four play-ins teams, have yet to win a game and sit at 0-5 combined.
In Group A, Machi Esports from the PCS has managed a better than expected 1-1 record, beating Team Liquid but losing to G2. G2 seemingly shook off their troubles from summer; while they were the first seed from Europe, they had inconsistency issues and a lot of problems during the Summer Split. But in the first few days, dominant wins over Machi and Suning made it clear that G2 had come to claim the trophy that they’d been so close to in 2019.
It’s clear the Eastern teams are going to be the favorites to win this championship. The Chinese teams have combined for a 6-3 record, while the Koreans are boasting a 6-1, with DRX having the only loss, coming from a close game against Top Esports. Group D has been perhaps the closest group thus far; FlyQuest barely beat the Unicorns today, too, and DRX looked more than capable of taking Top down had they not suffered a series of mistakes.
That has been DRX’s downfall all year. The mechanical skill is there, their young players have the talent, but they’re just not able to convert these skills into a victory. They succeeded against the Unicorns in their first game at Worlds, so DRX is far from out of it, but they’re going to have to show not only can they challenge a team like Top, but that they can beat them too.
The path is already looking difficult for the teams that are not from Korea, China or Europe. It is entirely possible that the top eight will be solely from those regions; at this point, it’s even likely. But there are still thirty games to play, still thirty more chances for underdog teams and maligned regions to put up a fight, to say yeah, we might not be able to stop them, but we’re going to go down trying. Sometimes all a team really can do is put their head down, forget who they’re playing against and how severely outmatched they are supposed to be, and just try to win their games.