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LoL Worlds play-ins: A miracle for the underdogs

Leading up to the 2020 League of Legends World Championships, many knew this year would be different.

COVID-19 not only put an end to travel across China for the 10th year of LoL esports, but also made it impossible for teams from Vietnam to participate -- they were considered dark horses in the tournament. The South Korean members of PSG Talon would have to join the team later than planned due to quarantine and visa issues.

Also, all players aside from the Chinese teams had to go through a mandatory two-week quarantine upon arrival, meaning they were confined to their hotel rooms during scrims and practice.

The usual handshakes between players after each game were replaced by fist bumps, and all the games were to be played without an audience. Riot Games announced that it was pushing to allow a limited audience at the finals, scheduled for Oct. 31 at Shanghai’s Pudong Soccer Stadium, but nothing is certain.

Another big change was Europe and China getting four teams to participate, instead of three, for the first time in LoL history because of their performance at international events in recent years, with the fourth seed teams starting at the play-in stage.

While the third seed from Korea, Gen.G, was also to start at the play-in stage, the last-minute absence of the Vietnamese teams meant Gen.G would go directly to the group stage.

So the play-in stage was divided into two groups of five, where two teams from each group will head to the group stage.

The representatives from Oceania, Brazil, Japan, Southeast Asia, Latin America and Turkey who all took the top spot in their respective regions to come to the Worlds Play-in, known as the wildcards, were expected to be less competitive than the last seed teams of the major regions.

The Mad Lions and the LGD, respectively the fourth seed teams of the EU and China, were expected to dominate their play-in stage groups along with Team Liquid, North America’s third seed. For LGD, no analyst doubted that they would qualify for the group stage and many thought they had a good chance of going undefeated.

When LGD was grouped with V3 of Japan, R7 of Latin America, PSG of Southeast Asia and Unicorns of Love of Russia, LGD and Unicorns of Love were heavy favorites for first seed in the group round robin that heads directly to the group stage.

However, the play-ins -- meant to be a stage for LGD to show off its power on home ground -- instead became a chance for the world to notice one of the least likely teams to make it out, PSG Talon.
The starting roster and substitute players of PSG Talon (Instagram)
The starting roster and substitute players of PSG Talon (Instagram)

Out of the five starting members of PSG who took second place in the Pacific Championship Series, the two Korean members, Kim “River” Dong-woo and Park “Tank” Dan-won, were unable to compete in the play-ins because of delayed visas and the quarantine requirement. To make matters worse, Wong “Unified” Chun Kit also was unable to play in the opening games because of visa delays and was allowed to play only in the second half of play-ins.

As such, Riot Games allowed PSG to loan two players, Kongyue and Uniboy, who had never played with the rest of PSG from AHQ, a team in the PCS that failed to make the World Championships. Also, Dee, one of the coaches and a retired pro of PCS’ first seed Machi Esport in the group stage, was to fill the shoes of Unified until he could play.

With only two members of the starting lineup, PSG’s chances of making it to the group stage seemed slim, especially after they were grouped with LGD and Unicorns of Love from Russia.

However, PSG shocked the world with their win over LGD on the first day and went on to go 3-1 at the play-in stage. After winning against Unicorns of Love, who were also 3-1 in a winner’s match tiebreaker on Sunday, PSG became the first play-in team to reach the group stage. That means its starting roster of five, including the two Korean players, will be able to play in the group stage, and the substitute players left the tournament as heroes.

On the other hand, China’s LGD went 1-3 in play-in groups and was only able to keep its Worlds hopes alive after winning against Japan’s V3 in an elimination match.

With the performance of the wildcard teams and the lackluster performance of some teams from major regions, the 2020 World Championships are truly living up to their theme for the year: “Take over.”

By Lim Jang-won (ljw@heraldcorp.com)
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