Riot have co-opted the whole of October INCLUDING HALLOWE'EN for the League of Legends [official site] 2015 World Championship. I will be watching/cheering/glaring/continuing to email Riot's PR department about taking the winning team trick or treating in Berlin using the Summoner's Cup as a candy receptacle*. You might want to do those things too (maybe not the last one). But wait! What if you don't know what Worlds is? Friends, that is where this article comes in. Let me give you a super basic guide to what the hell is going on.
The League of Legends World Championship is an annual megatournament where Riot seeks to determine the best pro team in the world and shove $1m into their mouse-and-keyboard-loving hands. They also gain custody of the Summoner's Cup. It's an enormous trophy which takes an entire team to lift and has actually had to be shaved down a bit to try and make its weight more manageable. I guess now it functions as a metaphor for in-game teamwork.
Worlds is the culmination of the year's professional play in a way that's different to Dota's International. With TI you have direct invites that are based on which teams are doing really well in general (which includes their performance in tournaments hosted by third parties) as well playoffs and qualifiers because Dota 2 doesn't have an official league system in place. With League of Legends it's about who performed best in the regional leagues, playoffs, qualifiers and the international wildcard games. The exact methods of qualification and the setups of the leagues differ by region but there's that direct relationship between the multi-week pro seasons and the annual tournament.
Where are we even up to? What is going on? When even is Worlds?
Right. We're currently at the stage where the regional qualifiers and the playoffs have been completed. That means the sixteen competing teams have been decided so what's left is Worlds proper. It starts on October 1 as the group stage kicks off in Paris and finishes on October 31 with the final in Berlin.
Tell me of these "Groups"
The group stage sees the qualifying teams assigned to one of four groups. If you're curious, they've been placed so that no two teams from the same region will be in the same group. Additionally, the number one seeds from Europe, North America, China and Korea are all in different groups.
Here's the exact breakdown:
Counter Logic Gaming (North America)
Flash Wolves (Taiwan)
KOO Tigers (South Korea)
paiN Gaming (Brazil)
I should probably pick out a few talking points for you here.
Perhaps you'd like to know that CLG have a bit of an unknown quantity in their Jungler role (that's the one who gets gold and experience mostly from killing minions who lurk in the woods rather than the ones who march up the lanes). It's because regular player Jake 'Xmithie' Puchero is having visa issues so backup Jae-hyun 'HuHi' Choi will be stepping in.
There's also the fact that Flash Wolves comprises most of the former team Gamania Bears who, as LoL's own site puts it "were one of four seeded teams at the 2013 World Championship, and the first team in the bracket stage fed to the SKTelecom T1 K woodchipper." It's a pretty brutal description but on-the-nose. It'll be cool to see how they fare this time around.
I don't really know paiN at all beyond their strong performance in the Brazilian scene and the fact they came to Worlds via the International Wildcard tournament in Chile so they're a team I'm going to need to swot up on.
KOO Tigers are a team I primarily knew as GE Tigers and became interested in pretty much entirely because of their penchant for pastel-coloured knitwear. They are also good at the videogame but the sight of knitwear in a sea of hoodies and polo shirts is such a tonic, you have no idea. I will probably write about this at length one day. It will be a great day.
Invictus Gaming (China)
ahq e-Sports Club (Taiwan)
Cloud9 (North America)
Fnatic have stomped through the EU LCS Summer Split undefeated – a fantastic track record, but regional strength can sometimes falter in the face of another region's playstyle. Backing up Fnatic's Worlds bid, I'd point to their performance at the Mid-Season Invitational earlier this year where they forced dominant Korean side SK Telecom T1 to a full five games during the semifinals. It showed Fnatic weren't just going to be pushed over by the favourites. On the other hand, fellow Europeans Origen managed to halt Fnatic's flawless streak by taking two games off them in the Summer Split finals. Fnatic went on to win the series but the point is that other teams are working out how to counter them. Their returned carry player Rekkles saw the losses as a positive thing though. "It's nice to be able to say ok, this doesn't really work against this. We learned a lot of valuable things and then we just have to practice hard."
Fun fact: Yellowstar (their support) will have attended all five Worlds tournaments.
My main memories of ahq are also from the Mid-Season Invitational – their semifinal match against Edward Gaming was a complete bloodbath so I had them pegged as a fight-happy team, keen to get opportunities for their star player, Westdoor and running into trouble if that didn't pay off. Catching up on snippets of more recent matches it looks like the team is on more of an even footing skillwise.
I'm fond of Cloud9 but I have no idea how they're going to do here. They had a shaky Summer Split, like, staring into the relegation abyss shaky. Some roster changes brought the team back from the brink – jungler William 'Meteos' Hartman took a back seat in order to enable the return of former shotcaller Hai 'Hai' Du Lam. Thing is, Hai had actually retired earlier in the year due to a wrist injury and had been replaced in the mid lane by Nicolaj 'Incarnati0n' Jensen. Obviously it was enough to avoid relegation and get through to Worlds but I keep looking at the chain of events and making a :/ face about their prospects.
I have a big question mark over Invictus Gaming. It's not because of them, it's because the Chinese scene is the one I'm least familiar with and most prone to falling out of touch with. Reading up about them they appear to be a team of inconsistent fortunes, sometimes excelling, sometimes falling over but with a strong ability to draft.
SKTelecom T1 (South Korea)
Edward Gaming (China)
Bangkok Titans (Thailand)
The last time I said SKT were a sure thing at a League of Legends tournament Edward Gaming waltzed off with the crown and their star player Faker lost a game as LeBlanc, his famously undefeated champion. Sorry about that, guys. They're looking really strong at the moment though, like a five-man boa constrictor gradually cutting off the enemy's circulation around the Rift until the opposing team suffocates and dies and its Nexus explodes.
Speaking of Edward Gaming, they're in this group too. Edward have had a strong year and showed they were capable of showing a strongly favoured team the door. That said they lost out to LGD Gaming in terms of nabbing the number one seed for China in this contest so again, they're not looking infallible. Man, I'm looking forward to seeing reruns of SKT v EDG.
H2K's mid laner is Ryu. This is a relevant fact for you because back in the mists of 2013 Ryu was still playing in Korea as part of KT Rolster Bullets. He and Faker went toe to toe, both playing a champion called Zed in one of the most famous 1v1 encounters in the history of LoL. It was obviously a long time ago but it plays into this group's narrative of score settling and grudge matchery. I'll put the video below but here's a link to a description of what happens step by step:
Bangkok Titans are a bit of an unknown to me, I'm afraid, although from what I've seen I would apply the adjective "punchy". They're the team who came through via the International Wildcard tournament in Turkey.
LGD Gaming (China)
KT Rolster (South Korea)
Team SoloMid (North America)
LGD Gaming. I just made a bear noise to indicate that I think LGD are strong and have a great carry and great support but the problem with the written word is that that looks like I just haven't typed anything.
With KT Rolster, KT fiiiiiiiinally have a team at Worlds and it's one which looks to pose a decent threat. I'm not sure how far through the tournament they'll actually get but I reckon they have a good shot at getting through the group stage.
TSM's name has been chanted at every League event I've been to whether the team is there or not, so they clearly have the fan vote, but I can't imagine this is a group the North American side would have picked to be in at all. From dipping in and out of NA LCS there's a 4-protect-Bjergsen approach which I get the reasoning for – he's a strong player – as well as a tendency to sacrifice their top laner Marcus 'Dyrus' Hill with the aim of taking an objective in exchange. I will say it's not a strategy which has paid reliable dividends on the international stage that I've seen though and I winced for them when I saw this group.
Origen are the last European side on the list and put up a great fight against Fnatic on the road to Worlds qualification. Led by former Fnatic star xPeke, Origen are a team of experienced players (and one relative newbie). You get displays of individual skill, lovely moments of synergy and you also get some unexpected plays. Not sure it'll be enough to get them out of this group in one piece but I'd be pleased if that's the case.
When Is It Happening And Where Can I Watch It?
Hmm. Well, the group stage takes place in Paris. It starts on October 1 and lasts a couple of weeks with matches on 1-4 Oct and 8-11 Oct. The full schedule goes up in a couple of days for those matches, I believe. The top two teams in each group will then go forward to the quarterfinals which take place in London at the SSE Arena, Wembley 15-18 Oct. The semifinals are in Brussels at the Brussels Expo from 24-25 Oct. The grand finals are in Berlin's Mercedes-Benz Arena on 31 Oct.
From home you can watch the broadcast via the various official channels found at lolesports and if you want some analysis from their stable of casters and analysts you could cast an ear over the group draw show:
I'll tell you something. Putting together this primer seemed a far better idea a few hours ago. I now have a forest of tabs open – about ten of them are pictures of KOO Tigers in different knitwear, then there are all of the YouTube clips, the Reddit arguments, old RPS articles featuring previous League of Legends opinions, old calculations about the volume of the Summoner's Cup and a bunch of knitwear shopping pages for when I try to pretend I'm part of KOO Tigers and take to the stage. Chrome is definitely buckling under the weight of primer creation.
*I am serious about this.