League of Legends' [official site] tentpole/flagship event, the World Championships, is ramping up the pressure as we reach the knockout stage. There's a $1m top prize and a ridiculously enormous cup at stake but what if you've not been keeping up with the story so far? That's where this primer comes in! Here's what you need to know if you're only just dipping your toes into the pro gaming waters...
What is Worlds?
Worlds is shorthand for the League of Legends World Championships. It's an annual event which sees teams from each of the five core regions and some wildcard teams compete for the title of BEST DIGITAL WIZARDS IN THE ENTIRE WORLD 2016 through playing many games of Riot's MOBA juggernaut, League of Legends. The competition proper spreads out through October. It's like how a gas will diffuse through a room until you've got vaporised League of Legends all through the curtains and need to give them a bit of an airing.
That being said, the actual qualification process for Worlds is what drives the majority of the rest of the year's professional LoL schedule so ACTUALLY it kind of takes over the whole calendar.
Qualification varies from region to region but a very basic way to look at it is to say that the teams competing in each of the main leagues around the world is doing so to earn their place at Worlds. When you look a bit closer you'll find regional qualifiers, slightly different competitive structures, demotion/promotion opportunities and other bits and pieces. But the basic structure is that you're putting all this work in because you want to get to Worlds.
Well, there are a bunch of reasons. Personal ambition, team ambition, the $1m top prize, professional pride, sponsorship opportunities, commanding higher wages, sympathy for Faker's trophy cabinet which is threatening to crumble under the weight of silverware, wanting to know how many pieces of candy corn you can fit in the Summoner's Cup trophy...
What stage are we at?
The group stage has finished and the quarterfinals are about to start so we're in the bit that's referred to as the knockout stage. That means there are going to be fewer matches but each is significant from this point onward as the remainder of the contest takes the form of a best of 5 single elimination bracket.
Who is still in the running?
The remaining teams and their regions are:
SK Telecom T1 (Korea)
Royal Never Give Up (China)
ROX Tigers (Korea)
Edward Gaming (China)
Samsung Galaxy (Korea)
Albus NoX Luna (Wildcard)
What did I miss from groups?
Okay, I'm going to make a confession – the Worlds group stages felt curiously lacklustre to me this year so I'll tell you the bit I was most excited to see. It feels nice to see regions outside the core five getting stronger over the years and starting to offer decent pushback against existing big names. I mean, sometimes you'd see teams doing really well in the early stages of a match, maybe taking advantage of disrespect from a more famous team or from the more experienced team not knowing what to expect given far fewer opportunities to face them in practice. But in those matches I was accustomed to seeing the initial success give way to a kind of floundering as their inexperience meant they couldn't keep the pressure up or couldn't close out the game. This time you'd see bits of floundering, but there was also definitely the ability to translate an early game advantage into an actual win.
Can you give me some talking points so I can impress people with my esports knowledge?
Hmm. Here is some basic info about each of the teams so you can start to get a bit of a feel for their place in the scene or of the general narratives:
SK Telecom T1 (Korea) – They're considered by many to be the best League of Legends team in the world. When they are on a tear, they're utterly terrifying. But they're also not invincible and have had a few rough spots over the course of 2016. For example, they ended up coming third in the summer playoffs behind ROX Tigers and KT Rolster. SKT will be looking to take home the Summoner's Cup for the third time at this point as they're already the only squad to have won the Worlds title twice.
Royal Never Give Up (China) – This lot are one of China's strongest sides (although I will say that they didn't really demonstrate that when I saw them at this year's Mid-Season Invitational in Shanghai). Worlds feels like as good an opportunity as any to reassert that dominance, though.
ROX Tigers (Korea) – I've been fond of the Tigers for a fair while now. Back when they were GE Tigers they used to just turn up to the regular Korean league in all manner of co-ordinated knitwear. It was vaguely boybandy but also just really cool to see a team do something different in terms of branding and having fun on stage. I'm pro comfort in clothing, but after a while I feel a bit ground down by the endless parade of track jackets and hoodies you get in esports. It's nice to get a bit of visual flair, you know? In terms of their actual play, they're a really strong team but they tend to sit in SKT's shadow because SKT is this terrifying machine with Faker in the middle of it. SKT are a formidable side, don't get me wrong, but the way they're conceptualised kind of distorts the conversation around them and I feel like sometimes people rush headlong into the SKT mythos without taking a second to look at what kind of form the team are in at a given time. Although, having said that I realise most of this paragraph about Tigers has actually been about SKT. Take this as your example, I guess! As a support player I really love watching their support player, GorillA, but the whole lineup is smashing – keep an eye on Smeb (top lane) and PraY (ADC) particularly.
Edward Gaming (China) – I wonder if their close friends call them Teddy Gaming? One of China's strongest squads, I saw them demonstrate their power firsthand at the Mid-Season Invitational back in 2015. They won the tournament, beating Korean superstars, SKT into second place. It was such a strange thing to watch because pretty much everyone I spoke to at the event was assuming SKT would be the victors even if EDG put up a fight. As I write this Edward Gaming's lineup has undergone some last-minute changes, though, as a family emergency saw top laner, Mouse, quit the competition. He will be replaced by emergency substitute Koro1 for the remainder of the tournament.
Samsung Galaxy (Korea) – Galaxy was one of the teams which formed after the Korean scene had a rule change prohibiting organisations from putting forward multiple rosters. Samsung Blue and Samsung White thus coalesced into Samsung Galaxy, although the actual team lineup wasn't a straightforward blending of the teams. In fact Samsung has ended up with a totally different roster for Galaxy. Ambition – their jungler – is of particular note as this is his first shot at Worlds despite making a name for himself on some of the strongest teams in the LCK over the years.
Cloud9 (NA) – I'm a tiny bit stuck in the past when it comes to some of the North American rosters. I mean, it's still weird to me to look at C9's lineup and not see Balls or Lemonnation. Anyhoodle! This lot had to fight their way through the regional qualifiers for their spot in the competition but given those extra matches didn't seem to exhaust them out of the competition, they might prove to be advantageous having offered that bit more practice, letting C9 come together as a unified fighting force.
H2K (EU) – EU represent! H2K qualified for Worlds because of the amount of championship points they had accrued, and remain in the contest while fellow European sides G2 Esports and Splyce have now departed. It actually does feel weird not having Fnatic in the competition at this point because they've been such a tournament mainstay, but I'm hoping H2K can hold their own for a while longer at least, especially given how unlikely it seemed that ANYONE from EU would advance after the first set of group stage performances. They'll be hoping to keep up their performance from last week, although without the iffy barons.
Albus NoX Luna (Wildcard) – Hailing from CIS, you *might* know the lineup by their previous name, Hard Random, but you'll remember them as ANX for making Worlds history as the first wildcard team to ever make it through to the quarterfinals. Not content with the upsets of the previous week, the wildcard team managed to take down Korean powerhouse, ROX Tigers in an truly exciting 66 minute back-and-forth team performance in the second week of groups:
They're going up against H2K for their quarter final so I guess I'm going to be happy and sad no matter what the result of that one!
I think I'm just about up to speed now. When is this thing actually on?
Quarterfinals start at 11pm BST / 3pm PST / 6pm EST on 13 October with Samsung Galaxy vs Cloud9. Physically, it'll be in The Chicago Theatre, Chicago, but the vast majority will be watching online. There are links to Twitch, YouTube and so on via the official Worlds page.
Semifinals go from 11pm BST / 3pm PST / 6pm EST on 21-22 October and the grand final opening ceremony kicks off an hour later, so 12am October 30 in the UK and 4pm / 7pm Pacific and Eastern.
Is there anything else I should know?