Worlds 2021 has already kicked off with a bang, giving us the most entertaining and magical play-in stage in its history. Infinity Esports provided us all with some wildly close and entertaining games against RED Canids and PEACE Gaming to kick off the excitement, but ultimately fell out of group stages without a win. Cloud9 started off incredibly strong before hitting a rocky patch on day 4, where they dropped games to both Unicorns of Love and Detonation FocusMe. Forced into a Best of 5 series against PEACE Gaming with a spot in the group stage on the line, Cloud9 managed to find their groove again with a convincing 3-0 and advanced to groups alongside Detonation FocusMe, Hanwha Life, and LNG.
With the play-in stage in the rearview mirror, it’s time to get ready for the group stage. Here’s everything you need to know about each group and how each United in Rivalry squad is expected to fare when this stage kicks off on October 11th at 4 am PST.
Welcome to Group A, the place where dreams are crushed and lives are taken. As is customary, every tournament must have one “Group of Death”, and Group A easily lives up to the billing. Headlined by reigning World Champions Damwon Kia (DK) and tournament favorite Fun Plus Phoenix (FPX), this is a group that would make any other team in global League of Legends quiver in fear. In spite of their strength and pedigree, that fear will still apply to the other members of the group, Rogue and Cloud9 (C9). In order to have any hope of advancing to the knockout phase, these two squads will have to bring their absolute best and potentially even more. Yet hope remains in a tournament that is so well known for its upsets (C9 vs. Afreeca), its underdogs (Albus Nox Luna, Detonation FocusMe), and its legendary moments (Perkz vs. RNG). On their best day, both Rogue and C9 have the ability to overcome the global giants and tournament favorites in DK and FPX. Only time will tell if they are more David or Doublelift.
FPX's Doinb at 2019 World Finals (Photo by Colin Young-Wolff/Riot Games)
FPX: (Nuguri, Tian, DoinB, LWX, Crisp)
The LPL second seed enters the tournament as the odds-on favorites to win it all and collect their second Summoner’s Cup in three years. Factor has FPX with a 19% chance to win Worlds with the Groups finalized. It’s a bit strange for some to see a second seed widely considered as the favorite, but it becomes less surprising when you realize just how experienced and talented this roster is. Every player on this roster has already won the World Championship. Every. Single. One. Four of the five members were on the roster that hoisted the trophy in 2019 and the final addition, Nuguri, is himself a reigning World Champion from his prior season with Damwon Kia. They are the epitome of a well-oiled machine: every part can be brilliant on its own, but they are truly at their best when working around the energy, flexibility, and enigmatic brilliance of their centerpiece, DoinB. Arguably the best player in the world at the moment, DoinB can play any champion (17 unique picks in summer split) and any style. He can effortlessly swap between supporting his teammates on Twisted Fate and Galio, to skirmishing on Sylas and Tryndamere, to carrying on Irelia or Akali. What’s worse is that, while his fun-loving nature might not show it, DoinB and FPX will enter this World Championship with a chip on their shoulder. Their sole mission will be to erase the embarrassment of missing out on the 2020 World Championship and the heartbreak of their unexpected LPL Summer Finals defeat to EDG. With world class talent in every role, and their Midlane leader at his very best, FPX are armed to the teeth and ready to make a run at their second World Championship.
*Note: Keep your eyes peeled for their two group games against Damwon Kia. These games will pit both Khan and Nuguri against their former teammates and will also be a showcase of the past two World Champion organizations. They could very well be a preview of the finals.
Cloud9 at the 2021 LCS Summer Playoffs (Source: ESPAT.AI - Eric Corona)
Cloud9: (Fudge, Blaber, Perkz, Zven, Vulcan)
North America’s third seed has taken a long and rocky road to finally arrive...in Hell, otherwise known as Group A. In almost any other group in any other World Championship, there would be plenty of hope and belief in a Cloud9 miracle run. It’s happened before after all, as, prior to 2021, Cloud9 had qualified for seven group stages and advanced to the knockout stage five times. This group, however, is a different beast altogether. There will be zero margin for error in a group featuring the last two World Champions in Damwon and FPX and a methodical, talented team in Rogue. That could be an issue for a team like Cloud9, that plays an aggressive, on-the-edge style which has undoubtedly contributed to their inconsistent play throughout the summer split and the play-in stage. They will need all of their old magic, maximum Fudge factor, and some vintage Perkz to overcome Rogue twice and FPX or Damwon at least once. This roster certainly has the tools, talent, and experience to achieve such a feat...but the execution of their concoctions must be 100% perfection.
This group will largely be seen as the Group of Life in this tournament. Interestingly, it is also a story about old versus new, as the storied franchises of EDG and T1 look to reclaim their former glory while fresh-faced challengers in 100 Thieves and DFM look to establish their own. Most will look to LPL Champion EDG as the only sure bet to advance in first place, a sentiment I echo given their incredible individual talent and form heading into Worlds. Every other team will have big questions asked of them in this group stage. Can T1 channel the ghost of Faker’s past in spite of their overly methodical style, inconsistent form, and regular roster swaps? Can 100 Thieves outgrow the shadow of their 2018 showing and prove that North America’s best can truly punch with the royalty of League of Legends? Can DFM, as the first ever LJL team to qualify for the group stage, prove that they belong? Each of these teams has the ability to rise to the challenges and move on to the knockout phase. They will all believe that this group is the best chance they could have drawn. Barring some massive upsets, only one of them will be right. The rest will just have more questions to answer.
T1's Faker (Photo Credit: LCK Global)
T1 (Canna, Oner/Cuzz, Faker/Clozer, Gumayusi/Teddy, Keria)
T1 makes its return to the World stage as the Korean third seed after missing out on the 2020 World Championships. More importantly to most League of Legends fans, this marks the return of Faker to the stage where he has etched his name into the lore of League and esports as a whole. Faker and T1 will be unfamiliar with their status as a third seed, their first time in seven group stage appearances, but they will be thrilled with their placement for the group stage. Yes, there is LPL Champion EDG to contend with, but they will feel very confident in their ability to defeat their other two opponents, 100 Thieves and Detonation FocusMe (DFM). While these teams certainly have talented players, neither plays with the type of unfettered confidence and aggression that teams like G2 and Damwon have used to fluster T1 in the past. Furthermore, both these organizations and their players are extremely new to the challenges of the Worlds stage. DFM is the first ever team to qualify to the group stage from the LJL and only Ssumday remains from 100 Thieves' last group stage appearance in 2018. The collective group stage appearances of these two organizations is three. Faker and T1 have seven. That is a massive gap to overcome. Many will point out that T1 is no longer the juggernaut it was in the past. They will highlight the 25-19 summer split record that was littered with inconsistency. They will criticize the roster size and consistent substitutions in the Jungle and ADC roles. They will remind people that Faker is no longer the best Mid Laner in the world and isn’t on the level of players like Showmaker, Chovy, and DoinB. There is truth to all of these arguments, but there is also no denying that T1 still has all the tools to be a contender for a World Championship: incredibly talented players, exceptional coaching and infrastructure, and a literal ocean of experience. If you still have doubts about T1, ask yourself this: Is it a coincidence that they stepped up in both the LCK Summer Playoffs and Regional Finals? Or is it a product of knowing how to perform and win in the most critical moments? My money is on the latter. When the group stage begins, T1 will be hungry, they will be prepared, and they will expect to win and move on to the knockout stage.
Group C is perhaps the most balanced group in recent memory. Most watchful fans will place Hanwha Life at the bottom of the group but will have a much more difficult time placing the remaining three squads. They have good reason to take pause. RNG, PSG Talon, and Fnatic (FNC) all have flexible, talented players in every role, excellent coaching and infrastructure, and a wealth of World Championship experience. Each has very few weaknesses to exploit and can play a wildly dynamic, explosive style of League. While Hanwha Life has more numerous and clearer weaknesses than these three squads, the talent of Deft and Chovy will almost certainly cause an upset or two in this group as well, paving the way for some absolutely delectable chaos. Every game in this group feels like it will be a worthy battle between relative equals, and there’s nothing more that you could want as a fan of the game. So flip your coins, consult your pets, and run your rituals to determine who you have advancing in the top two slots from this group. Then sit back and enjoy the wild ride I believe this group will take us on.
Fnatic at the LEC Summer Finals (Photo by Michal Konkol/Riot Games)
Fnatic: (Adam, Bwipo, Nisqy, Upset, Hylissang)
Fnatic arrives in Iceland as the European second seed after making a remarkable run through to LEC summer playoffs all the way to the finals. Their run included a cathartic victory over bitter rivals G2 to qualify for Worlds as well as a dominant performance over the heavily favored Rogue to reach the finals. Despite falling to MAD Lions at the final hurdle, Fnatic proved that they have the talent, champion pools, and resilience to be a major threat on the World Stage. Fnatic will also receive a boost from timing, as the current meta is very favorable to the strengths of their players. Nisqy has always been known for his heavy roaming style in the Mid Lane, with a particular penchant for Twisted Fate. With the rise of picks like Tryndamere and Qiyana, even if the card master is banned Nisqy will have roaming options. Furthermore, Bwipo’s massive champion pool and depth of game knowledge gives Fnatic the additional flexibility they need to have Nisqy or even Adam act as more of a carry while Bwipo plays the supportive role. These three can be confident in their top side plays knowing that they have a rock in the ADC role in Upset, at long last appearing in his first World Championship. Upset has been an absolute machine in the LEC, leading the league in Average Kills and Gold Difference at 15 while ranking second in Average Damage per Teamfight. Those stats prove that Upset is extremely good at farming and transitioning that farm gold to damage when it matters, an impressive feat for a team that was only 11-7 in the summer split. That leaves the final ingredient for this squad and the one that is most important to their chances of success: a sprinkle of Hylissang magic. Hylissang is the most aggressive support in the world and the living definition of a double-edged sword. In the course of a single game, Hylissang is likely to attempt a play that will make you think he’s a Platinum griefer...only to make another play minutes later that not a single other player, person, or coach would’ve seen coming. That last line is the most crucial part. Hylissang can consistently envision and create plays that others don’t think are possible, which is vital when trying to overcome teams that are as good or better than you. That is likely the case for every team in Fnatic’s group, with perhaps the exception of Hanwha Life (who still have Chovy mind you). If Fnatic wants to outdo the teams like the reigning MSI Champions in RNG, the juggernaut from the PCS in PSG Talon, and the powerful teams they would potentially face in the knockout phase, they will need the brilliant and maddening ingenuity of their support to push them over the edge. There will be doubts about the youth of rookie Top Laner, Adam, of Bwipo in his first season as a Jungler, and, of course, some of Hylissang’s attempted plays. There can be no doubt however, that this squad is a terrifying opponent for even the biggest of tournament favorites and they certainly have the skill, form, and coaching to make a deep run at Worlds.
There are no United In Rivalry squads in Group D, but that won’t make it any less exciting. That’s especially true when so many have the play-ins qualifier as the favorite to win the group! LNG has been in blistering form, trampling through the regional qualifiers in the LPL and dusting every team in the play-in stage to breeze into the group stage. MAD Lions had a similar postseason boost to LNG, stomping through the LEC playoffs to set themselves up as the other favorite to advance. Yet, in spite of being a different team this time around, MAD must still shake off the spectre of their play-ins crash out in 2020 and advance to their first knockout phase. Finally, CoreJJ will get to face off against his former ADC Ruler as he tries to guide Team Liquid out of the group stage for the first time. Both squads certainly have the talent and pedigree to advance, but both must show that concerns about their slower, more predictable playstyles are not well founded. Each team will be confident that they and I anticipate this group will not be fully decided until the very last day.
Hopefully, you’re as excited as I am for the group stage to begin and this could help you get excited to see how all of the our #UnitedInRivalry teams perform throughout the 2021 World Championship. If you want even more excitement, join the #UnitedInRivalry community and discover the fascinating world of BMW Esports and some of the biggest League of Legends, Dota 2 and VALORANT teams of the universe.
Now go fill out your Pick ‘Ems and tune in on October 11th!