Worlds 2021 Knockout Stage Preview / United in Rivalry
BEST. GROUPS. EVER!!! The 2021 group stage was absolutely exceptional this year; full of drama, upsets, incredible individual performances, and even a never before seen four-way tiebreaker in Group D! Long will these games live in the memory of League of Legends fans and we can certainly thank many of our #UnitedInRivalry squads for providing their fair share of excitement. Here’s a quick recap of the insanity that gripped Reykjavik this week and a preview of what hopefully will be an even more gripping set of matches in the knockout phase.
1. Damwon Kia (6-0)
2. Cloud9 (2-4; won tiebreaker vs. Rogue)
3. Rogue (2-4; won tiebreaker vs. FPX; lost tiebreaker vs. Cloud9)
4. FunPlus Phoenix (2-4, lost tiebreaker vs. Rogue)
The standings after the first round of games in Group A were as standard as you would expect. The representatives from the LCK and LPL were poised atop the group, seemingly certain to qualify for the knockout stage. The EU and NA squads languished at the bottom of the table, looking poised to crash out with ignominy yet again. Nothing could have been further from the truth. While Damwon Kia (DK) flourished, FunPlus Phoenix (FPX) had its wings clipped by both Rogue and Cloud9 in the second round of matches, forcing a three-way tiebreaker to determine who would take the second qualifying slot. Rogue took revenge for EU’s defeat at the hands of FPX two years ago, and doomed the pre-tournament favorites to a disastrous fourth place finish. However, Rogue were themselves defeated by a spectre of their past in Perkz, who cemented his legacy at Worlds by helping Cloud9 overcome a 0-3 start to reach the knockout stage.
FPX: (Nuguri, Tian, DoinB, LWX, Crisp)
FPX is one of the best teams in the World. It’s an indisputable fact. This squad is composed of five players that have won the World Championship in the last two years. Every player has shown world class mechanics, incredible game knowledge, and spectacular adaptability over the past couple of years. They are such a strong team that it’s still hard to see them as anything but semifinalists or better. Unfortunately, FPX were knocked out of Worlds in the group stage, finishing fourth place in Group A. It’s an outcome that very few people could have foreseen at the start of this tournament (myself included, my crystal ball pick was FPX). FPX wasn’t favored for their talent alone, either. They had a solid season after bringing in reigning World Champion Nuguri from DK. Yes, they performed a bit below expectations during the spring split as they gelled with their new top laner, but they pieced it all together in the spring playoffs. They surged all the way to the finals before falling to eventual MSI Champions, RNG. Their performance in the summer split was even better as the team was on fire from the off, cruising to a first place finish. FPX was absolutely humming, and star mid laner DoinB looked to be in the best form of his already glittering career. They continued to look unstoppable in the summer playoffs, breezing by LNG and WE to earn their place in the finals against EDG. Unfortunately, for the second split in a row, FPX fell in the finals, this time thanks to some incredible play from EDG’s ADC, Viper. That 3-1 defeat, though, felt like a blip, a mere bad day amidst a sea of sparkling performances. Instead, it heralded what was to be several unfavorable days in Reykjavik. FPX couldn’t quite find their usual advantages in the draft for the first three days, but their exceptional play saw them enter the final day with a solid 2-1 record going into the final day of the group. Nothing went their way on the final day however, and despite a valiant effort in each game, FPX ended the day without a win for a final record of 2-4. For a roster like this, full of incredible talent and very high expectations, this will be a disappointing result. FPX and its fans would have been hopeful for a return to the Grand Finals and possibly even another Summoner’s Cup to call their own. Sadly, the hopes of another title and more electrifying performances from DoinB and company will have to wait for next year.
Cloud9: (Fudge, Blaber, Perkz, Zven, Vulcan)
Elation. Euphoria. Jubilation. The list of adjectives to describe this result at Worlds could go on forever for Cloud9, and their journey is still ongoing. Cloud9 have overcome the absolute worst possible odds to advance to the knockout stage for the sixth time in their storied history at the World Championship. The opening three days of the group stage saw their games marred by the same inconsistencies and issues that had plagued them throughout the summer split. Twice they built early game gold leads, only to watch them slip away through errors and poor macro. They entered day four in the worst possible position: 0-3 in one of the toughest groups to ever be drawn at a World Championship. Yet, Cloud9 would not be denied. Their channeled aggression was far too much for their opposition, as they blitzed Rogue from level one before turning right around and smashing FPX in less than thirty minutes. In spite of a second loss to DK, this was enough to earn a tiebreaker against Rogue with a spot in the knockout stage on the line. This looked to be yet another insurmountable obstacle. Even the illustrious history of the organization, and their star mid laner Perkz, could not obscure the one piece of history that had never been on Cloud9’s: tiebreakers. They had never beaten an EU team in a tiebreaker at an international event. Never. The weight of this history was not enough to hold them back, however, as they pushed past Rogue in a nail-biting game to earn their place in the knockout stage.
This achievement is certainly enough to already consider Worlds 2021 a resounding success for Cloud9, but now they will begin to aspire to greater things. They have had time to celebrate, regroup, and prepare and they will be armed with the swagger of knowing that they can overcome any odds when they play at their best. They also received their first stroke of good fortune at this World Championship, drawing the best possible opponent for the quarterfinals in Gen.G. Gen.G, of course, are no pushovers. They also had to grind out their qualification from an absurd four way tiebreaker in Group D, and they will undoubtedly also view Cloud9 as the easiest opponents they themselves could have drawn. Nevertheless, Cloud9 will be much more confident that they can beat Gen.G in a best of five than they would have been against the likes of T1 or RNG. Perkz, in particular, will be excited at the prospect of matching up against a squad that he eliminated at this very stage last year while on G2. Given Cloud9’s current form and the favorable draw, they now have a very reasonable path to the finals of the World Championship. For many, the odds will still be against Cloud9. They won’t believe this team has the talent to overcome any team from the LCK, much less the winner of EDG and RNG. Cloud9 won’t care. They’ve already overcome worse.
1. T1 (5-1)
2. Edward Gaming (4-2)
3. 100 Thieves (3-3)
4. Detonation Focus Me (0-6)
The calm amidst the storm for this installment of the World Championship, Group B was the only group decided without the need for any tiebreakers. That’s not to say there wasn’t any drama at all of course, as T1 rose up on the group’s final day to unseat heavy favorites Edward Gaming (EDG) as the first seed. They got a little help from newcomers 100 Thieves, whose bold strategy to blitz the storied EDG bottom lane of Viper and Meiko paid off in the final game of the group. It was too little, too late for the relative newcomers, however, as their fate had been sealed at the start of the day. 100 Thieves will be disappointed that they couldn’t qualify from what appeared to be an easier group, but the storied organizations of EDG and T1 clearly showed they were the better teams over the course of the group. Finally, Detonation Focus Me (DFM) provided solid performances throughout, even getting some highlight reel material from two separate instances of Aria solo killing Faker. Ultimately, the lack of experience definitely showed in their first ever Worlds appearance, as they splashed out of Iceland with an 0-6 record. Now the two titans of League of Legends lore will move on to face familiar foes in the quarterfinals, with T1 drawing Hanwha Life (HLE) and EDG drawing RNG.
T1 (Canna, Oner, Faker, Gumayusi, Keria)
Despite entering the tournament as the LCK third seed for the first time ever, expectations were still very high for this T1 squad. Qualification for the knockout stages was an absolute must and finishing at the top of the group over the expected favorites would have been the cherry on top. Despite falling to EDG on day 2, T1 roared back during their group’s gauntlet day, putting up a clean 3-0 in which they dominated every game. The results were certainly sweet, but the true boon was the performances themselves. T1 came in with plenty of question marks about the size and makeup of its roster. Would they stick with a regular starting roster or would they make subs after average or poor performances? Would an organization that had relied for so long on the experience and skill of players like Faker be able to succeed with a rookie Jungler like Oner? Could either Gumayusi or Teddy stand up to Viper? Consider every question answered and more. T1 proved they had the flexibility and the skill to provide consistently excellent drafts and in-game performances. Their blend of experience and youth seemed to gel perfectly, giving them an aggressive edge to complement their usual controlled style. As for the skill ceiling of their players...well, that was never in doubt.
With the top slot locked in, and their roster humming, T1 got even better news during the knockout phase draw. They drew HLE as their quarter finals opponent, a foe that not only looks weaker on paper but also is familiar for T1. For a team and organization as accomplished as T1, a familiar foe is one that can be downloaded and picked apart. Heck, they already beat HLE in the regional qualifiers to book their spot in the group stage. While HLE have grown through the tournament and have the magical skills of Chovy on their side, T1 will be supremely confident that they can dispatch HLE without even showing the full depth of their draft strategies. It’s a sentiment I echo given their current form at Worlds, and I believe they should win this matchup as expected. Only a date with DK or MAD will then separate T1 and Faker from returning to their rightful place on the biggest stage in League of Legends.
1. RNG (4-2; won tiebreaker vs. Hanwha Life)
2. Hanwha Life (4-2; lost tiebreaker vs. RNG)
3. PSG Talon (3-3)
4. Fnatic (1-5)
In another year, Group C may have taken the crown for the most drama and excitement of the four. A lot of the drama came from the realization that all four of these teams were fairly close in terms of strength, despite pre-group expectations. Most had MSI Champions RNG pegged as the clear group favorites and, while they did manage to claim the number one slot, they were wounded along the way by Fnatic and HLE. Both Nisqy and Chovy crushed and exposed RNG’s mid laner, Cryin, particularly when he was not allowed to play Twisted Fate. Speaking of Chovy, the HLE mid laner has now cemented his legacy at this tournament by taking HLE all the way from play-ins to the knockout stage. Many expected HLE to be found out in this group and finish dead last, but the results could not have been further from the truth. HLE had a full 3-0 day during the group gauntlet and only narrowly missed out on usurping RNG for the first seed in a very close tiebreaker. No matter what happens in their match against T1, HLE will already be over the moon with the results at this World Championship. On the other end of the spectrum, we unfortunately find PSG Talon and Fnatic. PSG had perhaps the most standard third place group stage run you could possibly have: 0-2 against first seed RNG, 1-1 against second seed HLE, and 2-0 against fourth seed Fnatic. Ultimately, HLE found the heroics when PSG could not, and their thrilling performance at MSI will be overshadowed by their disappointing elimination from Worlds (also predicting now that Beyond Gaming’s Doggo will replace Unified as the PSG Talon ADC this offseason). As for Fnatic, while unfortunate external factors certainly contributed, the team’s performance was disastrous. They looked completely lost for their first three games and, despite a heroic effort to overcome RNG at the start of day 6, they were unable to replicate the magical recovery of western counterparts Cloud9. They end the group stage in fourth place with a 1-5 record and a mountain of questions to answer in the offseason.
Fnatic (Adam, Bwipo, Nisqy, Bean, Hylissang)
The best word to describe the 2021 World Championship for Fnatic: unlucky. That word is often tossed around as an excuse but in Fnatic’s case it absolutely holds true. This team had been riding a massive wave of momentum coming into Worlds, making a remarkable run through the lower bracket of the LEC playoffs to reach the finals. Much of their identity during this run was built upon the incredible strength of their bottom lane duo, Upset and Hylissang. Hylissang provided the aggression, vision, and playmaking to build Fnatic early game gold leads while Upset was a rock for the later stages with his incredibly consistent farming and teamfighting. That’s why it was so wildly unlucky for both Upset and Fnatic that he was forced to leave Iceland to tend to a serious family emergency. It robbed Upset of his first ever Worlds appearance after years of trials and tribulations and also robbed Fnatic of their rock. Fnatic turned to Bean as the emergency replacement, an EU Masters ADC without a single game of LEC experience. To Bean’s credit, he gave an extremely good account of himself throughout the group stage in Upset’s stead. He put in solid, consistent performances and never looked out of place or overwhelmed by the magnitude of the Worlds stage. That said, Fnatic needed more than solidity from their ADC to succeed in this very difficult group. It was clear that the squad had not had the time to gel just yet, and they were missing the magic that their bot lane typically provided, particularly during a very close game against PSG Talon on day 3. That loss moved Fnatic to 0-3 going into the final day of the group stages, meaning nothing short of a miracle would see Fnatic advancing to the knockout stage. That miracle almost came true as well. For a brief moment at the start of the day, it seemed like Fnatic had finally clicked. They fought, and scrapped, and clawed their way to a comeback win over first place RNG. That first win in the group set up a decisive matchup against HLE. Fnatic put in another admirable performance, but Chovy and company were to be the heroes on the day as they overcame the European giants and used their momentum to catapult themselves to the knockout stage. Looking back now with the groups over, Fnatic probably did the best they possibly could given the circumstances. Losing a key player mere days before the group stage would have been a death knell for almost any team; despite the loss Fnatic very nearly found their way at the very end. The team will be heartbroken to be knocked out of a group they know they could have advanced from or even won outright. They can, however, still hold their heads high when they think of how much adversity they were nearly able to overcome.
1. Gen.G (3-3; won tiebreaker vs. Team Liquid; won tiebreaker vs. MAD Lions)
2. MAD Lions (3-3; won tiebreaker vs. LNG; lost tiebreaker vs. Gen.G)
3. LNG (3-3; lost tiebreaker vs. MAD Lions)
4. Team Liquid (3-3; lost tiebreaker vs. Gen.G)
There weren’t any #UnitedInRivalry team in Group D, but that didn’t stop it from being the best group of all time. A never-before-seen four way tiebreaker will always be how this group is remembered, proving just how evenly matched every single team was. With every single team sporting a 1-1 record against each other, it all came down to single elimination tiebreakers. The big winners were Gen.G finishing atop the group and receiving a very favorable matchup against Cloud9. You could see from the reaction of the players and staff to the draw that they are fully confident in dispatching the NA third seed and moving within a step of the Grand Finals. It’s a just reward for a team that proved so many doubters wrong, proving they weren’t solely reliant on Ruler to win their games. In fact, it was mid laner BDD who shone most brightly, and he will now get a chance to redeem himself against Perkz, who was part of the G2 squad that knocked out Gen.G with ease last year. MAD Lions (MAD) were the other team to advance, and for their troubles they received the dubious honor of facing DK in a best of five. It is certainly a daunting task for the young squad, but MAD have already shown that they excel in best of five series and their tenacious teamfighting and never-say-die attitude may prove a tricky problem to solve for the current favorites. Condolences of course to LNG, who will be devastated to see their incredible run through the LPL regional qualifiers and play-ins come to a screeching halt in a group they will still believe they should have won. Finally, of course, the curse continues for Team Liquid, finishing with a 3-3 record and failing to qualify for the knockouts for the fourth consecutive year. The fact that they were even closer this time around will only add to the bitter taste in their mouth as they gear up for 2022.
RNG vs. EDG
- Probably the toughest matchup to call as both teams have the pedigree and star power to win the entire tournament. Familiarity will be a factor for these two LPL titans, but I expect the series to come down to the performance of Cryin and Xiaohu. If Cryin can step up and take some weight off Xiaohu’s shoulders, I think they will come out on top. That said, my money lies with the more consistent performances of EDG and their bot lane stars in Viper and Meiko.
- Prediction - 3 EDG vs. RNG 2
Gen.G vs. C9
- Both teams will see this as a very fortuitous draw, as each dodged much more difficult matchups. Each side will be very confident that they are the better team, and that if they play their own game, their place in the semifinals will be secured. It’s a close one to call, but if Perkz can continue his stellar form and match the star power coming from BDD, I expect Cloud9’s top side duo of Fudge and Blaber will be a bit too dynamic for Burdol/Rascal and Clid.
- Prediction - 1 Gen.G vs. Cloud9 3
T1 vs. HLE
- This draw is absolutely fascinating for so many reasons. The bottom two seeds of the LCK outdoing expectations in the group stage. The quick growth of young players like Willer, Vsta, Oner, and Gumayusi at Worlds. And, of course, Faker vs. Chovy on the Worlds stage! T1 came out on top in the LCK regional qualifiers and I think they’ve risen even further than HLE have thus far at Worlds, so I will stick to chalk and give the edge to the Unkillable Demon King and Co.
- Prediction - 3 T1 vs. HLE 1
DK vs. MAD
- Many will be quick to write off MAD as the sacrificial lambs forced to face the hungry lions of DK (see what I did there?). I would advise those who do, to remember how good MAD were in the LEC playoffs versus the regular season. This is a team that excels in best of fives and also has the chops to teamfight against a team as good as DK. Given all of my praise of MAD’s strengths it’s time I do the obvious...a full 180 degrees to predict a convincing win for DK. Yep, Showmaker, Canyon, Khan...they’re just that good.
- Prediction - 3 DK vs. MAD 1
Go fill out your Pick ‘Ems (again) and tune in on October 22nd!