The European LCS squads participating at the 2018 League of Legends World Championship vary greatly in all of skill, storylines, and potential fortunes. Fnatic’s quest for a world title starts with a show-and-prove group stage outcome with Invictus Gaming in Group D. Team Vitality? They’ve had to do that before, but they’ll have to up the ante in the Group of Death. As for G2 Esports, they are to prove themselves after faltering during the summer season.
But there is more to each contestant than impressions.
Seed #1: Fnatic
Potential fortunes: Playoffs at minimum
Fnatic are the top European seed for a reason: their strategy of developing unproven rookies through the rigors of the 2017 LCS has paid off as Caps and Broxah are the best, or second best, players at their respective positions. For good measure, they did the same in 2018 as Bwipo subbed in for an injured sOAZ during the Spring Split finals, then filled in for Rekkles during the summer split as the meta briefly shifted away from the latter’s strengths — and into Bwipo’s.
Europe’s finest team are fundamentally different from the bot lane centric team that fell in the 2018 MSI semifinals to Jian "Uzi" Zi-Hao’s Royal Never Give Up. Rekkles’ absence during the summer pushed them to learn how to leverage other lanes, with Caps’ mid lane being the biggest benefactor (with an MVP title to show for it). But behind the scenes, Hylissang and Broxah shined the brightest as they set up engages and showcased terrific crowd control usage during team fights.
In the meantime, Fnatic’s strengths from the Spring Split did not vanish. Despite taking a break for mental health reasons, Rekkles performed “as expected” during the European LCS playoffs, with his finals performance serving as a demonstration of things to come, and his addition of Kai’Sa to his toolkit a welcome sight for future drafts.
sOAZ, too, did not skip a beat, as his pressure around the map has secured advantages to the team and gave it the upper hand on a macro standpoint. For good measure, the team also developed Bwipo into a two-position player, should mages become relevant during the World Championship, or should Fnatic need a needlessly aggressive player in the top lane.
All in all, Fnatic are the most flexible squad in Europe at the moment. Leave it to coaches YoungBuck and Falco to improve the team’s macro play (refining its approach to the max), to pick the best approaches on a draft standpoint (most of the time) and to capitalize on the creativity of their players (we see you, Caps — Wukong, Vayne, what’s next?).
Outside of minute draft shortcomings or uncharacteristic team fight related misplays — that would be more costly in best-of-1’s than in best-of-5 series — there is little Group D opponents not named Invictus Gaming can do to test them before an eventual Worlds playoff run. Even then, they could send a signal to LPL and LCK teams should they emerge first in that group, possibly on the way to a Worlds final. Either way, anything less than playoffs would be disappointing.
Seed #2: Team Vitality
Potential fortunes: Likely group elimination
Team Vitality owe their second seed status to two things: Fnatic’s predictable but extremely close 3:1 victory in the European LCS finals against FC Schalke 04 Esports; and their year-long performance level that led them to tallying 100 points — and to dismantling Misfits Gaming in the third-place match-up in a breezy 3:1. On that day, Jiizuke conquered the stage, overcame his defeat in the Spring Split’s third-place matchup against Splyce, and powered his teammates to Worlds despite not participating in a spring final.
Had Team Vitality not hired Kikis, they would not have been able to match the rising level of play in the region. Initially a sixth man, Kikis’s proactive play and communication style did away with indecisiveness. Added to Cabochard’s newfound leadership role (especially when playing tanks), it is no wonder they cruised to a 7:1 finish during the summer season. Despite a loss that has more to do with how well their opponent matched against them in the summer split semifinals, they showed mental fortitude and bounced back in a Worlds-or-Gauntlet scenario.
The last time a primarily rookie squad (three or more rookie players) made it to Worlds was in 2016 as Splyce surprised onlookers with a Challenger to near-relegation to Worlds run and looked strong despite their inexperience in the process. And although Vitality have Cabochard and Kikis to guide Attila, Jactroll, and Jiizuke, they find themselves in an equally desperate group in the 2018 World Championship, with incumbent world champions Gen.G and this year’s undefeated juggernaut RNG waiting.
It falls to YamatoCannon (who also coached the 2016 Splyce) to reinforce the collective’s identity: of a daring and unafraid squad, with much to prove from top to bottom, as none of its players have attended Worlds, but as all have something to prove. On paper, they can match-up well against Gen.G if they focus on their mid-lane and might even take a game off the defending champions. RNG are, of course, a whole different beast entirely and while Vitality will still be eliminated eight times out of 10, there are scenarios where odd wins and curve balls here and there miraculously get them into the playoffs.
Seed #3: G2 Esports
Potential fortunes: Main event qualification at minimum
To be blunt, the "few-weeks-ago" G2 had no business qualifying for Worlds, following their Summer Split quarterfinal exit at the hands of Misfits. Even their fans had come to terms with the morbid idea that the samurai will have to face Chopin’s Funeral March and watch Worlds from home.
Yet somehow, G2 flipped it over, likely playing Rocky’s motivational speech about getting hit hard and keep moving on loop and taking a one-week break from LoL activities. In the Gauntlet, they rallied behind PerkZ and secured an unlikely third seed, prying it from the hands of Splyce (through creative drafting) and Schalke (through stellar vision control and solid timing from Jankos).
But Grabbz still has a point: even if G2 are at Worlds, going there as the third seed can be considered a disappointment for this roster. The side is made of players that, at their peaks, contend or are the best at their positions in Europe, making their team play lapses from the period between Rift Rivals and the summer quarterfinals all the more baffling. His action — to take responsibility for that during an interview with Inven Global — is also correct, since G2’s mental fortitude also eroded throughout their setbacks.
At the very least, G2 recovered when it mattered the most. They overcame Splyce using one of the tricks they mastered best during the bot lane mage meta (Hjärnan playing his “namesake” Heimerdinger), then implemented near-flawless vision and devastating team compositions against Schalke 04, somehow dialing back to the G2 that had made it to the Spring finals. If they are to make a dent during the Play-in stage and in Groups A or C (depending on the draw), they would need to surpass that level of team play. But what they showed in the gauntlet is enough to hope for a Group Stage berth, and a respectable showing there.
They may have the individual talent to match Flash Wolves, but their team play has been a step behind. They may have impeccable vision control, but the Afreeca Freecs wouldn’t fall for such matters. Their team fighting is not as impeccable as KT Rolster, and, should Team Liquid be aware of meta tendencies at the time of the group stage, they would struggle to have their most optimal picks at the ready. However, G2 can adapt their play to their opponent, and that is their biggest strength.
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Worlds 2018 begins in just unde a week with the Play-in stage. G2 will begin Europe's crusade with a match against Bahçeşehir SuperMassive at 11:00 CEST, Oct. 1.