5 incredible upsets at the League of Legends World Championship 2018
© Riot Games
This year’s LoL Worlds are done and dusted, with Invictus Gaming taking home the big win – but it’s been a tournament full of surprises. We break down the the biggest upsets to happen in Korea.
It’s been another jam-packed and action-filled year of League of Legends. A new era has been made with China’s Invictus Gaming surprising us all with a dominating performance throughout Worlds. The Koreans have finally been toppled; Lee ‘Faker’ Sang-hyeok is nowhere in sight and China are categorically the reigning kings of League of Legends – and it’s been a long time coming.
Royal Never Give Up came into the tournament as the number one LPL seed, and favourites to hoist the trophy, but after weeks of gruelling competition, not everything went as planned. We breakdown the biggest upsets, the games that defined the tournament and the games that made Worlds 2018 the spectacle it became.
1. Phong Vũ Buffalo vs. Flash Wolves (Group Stage, Day 6, Bo1)
Incredibly, Vietnam's Phong Vũ Buffalo beat out Flash Wolves in the second half of the group stages – and with their upset win (seen above), they ended up taking away the LMS’s last chance of making it to the quarters. It was quite the upset in itself, but most importantly, if not for Buffalo, G2 Esports would never have had the opportunity to make it to the next stage of the competition – where they ran all the way to the semi finals.
The Vietnamese line-up, comprised of the efficient and effective top carry, Phạm ‘Zeros’ Minh Lộc, farmed up a storm on his Aatrox, alongside his ADC, Đặng ‘BigKoro’ Ngọc Tài, who cleaned up and broke down Flash Wolves in the later stages of the game. They’re from a region that has only recently been getting the coverage they truly deserve, and with the vast player base they boast, their top team showed up in a big way against Taiwan's number one seed.
The LMS region, across their three seeds, didn’t manage to impress, with only Flash Wolves having any taste of success, while MAD Team and G-Rex left the competition without a win in the group stage. In this match-up against Buffalo, Taiwan’s Flash Wolves were the favourites coming into the match-up, with the Vietnamese side being a mostly unknown entity.
They’d be a side fans wouldn’t forget, however, as the quick and brutal Vietnamese playstyle came as a surprise to the Taiwanese side, overwhelming them in the early stages of game, before falling back, to what could be seen as an expected gold deficiency. Phong Vũ Buffalo tunnelled it out into the later stages of the game, scaling up, and eventually winning an all important teamfight, taking the Baron, stealing away the game, and the hopes of a region.
2. Team Vitality vs. Gen.G (Group Stage, Day 1, Bo1)
Either Team Vitality or Cloud9 could be featured here up against the Gen.G match-up. Both teams upset the previous World Champions, Samsung Galaxy, now a shadow of their former selves, but it was the French team who really showed up against the former champions. Gen.G came into the tournament as Korea’s third seed, despite being a usually formidable force – in fact, we’re used to seeing three teams from the LCK get out of the group stage of the competition, and with ease.
Gen.G, however, went from winning Worlds 2017 to losing all but one game in the group stage, just a year later. Granted, they faced off against Royal Never Give Up, the favourites of the competition, but on paper, C9 and Vitality shouldn’t have had the means to beat the Koreans so convincingly.
Europe’s Vitality showed us a fresh and unique playstyle, sporting champions we’re not used to seeing on the big stage. A team comprised of rookies, Amadeu ‘Attila’ Carvalho and Jakub ‘Jactroll’ Skurzyński in the botlane, Daniele ‘Jiizuke’ di Mauro in mid, alongside a top laner and jungler, without the high regard, or expectation going into the tournament, proved to us that they deserved their spot as Europe’s number two seed. Although they didn’t make it out of the proclaimed Group of Death, they made their mark at Worlds 2018.
It’s a real shame we didn’t get to see Italian star mid laner Jiizuke in the playoffs, as his hyper aggressive playstyle, his unpredictability, and his unconventional champion picks, gave a real shift to the mid lane. He’s an exciting player to watch, a true carry, and a player that fits perfectly in this top and mid focused meta. Instead of taking the customary route of copying whatever is popular in the LCK, Jiizuke showed us that anything goes. With Worlds heading to Europe next year, let’s hope he can show up big time in his home region.
3. Invictus Gaming vs. KT Rolster (Quarterfinals, Day 1, Bo5)
This year's Worlds has truly been a tournament defined by upsets. Previous to Season 8, South Korea were always the top dogs. Teams like EDward Gaming and Royal Never Give Up had the hype around them, but Korea always came on top in the end – and in fact, the last four Worlds Grand Finals have been a Korea vs. Korea match-up. Many of the analysts were still counting on LCK’s KT Rolster to beat out the number two Chinese seeds – but, much like their compatriots, they too faltered.
The LCK team, comprised of legendary players, were no doubt the favourites coming into this match-up, as well as one of the favourites in the whole competition, coming in as Korea's number one seed. IG showed up when it counted, however, showcasing their star mid laner Song ‘Rookie’ Eui-jin, up against the much less experienced Son ‘uCal’ Woo-hyeon.
Rookie played at a consistently high level throughout the series, regularly winning out in the mid match-up, as well as performing in the team fights, where his Korean top laner, Kang ‘TheShy’ Seung-Iok, took on Song ‘Smeb’ Kyung-ho with confidence, going even, or winning out, in the laning phase. We expected him to take a step back against such a formidable opponent, especially with his lack of experience on the big stage, but that was by no means the case. He took the game into his own hands.
IG’s solo laners showed us that they’re up there with the best, despite TheShy not even being featured in the top 10 of Riot Games’ own top 20 players at Worlds list. Meanwhile, Rookie, number two on the list, after Jian ‘Uzi’ Zi-Haoi, proved to us why he’s so highly regarded. The march ended in a game five finish, and it was as close as it comes. Although KT were defeated, it could have been anyone's game.
The series almost took a different path, if not for sloppy drafting, and overconfidence in the third game. IG found themselves in a base race, losing out narrowly, with only a few auto attacks from a 3-0 sweep – but they would take the win eventually, 3-2, heading on to their next challenge before claiming the Summoner’s Cup themselves with a win over Fnatic.
4. Afreeca Freecs vs. Cloud9 (Quarterfinals, Day 2, Bo5)
Although Afreeca Freecs weren't seen as a dominant Korean force coming into the tournament, they were the favourites coming into this match-up against Cloud9. North America had never beaten a Korean team in a best of five at Worlds, let alone made it to the semi finals, yet Cloud9 did both, with pure determination, dominating Afreeca 3-0.
Kim ‘Kiin’ Gi-in, Afreeca Freecs’s star top laner and carry throughout the spring split and summer of the LCK, couldn't do enough to carry the favour over to his team. Eric ‘Licorice’ Ritchie held his own in the laning phase, and showed us he can perform exceptionally well, even in the hands of a tanking champion. In the later stages of the series, he successfully stole the Baron, clenching a much needed comeback. Meanwhile, Nicolaj ‘Jensen’ Jensen took control, making Lee ‘Kuro’ Seo-haeng completely ineffective, solo killing him multiple times in lane. The European carry outdid his expectations, styling on Afreeca Freecs with confidence and ease.
Cloud9 have forever been North America's last reliable team for contention of the Summoner's Cup, but this year they really turned up. They came all the way from the 10th seed in the LCS, to winning out in the gauntlet, battling through the Play-ins, surviving the group of death, and taking out Korea's last hope. They almost made the perfect North American underdog story, before Fnatic swooped in and crushed their dreams in the semi finals. Nevertheless it was still a performance to be proud of, a team with an incredible legacy, that, by no means, has had its final day.
5. G2 Esports vs. Royal Never Give Up (Quarterfinals, Day 1, Bo5)
After the playoff stage was drafted, European hearts sunk as G2 were matched up against the favourites of the tournament, Royal Never Give Up. The Chinese champions, who play a bot-centric style around their star AD Carry Uzi – proclaimed as the best player in the world – were not short of accolades. Winners of the the LPL 2018 Summer Playoffs, the Demacia Cup, the Mid-Seasonal Invitational, and the Spring Playoffs, they were a dominating force. A team with the means to finally beat the Koreans at Worlds.
G2 play a classic, and one dimensional 1-3-1, split push style, with their two solo laners, Luka ‘Perkz’ Perković in the midlane and Martin ‘Wunder’ Hansen’ in the top, carrying the team. The G2 bot lane, Petter ‘Hjarnan’ Freyschuss and Kim ‘Wadid’ Bae-in, although a consistent duo, were previously seen as middle of the pack in the EU LCS, completely outshone by their solo laners. Their job was to often stay even in the laning phase, and be supportive to their carries in the late game, with their pushing power consistency.
Hjarnan is by no means a bad AD Carry. He plays the safe option. He's never aiming for the miraculous outplay, nor to dominate in the laning phase. He's a consistent and reliable player who plays to his team's strengths. Saying that, his Heimerdinger has a 100 percent win ratio, being banned out through the entirety of the five game series. Even Uzi was scared to play against its intense pushing power potential with Hjarnan behind the wheel.
G2 showed us they cannot easily be banned out, with their huge number of pocket pick champions, and adaptability – which you can see plenty of in Game 5 above, the most exciting and gruelling game of the series. We expected G2s mid and top to win out in their respective lanes, while Uzi dominated the bot. Hjarnan, Wadid and Marcin ‘Jankos’ Jankowski outdid our expectations, not allowing Uzi to take off and carry the game. Uzi was barely fed, even if he won out in the CS war. This gave the opportunity for Perkz to take control of the midlane and pop off, assassinating Uzi, securing kill after kill. His Leblanc was on fire, and his Aatrox unstoppable, thoroughly earning the quarter finals upset, winning the series 3-2. If there was an upset to define this year’s Worlds, this would surely be up there.