We are just a few days away from the start of the League of Legends World Championship, the biggest esports event of the year. With 24 teams and countless storylines, there’s a lot to keep track of over the next month. Who’s making it out of the play-in stage? Which players should you keep an eye on? Which team is likely to lift the Summoner’s Cup in San Francisco? We got our League of Legends experts together for a roundtable to shed some light on these questions and more.
Photo credit: Riot Games
Before we get to the group stage, we have to go through play-ins. So which four teams are making it out?
Nick Geracie: Evil Geniuses should move right through, especially if Fnatic do not start the event with their full roster. RNG and DRX will also make it out due to sheer skill gap. Last spot is a toss up but if I had to name one team now I’d say MAD Lions.
Sage Datuin: The four teams that are making it out of the group stage are Royal Never Give Up, DRX, Fnatic and Evil Geniuses. I believe that Saigon Buffalo has the best opportunity to challenge if they can get their entire visa situation sorted out. (Editor’s note: They did all secure visas)
Tim Lee: Royal Never Give Up and DRX will need massive experimentation on its end or blowups and mistakes within its games to not make it out of the play-ins. Royal Never Give Up is one of the strongest teams in the overall tournament field and DRX plays such a sustainable and consistent macro style that the sudden death pressure of a “win and you’re in” bracket will not be a problem.
The next two teams will rely on the opponents in the respective groups and how each team’s specific styles or macro play will either complement or hurt the other. Strictly from a talent standpoint, my vote to get out is Evil Geniuses and Mad Lions. Evil Geniuses’ recent international experience and run as the top team in North America should provide enough confidence to play through Group A even with landmines in Fnatic and DetonatioN FocusMe in the way. Mad Lions, despite its results in the LEC, should still be talented enough to overcome just enough for a qualification.
Brian Bencomo: RNG and DRX are shoo-ins to make it out of play-ins. They should finish first and second in Group B. RIP to the third or fourth-place team in Group A who has to play either RNG or DRX.
I think Group A is a lot more fluid. Evil Geniuses will finish first despite playing with Muhammed Hasan "Kaori" Şentürk instead of Kyle "Danny" Sakamaki. A week ago I would have said Fnatic finishes first in this group and directly qualifies for the next stage, but if they’re missing two of their players I’m not so sure. This feels oddly familiar to when Fnatic were missing two players in a VALORANT tournament earlier this year and got eliminated in groups. The team that eliminated them was in fact a Japanese team. I think the same thing will happen here as Japanese team DFM finishes second in the group, just ahead of Fnatic. They will then beat either MAD Lions or Saigon Buffalo to advance.
In short: I’ve got RNG, DRX, EG and DFM moving on.
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Which minor region team do you think will exceed expectations?
Nick: If we’re counting PCS/VCS, CTBC Flying Oyster is better than people are giving them credit for being. If not, DetonatioN FocusMe should put up a good fight especially if Fnatic don’t have their starting bot lane in the group.
Tim: My vote is GAM Esports from the VCS. This is a complete team with a great duo of power carries and a clear identity on how to play its pace and style and that typically goes a long way for success in an international competition. While the team may list higher on my overall power ranking, it ultimately will not matter because of Top Esports, one of the favorites to have a deep tournament run, and arguably the best team from the LEC in Rogue.
Brian: I agree with Nick. I think DFM will be pretty good. They got out of play-ins and qualified for the group stage last year and I think they’ll do it again this year, especially if Fnatic don’t have their full starting roster. The other team I’m very curious about is Tim’s pick, GAM Esports. They dominated the Vietnamese Championship Series in the spring but didn’t go to MSI because they went to the SEA Games instead. I’m eager to see how they’ll do on the Worlds stage.
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All four groups look pretty stacked, but which is the group of death?
Nick: I do not envy the teams in Group A.
Sage: I believe the group of death is Group B with JD Gaming, DAMWON KIA and G2 Esports. If my predictions are correct and Evil Geniuses make it to the group stage, this group will also likely have them making a really tough four-way race.
Tim: With the announced team in the groups, my vote would be Group B, but it is subject to change because if one of Royal Never Give Up or DRX falls into Group C, then that would make it equal in difficulty.
On the surface for Group B, there’s plenty of championship pedigree and regional dominance to look at, but what makes this grouping stand out is the possibility for tournament victory. There are two teams in the group, JD Gaming and DWG KIA, that have the chance to take down the entire field whether by pure talent alone or just the experience of doing it before. Then you have the wild card G2 Esports and its history of versatility in drafts and overall play and the entire group should be a bloodbath.
Brian: It’s between Group A and Group B. I think Group A is slightly tougher, but maybe it’s just because I’m sold on all the juicy storylines. T1 were not as good in the summer as they were in the spring, but it’s still T1 and Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok at Worlds, so you know they’ll be stepping it up. EDward Gaming are the defending champions -- enough said. And C9 looked incredible in the LCS Championship, and they always do well enough at Worlds to make it to the knockout stage. It’ll be a huge disappointment for whichever team doesn’t make it out of this group.
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With Worlds taking place in North America, NA teams have to do well, right? Which North American teams are making it out of groups? Do you envision any making a top four run?
Nick: Cloud9 will finish top eight, but not top four.
Sage: I do not see any North American teams making a top four run at Worlds, but in regards to the group stage, I would place most faith into Cloud9 to perform. They will most likely have one of Fnatic or MAD Lions to fill out the group which could really open up the group and allow Cloud9 to make it out of groups with a 3-3 record. Still, I do believe that 100 Thieves could also surprise people if Royal Never Give Up is unable to regain their MSI 2022 form.
Tim: Cloud9 has the best chance of making it out of the groups as they are presently set. Both EDward Gaming and T1 have the talent within its rosters and the overall experience of taking down Worlds to really shut down any kind of Cinderella run, but at the same time possess the same volatility to blow up in the face of pressure. What if T1’s pace and macro excellence doesn’t translate to winning fights and it needs to come from behind to qualify out of the group? Or what if there’s too much to carry for Park “Viper” Do-hyeon if any of the skill players on a core champion falter? It’s not likely, but it isn’t impossible.
Outside of Cloud9, depending on whether the group gets harder, 100 Thieves may just have the best odds to sneak out of its group and truly contend for something other than content.
Brian: I’m riding the hopium on NA teams and will say that both C9 and 100T reach the knockout rounds. I think C9 find a way to make it out of a tough group -- over EDward Gaming. And I believe 100 Thieves will level up their play in front of some friendly crowds in New York. They’ll get bodied by Gen.G, but I think they do just enough to finish ahead of Flying Oyster and whoever else joins this group, likely RNG. However, I do think both of these teams will get eliminated in the quarterfinals.
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Which players should fans keep an eye on at this tournament? Who are some players who will break out? Who’s going to dominate the competition?
Nick: I’m excited to see C9 AD carry Kim "Berserker" Min-cheol play on the international stage for the first time. I also think JDG AD carry Wang “Hope” Jiehas a lot to prove. Also, even though it’s a bot lane meta, I’m excited to watch how Sergen "Broken Blade" Çelik makes an impact in the top lane for G2 Esports.
Sage: Keep an eye out for DRX’s Lee "Juhan" Ju-han and Kim "Zeka" Geon-woo. Many people see that team as mostly Kim "Deft" Hyuk-kyu hard carrying but Juhan just joined DRX in summer and was a key factor in the team’s strong run in the regional qualifier. As for Zeka, he is a strong mid laner that could help DRX surprise many and make the top eight.
Tim: This isn’t much of a stretch, and I didn’t want to be too contrarian, but it would be a big surprise if T1’s Choi “Zeus” Woo-je didn’t eat up the entire competition and demand ban picks for his comfort champions. A lot of the faith for the team’s success looks to be on the shoulders of its capable veteran carries, but I would say the most important factor for the team will be Zeus’ power spike transitions and how quickly he can get to them. I can comfortably say the team’s tournament will depend on him.
I want a great tournament from Top Esports’ Ling “Mark” Xu. He has the unenviable job of both containing and maintaining positive momentum for volatile carry, Yu “JackeyLove” Wen-Bo, and that may make or break the team’s ability to fight and ultimately go far in the tournament. And most importantly, he also will enter Worlds as part of another “dream team” of sorts with massive expectations, and I’m hopeful he can show the world the full display of the talent he couldn’t maintain while on LGD Gaming.
Brian: I want to see how Evil Geniuses do with Kaori instead of Danny. They’ve had a little bit of time to play together now and build some synergy, so I’m eager to see what Kaori will add to this team. I’m also excited to see Jeong "Chovy" Ji-hoon. Nick said he’s the best mid laner at this tournament, which feels like a coming out party for him. He’s played in the mid lane shadow of Faker in Korea for the past few years, but he’s finally on a team that bested him this summer and is one of the favorites to win Worlds.
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Prediction time … which two teams are going to the Worlds 2022 final in San Francisco, and who will lift the Summoner’s Cup?
Nick: Top Esports 3-2 Gen.G
Sage: That is a close choice between Top Esports, JD Gaming and Gen.G. All three teams are stacked all around and have the potential to dominate on any given day. For the final, I will choose Gen.G and Top Esports, where I believe that Gen.G will lift the Summoner’s Cup. Gen.G has a good group of five players where there is not a single player that you could consider a liability.
Tim: The LPL fan in me wants to see another chapter in the Top Esports and JD Gaming book, but if I really wanted to predict the chaos of Worlds, I need to go a little beyond chalk and put some contrarian glasses on. On a talent level, the best teams may very well be Gen.G, JD Gaming and Top Esports, but my choice for the finals will be:
JD Gaming and DWG KIA. Both teams in the hardest group face adversity early to sharpen its focus on the rest of the tournament to make for a good ending.
Brian: G2 finally get the highly coveted prize they were looking for in North America … just kidding! I think there’s some magic to T1 playing Worlds in North America. They won in 2013 and 2016 when the final was in Los Angeles, and I think they finally win it again this year with the final once again in California. And I think the team they beat will be Top Esports, the Chinese team that finished second in both the spring and summer playoffs. It’s shaping up to be one of those heartbreaking years for TES, who seem to keep falling short. Faker will once again lift the Summoner’s Cup as T1 win 3-2 over TES.
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