North America (NA) doesn’t exactly have a great track record when it comes to international “League of Legends,” even though the game was and continues to be developed here in California. No NA team has ever won a major international tournament that included more than two different regions, and since the World Championships moved to its current four-group format in Season 4, no NA team has ever made it past the quarterfinals. More recently, NA teams have struggled to make it out of the Group Stage in order to qualify for the quarterfinals.
NA teams have developed a pattern of strong showings in Week 1 of the Group Stage, turning in dismal performances in Week 2. This all started at the 2015 World Championships, in which the three competing NA teams put together a respectable 6-3 record in the first week of Groups, with Cloud9 being a perfect 3-0. Unfortunately, this only set up NA’s infamous 0-10 collapse in the second week, in which Cloud9 lost a tiebreaker match against ahq e-Sports Club, leading to none of the NA teams making it out of Groups.
2016 was eerily similar. The NA teams were on home turf this time in the United States, and each of the three teams went 2-1 in the first week for a combined 6-3 record. They would drop the ball again, however, each team going 1-2 in the second week. Team Solomid (TSM) and Counter Logic Gaming failed to make it out of Groups, and although Cloud9 sneaked by with some help from SK Telecom T1 (SKT), the eventual World Champions, it lost decisively in the quarterfinals to Samsung Galaxy.
In 2017, each of the three NA teams again finished 2-1 after Week 1 of the Group Stage for another combined 6-3 record for the region. There were high hopes for NA coming into the tournament with each of the teams having avoided Group C, which was believed to be the most competitive group out of the four. They got off to the same great start that they had the past two years, but of course, another collapse was bound to occur.
Week 2 started off with Group B, which included Immortals. The team seemed to be in a good position with its only legitimate challenger for second place, Fnatic, sitting at 0-3 after Week 1. Sadly but foreseeably, this night was a disaster for Immortals. The team went 0-4, losing a tiebreaker match to Fnatic, just as Cloud9 had in 2015. Fnatic somehow ended up finding a way to become the first team to ever go 0-3 in Week 1 and qualify for quarterfinals, joining Longzhu Gaming, which definitively went undefeated in this group.
People wrote off Immortals’ collapse as a result of inexperience. It was a new team formed at the beginning of 2016, and this was its first international tournament, so it was understandable for the team to not advance to the quarterfinals. The next night was Group C, which didn’t have an NA team, but it should be noted that Royal Never Give Up (RNG) and Samsung Galaxy were the ones to make it out of Group C. The next night was what most NA fans were waiting for: Group D and TSM.
Team Solomid maintained the same roster from 2016 and appeared to be in its best form coming into the tournament. Even though the team didn’t make it out of Groups the past two years, many thought that this year, it was simply a matter of how dominant TSM would be in Group D. To NA fans’ disappointment, TSM went 1-2 to finish with a 3-3 record overall. The team earned a tiebreaker match versus Misfits Gaming to decide second place after Team WE confidently secured first. In classic NA fashion, TSM lost to Misfits, the team it had beaten earlier in the night, after what many consider to be a questionable draft phase by its coach, Parth Naidu. Parth would end up stepping down from his position two days later. Now, all hope was on Cloud9.
Cloud9, the last remaining NA team, and Group A were on the docket for the final night of Groups. Worlds 2017 would probably be seen as a failure in the players’ eyes if they didn’t at least make it as far as last year. Ominously, the start of the night would have an uncanny resemblance to Immortals and Group B. Edward Gaming (EDG), which came out of Week 1 winless, won its first match over Cloud9. EDG then went on to win its second match while Cloud9 lost its match. At this point, it seemed that EDG was about to pull off a Fnatic impression, making it out of Groups after a 0-3 Week 1, and Cloud9 appeared to be on the brink of another collapse.
Nevertheless, Cloud9 found its footing and sent a clear message after dominating ahq in its final match of the night. SKT then defeated EDG in the last match of the night after already securing first place, crushing EDG’s hopes of pulling off the upset and handing second place over to Cloud9. Just as in 2016, Cloud9 sneaked into the quarterfinals with some help from SKT.
As a member of the North American region, it pains me to see the same thing happen every year at Worlds. I usually manage to ignore the pre-tournament hype, yet when the teams are relatively successful in Week 1, which has been a consistent trend for several years now, I can’t help but develop a little bit of hope and excitement and think, “This year will be different.” I don’t think it’s a problem of individual skill or team chemistry, but rather of coaching and strategy. Traditionally, teams use the break in between the two weeks of the Group Stage to assess their own strengths and weaknesses and those of the other teams in their group — and then they adapt.
The Korean teams are exceptionally good at this. SKT doesn’t usually get off to a great start at Worlds, but the team learns and improves during the tournament, which has led it to three World Championships. On the other hand, NA teams have repeatedly demonstrated a lack of ability to change their strategy from Week 1. Cloud9 and Immortals revealed their weak bot lanes in Week 1, and TSM struggled in the early game. These vulnerabilities were exploited by the other teams in Week 2. NA has a lot to learn from the other regions when it comes to game-planning and reviewing its VODs.
While I’m sad to see Parth go, I believe that this is an opportunity for TSM to learn from its previous mistakes and form not just a team, but as an entire organization that is built to win a World Championship. Immortals will continue to grow as an organization, now with international experience under its belt. And with franchising becoming a part of the NA“League of Legends” Championship Series, all teams, even those that didn’t make it to Worlds this year, should be able to bring their coaches and analysts to the next level. I expect next year to be different.
For now, the last remaining hopes of North America are on Cloud9’s shoulders, as the team is set to play against Team WE in the quarterfinals. This was Cloud9’s best possible match, because Team WE is the weakest first seed coming out of Groups. Cloud9 has had no issues with finding advantages in the mid lane, but the team needs to shore up its bot lane if it wants to have any chance at becoming the first North American team to make it to the semifinals in this current format.
Tune in to the quarterfinals, starting with Longzhu versus Samsung Galaxy on the early morning of October 21st, followed the next night by SKT versus Misfits, then RNG versus Fnatic and finally Team WE versus Cloud9, on LoL eSports, Twitch.tv or YouTube.
Lawrence Zhao covers eSports. Contact him at [email protected].