The field of 22 is set for this year’s League of Legends World Championship. Today’s group draw allowed each of the contenders at the event to get a glimpse at their soon-to-be competitors.
The 10 teams drawn into the play-in stage will battle for the four final berths in the tournament’s main event, while the other 12 teams competing at Worlds have already qualified for the group stage. As a result, they’ll sit the preliminary round of the tournament out but will still have plenty of time to get a grip on their opponents.
With just under two weeks to go until the tournament kicks off, there’s plenty of time to dissect and inevitably over-analyze each group at both the play-in stage and main event of Worlds. With nearly two dozen teams all set to square off, there’s plenty of room for takes and opinions. Here are some of our initial takeaways after the Worlds 2021 group draw.
The best two teams at Worlds are in the same group
Only once before have two former world champions been matched up against each other in the group stage of Worlds—in 2019 when Fnatic and SK Telecom T1 were both placed into Group C. Never before, though, have the previous two world champions been placed into the same group. Furthermore, FunPlus Phoenix and DWG KIA might just be the best two teams at the tournament. If those two teams don’t open up the group stage with an all-time classic best-of-one (that somehow also serves as a potential preview for the grand finals), we’d be genuinely stunned.
It’s hard to definitively place the “Group of Death” label on Group A (mainly because the groups aren’t totally set in stone yet). But with both DWG KIA and FunPlus Phoenix flattening out the ceiling of the group, it’s hard to believe Rogue and the group’s play-in stage qualifier (who will most likely be Cloud9 if they make it through due to regional restrictions) will have much of a chance getting past the last two world champions. Keep in mind that both of those recent champions have kept four-fifths of their rosters intact since their last victories. The group stage should be a minor hurdle for two squads that have their eyes set on a much more prestigious destination.
Group C is simultaneously the ‘Group of Life’ and ‘Group of Death’
To the naked eye, Group C doesn’t seem too difficult for most teams to get out of. But once one realizes PSG Talon, Fnatic, and Royal Never Give Up are all relatively equal in skill level and professional experience, it becomes the most competitive group at the tournament. Despite none of those teams earning the same accolades as championship-winning squads from major regions, each of them could make a deep tournament run alongside many of the regional champs at Worlds.
Plus, if Hanwha Life Esports make it out of the play-in stage, they’ll be automatically placed into Group C due to intra-regional restrictions. All four of those squads are quarterfinal-level teams at their ceiling, but half of them won’t even make it past the group stage. No matter which of the two teams make it out of Group C, the other two that drop out undoubtedly fall into the “respectable contender” category.
The window is open for Western teams
The group stage draw was relatively favorable for Western teams. Squads from the LEC and LCS were placed into reasonable groups that could potentially see them advance to the quarterfinals. On paper, MAD Lions and Team Liquid could both make quick work of Gen.G in Group D, while Fnatic should be able to hold their own against PSG Talon and RNG in Group C. Even 100 Thieves might be able to take a game or two off of EDward Gaming and T1 in Group B, since there haven’t been too many historical disparities in individual talent between North America’s best and Korea’s third-best. Since 2016, Korea’s third seeds have held a slight 4-2 advantage over North American champions at Worlds.
If anything, Rogue are the definitive Western team facing the biggest uphill battle in the face of DWG KIA and FunPlus Phoenix. During their championship runs in 2020 and 2019, respectively, DAMWON and FPX posted a combined game record of 12-3 against European squads, with DAMWON taking two games off of Rogue during last year’s group stage. With that being said, there’s a good reason G2 Esports jungler Jankos—who drew the teams from the fishbowls earlier today—was holding back laughter when Rogue were drawn alongside the two most recent world champions.
Our take? MAD Lions and Liquid have the best chances of any Western team to make the quarterfinals, while 100 Thieves and Fnatic have a fighting chance to advance considering their direct competition. As for Rogue and Cloud9, the differences between themselves and their opponents are immense on paper, but that’s not to say that wider gaps haven’t been closed before.
None of the top seeds are safe
This year’s World Championship is the most closely-stacked tournament professional League of Legends has ever seen. There, we said it. Normally, fans and analysts will look back at World Championships in hindsight and label them as “competitively balanced,” but rarely is the Worlds field this tightly-knit before the first draft even kicks off.
For the first time since the 2014 (or even 2013) edition of Worlds, there’s no clear-cut favorite ahead of the tournament. Sure, you could make a case for top-seeded teams like DWG KIA and EDward Gaming, but realistically, most of the major region teams at Worlds have a chance to not only make a run deep into the bracket, but potentially win the tournament outright.
With that in mind, it wouldn’t be out of the ordinary to see one or more of the pool one teams from today’s group draw miss the quarterfinals altogether. If some of the pool two and three teams like Liquid, 100 Thieves, T1, and others play to their absolute ceilings, some major leagues’ champions might not even sniff the Worlds bracket stage.
The 2021 League of Legends World Championship is set to begin on Oct. 5 at 6am CT.
Make sure to follow us on YouTube for more esports news and analysis.