The playoff format does a great job at determining which team is the best, but its complete disregard for anyone but the champion would have us believe that deciding who is the best is the one and only motive for competition to exist. It is not. Developing storylines and providing high quality games are concepts that should be addressed by any tournament priding itself with the name of World Championship.
Of course, the storyline of who is the best is always the most compelling, and it is true that higher quality games will most likely be those involving the best teams, but every time we forfeit competition between those who can no longer achieve the number one position, we lose a big part of what the World Championship could be.
Getting straight out eliminated by losing a series is unfair, both for the competitors, who invest years of their lives into becoming as good as they can be, and for the fans, who just want to see their favorite team face the powerhouses of the other regions. I personally doubt no one was interested in watching H2K’s Konstantinos “FORG1VEN” Tzortziou face ROX Tigers’ Kim “PraY” Jong-in, yet its one narrative we will most likely never get to see, even when we had the chance to at the reach of our fingertips.
It is impossible for anyone to rescue the storylines lost with these never-played series. We can, however, bring a little redemption to the eliminated teams by attempting to solve the puzzle in our minds, returning to the teams some of the recognition lost by never playing these matches.
The method for determining the order is simple. When choosing a position from second to eighth, we pretend as if this was a tournament with none of the higher ranked teams in it, and then try to decide who the winner would be. For example, if we are deciding who the fifth best team is, we pretend that the first four positions never attended the tournament, and try to decide who would then be the winner.
This is my take on how teams rank with such a system.
First: SKT T1
This is by far the easiest team to decide on this list. Not only did they win the tournament, but they did so beating strong opponents at every step of the way, including the tournament favorite ROX Tigers. They definitely were the team that performed the best and undoubtedly deserve this spot.
Second: ROX Tigers
This is pretty straight forward as well. Even when they actually tied Samsung Galaxy on series and games during the LCK spring split, both teams’ performances against SKT T1 were so different, that the choice still remains clear.
By the start of game four of the ROX series, it looked like SKT was just going to get brute forced out of the tournament, and if not for a miracle performance by Bae “Bengi” Seong-ung’s Nidalee, they might have been. On the other hand, Samsung was barely holding into the SKT series by the skin of their teeth as game four started. This time, the match was also heavily shaped by SKT’s jungler performance. An unfortunate Zac performance by Kang “Blank” Sun-gu allowed SSG to convincingly win, thus delivering the closest Worlds final in League of Legends history.
As a last nail in the coffin, SSG had a terrible matchup against the Tigers. Even conceding a tie in the jungle, where I still think Yoon “Peanut” Wang-ho surpasses Kang “Ambition” Chan-yong, both ROX’s top and bottom lane heavily outclass those of Samsung. While Lee “Kuro” Seo-haeng is the weakest link on the team, he is more than used to playing defensively against strong mid laners, making it that much harder for Samsung to take control of the game from mid lane than it was during the whole of the tournament.
Third: Samsung Galaxy
As stated before, SKT T1 ran into every strong opponent possible in their playoff bracket. Even when Samsung didn’t give the closest series, they gave the second closest, even having Riot analyst Spawn predicting them as winners of the whole tournament going into game five.
Being behind SKT and ROX is nothing to be ashamed of, and their impressively dominant run into the finals guarantees Samsung Galaxy a more than reasonable spot as the third best team in the world.
As of now, the concept of the gap is so overused, that it has become more of a meme than a serious analysis term. Still, Samsung played three out of the next four teams in their run into the finals, securing an impressive 6-1 combined record, while “only” being the third best of the Korean teams. It would be disingenuous when giving a fair and comprehensive ranking of the top-eight not to address the fact that there exists a bigger skill difference between the third and fourth positions than among any consecutive other teams.
Fourth: Royal Never Give Up
Hold your horses. Yes, I’m taking H2K out of the top-four. Contrary to last year, I don’t believe any western team had a top-four performance at Worlds. All three Korean teams dropped a combined two games to non-Korean teams during the playoffs, both to Chinese teams. While the one game EDG took was a clown fiesta, the one RNG won over SKT was more than legit.
We saw how RNG brute forced their way through TSM in the group stage. While the first game was arguably close, (even though gold was even and TSM was getting outscaled) and mostly decided by a superb combined engage by Jang “Looper” Hyeong-seok and Cho “Mata” Se-hyeong that can be found here, the second was an absolutely soul crushing defeat in which TSM was beat purely by the amazing raw skill of the Chinese roster.
Out of all the teams remaining to make this top-eight, I only see EDG as reasonably being able to beat RNG in a best-of-five series, and that’s more because of the constant experience they have facing RGN than based on tournament form. Despite EDG’s 3-0 victory over Jian “Uzi” Zi-Hao’s boys in the LPL finals, RNG’s performance against the rest of the field of the tournament secures them the fourth place as the more likely champions of the non-Korean World Championship. Being the only non-Korean team to take a serious game against a Korean team, and more specifically, the back-to-back world champions, is not something that should be dismissed lightly.
In my mind, besides those listed above and with G2 choking at Conan Antonio Motti levels, only two of the teams remaining could reasonably take a five game series against H2K: TSM or EDG.
If H2K faced EDG in a best-of-five series, H2K would most likely run away with the victory. Not only does H2K hold a 2-1 winning record against EDG in this tournament, but the game EDG took is probably the hardest out of the three to replicate. Getting a first blood over H2K’s support player Oskar “VandeR” Bogdan via facecheck, before the minions even got to lane, is not only something that would ever happen again in the course of a series, but also gave EDG an uncommon advantage.
H2K is by no means used to playing with a bottom lane that is behind, and the combination of the Ezreal pick with the first blood on Vander put H2K in a rare situation they were not used to maneuvering around. While H2K made other crucial mistakes in this series, it is safe to agree that most of the 3k gold lead EDG got over H2K before the 11th minute came from bottom lane, a very rare sight, and something I doubt they could be replicated two additional times.
As for TSM, since both teams usually rely on building early game leads, I don’t see the American squad taking a series over H2K. There is only one position where TSM stands ahead on talent: the middle lane. While this advantage is huge, H2K sports better side lanes, especially in the bottom lane. With the current jungle champion pool favoring side lane pressure, and based on the fact that TSM would most likely never outdraft PR0LLY, I doubt TSM would find the three early game leads with which to take this series.
Sixth: EDward Gaming
I actually had a very hard time deciding this position. It came down to how EDG would match against the next team on this list. The fact that the next team has a top laner that can most likely not exploit Tong “Koro1” Yang’s weaknesses into a consistent lead, paired with Kim “Deft” Hyuk-kyu and Tian “meiko” Ye heavily outclassing their bottom lane, ultimately gives EDG this spot since, as stated before, I believe the current pool of meta junglers has a better chance at influencing the game from the side lanes.
It would not be intellectually honest for me to place EDG higher. They completely fizzled away in their playoff matches. Their only statement was that they cannot get styled on super hard. The game they won against ROX was abhorrent, with ROX Tigers trying to just swag it out, picking Fiora and looking for fights against a composition with much stronger early game. This series was not a strong showing by EDG, and had the next team made it into playoffs, perhaps EDG would be ranked seventh. Coming in second out of one of the easier groups and delivering nothing in playoffs keeps EDG from getting a higher spot on this list.
Seventh: Team SoloMid
With one of the best mid laner and jungler combos in the tournament and solid players in every position, TSM would most likely have made it farther into the tournament had they not faced such a strong group. As far as the group stage goes, it doesn’t matter how much opponents beat you by, only how many actually beat you.
Even when Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng’s performance was disappointing, as the tournament developed and both RNG and SSG got to show the full extension of their form, we can easily agree that TSM landed in the group of death. Absolutely no one outside of TSM and SKT T1 was able to beat Samsung Galaxy in the whole tournament and, even when they struggled to make their mid game advantage into objectives, TSM still delivered a convincing victory with fantastic individual play.
Yes, they lost both games against RNG, but since they were the only ones able to take a serious game out of the Koreans in playoffs, and seeing as Samsung Galaxy swept Cloud9 and H2K 3-0, extremely overpowering both teams, it is safe to say that we owe some credit to TSM for their performance.
I believe the way people painted TSM’s performance was very disingenuous. They were not all that good in previous seasons, but this time, they came in very strong and, while they couldn’t get through, we would later find out that they were matched against the second best team in any group. This context and their bare performance earn TSM the seventh position.
Eighth: Albus NoX Luna
Completely out of the discussion for any other position, yet still featured in the top-eight, is ANX. Presenting remarkable late game shot-calling, poket picks, and no fear in their play, ANX is not only the most accomplished wild card team ever to attend the World Championship, but also the strongest by a landslide.
In the group stage, they performed second to only ROX Tigers, securing a very dominant 2-0 against international veterans Counter Logic Gaming and managing to steal a game off of the number two team on this list.
Many could argue that since they got crushed in the quarterfinals, their result was mostly a fluke, and Cloud9 should have this spot. It is true, ANX showed remarkably poor adaptability during their quarterfinal matches and, if Cloud9 was able to get a good working plan against them, they probably could have won the series.
My problem with that reasoning though, is that Cloud9 showed very poor early game rotations, and I highly doubt they could get ahead in three out of five games. Even when SKT was not on point and took many questionable early game plays, C9 was unable to identify favorable tower pushes that would have given them substantial advantage against the world champions. This lack of basic rotations, paired with C9’s worst results in a easier group than that of ANX, ultimately gives the Russians the last spot, despite their poor adaptability.
Unavoidably, some teams are always left behind, and Cloud9 was not the only aspiring team left out of the top-eight. It must be noted how strong Splyce’s group was and, had they taken an additional game in the group stage, I would have had seriously considered them for the top-eight. All of the above listed teams are, at least, very strong, and it’s not a shame to come after them.
A very high level of skill is required to even make the World Championship, so I hope this list sheds some light over the differences between the great and the magnificent teams for all of you, and helped redeem a part of the lost narratives.
@Cabramaravilla is a freelance journalist and analyst.
Image credit goes to lolesports, GAMURS and lol.gamepedia