Clutch Gaming defied all odds to qualify for Worlds 2019 and they shouldn’t have much trouble making it out of the play-in stage. But they’ll have to surmount even greater odds if they wish to be competitive against the big dogs of the League of Legends world.
The yearly League World Championship is almost here, and with strong teams out of Europe, China, and South Korea, few fans are seriously considering North American squads as contenders. Of those optimistic NA fans, only another handful would put any stock in Clutch. But there have been fairy tale storylines at Worlds before and despite this being the organization’s first appearance at an international tournament, the players on the team are used to the bright lights.
Over the year, this team hit some devastating low points. They finished in ninth place during the 2019 LCS Spring Split and were forced to immediately change how they approached the game. They began to start Sun “Cody Sun” Li-Yu in place of Chae “Piglet” Gwang-Jin, who was removed from the roster, and focused on being able to trust in one another instead of playing as individuals. It’s imperative for a team that aims to succeed to play as a singular unit—and this team feels so naturally unified.
In the next split, the Dignitas-affiliated team went 9-9 in matches and seemed immensely reinvigorated. This newfound teamwork helped them secure a 9-1 record against teams that eventually finished below them in the standings, giving them the best record in the LCS against statistically-weaker teams. Being able to avoid those potential upsets consistently is a difficult task because in any one of those matches, all it could take is one opposing player to perform outstandingly to cause an upset. This skill is attributed to discipline, teamwork, and a strong gameplan implemented by the Clutch coaching staff.
But they began to struggle when they were the underdogs. That might seem like a bad omen in a Worlds tournament where every team is stronger than they are on paper.
To kick off their Worlds journey, Clutch will face Australian hopefuls Mammoth and a newly-relocated Unicorns of Love team in the play-in group stage. Clutch are the favorites to take this group, possibly based off of the strength of the competing regions alone. And as previously mentioned, the LCS team found recent success against teams of similar or lower skill level because of their organized team play. Unicorns of Love were far from dominant in their region in 2019, but the Russian team may strike fear into the hearts of Clutch. Jungler Kirill “AHaHaCiK” Skvortsov will have to be the key man for the LCL team if they want to succeed.
If Clutch, Splyce, and Damwon Gaming advance to the main event group stage as expected, Clutch would be placed in Group C. And if that’s the case, Clutch might be out of luck because Group C is being widely considered the Group of Death at Worlds 2019.
An optimistic prediction for Clutch would be that they breeze through the play-in stage and manage to take some games off of any of the teams in Group C. But Fnatic, SK Telecom T1, and Royal Never Give Up are no jokes. So a more realistic expectation of Clutch would be that they’ll be the worst team in their group and generally struggle to compete. Of course, with veteran talent like Heo “Huni” Seung-hoon on the roster, perhaps it’s unfair to consider Clutch as simply outmatched. But all signs point to Clutch—or any play-in team—struggling in Group C.