Liquid and MAD Lions kickstart the NA vs. EU rivalry at Worlds 2021

Two western hopefuls go head to head with more than just bragging rights on the line.

Image via DJ Esports

This article is written in partnership with DJ Esports. All odds presented are at the time of publication and are subject to change.

The League of Legends 2021 World Championship group stage is set to kick off on Oct. 11, giving fans their first taste of the classic NA vs. EU rivalry. Group D features Team Liquid and MAD Lions, two of the most hopeful squads from their regions, squaring off in a high-stakes opening match. Gen.G and LNG, from the LCK and LPL, round out the rest of the group. While it is possible for Liquid and MAD to finish top two in Group D, every win will be crucial. Earning a 2-0 against their western opposition will give them a cushion to work with.

Liquid comes into Worlds as North America’s second seed. They have represented their region at the past three World Championships. Liquid have ended the group stage 3-3 every time, failing to advance to the knockout stage.

The organization made two key changes to its roster in the offseason. First, Liquid reached out to one of Europe’s best top laners in Alphari. It also added Santorin in the jungle, whose veteran presence makes him an incredibly valuable asset.

So close, yet so far

The success for this roster came almost immediately, when they took the LCS Lock In title over Cloud9 3-2. Liquid looked to carry this momentum into the Spring Split. After finishing just one game below first seed, Liquid entered the Mid-Season Showdown as contenders to win their first LCS trophy since 2019. Unfortunately for them, C9 had Liquid’s number. Both of their meetings in the upper bracket and grand finals ended in C9 victories.

The Summer Split was more of the same for Liquid. This time, they ended three games below first place in fifth seed overall. However, Liquid came into the LCS Championship guns blazing. They bested C9 and TSM 3-1 before moving to the upper bracket finals. Here, they barely edged out 100 Thieves to put another trophy in their sight. In the end, this one would slip from their grasp as well. 100T came roaring back from the lower bracket to stomp Liquid 3-0 and earn the Thieves’ first LCS trophy.

Photo via Riot Games

Crossing the finish line

MAD Lions’ 2021 has many parallels to Liquid’s. After the Europeans’ exit from Worlds 2020 in the play-in stage, they also sought to make changes to their top and jungle roles. MAD ended up scouting Armut from SuperMassive Esports in the Turkish league and Elyoya from Movistar Riders in the Spanish league. Both of these young talents found incredible success in their debut LEC season.

MAD were a promising team in the Spring Split. With a 10-8 record, four wins below G2 and Rogue, it was unclear if they would be able to contend for the championship. After back-to-back 3-1 victories over Rogue and G2, MAD found themselves in their first LEC finals. A grueling five-game series against Rogue followed, with MAD eventually taking the crown 3-2. At the Mid-Season Invitational, MAD qualified for the knockout stage and nearly took out the defending world champions DWG KIA.

Now with targets on their backs, MAD took the Summer Split in stride. They once again earned third seed in playoffs below G2 and Rogue. This time, however, they were not to be underestimated. MAD stormed through G2 and Rogue on their way to a second consecutive LEC finals appearance. One last 3-1 victory over Fnatic would make MAD the two-time LEC champions.

While both of these squads had very strong showings in their own regions, MAD did something Liquid failed to do this year: closing out a championship. Not only that, but winning both splits in the competitive year is a sign of a team that has what it takes to create a dynasty. Finishing as the runner-up in both splits, on the other hand, may be one of the most frustrating situations for any team.

MAD’s matchup advantage

Of these two teams, MAD Lions have much more hype behind their roster, with odds of 1.478 to 2.676. Winning back-to-back splits with two players in their rookie years happens only when those rookies are prodigies and the veterans are performing at a high level.

The highest-rated player on MAD is Humanoid. While he has been playing professionally for six years, Humanoid is hitting his peak. He dominated prominent E.U. mid laners all season and frequently carried MAD. His five Player of the Game awards were good for second place overall in summer and a second All Pro Team award.

Photo via Riot Games

Humanoid also has the biggest advantage over their lane opposition in this matchup. Liquid’s Jensen is known to have a very distinct playstyle. While he isn’t a weak player overall, Jensen has shown his best performances in the past with mages. He’s less of a hard carry for Liquid and more of a stable, supporting piece. The diverse mid lane meta full of melee champions and AD picks could be difficult for Jensen to adapt to, especially against someone as hot as Humanoid.

Liquid’s path to victory

Even with this potential discrepancy in mid, Liquid still has avenues to explore for win conditions. Alphari vs. Armut is a matchup that could go either way. Both players’ champion pools consist of carry-heavy picks with the intent to win lane and win game. Jayce was the most-picked champion for both players in their regional playoffs. Alphari also enjoys Camille and Gangplank, while Armut’s signature Wukong can punish any neglect to the lane in champ select.

The jungle support duo of Santorin and CoreJJ is also a force to be reckoned with. While the two players had their fair share of problems—both in the game and out of it—throughout the regular season, there are few pairs that have as much macro knowledge and experience as these two. Matching up against Elyoya and Kaiser will be no easy task, however. Despite the incredibly stacked jungle and support talent pools of Europe, Elyoya and Kaiser have made names for themselves as premier players this year.

If there’s one thing Liquid will need to lean on, it’s their mid-game macro. In the LCS Championship, Liquid was top of the charts in all stats related to Baron. They held a 68 percent Baron control rate and took 63 percent of first Barons in their games, according to Oracle’s Elixir. Their odds for first Baron in this matchup are slightly better than their overall win odds at 2.534 to 1.502. Liquid need to make sure that they survive early against the sheer star power of MAD and get to the part of the game they excel at.

Liquid vs MAD begins on Oct. 11 at 12pm CT.

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