League of Legends Worlds 2018 just happened, with Invictus Gaming taking the finals. This was the first time that a Chinese team had taken first place, but they had often been the runner ups. However, the truly astounding thing this Worlds was how many western teams made it through the groups stage. In fact, all three of the teams in the semi-finals apart from Invictus were western teams. In this case, western meaning North American or European, as opposed to the Asian teams who typically perform far better.
This was the first time since season one that a North American team made it to the semi-finals, and the first time in as long that a European team played in the finals.
So what changed? Why did the west do so well against teams they typically fare so poorly against?
The West Improvement
Many people will look at the results and say that the western teams have simply gotten much better. If we were just talking about Fnatic, I might be inclined to agree. Fnatic certainly showed up this year, with Caps, Rekkles, and Broxah each performing at the highest points that any European player has ever reached (at different points throughout the year). Even though they didn’t do particularly well in the finals, throughout Worlds Fnatic showed why they deserved to be there.
However, the two teams that lost in the semi-finals showed none of this prowess. Not to say they are bad teams, because they aren’t, by any means. However, G2 and Cloud9 are distinctly not semi-final material. We saw a tournament in which Sneaky was taking up multiple bans. Again, no offense to Sneaky, but he is not one of the best ADCs in the world. He’s probably not even in the top ten. This was seen time and time again throughout his play in the LCS, and no tier list ranked him anywhere near the top. And yet he played in the semi-finals and got banned out there. It was a similar situation with G2. While a great team, they have no place being on an international stage fighting for a title.
The East Degrades
So if the west hasn’t gotten better, then the east must have gotten worse. Again, there are definitely instances where this could be argued. Gen G., the renamed and repurchased Samsung Galaxy that won worlds last year, is a great example of this. After they claimed their title they had a lot of trouble having any success in the LCK. Immediately after going back they hit a long loss streak. They managed to squeak their way to competing in worlds, but their record showed them as one of the least deserving LCK teams to show up. Their play at worlds only reinforced this, showing none of the synergy or dominating playstyle they showed in last year’s finals.
In fact, many of the eastern teams competing at worlds had this problem. The only eastern team that every truly showed their traditionally dominating style was Invictus, and even that wasn’t until the finals that they truly showed up. There are many reasons why the eastern teams simply didn’t do well during worlds, but I do have one theory I’ll discuss soon. Saying that they all just ‘got worse’ would be ludicrous, however, and I do not believe we can attempt to attribute more than a few games to such a theory.
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Personal Opinion: The Meta Did It
My personal opinion for why League of Legends Worlds went so poorly for the east is simply because of the current meta. In the past, every meta had a lot of nuance than our current meta, employing things like split pushing, snowballing specific lanes, top lane pushes while bottom takes dragon, and so on. The eastern teams have always been very strategy-focused, often dominating the prevailing Worlds meta very quickly. This is clearly seen in the style that North America plays. Typically, North America comes to Worlds, does okay but not particularly well, gets dominated by the eastern meta, and then tries their best to adopt said meta in week two. This is never particularly effective, but is a last ditch effort to adopt the ‘best’ meta.
This was not the case this Worlds. The current meta is not one of nuance, in any sense of the word. Instead, teams focus on their solo lanes for the first few minutes, then group up in a ‘death ball,’ as it has been coined. Basically, the meta is entirely reliant upon grouping up and working as a five man unit for a majority of the relevant gameplay. While this is a strategy of sorts, it is far less nuanced than any other meta. It is a brawler style meta, reliant on players’ raw mechanic skills rather than strategy, and is something that the west excels at, while the east is slow to follow.
This was the first Worlds where the east had no strategies to offer. There was nothing they inherently did ‘better,’ because there wasn’t any strategy to be had. This lead to them being entirely dominated by the east as they tried to employ strategies to counter the death ball, and found their strategies lacking. In this particular Worlds, no strategy was a good strategy.
I spent a lot of time thinking about why the west performed so well in this particular Worlds. In the end I decided that it was due to the fact that western players are more mechanically focused, while eastern players are typically more focused on strategy.
This particular Worlds had the meta of ‘group up and fight constantly,’ or ‘death ball,’ which focused heavily on mechanical skill rather than strategic skill. It was also the first meta in which the east had nothing new to bring to the table because the brawling style of the west was so effective, and narrowed the gap between the regions.
Hopefully we see more interesting strategies moving forwards, because, in my opinion, this was a poor example of the best teams League of Legends has to offer.