It’s finally over. The race for a spot in the 2016 League of Legends World Championship has come to a close, as each of the 16 teams that will attend has earned its spot through regional domination, consistent strength, or perseverance throughout a brutal gauntlet. Every one of these teams has come a long way to set themselves ahead of their peers, and it’s important to recognize that achievement as we look forward to what should be one of the most exciting worlds in the game’s history.
With that said, it’s time to accept a truth that no one wants to admit: last week’s European and North American Regionals were mostly horrible to watch. For some, the grind was clearly too much, as teams like Giants Gaming couldn’t even keep itself together long enough to schedule a scrimmage for what should have been the most important tournament of the franchise’s history. Others, like Team Liquid and Fnatic, had been crumbling before our very eyes from the start, and their falls served as a surprise only to those who wanted to believe there was still some magic left in a very clearly empty tank. This somehow makes EnVyUs one of the least depressing teams to play this past weekend, as despite one of the worst drafts I have ever seen in Game 3 against Cloud9, it still managed to outperform the low, low expectations set for them. When four of the six series end in 3-0 stomps, it’s hard to watch and feel good about the strength of either region as a whole. Much like a Jenga tower, being so top heavy brings concerns that it will all come crashing down when pressure is eventually applied.
For many European fans, the outcome of the regional finals felt bittersweet regardless of who won. Splyce had gone from the underdog story of the split to social media pariahs because people don’t understand how scrim schedules work. Unicorns of Love had a strong coach, a solid core, and basically nothing else. Jokes of Kang “Move” Min-su not needing to build Rylai’s Crystal Scepter on Nidalee because he never hits the spears anyway were both vicious and entirely correct. Kim “Veritas” Kyoung-min was exposed as a below average ADC being propped up by Zdravets “Hylissang” Iliev Galabov. These flaws alone should have sunk a team that posed no regular season threat to a powerhouse like Splyce.
But whether it was arrogance or the pressure getting to them, Jakob “YamatoCannon” Mebdi’s usually solid team fell apart at many times throughout the series. Kasper “Kobbe” Kobberup looked far more like his bottom of the barrel spring split self than any of his recent performances, and Jonas “Trashy” Andersen failed to make the strong team fight initiations that had colored Splyce’s team fighting prowess throughout the summer split. The end result was a sloppy best-of-five series that only a mother (or a desperate European fan base) could love. Splyce emerged victorious, and there’s reason to hope that it will thrive in the Korean boot camp climate, soaking up new information and play styles like a sponge. Anything less will be a very quick end to what was the split’s feel good story.
North America, on the other hand, got to see the tale of two powerhouses come head to head in a battle most expected to be a slugfest from start to finish. In one corner was Immortals, a team who was 2-6 in its semifinals appearances across both splits despite having a combined 33-3 regular season record. The chip on their shoulder could not have been more massive, with lingering fears that Dylan Falco and the rest of the coaching staff was unable to properly prepare the team when it mattered most, while stars Heo “Huni” Seung-hoon and Kim “Reignover” Yeu-jin sought to prove their journey from the most prestigious European franchise to a new one funded by angel investors on the other end of the world was worth it. At best, this should have been like watching the Highlanders scream down from their hilltops as they charged towards the English with bloodlust and pride in their hearts. Instead, we were left with a whimper. With the exception of a rather solid Game 3 performance, Immortals fans were left with pick and ban phases that seemed more scared of Cloud9’s win condition than aiming towards Immortals’ strengths, while Jason “WildTurtle” Tran regressed towards being more of a liability than an aid to his team. Change is coming to a franchise that had every chance to make worlds and fell apart at each hurdle, but until that happens, Immortals fans will sit at home and wonder what might have been if their team had performed half as well as they had throughout the regular season.
None of that should take away from Cloud9, the only team in the West willing to step up and make a massive statement this weekend. Jung “Impact” Eon-yeong has finally found a team and meta that works perfectly to his strengths, creating a terrifying force that should strike nightmares into anyone that remembers his Season 3 World Championship performance. Zachary “Sneaky” Scuderi has regained his ability to handle himself properly in the laning phase, thanks in no small part to Andy “Smoothie” Ta, who has easily become the most improved North American talent with his incredible Trundle and Tahm Kench play. Nicolaj “Jensen” Jensen reminded the rest of the West that life is a lot easier in this mid lane meta if you know how to play Cassiopeia. Even William “Meteos” Hartman found his niche, using pocket picks like Zac to make enemies adjust to his unusual play style and help dictate the pace of the game. All of these players deserve credit for what they’ve accomplished, but I want to give a special shout out to Coach Bok “Reapered” Han-gyu, my personal pick for Coach of the Year. This team was just one split removed from Hai “Hai” Du Lam needed to call every shot just to prevent the team from falling into an existential panic. Now, Reapered has his team working on all cylinders, with both strong objective play and incredible individual performances making Cloud9 the scariest Pool 3 team by far.
We’ll find out Saturday where these teams are playing and finally begin breaking down what is sure to be an exciting tournament. Walter “Ceades” Fedczuk and I plan on live streaming our reactions to the group drawing (details can be found here when we know more), but until then, go say hi to Walter and his new AMAZING profile picture that Vince Nairn and I picked out for him. Oh, and as always, enjoy the episode.
On today’s episode of the Rough Drafts Podcast, Chase “RedShirtKing” Wassenar and Walter “Ceades” Fedczuk look back at an underwhelming week of Western regionals and try to find whatever optimism they can. They begin with a breakdown of the European regionals, including Fnatic’s disappointing downfall and Splyce’s unconvincing worlds-clinching series against the Unicorns of Love. Then, they move on to the North American regionals, including Immortals’ collapse and Cloud9’s newfound dominance. They close with the three worst drafts of the weekend and the reveal of Walter’s new Twitter profile picture.
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