At 15 minutes, G2 Esports‘ Luka “PerkZ” Perković had a perfect Special Delivery across the top side river into the Baron pit. Royal Never Give Up‘s Liu “Mlxg” Shiyu died almost instantly. The Chinese crowd watching the League of Legends World Championship in the Wuhan Sports Center fell silent. G2 was already ahead by nearly 4K gold and two turrets, but this play sealed the team’s victory over RNG. With the tumultuous ending to Group B fresh in mind — Gigabyte Marines nearly became the second minor region team in history to reach the quarterfinals, Immortals lost out, and Fnatic fought ferociously for the second seed behind Longzhu Gaming — it seemed like recent history could easily repeat itself. Samsung Galaxy looked shaky in Week 1. G2 could win out and claim its own spot in the quarterfinals, buoyed by the Fnatic miracle of the previous day. But the stars did not align for G2 the way they did for Fnatic. G2 was unable to beat Samsung in the third game of the day, effectively ending its run at worlds.
The first seed that was: G2 Esports
Prior to the group stage, I said G2 was strong enough to be a potential semifinalist if the team managed to make it out of an unlucky group draw that included Samsung, the Korean third seed, and Chinese second seed RNG. I stand by that statement. Top-seeded teams this year, outside of Longzhu, found themselves in some tough groups, with G2 receiving the worst possible alignment. The team still managed to go 1-1 with RNG, which won the group. Samsung was predictably a tougher matchup for G2 because the teams had similar play styles. Under the leadership of Kang “Ambition” Chan-yong, Samsung did what G2 wanted to do — scale into late game team-fighting territory, preferably with a farming jungler — but did it better.
G2’s final record of 3-3 will not tell the story of its group stage performance. Raw win-loss records in League of Legends, especially at an international tournament, rarely paint the big picture. Even in close series, much is forgotten. How many people remember NaJin Black Sword nearly knocking out SK Telecom T1 at the Season 3 World Championship? How many people panning Samsung Galaxy Ozone after the Korean team fell out of the Season 3 Worlds Group Stage, remember that it came down to a single tiebreaker game against Moscow 5/Gambit Gaming when both teams finished 5-3 in the group? Few people will recall G2’s games at this tournament.
Yet, not all is lost.
The Mid-Season Invitational was an important paradigm shift for Europe’s best team. G2 not only made it out of the group stage, but it defeated Team WE 3-1 and took a game off of SKT in the finals. After a year of domestic highlight reels followed by embarrassing failures on the international stage, G2 finally earned the respect it craved a year earlier. Going into worlds this year, there was no talk of G2 choking or having nerve issues and mental blocks. G2 was considered a long-shot quarterfinalist looking at the team’s strength and the strength of Group C. Many people lamented the fact that such a strong team had been pitted against two others — Samsung, RNG — that were even stronger.
“You want to feel sad?” G2 support Alfonso “mithy” Aguirre Rodríguez told his teammates before their final match. “Just feel sad after, but let’s enjoy it.”
After a few weeks, the 3-3 record will be what most remember, even with Perkz’s Yasuo game against 1907 Fenerbahçe Esports. It’s better than 2-8 at MSI and 1-5 at worlds last year, but for the five players who made it to the MSI final this year, it’s understandably not enough. G2 was, and still should be, considered a strong contender. Maybe, as they say in solo queue, G2 was also unlucky. This isn’t history repeating.
The first seed that wasn’t: Royal Never Give Up
Samsung Galaxy didn’t seem to be in contention for worlds after SKT destroyed the team in the League Champions Korea playoffs. Given the strength of KT Rolster, Samsung, much like last year, was not expected to be here. Samsung nearly lost in the regional gauntlet before it even reached KT, going all five games against the Afreeca Freecs.
By contrast, RNG was one win away from representing China’s League of Legends Pro League as its first seed over EDward Gaming. After Week 1 of worlds, RNG looked like China’s strongest team, while EDG finished winless. After RNG’s first Week 2 game against G2, the Wuhan Sports Center was silent with creeping dread that maybe RNG would also falter.
The arena erupted when legendary Chinese AD carry Jian “Uzi” Zi-hao locked in his signature pick: Vayne. Uzi and Vayne have had a troubled relationship through the years, and the flashy, high-risk AD carry champion has become synonymous with Uzi’s insistence on being the one true carry of his team. Uzi adjusted this past year along with RNG as a unit. RNG is no longer a team that funnels all of its resources to Uzi. Yan “LetMe” Jun-ze, Li “Xiaohu” Yuan-hao, and even RNG’s wayward jungler Mlxg can all carry if need be. Rookie support Shi “ming” Sen-ming had a breakout split. On Friday, after five AD carry bans in the first phase of the draft against Fenerbahçe, Vayne was a promise to Uzi and RNG fans in Wuhan and around the world from the AD carry himself. It reminded us of his two world finals with Royal Club — despite the fact that he didn’t play it against Samsung White — while also showcasing the other individuals on RNG that make this particular team so strong.
In a group stage where multiple teams have struggled to find a balance between late-game scaling and mitigating the lack of early lane pressure that usually comes with scaling champions, RNG found the sweet spot. RNG’s flexibility allows for multiple points of pressure at once, all while Uzi is in a meta where AD carries reign supreme. RNG might not have been China’s initial first seed, but this all-Chinese roster is the region’s first qualified team to the quarterfinals, led by one of its most beloved players.