As the year progresses and the fall season approaches, the professional League of Legends community prepares for its annual World Championship. Dozens of teams from regions all around the world will represent their countries in an attempt to be considered the best team internationally.
The frontrunners this year seem to be Europe’s G2 Esports, who took the crown at the Mid-Season Invitational tournament. North America’s Team Liquid took second, and there’s no counting out the Asian titans of the Chinese and Korean leagues. Still, among the “big four,” I consider North America to be the weak link.
This is not the first time North America has looked like the worst of the major regions. Up until a couple of years ago, they were vastly out-performed by challenging regions to the point That Taiwan took their place as the region, rounding out the big four. This was due to a number of reasons, including America’s lack of infrastructure and tendency to simply copy the playstyles of the stronger regions. Over the last couple of years, there was a gradual shift until Cloud9 was the first North American team to make the semi-finals at Worlds last year.
On top of this, there has been a lot of competition regionally. The North American hierarchy was upset by teams like Counter Logic Gaming and Clutch Gaming, creating standings that were far too close for far too long. This could be for one of two reasons. One, Korea saw a lot of close teams atop their standings this year, but that can be written off as Korea being a generally good region with lots of high-quality competition. Two, it could be because the top teams are no longer good enough to be considered world-class, thus foreshadowing a really weak performance at Worlds this year. It might be a cynical approach, but I instinctively assumed the latter. North America does not have the history to justify having close records between the top teams and the middle of the pack teams.
To further speculate, the three teams most likely to head to Worlds, in my opinion, are Team Liquid, Cloud9 and Counter Logic Gaming. Liquid is the obvious frontrunner, being the top team in North America for the last couple of years. As a result, they have the highest potential for success internationally. Of their four regular season losses, two were to Cloud9, one was to CLG, and one was to last-place Echo Fox. It was overall a respectable performance, but that’s not why people doubt them. They were equally, if not more dominant last year, but faltered at Worlds 2018. They were eliminated in the group stage, losing to both China’s Edward Gaming and Korea’s KT Rolster. Both teams would lose out in the first round of the knockout stage.
Cloud9, despite finishing second in the regular season, is likely North America’s biggest hope. There is a long-standing trend where they don’t win regionally but put up the best performance internationally. This culminated in the aforementioned semi-final placement last year. They have since made somewhat of a downgrade to their mid-lane position, and finished with an underwhelming 13-6 record. They chalked up a sizable portion of this to sickness, but they don’t look like the same team they did last year. They’ve surprised the world before, but I don’t like the odds of a similar performance this year.
CLG is definitely the wild card as they emerge from a meteoric rise in performance. They finished seventh in the spring split with a 7-11 record. Through the acquisition of a new top-laner, they propelled themselves to a third-place finish in summer. As such, their potential is largely unknown. Nobody can really tell how well their success will transfer to the international stage. However, this is where the pessimism around North America emerges once again. If this was Korea, they would have high hopes. However, in a region with far less success, most people would rather err on the side of caution, and predict that CLG has reached their peak performance.
Once again, North America is playing spoiler to the rest of the world. Can they show up and surprise international fans, or will 2019 be a year to forget?