By Petar Vukobrat
December 6, 2019
Now that the dust has settled, let’s take a closer look at the biggest 2019 World Championship losers, and what they did to warrant a spot on such an unflattering list. There were many hype trains coming into Worlds.
2019 was, in many ways, the most exciting year in competitive League’s history. It was a year when anything could have happened. We saw the Team Liquid take down Invictus Gaming at the Mid-Season Invitational; we saw a European super team outclass every opponent put in front of them.
These were shocking scenes, in every regard. So, it was only natural to expect the unexpected once the World Championship came along. In other words, everyone hopped for a laundry list of small miracles. North American fans wanted their teams to leave a mark finally.
LEC fans wanted G2 Esports and Fnatic to finally break through and win Worlds. Korean fans wanted their teams to bounce back and once again get back to their dominant, winning ways. Finally, Chinese fans wanted their teams to continue building on their legacy and, in doing so, prolong the era of LPL dominance.
A lot was riding on the line for many teams, which meant many exciting narratives were floating around. But as with any tournament, there can only be one winner. And with so many talented line-ups vying for the spot, many were bound to get disappointed.
So, what constitutes a “loser?” What does a team need to do (or fail to do, rather) to warrant a spot on the list? First, these are teams that — at the very least — should have done more. They should’ve left a much bigger mark in the grand scheme of things but have failed to do so for a wide variety of reasons. Maybe the meta didn’t suit them, or they were outmatched and outgunned by superior competitors. Regardless of the reason, they failed to make their World Championship runs memorable.
Secondly, their failures went on to “feed” much larger narratives. These teams and champions are well acquainted with crushing defeats. This certainly wasn’t the first time they exited a major international tournament after being outclassed by their opposition.
So, with that out of the way, let’s take a closer look at the biggest 2019 World Championship losers, listed order!
One of the most successful Chinese teams in the history of the game, and a challenger that is synonymous with the LPL. But also, a team without any true accolade. This is a team whose international run was almost always defined by mediocrity (when compared to their hype coming into the tournament).
The narrative is always the same: this is the year Jian “Uzi” Zihao and the rest of his squad dominate beyond measure. This is the moment they’ve been building towards. Now, all the pieces of the puzzle will finally “click” and enable this team to dominate. And yet it simply never happens.
Now, make no mistake: Royal Never Give Up is always a dangerous competitor. Perhaps that’s even an understatement. But whenever they face top-tier opposition, they fumble. For one reason or another, Royal Never Give Up is always good and competitive… until they aren’t.
It’s not a matter of skill, but rather of mismatched expectations and evaluations. Royal Never Give Up was always “the” LPL team to dethrone Korea. They were the one team everyone had their eyes on, but at the same time, they never evolved from their Uzi-centric style of play. Years went on, and RNG always looked the same. Now, this inherently flawed playstyle sometimes worked to a certain degree (Top 4 at 2017 Worlds), but those instances are rare.
And again, their results over the years have been perfectly acceptable in general, if not even great. When you compare what they’ve done to how much was expected and how much people banked on the RNG hype train, that’s when you realize they’re one of the biggest “losers” at this year’s Worlds.
They were supposed to be the ones who would usher in a different kind of era, an era freed od LCK dominance, and yet while they struggled to diversify their arsenal (something they have yet to achieve), others stood up and dominated (mainly Invictus Gaming and as of recently FunPlus Phoenix).
RNG was almost always a Top 8 team at Worlds. For a region as strong and mechanically talented as the LPL, that’s not exactly mind-blowing. And this year saw them finishing in the Top 12, a record low for the organization ever since they stepped foot on the World Championship stage in 2016.
To make matters worse, they ended up this low with Hung “Karsa” Hao-Hsuan among them, an absolute phenom known for his incredible play over in the LMS. Most people expected Karsa to revitalize this line-up, but such a thing didn’t happen on the international stage.
In many ways, RNG is still a top-tier team. But, as evidenced by their most recent Worlds ranking, they’re slowly getting “phased out.” There are new kids on the block, and they’re far more creative, flexible and dangerous than RNG ever was.
2019 has shown us two sides of the Team Liquid coin. On the one hand, they beat Invictus Gaming at the Mid-Season Invitational and in doing so, gave us an all-Western final for the first time in history. On the other, this seismic triumph only bolstered everyone’s expectations, which eventually resulted in immense failure.
Pressure mounted in which Liquid failed to deliver…again.
The thing is, many North American fans and analysts expected more from Liquid this year, and they had every right to. Liquid is, without a doubt, the best and most stacked LCS team ever assembled. Their staggering regional dominance and many broken records tell the same tale. On paper, this team had it all and yet it still wasn’t enough.
All of this begs the question: When will it be enough?
Liquid dominated throughout 2018 and 2019. They won four splits in a row — a record as well. Every time they triumphed, there wasn’t a doubt in anyone’s mind that they were the “real deal.” All signs were pointing towards a status quo in which the LCS stood shoulder to shoulder with Korea and Europe. And, by all accounts, this should’ve been Liquid’s year.
But it didn’t happen. And, quite frankly, fans are as disappointed as possible, and with good reason. There’s but a finite number of times one can pray for a change in the competitive League landscape before ultimately giving up hope. If a team as stacked and talented as this one failed to “get the job done,” what needs to change? Is it developing young native talent? A change in solo queue mentality? Better Academy teams? A phasing out of the old guard?
There are many ideas on what needs to be done, yet none of it is happening. All signs are pointing towards yet another dominant year for Liquid. They’re primed and ready for another spectacular showing on home soil, but none of it creates much hype when you know they’re going to flop the moment they step foot on an international stage.
Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng lost the most. The veteran AD carry is always so achingly close to leaving a mark, and yet it never materializes. Teammates came and went, his dedication and level of play never wavered, and yet it still wasn’t enough.
Not yet, at least. Maybe 2020 will finally be the year he breaks through? It’s possible, but it feels like we’re saying the same thing year after year.
The Griffin hype train existed long before this group of mechanically gifted phenoms ever stepped foot on the Worlds stage. Once people saw Griffin in action (back when they first flexed their prowess in the LCK), everyone wanted to see them clash against the best teams the world of competitive League had to offer. They were so talented that many believed Griffin would eventually become the LCK champions. After all, that was the only logical conclusion after seeing their staggering level of play.
And, to their credit, Griffin indeed dominated regionally. Perhaps that’s even an understatement. Their sheer talent and awe-inspiring aggression left no one indifferent. In many ways, Griffin looked like the next breed of Korean talent, like an evolution. They weren’t obsessed with macro, nor were they looking to rotate in the best and most optimal ways. Instead, they had full, unwavering faith in their mechanical skill and ability to style on their opposition.
They were much like an LPL team, rather than the LCK giants who came before them. This excited many fans across the globe, and with good reason. On paper, this team was destined for great things. Quite frankly, even though enough time has passed, we’re still not entirely sure what to think of Griffin.
Their LCK run was trophyless, even though they came achingly close to winning on multiple occasions. They dominated during every regular portion of the split, but once they had to step up in the playoffs, the Griffin five imploded time and time again. There was no mental fortitude to be found and no resiliency in a Best of 5 format.
They finished this year’s Spring Split in first place with 15 wins and three losses — a staggering 83%-win ratio in one of the most stacked and competitive regions in the world. The Summer Split wasn’t much different with 13 wins and five losses. By finishing first in both splits, they awaited at the very end of the playoff bracket. They only had to win one Best of 5 to finally hoist the LCK trophy. And yet they didn’t. SKT T1 outclassed them in both splits — 0:3 in Spring, and a slightly less embarrassing 1:3 in Summer.
So, on the one hand, we had a beastly team win a shocking amount of talent and potential. On the other, they were chokers who couldn’t get the job done when it mattered the most.
But because they ended up second twice in a row, they accrued a commendable amount of World Championship points, meaning they qualified for Worlds as Korea’s second seed. Their flops against SKT didn’t have to be the end all be all. They finally had a chance to leave a mark and solidify their spot as one of the best and most dangerous teams in the world — the next breed of LCK talent that would stand shoulder to shoulder with the titans of China and Europe.
Their Worlds run left a lot to be desired. They certainly attained some success overall, but it wasn’t nearly as much as we expected. After all, it felt like they had all the right tools to leave a mark. When they had to compete in the Group Stage, they indeed held their own. But such a thing was expected, seeing how their immense mechanical prowess and unrelenting aggression could only be stopped by a select few in a double round-robin format. But once they had to face Invictus Gaming in the quarterfinals — in a Best of 5 — they struggled mightily.
Now, their 1:3 loss wasn’t as one-sided as it might look, but Griffin always broke at the seams when they had to step up and compete with the former World Champions, and it wasn’t opponent-related either. Instead, it was a hurdle — be it physical or psychological — that stopped them from going the extra mile. Once they met a team that could match their aggression, they broke apart.
The fact that they didn’t go deeper into the tournament isn’t their biggest failure, but rather the fact that their immense hype and momentum crashed and burned for the nth time. Everyone expected this beast of a team, a juggernaut of sorts that would seemingly be unstoppable and yet we ended up with a solid albeit inherently flawed challenger that still needs time to grow.
Unfortunately, the story of Griffin and their staggering “potential” quickly reached its end. After many scandals over the last couple of weeks, it’s fair to say that the organization imploded in many (unexpected) ways. Griffin’s former players will now move on to different teams, meaning we’ll never get to see this five-man line-up in action ever again.
In the end, the story of this line-up is a story of unrealized potential. If anything, seeing these players compete at the highest level was a fitting end to their two-year-long Griffin journey.
That’s it for our list of the biggest 2019 World Championship losers! These teams are by no means bad — they failed to deliver with everything on the line. And no amount of regional dominance can make things even. When everyone’s watching, when they’re expected to perform and make their fans proud, these line-ups fail to clutch things out. But at least they showed promise throughout the year and should, in theory, stand a better chance of leaving a mark once the 2020 season comes along (at least in Liquid and RNG’s case).