League of Legends Worlds 2021 Western Teams: Do They Stand a Chance?
Worlds 2021 has just begun, and, well, there’s a very interesting question lingering in the air: do Western teams stand a chance? An omnipresent question, no doubt, and one that has been posed an endless number of times throughout the years. No matter the conclusion, we always end up asking it yet again, possibly because the answer itself is never fixed but rather fluid and ever-changing.
The world of competitive LoL is imbued with many twists, some strange, some less so. You never really know what’s going to happen, and when you think things have settled down, a new development tends to emerge seemingly out of nowhere, and then we’re back to square one. Take the MAD Lions, for example. They became the first LEC team to drop out of Play-Ins back in 2020. It was a debacle. And yet, all it took for them to not only correct course but make history was a single season. Now they’re universally deemed the most capable Western team at Worlds, and, according to some, a Top 4 finish might be in the cards as well, should they perform up to expectations.
Funny how things work out sometimes.
So, frankly, posing the initial question (“do Western teams stand a chance at Worlds 2021”) always makes sense, no matter what happens, and regardless if our assumptions were correct or not. There’s always next year — a clean slate for everyone to start anew and hopefully find a bit of redemption.
European teams, in particular, have used this “luxury” to great effect. Their North American peers, however, have yet to move the needle. Still, one should never despair nor lose faith as you never know what’s going to happen. A simple roster change or two is all it takes for a team to go from “good” to “spectacular,” as evidenced by the MAD Lions.
Moreover, there are always too many moving pieces for us to keep track of. We simply don’t know what’s happening behind the scenes, and the few rumors that eventually hit the web are by no means sufficient for anyone to grasp the bigger picture — which, unfortunately, doesn’t stop people from making wild assumptions.
Western teams bring their own brand of LoL to the table which, unfortunately, isn’t always the best or most optimal way of playing the game. Still, whenever they leaned heavily on their own unique strats and picks, success tended to follow almost by default. It should come as no surprise, then, that Cloud9 is the only North American team that has ever really left a mark on the international stage. Counter Logic Gaming and Team Liquid did very well in 2016 and 2019, respectively, but they didn’t really go “all the way.”
So, frankly, Western teams aren’t going to leave a mark by emulating what the many LPL and LCK giants are doing, but rather by employing their own strategies and tapping into what is inherently their unique style of play. Still, that is easier said than done and doing such a thing requires both ample courage and the readiness to fail. And, well, a unique style of play to be tapped into and harnessed — something most Western teams simply lack.
As with most good things in life, this, too, cannot be developed overnight.
Optimism Is Always Justified
Both the LEC and LCS have sent their three best teams to Reykjavik, Iceland. Whether someone else would’ve been a better “match” for the Worlds stage is a topic for another time and place, but the six teams that’ll compete over the next few weeks have earned their spots fair and square.
Moreover, they’re fairly diverse in terms of approach, playstyle, and even experience. You have veteran squads like Team Liquid and Cloud9, those that are a very interesting mix of both “young” and “old” like Fnatic and 100 Thieves, and even two teams that — while still relatively inexperienced — have reached the biggest of stages for the second year in a row: a true testament to their inherent talent and work ethic. Who’ll eventually end up leaving a mark still remains to be seen, but at least they’ll all march towards the throne through different angles and avenues.
It’ll be interesting to see whose approach will succeed the most, although we’d be remiss if we didn’t say that MAD Lions are definitely a cut above their peers — as evidenced by their stellar performance at this year’s Mid-Season Invitational. They might not look the part, but their play does the talking for them.
Who’s Favored the Most?
The LEC champions MAD Lions are obviously in a league of their own and, perhaps most importantly, they’re a known quantity. We know for a fact that they’ll deliver, although how high they’ll eventually soar still remains to be seen.
Rogue is pretty doomed, and we all knew as much from the moment they were slotted into Group A with DWG KIA and FunPlus Phoenix — the defending and former world champions, respectively. They might surprise in some way, shape, or form, but it’s not going to be enough against LCK and LPL royalty.
Fnatic, though, might actually stand a chance of leaving a mark. They’re crazy enough to go for plays most of their peers wouldn’t even think of, and they have the mechanical prowess and confidence to pull it off. Well, at least more often than not. They’re not always perfect in execution, but they fight and engage with such fervor that it’s impossible not to stand in awe. Jakob “YamatoCannon” Mebdi has imbued this team with a bit of his well-known Vitality craziness, and it’s done wonders for the boys in black and orange. And, well, certain members like Gabriël “Bwipo” Rau and Zdravets “Hylissang” Iliev Galabov already had it in them, and all it took was an experienced hand to fully harness it.
Let’s Talk NA
The situation isn’t quite as clear with the three LCS teams, though. On paper, they’re quite good, but that doesn’t necessarily mean their talent and experience will translate over to the stage. Team Liquid, one could argue, has the best shot at pushing the needle, although you can never be too certain with the former four-time LCS champs. One quick glance at their starting line-up is more than enough for one’s mouth to start watering, and yet there’s still this uncertainty lingering in the air.
Things will get a whole lot worse seeing how LNG Esports are guaranteed to get slotted into Group D — an interesting fact that could throw a wrench in Fnatic’s plans as well. Are these two perennial Western organizations capable of trading blows with the fourth-best team from the LPL? A line-up that had taken down Suning, Top Esports, and even Royal Never Give Up one after another in its gauntlet run? We’re not all too confident. LNG are by no means perfect, but if their first few games in the Play-Ins are anything to go by, they’ll definitely stand a chance of doing some damage to the status quo.
100 Thieves could also surprise, but they’ll have to play their best League of Legends yet — and find a way to solve the T1 puzzle, something at which so many of their predecessors had failed. The LCS champions are not to be trifled with, but seeing how the vast majority of this line-up has no international experience whatsoever, it’d be wise to exercise caution and lower one’s expectations.
Last but certainly not least, there’s Cloud9. One could argue that they have the best shot of leaving mark out of all three North American representatives based solely on their experience and skill, but if they reach the Group Stage (which is pretty much a given at this point), they’ll go straight into Group A and that, in more direct terms, means they’ll book their flights back home early. On the one hand, they do stand a chance at taking games off of DWG KIA and FunPlus Phoenix, but saying that the odds will be stacked against them would truly be an understatement.
The boys in white and blue went 1-1 with MAD Lions and Royal Never Give Up at this year’s MSI. They did so despite having some truly horrendous performances. So, in theory, now that they’ve had more time to sync up and work on their flaws, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect an even better showing. Still, taking on DWG KIA and FPX is undoubtedly the hardest possible path, and Cloud9, talented and capable though they are, probably won’t stand much of a chance. A few upset wins also wouldn’t cut it, unfortunately.
Still, stranger things have happened on the Worlds stage throughout history, so they shouldn’t be counted out just yet.
So, let’s answer the question: do Western teams stand a chance at Worlds 2021? We’d have to go with a fairly confident “yes,” although one can never be too certain — we’ve seen too many mind-boggling twists over the years to make any prediction with confidence. Be that as it may, we’ll be surprised if at least two Western representatives don’t make it out of groups. Fortunately, we won’t have to wait long to determine whether this is just a bit of “hopium” talking or a sound prediction rooted in reality.