Despite the fantastic Group Stages of the League of Legends World Championships there have been rumblings of discontent. Fans accusing casters of bias, blaming teams for not trying hard enough to win, speculation of scrim leaking. In this article I wanted to address Doublelift’s Statement that it is ‘good to have high expectations of the teams that you want to see succeed.’ I felt that this was a good quote to examine as I believe expectations have played a large part in feeding the toxicity towards teams at worlds.
In principle I agree with Doublelift’s statement. These are players and teams, paid study, practice and improve at League of Legends. Expecting teams such as Team Liquid who had won both domestic titles to show up against International competition is not inherently unreasonable; However I do not believe that ‘High Expectations’ are the problem. Personally I would cite unreasonable expectations as the reason for fan discontent and backlash against their regions team. I will look at Team Liquid primarily in this article.
So before I dive in I would like to clarify that having High Expectations are not unreasonable, for instance it was possible that Team Liquid make it out of Group C. Not likely, but possible. It would be unrealistic therefore to expect them to advance with ease. If I’m being completely honest, while my Pick Em’s read that team Liquid would advance, that was me being hopeful. Taking a look at how the games played out however I would say that this group played out roughly as expected.
While these games were never in Liquids control when looking at the strength of the LCK vs the NA LCS I think this can be called the expected result. KT are a dominant team able to outplay and out Macro every team we’ve seen them play at worlds. Crushing in their wins and close in their defeats KT were nigh unstoppable in their games in Group C.
Whilst I wasn’t sure what to make of the LMS second seed it became clear quickly that they were outclassed in this group. While it took Team Liquid longer than fans might have hoped in the first game they cleanly dispatched MAD in both games.
This was always going to be the turning point in the group, could Liquid defeat China’s third seed. The answer on the first day was a definitive no and the reply on the second was a definitive yes as Team Liquid robbed EDG of a tie breaker with KT for the first seed.
Ultimately Team Liquid leave the tournament with a 3-3 record. Honestly to me this looks like Team Liquid acquitted themselves well, as they did everything they needed to on the second day to secure themselves a Tiebreaker with EDG. It was only when EDG upset KT that their chances slipped away from them. While it sucks to lose and I understand that, watching Vitality fail to get out of groups or G2 drop the game to Phong Vu Buffalo, I don’t see how Team Liquid drastically under-performed at least from a game score perspective in this group.
There are two factors that I believe have made this failure to qualify for quarterfinals so disappointing for fans. Firstly the idea that the skill gap between East and West is closing. Secondly that Cloud 9 made it out of their group. I will now address them both in turn.
The gap is closing has been a tired statement for as long as I have been watching Esports, whether Starcraft or League, it hasn’t seemed real that Western Teams can compete with Korea or China. In recent years this has changed for SC2 but in League the SKTT1 dynasty and back to back finals from Gen_G (Samsung Galaxy) had firmly cemented Korea on top of the scene. This year all of a sudden Vitality, C9, G2 and Fnatic are taking games from the ‘favourites’ and contesting the quarterfinal’s spots fiercely. However when looking at group stages these teams, with the exception of Fnatic were finding wins with unexpected picks: Hiemerdinger, Zilean, Ekko, Draven. In BO1 it is easy to find wins by catching your opponents out. In BO5 while this might secure you a win, consistent quality of play is of much greater import. It is premature to say the gap has close before seeing the Western Teams in a format designed to reveal quality and not the chaotic environment of a BO1 group.
C9 made it out. I honestly feel that Group B has a lot to answer for in terms of blowing reasonable expectations out of the water. With Vitality and C9 beating Gen-G and RNG as Europe and NA’s third seeds, the idea that anything was possible came to the fore. Hyping up western fans to believe that all of their teams might be this good. However as I have highlighted above the ‘cheese’ picks made a big difference in this group. The other thing that swung it was that Gen-G showed us nothing. One close game against RNG and win over C9 is all they have to show for their Worlds Title defence. I strongly suspect that this implosion of Gen-G made the western teams look considerably stronger than they are. However I do not think it is realistic to compare C9 beating Gen-G to the challenge liquid faced in KT.
In short, the west has had a great group stage overall, 3 teams are in quarter finals. But let’s not accuse Tl or any other team of mot trying hard enough for what was a very plausible group stage result. Perspective and reasonable expectations are important, to keep in check the worst excesses of regional pride.