The 2019 League of Legends World Championship had a lot in common with its predecessor. A Chinese winner, a European runner-up and Kaisa or Xayah played in nearly every game. With a few nerfs, Riot Games is working on the latter, but what can G2 Esports and the rest of Europe do about the other two?
The New Aggression
Despite a brief blip at this year’s Midseason Invitational, China cemented its place as the new Korea. Definitively, as the number one region after winning three of the last four international tournaments. Meanwhile, Europe has eased itself into China’s old role, always the bridesmaid, never the bride. Another final, another 3-0 sweep.
The metaphor used to fit Chinese teams perfectly. Royal Never Give Up lost back-to-back world finals in 2013 and 2014, then shared the disappointment of semi-final defeats with World Elite in 2017. Still, RNG’s victory at MSI last year was a starting point for China’s supremacy.
The aggressive, skirmish-heavy play style that the region was always known for suddenly became the best way to play. Both Invictus Gaming and FunPlus Phoenix showed that creating advantages through coordinated aggression was the way forward.
Numbers back up the strategy too. The average game time at Worlds fell three years in a row between 2016 and 2018, with 2019 being roughly similar. Tellingly, the finalists were among the top four fastest finishers this year and last. In both seasons, the other two teams in the top four were some of the least successful in the tournament. Win or lose, games tend to be quicker now that top teams keep advantages.
While Korean teams play catch up, not used to a faster pace and skirmish-heavy style, it makes sense that Europe would take over the bridesmaid role. While not quite on the League of Legends Pro League’s (LPL) level, the League of Legends European Championship (LEC) held shorter game times and more kills than the League of Legends Champions Korea (LCK) throughout 2019. This culminated with 75 kills in a 26 minute bloodbath between G2 and Excel Esports.
G2 were quick to follow in the footsteps of IG and FPX, finding success by putting their own spin on the Chinese style. Fans even consider G2’s champion pool a meme. Across the entire Worlds 2019, G2 played more unique champions than any other team, making many unusual champions work wonders.
Fnatic, though not as successful as last year, still made quarterfinals this year. Their take on the meta didn’t always work, with Rengar and Garen Yuumi lanes showing weak performances. But when it worked, Fnatic won games from teams like SK Telecom and FPX.
In many ways, the story of 2019 carved out teams’ niches in the established meta. FPX and G2 found success with unusual picks. Fnatic had their own approach, and even Splyce chose their own path, taking a traditional, late-game style to quarterfinals.
The top European teams spent 2019 figuring out what works for them. And in the case of G2, it worked. This begs the question, however, what will it take to jump that final hurdle? A new team entering to play the part of a powerful underdog like FPX or IG to G2 and Fnatic seems unlikely.
With no major roster changes so far, G2 is Europe’s best bet, and they will need to stick to what got them to the finals. G2 came in as favorites but played like a different team. Almost everything done to get through Worlds went out the window. They allowed FPX to dictate the pace of all three games.
G2 found a system that works but they simply need to stick to original strategies when it counts. Step one was crafting a plan and step two is executing it.
Written by Michael Longsmith