For LoL esports fans who only follow the major regions, the World Championship play-in stage may seem like nothing more than an hors d'oeuvre to the main event. But for the minor regions in League of Legends, it's an opportunity for elevation and, who knows, perhaps even upsetting a lower-seeded major region team.
The three strongest teams in the play-in — #3 LCS seed Team Liquid, #4 LPL seed LGD Gaming, and #4 LEC seed MAD Lions — are major region squads with well-established star players in multiple positions. Everyone already expects them to qualify, and they likely will, so this article won't be about them.
It's about the other seven regions who are hiding real diamonds in the rough of the play-ins — some established across multiple Worlds appearances and others making their international debut as their region's newest exciting young talent. Let's take a look at one star player from every minor region team competing in the Worlds 2020 play-in.
Su "Hanabi" Chia-Hsiang — PSG Talon
As the #2 seed from Taiwan’s Pacific Championship Series, PSG Talon is the only minor region team in the play-in that is not a domestic champion of a minor region. However, its top laner Hanabi is pretty familiar with regional success. As a member of LMS dynasty Flash Wolves, Hanabi won three straight splits and represented Taiwan at Worlds 2018 and the Mid-Season Invitational in both 2018 and 2019.
PSG Talon is no Flash Wolves and to make matters worse, the team will be without its starting mid laner and jungle, for the play-in stage at least. Kim “River” Dong-woo and Park "Tank" Dan-won formed an electric 1-2 mid-jungle punch for PSG Talon throughout the season, but both South Korean players were unable to make travel arrangements for Worlds 2020 due to visa issues.
For PSG Talon to succeed in the play-in with two substitutes, Hanabi will have to invoke some of that Flash Wolves-era play for Taiwan’s #2 seed to make any waves in Group B.
Lee "Bugi" Seong-yeop — V3 Esports
Hanabi isn’t the only former Flash Wolves player in the play-in. Bugi was a starting member of FW throughout both spring and summer in the 2019 LMS season and made his international debut at MSI 2019. After Bugi parted ways with Flash Wolves, the Korean jungler returned to his career roots in the Japan's LJL on V3 Esports, and has qualified for his first World Championship with his new squad.
Bugi is the only player on V3 to have ever competed internationally, and his experience and ability to convey any of what he has previously learned to the rest of his team will be crucial for any chance of escape from Group B.
Brandon Joel "Josedeodo" Villegas — Rainbow7
When it comes to international representatives of the Latin America League, few teams are more familiar than Rainbow7, but the team’s most exciting player has yet to be seen on the Worlds stage. R7 jungler Josedeodo is making his international debut in Group B of the play-in after leading his team to a 2020 LLA Closing championship.
Statistics don’t always tell the whole story of a player’s performance, but they sure speak volumes for Rainbow7’s jungler. Compared to the jungling pool in the 2020 LLA Closing, Josedeodo had the least deaths and the highest gold differential at 10 minutes. He also finished in the top 5 amongst junglers in kills, assists, KDA, kill participation, kill share, First Blood percentage, experience differential at 10 minutes, CS differential at 10 minutes, and CS per minute.
What do all these numbers mean? Josedeodo is an absolute madman in the early game and singlehandedly spearheads the snowballing for Rainbow7. His damage numbers aren’t as high as other Latin American junglers, but he is the catalyst in every early game move his team makes and fully utilizes his individual lead to snowball his lanes. If Josedeodo can replicate his domestic performance on the international stage, Rainbow7 could be a dark horse in Group B.
Leo "Babip" Romer — Legacy Esports
Josedeodo was a major factor in Rainbow7’s domination of the LLA this season, and in the Oceanic Pro League, a similar pattern occurred throughout 2020. Legacy Esports dominated the OPL, winning both splits, and the successful domestic results can be traced almost entirely back to the team’s jungler, Babip.
This isn’t to say that the other players on LGE’s roster aren’t talented as well, but Babip is undoubtedly the nucleus of the team. Babip led all starting OPL junglers in least deaths, KDA, and CS per minute. He also finished in the top 5 amongst his peers in kills, assists, kill share, First Blood percentage, gold differential at 10 minutes, experience differential at 10 minutes, cs differential at 10 minutes, damage per minute, and damage percentage.
Both Babip and Josedeodo’s stat lines are impressive, but that’s where the comparisons stop. Babip doesn’t have the razor-sharp early game of Josedeodo, but he deals more damage and is a more versatile, well-rounded player. Legacy Esports has plenty of talent, but if its jungler isn’t on his game, the team will have no shot at escaping from Group A.
Lev "Nomanz" Yakshin — Unicorns of Love
Since joining the League of Legends Continental League in 2019, Unicorns of Love has dominated the CIS region and qualified for its first Worlds last season. UOL has continued to rule the LCL in 2020, finishing second in the Spring Split before three consecutive first-place finishes in the Spring Playoffs, Summer Split, and Summer Playoffs.
UOL’s roster remains the same as its previous Worlds appearance, and the mid-jungle combination of Nomanz and Kirill "AHaHaCiK" Skvortsov has remained in the core of UOL's identity, but Nomanz has reached a new level individually in 2020. In his last 12 games across the Summer Split and Summer Playoffs, Nomanz has played 12 different champions to the tune of an 11-1 record, including five individual game MVP performances in the post-season.
The win percentage is mostly indicative of Unicorns’ dominance as a team in the LCL, but Nomanz is heading into Worlds 2020 with a champion ocean. Unicorns of Love’s roster is stacked with talent top to bottom, but Nomanz is the main reason why UOL is considered to be the strongest of the seven wildcard region teams in the play-in, and subsequently, the most likely to upset a major region team.
Bruno "Envy" Farias — INTZ
INTZ has qualified for the World Championship for the first time since 2016 and returns to the international stage with the core of its MSI 2019 roster intact. Many members of the INTZ roster are household names in the Campeonato Brasileiro de League of Legends, but mid laner Envy has been the player in summer who has led the charge, finishing third in MVP votes in 2020 CBLoL Split 2.
In the post-season, INTZ was second to none, using momentum from its 3-2 victory against KaBuM! e-Sports to defeat paiN Gaming 3-1 in the finals. INTZ star support Ygor "RedBert" Freitas was awarded two individual game MVPS in the CBLoL Split 2 Playoffs, second only to Envy, who had three.
INTZ faces a tall task in attempting to survive Group A of the play-in, but the team is currently sporting its most well-balanced roster to ever make an international appearance for the organization and stands as Brazil’s best chance in some time to return to a premiere wildcard region in the global LoL esports landscape.
Onur "Bolulu" Can Demirol — Papara SuperMassive
It’s difficult to find a wildcard region team with names that can match the prestige of the ones on Turkish Championship League representative Papara SuperMassive. The TCL Summer champion sports three South Korean veterans in jungler Lee "KaKAO" Byung-kwon, support No "SnowFlower" Hoi-jong, and Head Coach Lee “GBM” Chang-seok.
In addition, top laner İrfan "Armut" Berk Tükek is one of the most established talents in the league and has relatively recent international experience in the form of SuperMassive’s appearance at Worlds 2019. Hidden amongst the aforementioned prestige on the roster, though, is mid laner Bolulu, who has been the team’s sharpest spear this summer.
In his 14 games played in the 2020 TCL Summer Split, Bolulu led the league with an 8.8 KDA and 76.4% kill participation. His 71 kills and 97 assists were second and fourth amongst starting mid laners, respectively, and his top 3 statistical placings in gold differential at 10 minutes, CS differential at 10 minutes, and experience differential at 10 minutes are evidence of his strong laning phase.
There are multiple players to be excited about on Papara SuperMassive heading into Worlds 2020, but when the time comes for the teams to face off Summoner’s Rift, Bolulu might turn out to be the biggest excitement of all.
It's all about the mid-jungle
Of the seven players listed above, three are mid laners and three are junglers. The only player who is not a mid laner or a jungler is the top laner on a team whose starting mid laner and jungler are unable to compete due to visa issues. These trends highlight the increase of map influence for both jungle and mid lane across the past few seasons, but also set up potential catalysts for unexpected outcomes in both play-in groups.
Team Liquid and MAD Lions are the clear favorites to qualify from Group A, but Legacy Esports has a strong jungler, INTZ has a strong mid laner, and Papara SuperMassive has both. If MAD Lions mid laner Marek "Humanoid" Brázda can be put behind in an unfavorable matchup, or if TL’s notoriously slow early game can be exploited, any of these three wild card region teams could find themselves with an upset.
In Group B, LGD Gaming is the clear favorite and the strongest team in the play-in, and if jungler Han “Peanut” Wang-ho comes to the play-in inconsistent, he could be exploited should Bugi, AHaHaCiK, or Josedeodo catch him off balance in the early game and steal an upset from the Chinese seed.
LGD aside, it was already difficult to pencil in PSG Talon — the only other non-wildcard region in the group — as a surefire 2nd place team due to the ferocity of Unicorns of Love, but now that PSG Talon will be without River and Tank, UOL may be the team that escapes Group B alongside LGD when the dust settles. The 2020 World Championship play-in begins Friday, September 25 in Shanghai, China at 4:00pm local time with the first match of Group A between MAD Lions and INTZ.
All statistics provided by Oracle's Elixir
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