Welcome to Inven Global’s Award Show for Worlds 2021’s Play-Ins. Though the most hyped-up teams of the tournament have yet to play a game, there was still plenty of craziness to see. Awesome games, insane champion picks, and NA giving NA fans exactly what they’re used to. Here are six awards giving a good summary of the biggest things that happened during Play-Ins.
The “Fool Me Twice, Shame On Me” Award: Cloud9
It was easy for C9 to disappoint at MSI. As one of the most hyped-up rosters in memory, all they needed to keep up NA’s legacy of sorrow was to perform worse than expected. They did so in spades. Their inconsistency and failure to win expected matchups fulfilled everything a true NA team is about.
For Worlds, C9 had to get creative. Fans weren’t nearly as optimistic about their chances of making a deep run at the event as in the spring. C9 wasn’t the juggernaut they had once been. Other than Ibrahim "Fudge" Allami, almost all of their players looked worse than before. Their macro and game-sense didn’t seem viable for international competition. How could they possibly lower expectations if there weren’t any?
If there’s a will, there’s a way. Though their competition wasn’t strong, C9 showed promise in their firs outings. They were on the same page, performing well individually, and getting all the expected W's. That was the strategy, it seemed. Raise fans’ expectations, and tear them down again! Cloud9 then lost a game to the severely underperforming UOL, only to force a tiebreaker against DFM. They lost that too. It took some time and effort, but Cloud9 found a way to fulfill the NA Worlds spirit once again.
The "You cannot know strength... Until you are broken" Urgot Award: DFM Evi
Yeah, there weren’t many other candidates for this award, were there? Urgot has not been a champion we’ve seen frequently on the professional level. Even on the rare occasions that it was played (thank you, Jenax), it never was that successful. This time was different. Shunsuke "Evi" Murase’s Urgot game was excellent. He destroyed Hsieh "PK" Yu-Ting early on, distracted the enemy team with constant pushing, and had smart Teleport decisions to give his team an advantage. Please forgive all the solo queue soldiers who will now try Urgot on their own.
Even more than being a fun showcase of an exotic champion, it also was a positive sign for DFM going forward. Coming into the tournament, Evi’s champion pool was seen as one of their biggest issues. Throughout playoffs, he only played a handful of picks, and fans of the LJL were worried that either DFM’s drafting would be punished at Worlds, or that Evi would be a liability. With creative ideas and good results in Play-Ins for the top laner, those issues may be solved.
The “This Actually Makes Play-Ins Worth Watching” Best Game Award: DFM vs. C9
In a tournament stage filled with snoozers, the tiebreaker between DFM and C9 easily wins as the best game of Play-Ins. It wins on almost every account. From a gameplay perspective, it was a fun spectacle. Not only was it a bloodbath — averaging almost a kill per minute — but there was also a feeling of uncertainty all throughout. It was a back-and-forth grind that either team could have won. A perfect game for a tiebreaker.
The match also had implications for the competitive scene’s history — more than NA getting dunked on again. It was monumental for DFM. This was the Exodia team Japanese fans were looking for: the strongest five players LJL could muster, an intelligent coaching staff behind them, and a rolodex of mediocre international performances to surpass. DFM were ready to show the LJL as more than a novelty region. To make the main event would be historic. To do so against Cloud9 — a strange nemesis in a budding rivalry — is just poetic.
The “Who Says All We've Got is Tarzan” Award: LNG Liang and Iwandy
Though many had reservations about how polished LNG Esports would be, most expected them to top their group. LNG being only the #4 seed is a testament to how stacked the LPL is, but even then, it was hard to argue more than a top 8 finish for them or any major impact onto Worlds. When it came to the cream of the crop, LNG simply weren't there. Next to an admittedly excellent Lee "Tarzan" Seung-yong and a serviceable Xie "icon" Tian-Yu as his mid-jungle duo, the rest of LNG were inexperienced and in no position to hold themselves in lane against the full-house of threats like FunPlus Phoenix or DWG KIA.
That might have changed in the group stage. Icon stated, “All the rookies in my team have very high potential and they're very hyped in the actual games.” It shows. The small sample size notwithstanding, Wang "Light" Guang-Yu and Liao "Iwandy" Ding-Yang have been excellent in every game. They follow up perfectly in fights for Tarzan and icon, and have a great sense of how safe to play. They lead KDA standings so far with 19.5 (Iwandy) and 18 (Light). Their future opponents will be much stronger, but this could be just the confidence boost the younger players needed to rise up and make LNG a threat.
The “Orthopedic Surgery Needed” Carry Award: HLE Chovy
It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that Jeong "Chovy" Ji-hoon carried his team harder than anyone else so far. As HLE’s sole win condition, he’s the main reason they’re at Worlds to begin with. However, because of the weaker competition in Play-Ins, it was expected that even a team as singular as HLE could still dominate.
Everything about HLE so far has been frustrating to watch. The way LNG beat them in the opening match provided blueprints for every other strong team out there on how to shut down Chovy. HLE had close games even against significantly weaker teams like Infinity Esports. None of the issues they had domestically seem to be solved and at this point, a deep run at Worlds would be a miracle.
And when (if) that miracle happens, it will surely be Chovy. He did everything expected of him — obliterated other mid players in lane, racked up high CS counts, and brought out numerous crazy plays. More than that, some teams even focused all of their bans against him, still to no avail. There’s no glossy way to put it: Chovy is 1v9'ing HLE to any and all victories they achieve.
The “Most Awkward Plane Ride Home” Award: Beyond Gaming
In some ways, Chiu "Doggo" Tzu-Chuan is more deserving of the Carry award than Chovy. Already expected to be the point of light on BYG, the heroics he showed in the elimination round against Galatasaray certainly made his case. Falling down 0-2 to GS, BYG’s chances of advancing didn’t look strong until Doggo delivered one of the most impressive carry jobs in a series at Worlds.
He led in kills in each of their won games, never showed recklessness in the late-game, and almost single-handedly won teamfights. Even if HLE was a much stronger opponent, Doggo showed what he was capable of.
But unlike Chovy, Doggo didn’t succeed in carrying all his teammates, tripping in the foot of one of his own teammates: Chien "Maoan" Mao-An, the villain of Worlds 2021. After Maoan was suspended for leaking draft strats, BYG went into the best-of-5 against HLE with a substitute top in the mid lane... against Chovy. It went about as well as expected.
Though BYG had a decent run and Doggo did nearly everything expected of him, it was still a sad ending for the Taiwanese team. One can only imagine how awkward the plane ride home for them is.
All images: © 2021 Riot Games, Inc. Used With Permission
I write. I rap. I run. That’s pretty much it.