The Worlds 2021 finals match between DWG KIA and EDward Gaming was a fitting ending to what was one of the most exciting iterations of the annual League of Legends World Championship. It was only the second time in 11 years that a final went to five games, and with EDG coming in as the heavy underdog and taking the win, the series provided everything a LoL esports fan could hope for in the most important match of a competitive season.
Now that Worlds 2021 is in the books, let’s take a look at how every global World Championship final sizes up to one another in terms of series quality and significance in LoL esports history.
10: SK Telecom T1 vs. Royal Club (2013)
Worlds 2013 established arguably the best roster of all time in SK Telecom T1 #2, a full rookie squad which was led to the international stage by Faker after a mid-season debut. T1 #2 is undeniably one of the most important teams in LoL esports history, but its route to the finals itself is far more interesting than its final match of the season.
Royal Club fought valiantly through to make it to the Worlds finals in 2013, but were utterly outclassed in every role by Faker and co. T1 #2’s 3-0 of Royal Club marked the first of three World Championship titles across the next four seasons. Historically significant? Yes. Entertaining series? Not so much.
9: Fnatic vs. Invictus Gaming (2018)
Worlds 2018 turned the perception of international competition on its ear. Not a single South Korean team qualified for the top 4, which featured two European teams, one North American team, and one Chinese team.
The road to the Worlds 2018 finals featured Cloud9 securing NA’s first best-of-5 series against a Korean team and elite performances from G2 Esports and Fnatic, the latter of whom appeared in the finals opposite of Invictus Gaming. While iG had made quick work of G2 in the semifinals, Fnatic was expected to put up a good fight due to its elite level of play throughout the event.
Instead, the finals was another 3-0 in favor of Invictus Gaming, but even more one-sided than the win against G2 Esports. Fnatic’s do-or-die playstyle hit a wall against the superior individual talent of the Invictus Gaming roster, and when Fnatic lost, they lost fast. This marked the first time a Chinese team had ever hoisted the Summoner’s Cup, but the one-sided nature of the final was an anticlimactic end to an otherwise extremely entertaining knockout stage.
8: SK Telecom T1 vs. Samsung Galaxy (2017)
The finals of Worlds 2017 between Samsung Galaxy was not without its significance. Not only was it a rematch of the Worlds 2016 finals, but it was the first time that SK Telecom T1 had not won a World Championship after qualifying. Samsung Galaxy was the first team to prove that SKT mid laner Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok was mortal, but the nature in which the win was accomplished was in a clinical sweep.
One year after Lee “Crown” Min-ho beat out Faker for the Summer Split MVP in the LCK, the SSG mid laner opted for picks like Malzahar in the Worlds 2017 finals to neutralize Faker, who had carried a limping SKT through the knockout stage.
With Faker unable to affect the map and with the superior macro and starpower of AD carry Park "Ruler" Jae-hyuk, Samsung Galaxy was triumphant in getting its revenge from its defeat in Worlds 2016 finals, but the theatrical nature of the series fell short of its predecessor.
7: Samsung White vs. Star Horn Royal Club (2014)
Despite dropping a game to Star Horn Royal Club in the Worlds 2014 finals, one could argue that Samsung White’s 3-1 championship victory was as one-sided as any of the 3-0 finals of other Worlds. SSW’s run at Worlds 2014 was arguably the most dominant in history — the team only dropped two games on the way to its only title together as a roster.
However, just like their loss to TSM in the quarterfinals, Samsung White was evidently not taking its loss to Star Horn Royal Club in the finals seriously. Their composition lacked the waveclear and synergy required in the meta at the time and the play was far sloppier than any of its other games at the tournament.
After dropping a single game to Star Horn Royal Club, Samsung White quickly closed out the series in the expected dominant fashion, which was what made the single loss in the series so insignificant— the result was never really in doubt.
6: G2 Esports vs. FunPlus Phoenix (2019)
It felt like the stars had aligned. G2 Esports’ 2019 roster was the best western team ever assembled. They had won both LEC splits and brought the Mid-Season Invitational trophy home to Europe for the first time ever, and they had brought Europe back to the Worlds finals one year after Fnatic’s crushing defeat at the hands of Invictus Gaming. With the stage set in Paris, all eyes were on G2 to make history.
G2 was an incredibly talented team of individuals, but what made them different was the intuitive nature of the team. The innate synergy between the players was anomalous, but FunPlus Phoenix had taken that to the next level by essentially making mid laner Kim “Doinb” Tae-sang the nucleus of its roster.
Rather than take early challenges against G2 Esports in the laning phase, FPX decided to forego prioritizing lanes and instead covered the map like a glove, often snuffing out early skirmish attempts from G2 with superior numbers or more cohesive rotations. Given the season G2 Esports had in 2019 and its impressive performance against Gen.G and SK Telecom T1 in its previous two matches leading up to the finals, a 3-0 loss in Paris was underwhelming.
5: SK Telecom T1 vs. KOO Tigers (2015)
Worlds 2015 featured the first all-Korean final in the tournament’s history. LCK darlings KOO Tigers, a team of players previously thought to be past their prime and a revolving (and occasionally closed) door of sponsors went up against soon-to-be dynasty SK Telecom T1. While KOO had played arguably better than SKT in the regular season, it was SKT who always won in the best-of-five series head-to-head. SKT’s road to the finals was 18 games long — they won all of them.
With mid laner Lee "Easyhoon" Ji-hoon waiting in the wings, it’s been argued that 2015 SKT could have been just as good without the presence of Faker. Not much was expected from KOO coming into the finals, but the team’s win in game 3 featured a career-defining performance from veteran jungler Lee “Hojin” Ho-jin on Lee Sin.
For a single game, the KOO Tigers showed flashes of brilliance bright enough to triumph over arguably the best SKT T1 roster ever assembled. The 3-1 victory for SKT was expected, but the exciting nature of the sole win by KOO Tigers was certainly an added bonus.
4: Suning vs. DAMWON Gaming (2020)
The nature of the Worlds 2020 final was similar to that of 2015. Top Esports and JD Gaming, two favorites from the LPL to win the tournament, went out earlier than expected, but unlike 2015, a fellow LPL squad had done the eliminating. DAMWON Gaming came into the Worlds 2020 finals as the favorite, but Suning had spent the entire tournament exceeding expectations.
As expected, DAMWON Gaming took the series, but Suning put up a better fight than expected. The first game of the series, while ending in a DWG win, was a competitive bout, and Suning’s win was not a result of DWG trolling — it was an impressive victory highlighted by another of jungler Lê “SofM” Quang Duy’s innovating picks in Rengar and punctuated by a Pentakill courtesy of top laner Chen "Bin" Ze-Bin’s Fiora — the first in the history of Worlds finals.
Suning may have been outclassed by DAMWON Gaming in the end, but they were a fun team to watch with interesting strategies and a great underdog story. Suning only won a single game, but it’s hard to argue they could have put on a better show in that lone victory.
3: Taipei Assassins vs. Azubu Frost (2012)
2012 was the first truly formative year of the global LoL esports scene and many great teams began to rise to the top. Among the best were the two best South Korean dynamo Azubu Frost, China’s Team WE, Europe’s first great squad in Moscow5 and also regional control kings Counter Logic Gaming EU.
However, it was Taipei Assassins who would lift the Summoner’s Cup for the first and only time in Taiwanese League of Legends history. The squad came into Worlds already respected as one of the best teams in the world, but was not considered a favorite as heavily as teams like Azubu Frost, Team WE, or Moscow5.
TPA took those considerations and shot them into the sun. Azubu Frost and Taipei Assassins had both reached the finals only dropping a single game each, but Frost was considered the favorite in the only best-of-five series that would take place at the tournament. Ultimately, it was TPA who took the win in a relatively competitive 3-1 series highlighted by excellent play from mid laner Lau "Toyz" Wai Kin.
A 3-1 series is often a convincing victory, but the good fight put up by Azubu Frost and the result of Taipei Assassins turning expectations on their ear to bring glory to Taiwan is one of the best 3-1 series to ever take place in LoL esports.
2: SK Telecom T1 vs. Samsung Galaxy (2016)
SK Telecom T1’s finals match against Samsung Galaxy at Worlds 2016 was the team’s third World Championship. After winning Worlds 2013 3-0 and Worlds 2015 3-1, it was SSG who took the series against T1 the full distance of five games for the first time in World Championship finals history.
Samsung Galaxy had a much easier route to the finals, while SK Telecom T1 had defeated ROX Tigers in arguably the best match in LoL esports history in the semifinals one week prior. It was thought that if SKT could beat ROX, then SSG should be little trouble as SKT’s final boss before securing the organization’s third World Championship.
Down 0-2 early, Samsung Galaxy found a weak point to exploit in young SKT jungler SKT jungler Kang "Blank” Sun-gu and evened up the series 2-2 to force a game 5. SKT responded by putting Blank on the bench and bringing in veteran jungler Bae "Bengi" Seong-woong. Bengi had struggled to maintain a LCK level of play on a consistent basis throughout 2016, but SKT went with the steady hand in game 5 as they had in the last two games of the semifinals against ROX Tigers.
Ultimately, it was Bengi who provided the help required for a sputtering T1 to reach the finish line and win the series in what was the most exciting Worlds final in history. The play from SKT was far from clean and well below the level showed in its two previous series’ against ROX Tigers and Royal Never Give Up, but a full five-game series is often what makes for the most entertaining match, and the score was reflected in the theatrical nature of the series’ progression and outcome.
1: EDward Gaming vs. DWG KIA (2021)
The Worlds 2021 finals between EDward Gaming and DWG KIA was the best final in World Championship history. Like the Worlds 2016 finals, the series went all five games, but unlike 2016, the series featured far cleaner player and changes in momentum based on strategic adjustments as opposed to uncharacteristically exploitable mistakes.
This isn’t to say either of EDG or DK played perfectly — one could argue DK’s drafting was their biggest issue in the series — but because of how much more competitive DK’s side of the bracket was in comparison to EDG’s, the universal expectation was for the defending world champion to become the only other team besides T1 to lift the Summoner’s Cup multiple times.
Whereas SKT was given more of a challenge by SSG than expected, but eventually won, DWG KIA was actually exploited by the heavy underdog EDG in consistent fashion.
DWG KIA jungler Kim “Canyon” Geon-bu came into the series in the conversation for the best jungler of all time, but was completely outclassed by the relatively forgotten EDG jungler Zhao "Jiejie" Li-Jie. JieJie, who was benched for performance-related issues as recently as the 2021 LPL Summer Playoffs, ran circles around Canyon and proved himself able to play more than just his trusty Jarvan IV. More often than not, it was JieJie who came up clutch for EDG more than Canyon did for DK.
EDG as a whole deserves praise for their level of play across the map and the consistency in shutting down Canyon and DWG KIA top laner Kim “Khan” Dong-ha, JieJie’s shellacking of Canyon is the beating heart at the center of the greatest upset — and match — in Worlds finals history.
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