The 2019 League of Legends World Championship Group Stage has come to a close. 16 teams participated in the Group Stage, and now that the dust has settled, only 8 teams are headed to the Knockout Stage. Let's take a look back at the highlights and takeaways from the games over the past nine days before the competition continues next weekend in Madrid.
LCK Returns to Form
The 2018 World Championship was the worst international performance in the history of Korean League of Legends. KT Rolster and Afreeca Freecs failed to make it past Quarterfinals, and Gen.G died in its group with a 1-5 record. At the 2019 Mid-Season Inivtational, SK Telecom T1 put up a good fight against G2 Esports in the Semifinals, but a top 4 finish is barely above a failure for historically the greatest region in LoL Esports.
A strong performance from the LCK at Worlds 2019 was crucial to the restoration of South Korea's honor on the international stage. SKT, Griffin, and DAMWON Gaming delivered on those hopes in spades. All 3 Korean teams secured the 1st seeds in their respective groups at a total record of 16-3, each team with only one loss. DAMWON Gaming looked less than stellar in qualifying through the Play-In, but looked much more like the 3rd LCK seed in Group D, finishing 1st with a 5-1 record.
Griffin got off to an expectedly shaky start in Group A, but kicked it up a notch in its second round robin. Not only did Griffin go undefeated its second time around Group A, but it beat G2 Esports twice in the same day to secure the 1st seed in the group wth a record of 6-1.
SK Telecom T1 looks every bit the favorite it was expected to be coming into the World Championship. Aside from dropping a game to a surging Fnatic in Group C's second round robin, SKT looked near invincible on its way to the group's 1st seed.
SKT Mid Laner Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok has returned to the Worlds stage triumphantly. Through 6 games, the Unkillable Demon King boasts a 5.5 KDA, 26.4% of team's total damage dealt, 9.6 CS per minute, and 63.1% kill participation. In typical Faker fashion, he accomplished this in a myriad of ways on completely different styles of champion. Faker split his record on Akali, and also won a game each on Twisted Fate, Tristana, Camille, and his signature Ryze.
In carving the already talented SKT Jungler Kim "Clid" Tae-min into a diamond with his massive early game pressure and wealth of competitive experience, Faker has done more than in his part to make SKT the most fearsome team in the tournament.
LEC makes history
The 2019 LoL Esports season has experienced EUphoria at an all-time high, and the past few days did nothing to deviate from that pattern. For the first time in the history of League of Legends, all three Worlds representatives from EU have qualified for the knockout stage.
G2 Esports came hot out of the gate in Group A, sweeping its first round robin with an exceptionally clean game against Griffin. However, the reigning international titleholder would have to settle for the Group A's 2nd seed as Griffin came alive in the second round robin. Still, even after losing the tie-breaker, G2 finished the Group Stage with a record of 5-2, which is far from a disappointing performance.
Splyce was expected to have a chance at escaping from Group B due to the overall weaker level of the group when compared to the others, but Splyce did little to inspire that confidence in its first round robin with a 1-2 record. Splyce made much more of its second round robin, taking full advantage of the opportunity of an underwhelming Funplus Phoenix to sweep the group 3-0.
Splyce faced off against FPX for the third time in a tie-breaker for the 1st seed after both teams had qualified for the Knockout Stage, but lost narrowly and settled for the 2nd seed inGroup B. This marks new territory for the Splyce organization; the team's only other Worlds run in 2016 ended in groups.
Fnatic had a tall task in its second round robin. Its first time through Group C, it only managed a win against Clutch Gaming. Losses to SK Telecom T1 and Royal Never Give Up could be understood in certain contexts, but Fnatic's form did not inspire any hope for its chances to escape the group.
Fnatic did what it is has become known best for at the World Championship, and that's not an 'Xpeke' reference. The old kings of Europe powered up in week 2, gaining momentum by first narrowly defeating Clutch Gaming for a second time. Fnatic then proved that gods bleed and struck down SKT at a breakneck pace. Surging, Fnatic dispatched of RNG in a do-or-die match for Group C's 2nd seed, exposing the Chinese side's one-dimensional style of play in dynamic fashion.
Fnatic didn't just qualify for the Knockout Stage for the sixth time in seven World Championship appearances, it also exorcised a demon for one of its most decorated veterans. Before the final game of Group C, Fnatic possessed a 1-9 record against RNG, and Martin "Rekkles" Larson had been in the Bot Lane for every single one of those games against Jian "Uzi" Zi-Hao. In denying Royal Never Give Up a top 8 placing at Worlds for the first time, Fnatic extinguished a recurring nightmare.
The Magic Runs Out
Mages appeared in place of Marksmen a fair amount in the Bot Lane throughout the Group Stage of Worlds 2019, but the wizards had far less success than predicted when compared to the more traditional AD Carry champions. While this may be expected from the likes of Team Liquid's Yiliang "Doublelift" Peng or Uzi, even Luka "Perkz" Perković hit his peaks for G2 on Xayah throughout the Group Stage
Fnatic's round 2 turnaround in Group C was also highlighted by Rekkles' change in champion picks. In Fnatic's first three games, Rekkles went 1-2 on mages. He is currently undefeated on marksmen at Worlds 2019.
Most notable is the near-complete disappearance of Syndra. Throughout the entirety of the Worlds 2019 Play-In and the first half of the main event's Group Stage, Syndra was picked or banned in 95% of games; her flexibility as a Bot Laner and Mid Laner, consistent laning, and waveclear seemed to have made her some sort of compositional chameleon that could always be trusted to fit in somewhere by the end of a draft.
In the 26 games since, the Dark Sovereign has only been picked once in the Bot Lane and five times total despite only being banned in 11 of the remaining 20 games.
For the first time since 2015, all three North American representatives failed to qualify for the Knockout Stage at the World Championship. Both times this has happened, the World Championship has taken place in Europe.
Clutch Gaming put forth a valiant effort, trying to change up its style of play after going 0-3 in its first round robin of Group C and continuing to do its damndest to play proactively, but it wasn't enough to stop an 0-6 exit. Cloud9, who had qualified for Quarterfinals at every Worlds since 2013 sans the aforementioned 2015, looked out of sorts in more ways than one and finished 2-4 in Group A.
Team Liquid, expected to get out of its group as the Pool 1 Group D team, lost to Invictus Gaming in the final do-or-die match of the Group Stage. The defending World Champions would not be denied a shot at defending its throne, and for yet another year, the Worlds Knockout Stage has eluded Doublelift and rest of Team Liquid.
Despite not having played on stage since the 2019 LPL Summer Playoffs, Invictus Gaming made the decision to sub Gao "Ning" Zhen-Ning in the Jungle for the second round robin. While Ning's 2-1 score and specific match results line up with rookie Jungler Lu "Leyan" Jue, the performances differed dramatically, most specifically in the final Group D match against Team Liquid.
In IG's first match against TL, the North American side controlled the pace of the game for nearly its entirety before making a single mistake to throw the game back into the favor of the LPL representative. However, with the veteran in the Jungle, IG walloped Team Liquid convincingly.
Ning may not reclaim the form that awarded earned him MVP in Invictus Gaming's 2018 World Championship Grand Finals victory over Fnatic, but the closer he is able to get should he continue to start, the more likely IG's chances will be of keeping its crown.
This is Not Sparta
Due to the exceptional power of his re-work, Pantheon was expected to be making plenty of appearances at the 2019 World Championship Group Stage. However, thus far, the only thing The Unbreakable Spear has done is take a break. Pantheon was banned in 100% of Group Stage games, and every single time, he has been banned in the first rotation on red side.
Pantheon's new digs make him a little too dangerous to let onto the rift: a triple flex pick with a winning laning phase, global ultimate pressure, split-push potential, and a kit with invulnerability and a stun, it's simply too dangerous to allow Pantheon to be potentially first picked.
There is a chance that teams fear Pantheon a tad too much, and that while he may be one of the most powerful picks in the current meta, he may not be deserving of a 100% ban rate, let alone in a solely uniform trend. However, at this point in the tournament, it's more than likely teams saw enough of the spartan in the Play-In and would rather not find out what he could do in potentially more capable hands.
What Comes Next
The Quarterfinals will kick off in Madrid, Spain on Saturday, October 26th. The match between Griffin and Invictus Gaming, as well as the match between FunPlus Phoenix and Fnatic, will take place on Saturday. On Sunday, Splyce will play David to SK Telecom T1's Goliath before G2 and DAMWON Gaming close out the Quarterfinals.
The winners of the first and third matches will play against one another in the Semifinals, as will the winners of the second and forth matches, which will both take place in Madrid from November 2nd to November 3rd.
The two remaining teams will go to Paris to face off in the Worlds 2019 Grand Finals on Sunday, November 10th to decide who is crowned the League of Legends World Champion.