At a world championship where nearly all pre-tournament expectations have been shattered, League of Legends teams G2 Esports and Invictus Gaming are yet another unlikely semifinals matchup, even more so than Cloud9 and Fnatic.
Although iG razed through both regular LoL Pro League splits with phenomenal records and sometimes blistering game times, they were not a pre-worlds favorite in the same vein as KT Rolster (whom iG beat in the quarterfinals), Afreeca Freecs (who were swept by Cloud9) and Royal Never Give Up (who were beaten by G2). Those that watched iG throughout the year were fairly down on them going into this tournament, especially after their most recent 3-2 loss to RNG in the summer finals. The thought was that the semifinals would be about as far as they could go, depending on how the bracket stage draw went.
In particular, iG's regular-season success was owed to the team's red-side draft, Song "Rookie" Eui-jin's individual mid lane prowess and strong laning from the team's two top laners, Lee "Duke" Ho-seong and Kang "TheShy" Seung-lok. For as much talk as there was about bot laner Yu "JackeyLove" Wen-Bo's first full competitive year -- in many ways he was the final puzzle piece -- iG's style was, and remains, driven by the team's solo laners more than anything else. Pushing lanes allows jungler Gao "Ning" Zhen-Ning to escape punishment on many of his riskier invades. They also make room for Rookie to roam bot side and give iG often insurmountable leads over their opponents.
There was never any doubt that iG lacked talent, but they didn't look like a cohesive team, especially when it came to later stages of the game. Although iG improved their teamfighting this past summer, their midgame decision-making, lane assignments and vision control were loose. Members of the team admitted after their finals loss to RNG that the team still needed to work on their mentality, and not crumbling after a loss. Many expected these gaps in iG's gameplan to be exploited by other teams, and on Group D's final day of competition, Fnatic pulled iG apart to claim the first seed, despite iG's 3-0 first round robin record.
Meanwhile, G2 was not the expected third seed to represent the European League Championship Series. Summer finalist Schalke 04 was favored in their gauntlet matchup, and G2's win was thanks in large part to their two solo laners: top laner Martin "Wunder" Hansen and mid laner Luka "Perkz" Perković. In their gauntlet run, a then-shaky G2 showed the first signs of what they could become at the upcoming world championship. They started perfecting their 1-3-1 setups, leaving bot laner Petter "Hjarnan" Freyschuss on waveclear picks like Heimerdinger and Varus, along with Jhin.
For all of the fuss that's been made about banning out Hjarnan's Heimerdinger, first as pervasive meme humor poking fun at G2's playstyle -- "Hjarnan isn't that bad" was a common sentiment found on the broadcast during the play-in stage -- the bot laner's slightly off-meta pick has opened up the draft for G2 to focus around their two solo laners even more. While opponents doubled-down on ensuring that Hjarnan would lose on the bot side draft, the team was able to secure strong picks for Perkz and Wunder. G2 became known as a team that almost solely focused on top side. This was a slight knock against them in their series against Infinity Esports, where it seemed if Wunder couldn't get ahead and either split or teleport in to join the team and turn around a teamfight, G2 would falter. Yet the team again adapted and adjusted, continuing along the same path they had started earlier this year: perfect the 1-3-1 and let Hjarnan soak up a few target bans in draft.
Now, these two teams meet in an interesting matchup of solo lane prowess. Although JackeyLove was the missing piece to propel iG to stunning regular-season records, he's not the primary focal point of iG's gameplan. That position belongs to Rookie in the mid lane. They also rely on TheShy to get ahead in his own laning matchups, as seen in an electrifying Game 3 where TheShy put on a Fiora clinic against KT Rolster in a narrow game loss. Throughout their own worlds run, G2 have only looked better and better at setting up their own 1-3-1 gameplans, which makes this an enticing matchup that's sure to have interesting drafts, and individual laning outplays.