Farewell to worlds' 'group of death'

T1 stand tall after qualifying for the quarterfinals at the League of Legends World Championship. Courtesy of Riot Games

BERLIN -- If there's one argument for a better format and seeding for the League of Legends World Championship, look no further than this year's Group C. As soon as Royal Never Give Up, Fnatic and T1 were placed in the same group, fans and analysts began calling it the "group of death."

Every worlds has a group of death, but this year's was particularly painful as all three teams made a case that they could be quarterfinalists. Perhaps people will disagree with this statement regarding RNG, but people similarly disagreed with my statement that Fnatic were a stronger team than people gave them credit for after Week 1 of worlds group play. Based on the collective performances of both teams at worlds, RNG and Fnatic are closely matched. I would have thoroughly enjoyed watching them in a best-of-five. Similarly, I would have enjoyed watching a best-of-five between T1 and RNG. Again, these two teams were actually quite closely matched in the group stage, although history will remember only T1's 2-0 record against RNG at this year's world championship.

Instead, RNG will go home, while Fnatic will advance. Here's a sendoff for RNG, and congratulations to both T1 and Fnatic.

Royal Never Give Up

Before the day began, RNG's shocking 2018 quarterfinals loss to G2 Esports played on the big screen at the Verti Music Hall. It was an ominous harbinger of what was to come. After another close loss to T1, RNG went 1-2 on the day, while Fnatic were undefeated. You can blame their drafts. You can blame subpar performances by key individuals on the team. But you cannot say that RNG is a bad team. Furthermore, looking at some of the other performances in the group stage thus far, it's difficult to make the case that RNG wouldn't have gotten out of the group stage if they had been in another group.

Watching RNG drop out this early hurts as a follower of the LoL Pro League, though it's a different pain than watching KT Rolster lose as a fan of KT. RNG's success over the past year has done a lot for the LPL and China. Bot laner Jian "Uzi" Zi-Hao admitted earlier this year in an interview that he has chronic health issues from playing League of Legends that will only worsen over time. If this is the last year we see such an amazing player at an international League of Legends competition, then competitive LoL will certainly be worse for his absence.

In the LPL teaser set to worlds theme song "Phoenix," Royal Never Give Up walked with a golden path behind them. Last year, they won every available title in competitive LoL save the Summoner's Cup. This year has been a series of struggles compared to RNG's usual success, and now, for the first time in the organization's history, they're out before reaching the quarterfinals.

T1 (the team formerly known as SK Telecom T1)

T1's place in the quarterfinals was all but locked up before they loaded into their game against RNG. After another close victory, they qualified and appeared to be a lock for first place in the group as well.

Yet Fnatic, and mid laner Tim "Nemesis" Lipovšek's Veigar pick, showcased that T1 can still be routed if they're thrown off-guard. RNG showed that T1 still have holes in all stages of the game that can be exploited if T1's opponent is smarter and quicker on the rotation (hint: this was definitely not RNG today).

What's most impressive about T1 coming into this event is that they obviously did a significant amount of preparation, identified weaknesses in their own play and adjusted for them. The end result is a T1 that's a bit more proactive and spreads map pressure better than many of their LoL Champions Korea games would have suggested. Given their success in changing their playstyle a bit going into this group stage, T1 should be able to further work on these issues in the break between groups and quarters, and they should be considered a favorite to win their fourth world championship.


Saving the best narrative for last, Fnatic are the kings of the day. T1 might have claimed the top seed, but no team shined like Fnatic, who pulled off a remarkable 3-0 second round robin comeback, living up to their own organization's history despite roster changes and obvious internal struggles that played out on Summoner's Rift at times in the LoL European Championship.

While the lengthy slugfest against Clutch Gaming in their first game of the day didn't instill confidence in the analysts or audience, it did instill confidence in the members of Fnatic. Momentum is often a dodgy or dirty word when it comes to analysis because it's so nebulous, but confidence has proved to make teams less mistake-prone.

What we saw from Fnatic today was not only a growing confidence, but a team that adjusted. Martin "Rekkles" Larsson played traditional AD carries. Zdravets "Hylissang" Iliev Galabov roamed more frequently, affecting other lanes and map pressure. And when jungler Mads "Broxah" Brock-Pedersen chose a focal point on the map, he seemed to always choose the correct place to be for his team.

As Rekkles finally overcame his mental block against Uzi, won the last game of the day and walked to center stage for an interview, he teared up. In the back of the auditorium, a group of Fnatic fans sobbed and hugged each other.