The League of Legends World Championship semifinals are right around the corner, which means it's reflection time. Let's look back on the quarterfinals to see who impressed and who disappointed.
Best team of quarterfinals
Emily Rand: No semifinalist team performed perfectly, and none of them looks to be significantly above the rest. While Invictus Gaming obviously have the talent to win worlds, their synergy is still lacking; many of their wins still come from insane individual mechanical outplays. I liked watching SK Telecom T1's approach at early-game-focused compositions and pushing lanes, but their execution left a lot to be desired, so this ended up being a tough choice between FunPlus Phoenix and G2 Esports.
Ultimately for this category, I chose G2 over FunPlus due to how much leeway FunPlus was given by Fnatic in draft to play their style. Before the G2 vs. Damwon series, I said that all G2 had to do was execute their game plan at a slightly better level than group stage due to their superior flexibility, experience and game knowledge. They did just that, despite a few "happy games" from select G2 players. They'll have to clean this up before going up against SKT, but it should be an amazing semifinals matchup.
Tyler Erzberger: This is a tough category to choose from when all four teams remaining ended with the same scoreline (3-1) and we're left with the most stacked final four in world championship history. We have SK Telecom T1, South Korea's champion and the winningest franchise in game history. FunPlus Phoenix are the reigning champion of China, which has the most depth and player base. Europe's G2 Esports not only are the champions of their home domestic league but also the 2019 Mid-Season Invitational. And then, for good measure, we're throwing in Invictus Gaming. While not China's champion, they are still your reigning and defending world champions from 2018.
If I had to narrow the list down from four, though, based off just quarterfinals, I'm giving it to G2. They had, in my opinion, the toughest task in the opening knockout round with an in-form and rapidly improving Damwon Gaming. G2 neutralized the youngsters, improved from how they played in the group stages, and forced an inexperienced Damwon into high-pressure situations.
Ashley Kang: It is impossible to single out one "best" team at worlds. SK Telecom T1 looked like the clear favorites after the group stage. However T1 in the quarterfinals looked lost in their draft priorities and star mid laner Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok seemed to stumble even on his comfort picks Ryze and Azir. Meanwhile, G2 Esports returned to their MSI-winning form, and the two LPL teams, FunPlus and iG, both stepped up after underperforming in the group stage.
Four teams remain at worlds. Three of these teams -- T1, FunPlus and G2 -- are first seeds of their respective regions. The fourth team, iG, is the defending world champion. There is no favorite or a clear "best team" going into this weekend, a testimony on how competitive this tournament continues to be.
Adel Chouadria: Although all quarterfinals winners performed well when ahead, G2 Esports stood out for their ability to gain leads from the draft onward. After they isolated key matchups, they executed their game plan near perfection (Game 2 vs. Damwon notwithstanding).
G2 escalated their games into unrecoverable states for opponents within the first 15 minutes in all three victories (sometimes sooner). Although they showed lapses in their execution, those errors were ultimately cause for laughs at the expense of those that blundered (I shall remember Mihael "mikyx" Mehle's Nautilus antics in Game 4).
SK Telecom T1 were the second most impressive team despite Splyce holding them to a stalemate. T1 stands in G2's way to a finals performance, and possibly Europe's first title since before South Korea and China developed their League of Legends scenes.
Standout player of quarterfinals
Rand: There are so many phenomenal individual players left in this tournament that any one of them could be highlighted as a standout player. Similar to the "best team" category, I had a tough time deciding between G2's Luka "Perkz" Perković, Liu "Crisp" Qing-Song and Kang "TheShy" Seung-lok. Ultimately I chose Crisp because his and jungler Gao "Tian" Tian-Liang's strengths are what set up FunPlus for success. Crisp had remarkable performances in the group stages, and only looked better in quarterfinals, showcasing once again how Tahm Kench is an LPL staple for diving and aggression rather than reaction.
Erzberger: At this moment, Kang "TheShy" Seung-lok is the best player at the world championship and it might not be necessarily close. I thought he had an almost perfect group stage, aside from a few overeager split-push moments, and was even better in the quarterfinals. It'll be highlighted that he didn't have the stiffest competition -- Griffin's starting top laner Choi "Sword" Sung-won was outmatched from the opening whistle of the series -- but that doesn't change the fact TheShy has been the world's best top laner for over a year at this point, and he's only getting better. Only a few select players since League of Legends launched have had the same mystique around them as TheShy currently has in terms of his mechanics and strength. A second world title, back-to-back, would more than likely confirm his place as not only the best top laner in the world but the best top laner ever in League of Legends.
Kang: When Invictus Gaming defeated Griffin 3-1 last Sunday, TheShy was clearly the standout player of the team and quarterfinals. TheShy was a level above the opponent top laner Sword in every aspect, from lane pressure to playmaking to impacting major teamfights. In the fourth game, TheShy's Kleptomancy Kayle was ahead in creep score (CS) against Sword's Electrocution Jayce. In the end, iG was able to successfully snowball from this top side lead and tear Griffin's game plan apart.
Chouadria: Invictus Gaming have advanced to an all-LPL semifinal against FunPlus Phoenix, and they owe that to their top laner, TheShy. Beyond his laning ability or his mechanical proficiency, he stood out for his game impact and for his reliably high-quality play at all stages of the game.
As he held the fort in the top lane on Yasuo and Kayle -- two picks other top laners have failed to leverage in lane -- he forced Griffin into uncomfortable team fight situations. His Kayle play was particularly noteworthy, as he set himself (and sometimes Yu "JackeyLove" Wen-bo) up for success.
Although other top laners Martin "Wunder" Hansen and Kim "Khan" Dong-ha stand strong on the other side of the bracket, TheShy has cemented himself as the strongest top laner, and strongest player, in the tournament so far. Whether this distinction will stand the test of time (and lift third-seed Invictus Gaming to their second world championship in a row) remains to be seen.
Rand: One of the triumphs of the group stage was Fnatic's unlikely second round robin 3-0 performance that knocked Royal Never Give Up out of the tournament. With Fnatic, RNG and T1 touted as three of the strongest teams, Fnatic's group stage run seemed a harbinger of semifinals placement at least, especially given the performance of their quarterfinals opponent, FunPlus, in the group stages. Instead, Fnatic looked completely flat, giving the LPL first seed everything they needed in draft to shut down Fnatic completely. Outside of giving Kim "Doinb" Tae-sang free rein over the map with Ryze in three of their four games, Fnatic also couldn't match the support/jungle duo of Tian and Crisp. After such a strong performance on their final day of groups, this was not the manner in which we expected Fnatic to go out.
Erzberger: Because Splyce admirably fought against T1 and G2 handled Damwon, Fnatic's fall in the quarterfinals has almost been overlooked. Europe's No. 2 seed took G2 to the brink twice in the most recent European domestic playoffs, and was coming off a magical final day of group stages by running the gantlet of Clutch Gaming, SKT and Royal Never Give Up. Then Fnatic draw what looks to be a vulnerable top seed in FunPlus Phoenix and seem almost lifeless through the four-game series, even with the hometown Madrid crowd backing them the entire way. They let Doinb's best carry champion, Ryze, through the draft continually, and the man nicknamed "super carry" did just that.
Fnatic fans had an entire year of mulling over their loss in the world final to Invictus Gaming and were a match away from rematching them in the semifinals. It'll be another year before they get another chance to see their team possibly at the world championship.
Kang: According to rumors, Damwon had overwhelmingly favorable scrim results against G2. However, when it came to a best-of-five scenario, G2 composure and flexibility outshined the raw strength of Damwon and ended their worlds run.
Despite the defeat, Damwon can return to the LCK with their heads held up high. They ascended from Challengers Korea to worlds quarterfinals in the period of 12 months. Individuals in Damwon such as Jang "Nuguri" Ha-gwon and Heo "ShowMaker" Su have already proved their mechanical prowess on the biggest stage of the year. If this roster stays together and builds up more experience and teamwork, I will not be surprised to see this them return to worlds next year.
Chouadria: Fnatic entered as the favorites against FunPlus Phoenix for good reason: on paper, they had the stronger bot lane duo in lane, and they could leverage Gabriël "Bwipo" Rau in favorable matchups to take over games. However, the European second seed flopped, leaving much to "what-ifs."
What if Fnatic executed the bot lane play better in Game 1, after setting a camp around Bwipo's Rengar -- a camp that never materialized? How about a dive at the 5:50 mark in Game 2, where their 4 vs. 3 bot lane dive yielded a humbling 1-for-4 tradeoff in FunPlus' favor?
Perhaps those games would have gone very differently; Fun Plus' side lanes would have been shut down, allowing Tim "Nemesis" Lipovsek to mitigate Doinb's impact. Instead, Fnatic emerged only for Game 3, before fading away in Game 4.
Rand: This is where people usually pick one standout play, but I'm picking any Doinb Ryze performance against Fnatic. If you want to know why this champion is banned so frequently against FunPlus Phoenix, look no further than how Doinb uses Ryze not only to affect his team's side lanes, but transform teamfights into more advantageous smaller skirmishes by repositioning himself or his teammates.
Erzberger: This might be a bit of a cop-out answer, but it was the crowd. I've been to previous world championships and this was one of the best crowds I've witnessed in my years covering esports. The fans were there early and loud from even before the official broadcast began. Though two of their three European teams fell, they gave standing ovations to both their fallen heroes and the victors. If the quarterfinals are anything to base things off of, then the upcoming semifinals in the same venue are going to be electric.
Kang: My highlight moment of the quarterfinals came from Splyce, the third seed of the LEC. Despite coming in as the underdogs in their match against SK Telecom T1, Splyce put up a worthy fight and even took a game. After the series, the Splyce players walked up to the Palacio Vistalegre stage and bowed as much-deserved applause broke out from the Spanish crowd.
Chouadria: After suffering two defeats against SK Telecom T1, Splyce were in a do-or-die situation: get thumped in a 3-0 sweep, or bite back and expose weaknesses within SK Telecom T1's gameplay. Their Game 3 allowed them to do the latter and they controlled the game from the get-go. T1 tried to recover, but an individual play eventually decided the outcome of that game.
Kasper "Kobbe" Kobberup's timing on Zhonya's Hourglass to counterplay Kim "Clid" Tae-min's Skarner pick attempt won Splyce the game. Timing it at the same time as Clid's Flash, he fooled his opponent into thinking that he landed the ultimate, indirectly creating enough space to escape the assassination and causing Clid's overextension.
Splyce bowed down after four games, but they did so as near equals in the end.