League of Legends worlds roundtable: Who has the toughest group?

The group stage and play-in stage for the 2020 League of Legends World Championship are set, and we have more than our fair share of exciting matchups to look forward to. As always, our writers have plenty of thoughts about the upcoming action.

We now have the main event groups. Which would you say is the group of death?

Jacob Wolf: Group D. If MAD Lions qualify from play-in, that group will be them, Top Esports, DRX and FlyQuest. Boy, what a group. I don’t think we’ve ever seen a group so chock-full of some of the best mid laners in the game right now — Zhuo “Knight” Ding, Jeong “Chovy” Ji-hoon, Tristan “PowerOfEvil” Schrage and Marek “Humanoid” Brazda. Holy cow. Just typing that makes me excited.

I think Top and DRX make it out of this one pretty easily. But I hope FlyQuest and MAD can give them a run for their money. That’d make this group even better.

Emily Rand: I think most will point to Group B, by virtue of the fact that both DAMWON Gaming and JD Gaming (two teams that have been named as potential title contenders) were both immediately drawn into that group, followed by Rogue. With either JDG or DAMWON (or both) taking games from each other, it’s probably that group regardless of who qualifies from the play-in stage (either Team Liquid, PSG Talon, or a minor region team).

Tyler Erzberger: I agree with Emily that Group B is the group of death. DAMWON Gaming and JD Gaming are two of the three teams (alongside Top Esports) that I feel are a level above the rest of the competition in Shanghai, and the fact that they’re in the same group almost feels like a death knell for any other team that happens to get stuck with them. I have been a big supporter of Rogue, but DWG and JDG are just different beasts entirely, maybe even more so than what they faced in Europe with G2 Esports.

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Arda Ocal: Well, it definitely isn’t Group A. Group B looks stacked with DAMWON, JD and Rogue, Group D looks menacing with Top Esports and DRX being the favorites; no matter which play-in team joins Flyquest to round out that group, the favorites are already locked in. If LGD make it out of play-ins, they would be put into Group C, which would make it a seemingly Herculean task for TSM, with Fnatic and Gen.G already in their group (side note: our Stats and Information Group let us know that TSM and Fnatic have never met at worlds. Fnatic beat TSM at the 2015 Mid-Season Invitational, which is the only time they’ve met in a major international competition.)

If there’s a group of death, there is often a group of life. Which group is the most wide open?

Rand: If Group of Life is defined by the idea that anyone can make it out, it’s probably going to be Group A. We have G2 Esports, who are highly ranked based on what we know they’re capable of with scrim practice and a lineup that made it to worlds finals last year, but haven’t looked great all year. Then there’s Suning, who didn’t look particularly good (yes, even with their regular-season win rate) until their playoffs and regional qualifying run. Machi, who aren’t going to be favored in this group but could take surprise games off of teams (think J Team beating FunPlus Phoenix in last year’s “group of life” Group B). And lastly Team Liquid or a minor region team, since PSG Talon, MAD Lions, and LGD would all be seeded into different groups to avoid doubling-up on a region. If I’m TL and making it out of play-ins, I’m praying to whatever deity I believe in that I get Group A over Group B.

Wolf: Group C. Assuming LGD makes it out, they’ll fall here, making it Team SoloMid, Fnatic, Gen.G and LGD. I believe that group is much more competitive than people give it credit and while I favor Gen.G and LGD, I don’t think it’s far-fetched for Fnatic or TSM to make it out.

Erzberger: It’s between Group A and C for me (with TL likely to join A and LGD certain to join Group C if they qualify), but I’m going to go with C. I think all four teams in that group, including LGD if they make it, will feel like they have a legitimate chance of making it out as the No. 1 seed. TSM will be breathing a sigh of relief that they dodged JD Gaming, Fnatic will feel confident they can outpace their competition, Gen.G should believe they have the best roster top to bottom of anyone in the group, and LGD should be confident that their mid and jungle duo can get them to the quarterfinals. It’s going to be an exciting group with TSM having the hope of North America most likely once again on their shoulders due to TL and FlyQuest both having tricky draws

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Ocal: By Emily’s definition, Group C is both the Group of Death and Life, because any of those teams could plausibly qualify, especially if LGD join. Group A is the Group of Life for G2 specifically, no matter who joins as the play-in (back to our Stats and Information team for a minute, G2 are 4-9 in worlds history against LPL teams). Group D already has clear favorites, and Rogue have an uphill battle in Group B. I’m also a little salty we didn’t get TSM vs Rogue.

What’s the matchup in the group stage you already have circled as a must-watch affair?

Wolf: Top Esports vs. DRX. Let’s go! For months we’ve been debating Knight vs. Chovy and I’m so glad we’re guaranteed to see it at least twice. Top is a menace, with five players who all deserve praise and the two best solo laners in the world. Meanwhile, playoff DRX looked like the Chovy 1v9 show — although they have Kim “Deft” Hyuk-kyu and Ryu “Keria” Min-seok, who were the best bot lane in the regular season of the LCK. I hope Deft and Keria get back on the saddle so this can be an exciting two matches.

Erzberger: Since Jacob took my obvious answer of getting to see Knight and Chovy throw down finally in the mid lane to see who truly is the best solo laner in the world, I’m going to go with Fnatic vs. TSM. They’re the two most famed western franchises possibly in esports history and when it comes to viewership, both remain king in their respective regions. Though I believe Fnatic has the edge over TSM, I don’t think the matchup is as cut and dry as some fans might like to believe. The matchup in the top lane between Sergen “Broken Blade” Celik and Gabriel “Bwipo” Rau is going to be immense on how this overall war goes between these two sides.

Rand: DAMWON Gaming versus JD Gaming. These are two strong teamfighting teams and where DAMWON has the edge in individual talent, JDG will surprise you with their own understanding of themselves and how to play around their own weaknesses. There’s also the low-key best support matchup of Zuo “LvMao” Ming-Hao and Cho “BeryL” Geon-hee, both of whom perform similar roles for their respective teams and have some interesting champion picks up their sleeves.

Who is one key player that could be the difference between their team making the knockout stage or going home early?

Rand: This is tough for me and I hate questions like this. No team, not even DragonX and the Necromancer Chovy memes can be boiled down to one player. I do think if LGD’s Xie “Langx” Zhen-Ying doesn’t perform as well as he did in playoffs and regionals, then LGD will have issues. I feel similarly about Tim “Nemesis” Lipovsek of Fnatic or Finn “Finn” Wiestal of Rogue in that a slight difference in one direction or the other will affect how their teams play. The best League of Legends teams in the world don’t tend to be the best because they’re absolutely stacked top-to-bottom with the best players in every position, but how well they conform their draft and playstyle to suit their strengths while covering visible weaknesses.

Wolf: Soren “Bjergsen” Bjerg. He’s a cut and then some above Tim “Nemesis” Lipovsek but he’ll have stiff competition in Gwak “Bdd” Bo-seong and presumably Su “xiye” Han-Wei. Mad that we left off Bjergsen from our Top 20 players list? Well, here’s his opportunity to prove us wrong. TSM have a non-zero chance to make it out of the group stage in this group. It’ll take some really high play across the board and their bot lane will need to stabilize but Bjergsen is the key tothat team. It’ll be paramount he’s on his A game.

Ocal: I’ll expand on Jacob’s TSM pick and say Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng. He hasn’t had the best year, but has shown up when it mattered the most, particularly on his Senna in the postseason. On TSM this time around he has less spotlight on him, which seems to suit him more. Like Jacob said Bjergsen has been the shining star of TSM in many games, especially during this most recent run to another split title. Mingyi “Spica” Lu and Sergen “Broken Blade” Celik have been bright spots as well. If Doublelift and his longtime reunited bot lane partner Vincent “Biofrost” Wang can step up at Worlds, it will be a game changer for TSM. They already have strong competition in bot lane with Fnatic’s Martin “Rekkles” Larsson and Zdravets Iliev “Hylissang” Galabov, as well as Gen.G’s Park “Ruler” Jae-hyuk and Kim “Life” Jeong-min.

Erzberger: I’ll go with Team Liquid’s Mads “Broxah” Brock-Pedersen. He’s had an up-and-down first year on Liquid and this is his chance to turn everything around in an instant. First things first, they need to get out of the play-ins, but if they can survive the qualifiers, they could find themselves in Group A with G2, Suning and Machi, which isn’t insurmountable. But for TL to have any chance of doing anything in Shanghai, Broxah is going to need to turn the clock back to the 2018 world championship when he was the catalyst to Fnatic making a grand finals appearance through his aggressive jungling and lack of fear to go up against any jungler thrown at him. Right now, TL plays at a snail’s pace compared to almost every single team in Shanghai, and unless Broxah leads the charge for some kind of quickened pace, there’s a possibility TL don’t even make it out of the play-ins.

Which four teams do you think will escape the play-in stage to advance into the main event?

Rand: I’m going to go LGD Gaming, Team Liquid, MAD Lions, and Unicorns of Love.

Wolf: Prior to the draw show, I thought it’d be Team Liquid, MAD Lions, LGD Gaming and either SuperMassive or Unicorns of Love. Now knowing the plays-in, I think that’s right but I favor Unicorns over SuperMassive because of the draw. I think Unicorns have a better chance of getting out of Play-In Group B than SuperMassive do getting through MAD Lions or Liquid to qualify out.

Additionally I think that the Commonwealth of Independent States is one of the best minor regions. I’m sure many people will remember Albus Nox Luna in 2016, when they made it all the way to the quarterfinals, but the region feels like it’s only grown since then.

Ocal: Give me MAD Lions, Unicorns of Love and LGD Gaming progressing. Team Liquid and Supermassive play for that final spot. If they played 100 times, Tl would win more, but anything can happen on the day. It’s Worlds!

Erzberger: LGD Gaming should breeze to a No. 1 spot in their qualifier group and gain automatic advancement into Group C alongside TSM, Fnatic and Gen. G. Other than LGD, though, it could get messy, and that includes the MAD Lions who were on top of the European standings for a majority of the summer split. When push comes to shove, however, I’ll go with LGD, MAD, Team Liquid and the Unicorns making it to the main event.