With four and a half weeks left in the 2018 LPL Summer Split regular season, fans are anticipating which of their favorite teams might qualify to the League of Legends World Championship. Many of the usual suspects are competing for this year’s slots, with a few new organizations disrupting the status quo. The LPL is riding a wave of momentum that hopefully culminates into something great.
Last year, Royal Never Give Up, Team WE, and Edward Gaming graced the stage, representing China against the world’s best. With the home crowd advantage, these three brought the LPL to its highest Worlds finishes since 2014. RNG and WE made it all the way to semifinals, where they both lost to the LCK for third-fourth. EDG finished twelfth-thirteenth after losing out in Group stage. All three of these organizations returned to the LPL this year and are trying to reach those same heights.
Royal Never Give Up
RNG became China’s crown jewel last year, finishing second in Spring and Summer Split, helping win Rift Rivals versus the LCK, winning the Demacia Cup, and finishing third-fourth at Worlds in a five-game series versus SKT. That sentiment has carried over into 2018 and grown, with a string of tournament wins: LPL Spring Split, Demacia Cup, Mid-Season Invitational, and Rift Rivals. Granting Uzi his first domestic title and international victory brought wide-ranging international attention to the organization.
Summer Split has not been as exciting for RNG. They sit in third place in Group A, within one win of JD Gaming and Invictus Gaming. These three contenders are four wins ahead of the pack, not in danger of falling farther down the standings. With Rogue Warriors the clear leader in Group B, RNG has three other teams to compete for the summer title.
RNG’s summer weakness involves the meta and their roster. They consistently substitute their top and jungle players, Uzi is resting, and Zz1tai even role-swapped to bottom lane for a few games. Similar to Fnatic’s Rekkles in Europe, RNG does not necessarily need to play Uzi while traditional marksmen are out of favor for mages and bruisers in the duo lane. Xiaohu and Ming are the players participating in every single game.
That being said, RNG do not really have to worry about qualifying to 2018 Worlds. With their spring win and current standings, RNG would have to completely tank playoffs to miss it. They hold 90 championship points, meaning they need to finish third or lower, EDG or RW needs to finish above them (without actually winning), and RNG would need to lose to lose to whomever remains in the Regional Qualifier. RNG is the safest bet to make Worlds this year for the LPL. Judging from their last year and a half of performance, expect this eight-man roster to make a deep run again.
At their peak, WE looked like China’s best team in 2017. They smashed RNG 3-0 in the Spring Split finals, finished one win behind SKT in the 2017 MSI group stage, and beat every team except RNG at least once in the Summer Split. However, WE also lost to G2 in the MSI semifinals, finished fifth-eighth in the Demacia Cup, and finished fourth in summer playoffs before scraping by with a 3-2 win over IG to qualify as third seed.
As third seed, WE had to compete in the play-ins at Worlds. They dusted the field, going undefeated 7-0. WE continued to perform well through the main event group stage, topping Group D and only dropping one game to TSM. Cloud9 put up a fight in the quarterfinals with WE winning 3-2, but Samsung ended their streak in semifinals by winning 3-1. China’s second and third seeds finished third-fourth in the world.
For the 2018 Spring Split, Team WE hovered around the middle of the pack in the LPL’s West Region. Due to the death of Condi’s father, the jungler took frequent breaks from competition, leaving WE to start Melon and Magic. They also brought Celestial off the bench as Support to start over Ben partway through the split. The team could not match their 2017 performance, finishing 9-10 and missing playoffs altogether.
Scrambling to improve, WE made several roster changes for Summer Split. Pepper, Gentle, Imp, and Missing joined, while Zero moved to coaching, Celestial renamed to 694, and Magic and Melon left. These roster changes have actually lowered WE’s performance, currently sitting in seventh (last) within the West Region at 2-10. Xiye has been the only consistent member to start and actually perform up to standards this entire year. With no championship points and a 17 percent win rate, Team WE will unfortunately miss Worlds 2018.
By winning the 2017 LPL Summer Split, EDG qualified to Worlds as China’s first seed. However, most recognized them as the weakest LPL team entering the event. Few expected EDG to miss the bracket stage, though. Tying AHQ with a 2-4 record, EDG finished third place in Group A. They let down the home crowd against a relatively easy group.
For 2018, EDG brought on Ray to replace Mouse and Haro to start over Clearlove. Over the course of the split, they battled Snake and Bilibili Gaming for the top three slots. By finishing the last few weeks 7-1, EDG was able to clinch first place in the West Region to seed directly into semifinals. Scout finished the regular season in first as match MVP, but ultimately lost the vote to Rookie. EDG won semifinals 3-1 versus Rogue Warriors, but lost 1-3 in the finals to RNG. The second place finish granted EDG 70 championship points.
EDG’s roster remained for Summer Split, which has been decent. They tied for first in the West Region by week five, but an 0-2 week six brought them back to second behind Rogue Warriors. Clearlove was starting at the beginning of the split, but Haro has resumed starting in recent weeks. Overall, EDG has a solid chance of making Worlds for their fifth straight year, but they need a high finish. The top five Spring Split finishers are still at the top of the standings. EDG needs another late-split push to finish ahead of RW, IG, and RNG.
Challengers for 2018 Worlds Slots
With WE definitely out of the running for Worlds 2018, several new challengers are rising. RNG and EDG currently hold the most championship points, so a first or second place from either of them will secure a seed. Rogue Warriors (50 points) and Invictus Gaming (30 points) are next in the running to punch their ticket to Korea, as both of these teams are currently leading their respective groups.
RW is new to the Rift in 2018. Mouse, Doinb, Smlz, and Steak are some of the well-known names who joined Flawless and Killua to form the team this year. They have certainly made a splash, as RW finished second in the East Region for Spring Split, above RNG and JD Gaming. Through playoffs they defeated Bilibili 3-2, then lost to EDG 1-3. RW then won the third place match against IG, granting 50 championship points.
Right now, RW leads the West Region, including EDG and Snake, by four wins. A high playoffs finish puts them in the running to qualify to Worlds on points, or, at the very least, gives them a deep start for the gauntlet.
IG is their other main competitor. They finished seventh-eighth in the 2017 Spring Split, then picked it up in summer when they added TheShy, Ning, and West. IG rotated Duke and TheShy throughout the split, utilizing their individual strengths and weaknesses to rise to third within Group A. They moved into playoffs and beat Suning Gaming and OMG, before losing 2-3 to EDG. IG took the 3-2 win over WE for third place. However, WE took revenge in the gauntlet in a 3-2 win for the third Worlds seed.
2018 has seen IG even stronger, only dropping one game in the Spring Split regular season. Preeminent AD carry Jackeylove finally reached an appropriate age to start for the team, replacing West. IG entered playoffs auto-seeded to semifinals, where RNG upset them 3-2. They also lost the third place match to RW, finishing the season fourth for 30 points.
So far this summer, IG is leading the East Region, but only by one win. They are potentially the strongest team in China, but their playoffs failure has set them back. If they perform up to standards, then they could win the split as first seed or win the gauntlet for third seed. Second seed is highly unlikely.