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A reality check for LCS teams at Worlds 2019

No North American teams made top eight at Worlds

Korea, Europe and China have eliminated all of North America’s teams from the 2019 League of Legends World Championship. Just as fast as we got to see Team Liquid, Cloud9 and Clutch Gaming take on the best teams in the world, we got to see them fail, and fall and, ultimately, disappoint. None of the LCS teams were in top-eight shape, unfortunately. 

As the annual discussion begins surrounding how to improve as a region, it’s important to reflect on what North America did right and wrong. With the taste of defeat fresh in the mouths of LCS fans, it’s very easy to tunnel onto the worst individual mistakes of the tournament and ignore anything positive. While there were obvious problems that held back North America’s teams, they mostly performed to expectations. 

Clutch Gaming was North America's third seed at Worlds.
Image from LoL Esports Flickr

CLUTCH GAMING

It’s so easy to see Clutch’s 0-6 scoreline and immediately sense failure. Huni and Cody Sun made it to Worlds on three different teams. Tanner Time! The momentum of fighting from ninth place in Spring Split to fourth place in Summer Playoffs to winning over TSM in the gauntlet made it seem like Clutch would be unpredictable at Worlds 2019. 

But, at the end of the day, they got placed in a difficult group and got exposed. Sure, one upset win over SK Telecom or Fnatic or Royal Never Give Up would have been the affirmation Clutch fans needed. That one win would have served as a higher mountain top than a 3-0 over Royal Youth at Play-In Knockouts. Without that one win, Clutch’s sundae of a year feels like it lacks the cherry on top. 

Reviewing their games, Clutch had a rough time, particularly Huni. They had the worst gold differential per minute, which means Clutch hemorrhaged gold faster than any other group stage team. Huni averaged the most deaths (4.3 per game), yet still had the highest damage share (31.7) and second highest damage per minute (564) among top laners. The Day 7 match against Fnatic was Clutch’s best showing, and Huni was a major part of that. 

When reflecting on Clutch’s Worlds performance, an important question to ask is “Would anyone else from North America have done better?” The answer is probably not. TSM and Counter Logic Gaming would have fallen under similar circumstances, so we can cut Clutch some slack. 

Clutch honestly felt like they built the most hype with the fans, despite the community expecting them to fail. The players always kept a fighting spirit, and gave strong interviews, which built support. Vulcan was arguably their best performer in the Main Event, despite being the newest pro. If the back half of this year is any indication of what Dignitas will bring to the LCS when they fully replace Clutch Gaming next year, then we should be welcoming them with open arms. 

Cloud9 was North America's second seed at Worlds
Image from LoL Esports Flickr

CLOUD9

Sneaky was the Huni of Cloud9 at Worlds. He had some of the worst stats of all bottom laners at the event–23 CS and 726 gold behind at 15 minutes, 3.8 deaths per game, yet 615 damage per minute, 27.5 damage share. Cloud9 subbed in Deftly for the last match, and they won, but they had already won their first match versus Hong Kong Attitude and were expected to again. Against G2 and Griffin, Cloud9 had one decent game and one blowout each. 

Licorice did his best to carry the first set of games, but Caps’ Zoe, Perkz and Mikyx’s Xayah-Rakan, and Viper and Lehends’ Garen-Yuumi overwhelmed Cloud9. On Day 6, Group A’s decider day, Griffin nearly perfect-gamed Cloud9. Later in the day, G2 bested them with Caps’ fed Syndra. Cloud9 rightly gave Deftly a stage game since they were already eliminated, which is good experience for him. 

The community will jump to drafts, like they did with Fnatic, and question Cloud9’s decision to put Sneaky on non-marksmen champions in three out of five games. However, Svenskeren and Nisqy felt much less impactful than during the LCS. Svenskeren was Summer Split MVP, and Nisqy was 2nd Team All-Pro. This team went to five games with Team Liquid in the finals. Pinning their losses onto Sneaky’s champions feels cheap. The synergy and coordination that Cloud9 had as a team just was not there. 

Luckily, they did win both of their matches versus HKA. That was the minimum expectation for Cloud9 in this group. G2 came in as a Worlds favorite, and they finished second seed behind Griffin. Cloud9 would need to be playing at their highest levels to compete for top two in the group. Unfortunately, they did not, so Cloud9 are missing quarterfinals for the first time since 2015. 

Because Cloud9 made it out of groups so often, LCS fans clung to them as a last hope. Every time North America’s first seed fell flat, Cloud9 seemed to skate by. They seemed to show up when it mattered most, and everyone could focus on the positivity of Cloud9’s success, rather than the negativity of other LCS teams’ failures. We do not have that at Worlds 2019, which makes it feel a lot worse. However, Cloud9 has historically had easier groups or exceeded expectations in difficult groups. This time around, they met expectations in a challenging group, and it was not enough to move on. 

Team Liquid was North America's first seed at Worlds
Image from LoL Esports Flickr

TEAM LIQUID

Jensen and CoreJJ joined Team Liquid in the hopes of boosting them to a new level internationally. At the Mid Season Invitational, TL were able to take down Invictus Gaming and make it to the finals, but the World Championship is another monster. IG completely dismantled them in a 24-minute win, putting TL at 3-3 overall and knocking them out. Liquid’s one win over DAMWON Gaming is the only thing separating their performance from Cloud9’s. 

Each player had strong moments, but they never seemed to come together like they did in the LCS, similar to Cloud9. Impact carried some games. Doublelift played pretty consistently. But, overall, everyone made mistakes, and they all made enough mistakes that IG and DWG were able to punish. CoreJJ, the Spring Split MVP, was not as dominant individually against these teams. The LPL and LCK third seeds turned out to be stronger than North America’s first seed. 

LCS fans will be quick to jump to the conclusion that 2019’s World Championship is more competitive than those previous. As long as Splyce or Funplus Phoenix do not win the entire event, LCS teams can fall back on the strong groups argument to justify why they did not make a deeper run this year. But, that will not explain why North America’s teams are not more competitive, while the rest of the world seems like it is. 

Team Liquid falling short at Worlds again illustrates this regional atrophy. One of the goals in LCS franchising was to help foster domestic talent, but that has not delivered yet. Big-name Korean imports, like CoreJJ, Bang, and Crown, continue to supplement this lack of talent, but the best LCS teams still struggle when matched up against the best teams internationally. 

We will take the MSI finals and the Worlds semifinals when we get them, but it still feels like a long journey before LCS teams are expected to compete with the LEC, LPL and LCK. Team Liquid seems like they are doing their best to achieve that, but it just is not enough for Worlds 2019, unfortunately.

Images from LoL Esports Flickr

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