In a few months’ time, we will crown the world champions – the best team in the world. Right now, though, we don’t even know who the best team in each region is.
All the major regions are drawing to a close, but we’re not much closer to knowing who the best team in the world is than we were back at the start of spring.
It’s been a year of change in pretty much every league. In Korea, SKT might still qualify for Worlds, but it would take a miracle, and the team has looked like a shadow of the organisation’s former rosters.
Defending world champions, now under the Gen G. banner, were tied with three other teams on 13-5, but finished fourth on head-to-heads and the like. Not bad by any stretch of the imagination, but not exactly inspiring either.
The top team in North America finished on a similarly ‘pretty good, not stellar’ 12-6 record, losing their final game of the split to a TSM team that had previously been at risk of not even making playoffs. Imagine that.
Then, in Europe, Fnatic also narrowly squeaked into first place. Perhaps the fact that they also had a 13-5 win-loss ratio means they’re on par with the Korean teams now.
Nobody seems to be able to really stick their head out in front of the pack and say to everyone else “sorry guys, it’s my split this time.”
In theory, that’s fine; fans want hard-fought, narrowly-won leagues. Not knowing who will qualify for playoffs until the very last day (or beyond the last day, thanks to tie-breakers) is far more exciting than G2 or TSM being miles ahead with weeks to spare.
But when it comes into Worlds, how can anyone put their faith in a team that only barely qualified in the first place? Fnatic went 11-2 in last year’s Summer split. That’s a win rate that inspires confidence.
This year, the in-form teams in both Europe and America finished second in their respective leagues after incredible late-season form. Perhaps that’s where fans should pin their hopes, at least before the playoffs take place.
It’s easy for American fans, since their number two team – Cloud 9 – have traditionally performed better at Worlds than any of their compatriots.
For Europeans, well, I would feel a little nervous about Vitality attending a first ever international tournament. Clearly, they deserve everything they have achieved domestically, but “Attila and Jactroll” just doesn’t have the same ring to it as “Pray and Gorilla.”
Reputations aren’t everything, as Misfits proved last year, but I just have a hard time seeing Vitality making a splash.
The real problem for European fans, though, is the decline of Misfits and G2. Misfits looked unstoppable until a few weeks ago, now they can’t buy a win for love nor money.
G2, meanwhile, have lost three in a row, including a shocking final game of the regular season where they went down 10-0 in kills.
The fact that one of G2 or Misfits will be eliminated in the first round of playoffs might be a good thing for European hopes if recent form is anything to go by.
Unlike some of the other teams mentioned in this article, it’s not as if G2 has an especially great track record on the international stage anyway. I’ve written previously about the importance of being able to play outside of your region and G2 have blown hot and cold on that front in the past.
I’m pinning my hopes on Fnatic: they have been the most consistent European team over the summer; they have significant international experience; they have one of the best mid-laners in the world (on his day).
They even have experience with making active use of substitutions, thanks to the awkward Rekkles-Bwipo-Soaz situation. I say awkward, but they have made it work for them more often than not.
Better yet, the ability to make use of substitutes mid-series in something few other European teams are used to and is something that will help Fnatic against Korean teams who have been doing so for ages now.
Playoffs should paint a clearer picture of who ranks where. Maybe there will be a team in each region who thoroughly dominates the qualifiers, 3-0’ing all before them.
Maybe Misfits will figure out what they were doing right in the first half of the split and start doing it again.
Maybe Vitality is the real deal and Kikis will lead his new team to even greater feats.
At least the uncertainty isn’t limited to Europe. We have absolutely no idea who the best team in Korea is, and American fans are still scratching their heads, too.
Meanwhile, in the LPL, Invictus Gaming is sitting on a 16-1 record, licking their collective lips in anticipation.