If a dark horse is going to make a serious attempt at stealing the trophy from under the noses of the big three they need to catch them off guard in at least three games.
For a World Championship compromised by travel issues, a late format switch and many teams playing on LAN for the first time since Spring, I expected at least one earth-shattering upset by the end of the group stage. Instead, DAMWON Gaming, Top Esports and JD Gaming, the three biggest title contenders, have remained totally in control of their fate on their way to the playoffs. On the other hand, all three teams have been shown that against great adversity, they can fall - in the case of TES, spectacularly.
Let’s check in on the champion pools of each of the five underdog candidate teams - G2 Esports leads the pack with 25 unique champions played over the course of the group stage, closely followed by Suning and DRX on 23 - note well that G2 and Suning played an extra game break the first-place tie in Group B. Fnatic and Gen.G are likely to struggle the most in this department, with 18 and 19 champions in their pool respectively. Rascal and Bwipo have both heavily leaned on the Volibear pick meaning if they face a team with a large top lane pool they could be in a world of pain.
Nemesis has a similar issue with his Orianna and somehow nobody has denied Selfmade’s Graves other than LGD (Fnatic prioritised the Orianna and LGD picked Graves). For comparison, DAMWON, Top Esports and JD Gaming all have at least 21 different champions played (though DAMWON’s Canyon and Top’s Karsa both played an awful lot of Graves, Riot, nerf Graves).
As I said before, the occasional draft win alone is not enough to take down a titan in a best of five. A well-crafted build can put a lane ahead, and although “win lane - win game” is over-said these days, Volibear with Trinity Force, Hail of Blades Tahm Kench and Zeitnot’s Senna (vs INTZ in play-ins) have done exactly that. In my opinion, Gen.G and G2 Esports have shown throughout this year that they are both ingenious and brave enough to devise something to trip up the big three in this department.
The last area I wanted to touch on was pathing, a brilliant example of this was TSM’s weak side strategy to build up an advantage against Gen.G in their Day 7 match (which TSM eventually lost on a botched “turn or burn” call, but I digress).
In short, TSM’s Spica prioritised the top and middle lanes at the expense of the bottom lane. Doublelift and Biofrost ended up behind heading into the mid game but this was massively offset by taking down Gen. G members 6 times on the top side (and a 35 CS deficit for Clid). Teams that can rely on one of their side laners not to make hero plays while they’re building an advantage on the other side of the map can also benefit from this strategy. The G2 bottom lane consisting of Perkz and Mikyx are prime candidates for weak siding and DragonX’s Doran definitely has the experience to survive by himself on the top side.
A final consideration, not affected by each team’s gimmicks and creativity, is how easy their run to the trophy will be. Needless to say the “Chinese” side of the bracket is absolutely stacked, with JD Gaming and Top Esports likely facing off in the semifinals (notice that I haven’t given Fnatic much of a chance in any other part of my article anyway). Over on the “Korean” side, things are a little less stable - DRX vs DAMWON Gaming is sure to be an epic quarter-final matchup, but the vast majority of people agree that DAMWON should take the win, while G2 vs Gen.G is completely up in the air.
On balance, I think G2 Esports is the best placed and structured team to cause an upset and take it all - their champion pool is huge, they have the audacity to break new ground and establish their own meta, and the experience needed to divide up the map and create advantages through in game actions is abundant. This Saturday, they face Gen.G in the quarter-finals, the first bridge to cross on their way to becoming the dark horse.
Header image via Riot Games