The Play-Ins Tournament, the so-called ‘mini-show’ before the main show, is where developing regions hopes and dreams live and die by. The waves of their regions collective aspirations crash on the shores that are the third place seeds of each of the major regions. For the most part, it is par for the course that these major regions teams secure first seed, without much contest from the developing region teams. This year has shaken up that script, with the gap closing between the two supposed tiers of regions. With that in mind, the playoff stage is most exciting we’ve had yet. Let’s break down the teams in in the first half of the playoff stages, Cloud 9 vs. Gambit Esports and DetonatioN Focus Me vs. EDward Gaming.
In the least surprising case of Group A, Cloud 9 went undefeated to claim the undisputed top spot of their groups… according to the standings. However, Cloud 9 revealed their mortality in the technical undefeated run, particularly against the startling strong Japanese team of DetonatioN Focus Me. Greedy over extensions, overstaying, and not knowing when to pull away from the teamfight were some of the blunders the NA squad showed.
Does that mean Cloud 9 fans should be worried? Nah. While they showed that they were definitely mortals, that isn’t a concern (for now) that they’ll need to focus too hard on. Some of their individual misplays were easily negated by masterful macro play. It made this roster, consisting of three rookies, look like a rock steady veteran lineup, even though only two of them have even played professionally for a year. Sure, having the player who’s appeared the most at Worlds alongside you helps with leadership on and off the rift, but it’s still impressive for the team. They also look decisive in their plays and confident in their map movements, a strong sign for the team overall.
It’s not hard for the Russian squad to have a better showing than last years worlds, given that they were… the first team to be sent packing at Worlds last year. All of that after some boasting, and, well, Gambit had a pretty big redemption arc coming into the tournament. An arc that saw them coming in much more like a sheep than a lion. But when they did show up, it was far, far, far better than last time. While both of their wins, having gone 2-2, were against the considerably weaker Kaos Latin Gaming, they did win them convincingly. However, against the 1st seed from the LMS… It wasn’t quite as pretty a picture.
Gambit have at least made it into the next stage of the Play-Ins, and won’t be facing G-Rex (who, for all we know, may just be their weakness.) They have the veteranship to keep a level head in a losing early game, boasting some of the oldest players still on the rift, with both Jungler Danil "Diamondprox" Reshetnikov and the Thresh King himself Edward "Edward" Abgaryan. Mixed in with a fiery ADC in Stanislav "Lodik" Kornelyuk, Gambit have the components to mount a significant campaign into the playoff stage of the Play-In tournament. That is if they can shore up their weaknesses they showed repeatedly against G-Rex.
Both Gambit and Cloud 9 are some of the most recognizable names in League of Legends history, but they’re not some idol to their past, with a fiery group of young players and new faces alongside them. In the bot lane it’s a match up between the storied and franchise defining player Zachary "Sneaky" Scuderi and the upstart, newcomer Lodik. One of the original Thresh players, EDward, against homegrown youngster Tristan "Zeyzal" Stidam. Hell, even Robert "Blaber" Huang, the youngest member, against Diamondprox, one of the oldest players still playing… There’s a lot of opposites in this matchup.
Gambit will need to rely on their veterans to lead the way in the late game and keep their heads cool, calm, and collected to win out. For Cloud 9, if these stellar rookies can continue their performances and not falter, Cloud 9 should have the games all but settled, given how they’ve looked to be one of the few stable third seeds from a Major Region. Cloud 9 look to be warming up and reaching towards peak form, with rookies that just surprisingly seem quite at home on the big stage of Worlds. Gambit, on the other hand, seem to be a slightly more tepid story. They’ve done… better, yes, but nothing that’s really won over pundits. They’ll need nothing short of a miracle, or a sloppy Cloud 9, to pull off a win.
It’s hard not to talk about EDward Gaming’s… fall from grace after asserting themselves first as gods amongst mortals. Their first match up against Infinity Esports was, to put it bluntly, unsightly and depressing for fans of Infinity. Infinity looked like a group of randoms that found their way into the Worlds Play-Ins by accident, and EDG looked garuguanthan. That changed in their second meeting, and I feel that’s also a worrying sign for EDG overall. The team slipped up in their second meeting. It wasn’t just that they misplayed two crucial late game team fights,but that they seemed to be underestimating their opponents. While it’s unlikely to happen again at this stage, it definitely felt like a sevre wake up call for the team that failed to make it out of groups last year.
Still, this is a new EDG in some ways, and the exact same one in others. Insane consistency during teamfights out of Hu "iBoy" Xian-Zhao, veteran leadership with both Tian "Meiko" Ye and Ming "Clearlove" Kai in leadership roles, and a returning Lee "Scout" Ye-chan that looks a cut above his previous self, EDG are still one of the best teams in the Play-In stage. Their fans are ravenous for a chance to prove themselves at the main stage and reclaim some honour for themselves after last years blunders. This is the first, vital step towards that goal, and given the fan presence at the stadiums that should feel revitalized and prepared to make those fans proud.
If you’ve been paying any attention to the storylines swirling around during the Play-Ins this year, you’ve probably heard of the darlings of the (mini) tournament, DetonatioN Focus Me. Hailing from the youngest region of Japan’s LJL, the roster came into the tournament as, at best, possible underdogs. Japan has traditionally not performed internationally, often falling behind early and banking on winning it in the late game (a trademark of the region). DFM, however, flip that script in two ways: One, they’re aggressive as Hell. The second thing? They’ve actually performed damn good at this international tournament.
DFM have long been the ‘best team’ from the LJL, but have rarely appeared internationally because, while they dominant during the regular season, they tended to choke in the playoffs. Their early aggression often couldn’t be fully realized into a win before their regions trademark late game style came online and, ultimately, won the day. They’ve shored up those jitters, or perhaps the meta favours them more now, and have looked like one of the scarier second seeds in the tournament. With veteran and long standing mid laner Kyohei "Ceros" Yoshida and Top/Bottom laner Yuta "Yutapon" Sugiura, they’ve had a historical showing for the Japanese region. And they’re making a damn good case to move into the main stage event, even if fate has dealt them a heavy opponent.
After a miraculous run, it feels slightly unfortunate for DFM to match up against EDG. But that’s the nature of the Play-In stage. It’ll be a match up between two teams that share a lot of similarities: star ADC and Mid lane players, an aggressive playstyle, and the decisiveness to back it up. Of all the games being played out over this weekend, this one should be the most assured to bring a plethora of teamfights and a lot of blood. But who can come out on top in the chaos that will be their clashes?
For the Japanese side to steal away the win and totally flip the script, they’ll need to be mindful to shut down EDG, or play for late and capitalize off their occasional mistakes. The former is less likely than the latter, so watch for DFM to be (more) aggressive than usual in the early stages of the game. For EDG, it’s about shoring up those late game lapses in judgement, and continue to dominate as they did every game outside of the anomaly that was their second game against Infinity Esports. EDG are no strangers to teamfighting, and their mid game decision making is some of the best in a region that is known for their decisiveness. EDG should, in theory, have the upper hand against DFM. They play a similar melody, but just that little bit better than DFM.