The 2022 League of Legends World Championship featured the most competitive Play-Ins stage in the tournament’s history. There were a few unexpected twists to the group stage of the Worlds 2022 Play-Ins, but when the dust settled, the teams expected to move on to the main event were the ones who survived: League of Legends Champions Korea 4th seed DRX, League of Legends European Championship 3rd seed Fnatic, League of Legends Pro League 4th seed Royal Never Give Up, and League Championship Series 3rd seed Evil Geniuses.
Let’s take one last look back at how things played out in the Worlds 2022 Play-Ins before the tournament’s main event kicks off this Friday.
Group A: LOUD looms large
Group A was viewed as a two-horse race for 1st place between Evil Geniuses and Fnatic. Fnatic was viewed as the favorite by many due to EG’s 0-6 record against EU at the 2022 Mid-Season Invitational earlier this year when they failed to take a single game against G2 Esports, but COVID-19 cases and other factors prevented Fnatic from optimal preparation for the Play-Ins.
In addition to suboptimal conditions for practice, Fnatic AD carry Elias “Upset” Lipp arrived in Mexico City only one day before the start of the event, and support Zdravets "Hylissang" Iliev Galabov wasn’t able to join the team until the second day of Group A competition.
Despite all these factors, Fnatic took a convincing first win against Evil Geniuses on the first day of competition, but EG was unusually off-balance due to a false positive COVID-19 test for support Philippe “Vulcan” Laflamme that stopped him from competing on stage with his teammates on the first day. EG stabilized after day 1 and didn’t drop a game for the rest of the group.
Fnatic, on the other hand, suffered one of the largest upsets in Worlds history at the hands of Campeonato Brasileiro de League of Legends represntative LOUD. The passion of the Brazilian fanbase is unrivaled in the Americas, but LOUD brought things to a new level when they dismantled Fnatic in Group A.
Rookie AD carry Diego "Brance" Amaral had a great performance for LOUD throughout the group stage, but a certain moment during the match against Fnatic will be the lasting image in people’s memories.
With LOUD exceeding expectations and League of Legends Japan League representative DetonatioN FocusMe taking a game against Evil Geniuses, Group A ended in a three-way tie between all three teams. Chiefs Esports Club, widely considered to be the strongest team form Oceania to ever compete internationally, went winless in the group, and Pacific Championship Series 2nd seed Beyond Gaming were eliminated in a 4th place, 2-3 finish.
With a record of 4-1, Fnatic was fasttracked to the main event of Worlds 2022, while EG, DFM, and LOUD would settle group seeding with tiebreaker matches at the end of the day.
Group B: “The Zeka Show”
Group B was a far cleaner group as far as being played out to expectations, but there were still matches that bore unexpected results. On the first day of the Play-Ins, Royal Never Give Up and DRX played against one another.
While both teams were 4th seeds from their respective regions, RNG is the defending MSI champion and a large part of why China’s regional depth is currently considered superior to South Korea’s. In addition, DRX is often viewed as somewhat of a one-man show in terms of world-class talent, with veteran AD carry Kim "Deft" Hyuk-kyu occasionally having to drag his teammates across the finish line in recent months.
Instead, Deft took a step back to DRX mid laner Kim "Zeka" Geon-woo, who had the best week of his entire career throughout the Play-Ins. Deft was the main carry of DRX’s victory over RNG, but Zeka led the rest of the way. Zeka had the highest CS per minute of any mid laner in the Worlds 2022 Play-Ins at 10.7, his KDA of 15.3 is more than three times the second highest KDA amongst mid laners in the Play-Ins, and his 769 damage per minute was second only to Fnatic’s Marek "Humanoid" Brázda (813).
With Zeka in peak form, DRX was the only undefeated team in the Worlds 2022 Play-Ins and, alongside Fnatic, went straight to the main event’s group stage.
Group B was split into three tiers of two teams each in level of play. DRX and RNG were the clear top 2, with Vietnam Championship Series 2nd seed Saigon Buffalo and LEC 4th seed MAD Lions – the latter of whom attended in place of the League of Legends Continental League representative due to the circuit’s mid-season cancellation – making up the mid tier.
Liga Latinoamérica representative Isurus Gaming and Turkish Championship League representative İstanbul Wildcats both started Group B 0-4 and were eliminated as a result, with the only win for either team coming for ISG against the Wildcats in both teams’ final match of the group.
RNG settled for the 2nd seed in Group B having not beaten DRX on day 1, and MAD Lions and Saigon Buffalo were set to play each other in a best-of-five series following the conclusion of the group as the respective 3rd and 4th seeds.
Fnatic and DRX had already escaped the Play-Ins, but six teams remained to fight for the last two spots at the main event of Worlds 2022. However, before the first best-of-five series could even begin, Group A had tiebreakers to resolve. First, Evil Geniuses faced off against DetonatioN FocusMe to see who would play against LOUD for the 2nd seed in Group A. EG turned up the heat in the tiebreakers, rattling off two convincing wins against DFM and LOUD to avoid having to face Royal Never Give Up in a best-of-five series.
While LOUD showcased slightly stronger form than DFM in Group A, experience made the difference in the best-of-five. DFM’s roster core have played several international competitions together, and after losing the first game of the series to LOUD, the Japanese side stabilized and closed the series out with three convincing wins.
MAD and Saigon Buffalo faced off in a best-of-five series on the same day, but where DFM’s previous international experience helped net them a win, it did not do the same for Saigon Buffalo. MAD won their first bo5 series of the year in a 3-1 triumph over SGB with MAD jungler Javier "Elyoya" Prades Batalla showcasing an impressive performance on Bel’Veth.
The next day, EG and MAD were expected to have a close series due to MAD’s arguably superior form in a tougher group, including a close match against DRX late in Group B. However, EG’s preparation was far superior to MAD’s in the series. EG banned the Bel’Veth from Elyoya and bested a MAD Lions team that was steadfast on playing around their bot lane despite not doing it at all in their previous Play-Ins matches, and the North American side took the series in a clean sweep and qualified for the main event of Worlds 2022.
DFM, on the other hand, managed to exceed expectations by taking game 1 off of Royal Never Give Up, but their momentum was quickly snuffed out by the Chinese side. While the series between DFM and RNG was more competitive than expected, it was ultimately RNG who took the series and the final spot rounding out the main event of Worlds 2022.
Fnatic was seeded into Group A with LCK 2nd seed T1, LCS 1st seed Cloud9, and 3rd LPL seed EDward Gaming, the latter of whom is the defending world champion. Evil Geniuses slotted into Group B with LPL 1st seed JD Gaming, LCK 3rd seed DWG KIA, and LEC 2nd seed G2 Esports. DRX joined LPL 2nd seed Top Esports, VCS 1st seed GAM Esports, and LEC 1st seed Rogue, while Royal Never Give Up is set to round out Group D with LCS 2nd seed 100 Thieves, PCS 1st seed CTBC Flying Oyster, and LCK 1st seed Gen.G. The group stage of Worlds 2022 kicks off on Friday, October 7 in New York, NY.
All images by: Colin Young-Wolff/Riot Games
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