If you’re new to the fascinating and high octane world of e-sports, you’re missing out on an increasingly popular and lucrative pastime. This growth doesn’t look like it’s stopping any time soon, with the global market currently worth $900 million and set to achieve a cumulative value of $1.65 billion by 2020. At the heart of this success is the annual world championships like the iconic League of Legends, which sees teams compete for the coveted Summoner’s Cup and a cool $1 million prize.
Last year’s iteration broke a number of records too, with the finals (which were ultimately won by Samsung Galaxy) watched live by a staggering 60 million people worldwide.
This year’s tournament has now reached the semi-final stage, which is set to commence at the weekend. But who is the favourite to win, and why have Western teams dominated the tournament so far?
LOL World Championships 2018 – The Story so Far
This year’s tournament has been a whirlwind so far, following a number of upsets in the group stages and a truly unbelievable round of quarter-finals.
Once the dust had settled on these encounters, we were left with three Western teams competing for a place in the 2018 final. Even more surprisingly, all of the historically dominant Korean sides have been eliminated, including the defending champions Samsung Galaxy.
The fact that this has happened on home soil in South Korea is even more incredible and the unpredictable nature of the tournament has begun to capture the imagination of fans across the globe.
There’s no doubt that we’ve seen the once seismic gap between the east and the west diminish this year, and for the first time since the inaugural championship we could well see an all-LCS grand final on November 3rd in Incheon.
While most of the biggest upsets occurred during the group stages, the recent round of quarter-finals also produced some superb match-ups. One of the standout performances came from underdogs Cloud9, who started from 10th place in the NA LCS, before dominating Afreeca Freecs in a comprehensive 3-0 victory.
In another unexpected twist, Spain’s unheralded G2 Esports were able to overcome the pre-match tournament favourites, toppling the experienced Royal Never Give Up in a five-game series thriller.
While Fnatic’s 3-1 win over Edward Gaming was less dramatic, the team produced an efficient if slightly nervy display to book a deserved place in the last four.
So What About the Semis? Who are the Favourites?
While this tournament is already being described as the single most exciting and unpredictable in history, the best may yet be to come this weekend.
We start with a true battle of the Atlantic, as North America’s Cloud9 take on Europe’s Fnatic in the second semi-final in Gwangju on Sunday. Make no mistake; these two have history to go with their geographical rivalry, having met in the quarter-finals five years’ ago during series three of the World Championships.
Fnatic managed to edge the match 2-1, and while only one player remains on each side from that encounter they may hold a slight psychological edge.
However, Cloud9 cannot be discounted, as their ability to thrive in adversity and raise their game when it matters makes them genuine contenders. The first ever U.S. side to reach this stage, they often save their best for the worlds and were heroic when battling their way through the play-in stage and qualifying from the group.
Remember, they started the summer split in last place and were completely written off as genuine contenders, so the fact they’ll start as slight underdogs here should suit them well. With Fnatic having also struggled throughout the tournament, and the prospect of a five-game series lying in wait, there’s a sneaky suspicion that this could be Cloud9’s to lose.
In Saturday’s first semi-final, Europe’s G2 Esports will take on the last remaining Chinese team Invictus Gaming. It’s fair to say that neither of these sides were expected to reach this year’s’ semis, so this should be a keenly contested match that is exceptionally hard to call.
G2 were certainly impressive in their shock victory over Royal Never Give Up, with their five-game series success sending one of the pre-tournament favourites packing. However, the unheralded Invictus Gaming also upset the odds by dispatching the last remaining Korean team KT Rolster, with a number of superb individual performances helping them to overcome a superior unit.
This included a masterful display from the mercurial AD carry Yu Wen-Bo, who along with Song Euj-jin will carry the hopes of the team on his shoulders.
As for G2 Esports, they arguably boast a more consistent team – in Luka Perković they possess a man who could make the difference if he’s able to step up his game once again. We’d make G2 the narrow favourites here, but in truth it would be no surprise if either of these sides made the final in November.