2018 LoL Championship: The Rise of the 3rd Seeds

Only four teams remain standing in Korea in the 2018 LoL Championship. But, where most would have expected the likes of RNG and KT being among the four, we instead have the likes of Cloud9 and G2 Esports, third seeds that most people didn’t really expect anything from heading into the tournament. Even LPL’s 3rd seed, EDG, went much farther than most people would have thought.

Having said that, when we examine the evidence at hand, is it possible that the teams that have been playing since the play-ins have a distinct advantage over the teams who came in over later as the higher seeds?

How the Third Seeds Got Here

2018 LoL Championship

While Cloud9 had a relatively good showing in the play-in stage, nobody expected their performance there as an indication of them securing at least a Top 4 finish in the 2018 LoL Championship. (Cloud9)

Before anything else, let’s summarize the results of the third seeds, starting from the play-in stage.

For Cloud9, they won their group with a clean 4-0 record despite looking shaky. They then proceeded to win a nail biter of a series against Gambit in order to proceed, where they were placed in the Group of Death, which was termed so because MSI winners RNG and defending World Champions Gen.G were in the said group. But, instead of succumbing to the giants they faced, Cloud9 prevailed and advanced as the second seed. Even better, in the quarter finals, they played spoilers to the home crowd as they took out the last korean team in Afreeca Freecs.

As for G2 Esports, they had a rather tough play-in stage. They struggled against both Supermassive and Infinity. But, in the group stages, the infamous Heimer pick got them over the hump. Then, in their next match, they calmly beat RNG 3-2 to knock them out of the tournament.

EDG, another third seed, swept through the play-in stage, and after going 1-1 versus KT Rolster in the group stage, qualified to the knockout stage where they lost to Fnatic.

All in all, qualifying from the Play-In seem rather important, especially when you consider that 3 out of the Top 8 teams at the 2018 LoL Championship were seeded directly from there.

More Playing Time = Better Results

2018 LoL Championship

G2 Esports used a lackluster play-in performance to find out how to improve and become the team that will forever be known as the one that eliminated RNG from the 2018 LoL Championship. (G2 Esports)

While burnout is evidently real in most cases, for the third seeds, it seems that boot camping early in Korea paid off.

They simply had more time to prepare and hone their skills. For Cloud9 and G2 Esports, this meant that, even though they drafted themselves to a significant disadvantage at times, they could still outplay their opponents, and that they certainly did.

The third seeds have also had more time to develop and adjust to the changes in the meta.

This is most evident in the jungle position. While during play-ins the 3 picks with the highest presence were Olaf, Skarner and Gragas, now the focus has shifted towards Nocturne, Camille, Xin Zhao and Taliyah.

The change signified an emphasis on early game picks that typically do not need setup to gank. Nocturne and Taliyah also provide global pressure and help in splitpush setups. It can be argued that the play-in teams were not good enough to realize that they were playing sub optimally, but on the other hand, it would be delusional to say that the current form of the 3rd seeds is unrelated to the fact that they had to find answers to this meta.

For the seeded representatives at the 2018 LoL Championship, they knew that some champions were wrong. However, the third seeds actually had time to prove if they really were wrong, or just underutilized.

Practice Makes Perfect

2018 LoL Championship

Having boot camped and played much earlier compared to other teams, the third seeds were smart enough to know to keep their hands off of Kai’sa. (League of Legends)

Kai’sa is a lategame scaling champion in the ADC position and she had a 18-8 win record in Play-ins. She was also very popular in the LCK and LPL. It is the preferred pick of EDG’s IBoy but he only accounted for 5 games of it. Various teams had to play against it and narrow its win conditions. While this was not the case in the play-in stage, in the main event Kai’sa is now sitting at a reasonable 45% winrate, even if her presence went up.

It is interesting to note that the teams that played Kai’sa the least (G2, Cloud9) are in the semifinals. This is not to say that the pick is bad per se. But it should not be surprising that the teams that were under the higher pressure to adapt to Kai’sa have managed to find antidotes to her potent late-game. Even Kramer and Uzi picked it in their quarterfinals matches and it is important to recognize that in the KT-IG series the Kai’sa lost 3 times and narrowly won once, on either side, while EDG also picked it against Fnatic, to no avail.

This is just an example of how a combative, innovative approach to League of Legends gameplay can affect Worlds.

The point is that whether you choose to actually employ late-game strategies or fight against them, you get to know their weaknesses against top-tier teams in do-or-perish situations, so you start with an advantage over your opposition if you have practiced from Play-ins. 

Mystery is Key

2018 LoL Championship

Playing in front of the home crowd also likely tricked the LCK teams of the 2018 LoL Championship into a fall sense of security. (LoL Esports)

The third seeds also had other advantages heading into the 2018 LoL Championship.

For example, their scrim partners in the early days must have been mostly other play-in teams or teams from the Korean Challenger Series. Hence, it was easier for them to catch teams off of their guard.

A good example of how Cloud9 pulled off an astonishing win against RNG and how G2 Esports managed to split apart the Afreeca Freecs on their first day. Another tradeoff that comes with play-ins is that you have to expose some of your picks and gameplay to your future competitors. Nonetheless, for G2 and Cloud9 this also had some positive side-effects; the Heimerdinger bans and the fear for Cloud9’s unexpected top picks were a free gift from the play-in stages and helped them considerably during the draft.

Finally, another factor that helped the 3rd seeds was that Worlds is taking place in Korea.

KT and Afreeca Freecs had not played competitively for a long time due to the LCK program and the availability of scrims must have been lower during the off-season. In this environment, the 3rd seeds came to Korea and experienced all the picks that were used in solo Queue. They had the time to essentially analyze every single popular champion in Korean Solo Queue.

This fact, together with the false sense of security of the LCK representatives who were not willing to change their meta adaptations, left a huge gap in the hierarchy of teams playing in the 2018 LoL Championship.

Final Thoughts

Ultimately, most of the third seeds exceeded even the highest of expectations heading into the 2018 LoL Championship. And, while it cannot be disputed that a team managed to advance through a grueling gauntlet and a competitive Play-in stage has strong nerves and clutch moments, it is also true that the particular circumstances in this year’s play-ins have helped the 3rd seeds of the major regions shore up their weaknesses and outperform even the number 1 seeds of their region.

Will we see gauntlet teams playing against each other in the Grand Finals of the 2018 LoL Championship? Maybe. Maybe not. We’ll never know.

If this happens, then we should probably start talking about the reality of the play-in buff!

Why do you think the third seeds of the 2018 LoL Championship outperformed their competition? Do you think their status as third seeds gave them significant advantages? If so, how? Be sure to let us know your thoughts in the comments down below.

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