As the Worlds 2023 play-ins come to a close, we are fast approaching what we’ve truly been waiting for - the Worlds Swiss stage is upon us.
The first implementation of the format in League of Legends’ (LoL) history presents us with eight best-of-one (Bo1) games in the opening day of LoL World Championship (Worlds) proper. There are sixteen teams with all their hopes on the line, and a simple tenet to live by: three wins and you’re through to the quarterfinals, three losses and you’ll be following the likes of Golden Guardians, LOUD, and PSG Talon on their way to the airport.
The games remain Bo1 until a team is presented with a match that would either eliminate them from the tournament or promote them to the playoffs, at which stage the matches become best-of-three (Bo3). A higher win rate initially affords more Bo3 opportunities to qualify, while a lower one means that more must be played to climb out of your deficit. So, while there are two lifelines for every team, it must be said that there is certainly a large benefit to prevailing in the opening Bo1s.
Silver Stakes - League of Legends World Championship 2023
During the Swiss Stage and knockout rounds of Worlds, Pinnacle will be running the Silver Stakes Esports competition. There will be four rounds, where your bets on pre-game and live matches of Worlds 2023 will generate points towards the Silver Stakes leaderboards. Winning any of these rounds will grant the winner $1,000. There will also be a much larger leaderboard that you can collect points for across the four rounds. The winner of this leaderboard will earn a $25,000 bet on the final match of Worlds!
- Find more information here: Silver Stakes
Pressure. A concept a lot of people might associate with the production of diamonds, but it can also be construed as implying erosion, akin to the effect of vast amounts of water clashing against a dam. For JD Gaming, a team on the verge of achieving ‘the Golden Road’, they will probably be feeling the latter. Not only have they won their region’s Spring Season and Summer Season, as well as MSI - they have a player called Park "Ruler" Jae-hyuk who just seems destined to be crowned. If all that wasn’t enough, should they progress through the tournament and take the title without dropping a game, then Bai "369" Jia-Hao will have lifted the Worlds 2023 title and completed the Golden Road on his 369th match as a professional player. It could not be more written in the stars for the most dominant team of the year. So will the bow break, or will something as tough as steel with a glinting beauty be produced over the coming weeks? With their opening game against BDS, who struggled to forge their way out of the play-ins vs. PSG, it seems this step at least will offer little to no resistance.
A home crowd is usually a good thing, but if you’re a South Korean League of Legends fan, you know that it was on home soil in the fateful year of 2018 that we saw Korea’s weakest Worlds showing to date. As Korea’s first seed, that feeling of pressure that we discussed regarding JD Gaming rears its head here, too. The idea that Jeong "Chovy" Ji-hoon is prone to choking in the most important matches has been driven into the ground. However, it must be said that while it seems that he has conquered that inclination, domestically at least, it was certainly a factor in their semifinal disaster last year against DRX. Can young Kim "Peyz" Su-hwan make up for it? The responsibility of not only representing Korea at Worlds as the first seed, but doing so on home soil? Hopefully the initial matchup against GAM Esports will be a confidence builder, to get the ball rolling prior to a playoff series they are expected to make.
We’ve had the warning signs, and the horsemen of the regular G2 apocalypse are riding once again. Star Mid Laner Rasmus "Caps" Borregaard Winther is looking to be in some of the best form of his career (but not quite the level seen in 2019, let’s not get carried away here), upholding upwards of a 70% win rate - way past the threshold of Korean Challenger. Their manager, Romain "Romain" Bigeard, has been discussing their favourable scrim results against Asian teams, who have even acknowledged their ‘surprising’ level of strength. The third and final herald is their opening game against Heo "ShowMaker" Su’s Dplus KIA no less. Any G2 fan has woken up in a cold sweat at some point thinking of that 2020 semifinal run, the last hurrah for the only great hope Europe has ever had. While not favoured in this opening matchup, I expect the calibre G2 have presented this year will allow them to progress to the playoff bracket, at least.
- Read: Worlds MVP Preview
The LCS’s surprise first seed and Counter Logic Gaming’s replacement in the American league have made quite the impact in their first split since 2016. Acquiring the full CLG roster when they left the league in April, NRG did a full turnaround, and pulled that same team of five players from a fifth/sixth place finish to a victory in their first season in seven years. They even prevented the expected favourites Cloud9 from completing their ‘threepeat’. However, even coming in as the best of the LCS doesn’t mean that NRG have any chance of progressing through the Swiss Stage. Year-on-year, the LCS’ performances have, for the most part, just been getting worse. Their playstyle has become rigid, their regional league’s games have gotten slower, their meta has become more and more scaling focused, and their champion pools continue to diminish with the least focus on lane priority of any major region. Last year’s results for the LCS came up as three wins and 15 losses combined, and nothing has changed this year to imply that it will be any different. I expect Kang "TheShy" Seung-lok to absolutely destroy NA’s hopes in his first match back at Worlds.
The bridesmaids of last year’s Worlds and MSI and the ‘Silver Savants’ of the LCK, the perpetual runners-up are slacking a little this year, as they failed to come second at MSI. This year has seen a downward trend in not only T1’s stature, but the LCK’s as well, as the LPL dominated MSI and are coming in as the favourites here for Worlds 2023. Whispers are going back and forth that this will be the last hurrah for this particular version of the line-up. Another offseason approaches, and there will undoubtedly be more speculation as to whether Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok will finally make his move. The question is, will the encroaching end be a force of propulsion, or will it snatch the wind from their sails? Can “Faker” return to glory one last time in front of the home crowd? There’s no doubt in my mind that this team will at least progress through the Swiss Stage with a favourable opening match against Team Liquid.
After MSI, BLG seem hungrier than ever. The LPL has been on top so far this year, and Zeng “Yagao” Qi has been looking forward to running into his long-term rival Zhuo "knight" Ding again as he and his team JDG have come out on top all year round. After taking down both T1 and Gen.G whilst only dropping a single game over the course of both series at MSI, this team marked themselves as a serious contender for the World Championship. With all eyes on them and the weight of expectation on JDG, there could not be a better time for BLG to step up to the plate and seize victory.
Here we have a return to the Worlds stage for a longstanding European organisation, and all it took was a mid-year switch up in the AD Carry position to take this team from zero to hero. Fnatic have moved from a solid last place to trailing on G2’s coat-tails. They have certainly come to play this year, with the fresh faced Óscar "Oscarinin" Muñoz Jiménez and Oh "Noah" Hyeon-taek waiting to get their first taste of international competition and set up long-term careers. There’s certainly a chance for Fnatic to break free of the Swiss stage, but it’ll be a tough fight for a western team.
Last year, Cloud9 were sent home much earlier than they would have liked. With the weight of the LCS’ hopes on them for another year in 2022, they crumbled. Their drafts seemed to be for a different team, perhaps a Korean one, as they broke out picks like Fiora that they hadn’t even really been playing domestically. It was the kind of problem their former coach Nick "LS" De Cesare often says they possess: they play to the style that wins in the LCS. Scaling, waiting for mistakes, playing the domestically-viable picks, and as Worlds comes around again, they find themselves wholly out of touch with what’s actually meta. This is a common problem for American teams. Maybe this year, with more eyes on NRG as the first seed, there’s less pressure on this team, and they can make their best placing since Luka "Perkz" Perković was their Mid Laner.
LNG finished second place in the LPL’s Summer Split by a hair’s breadth, taking the favourites JD Gaming to five games. Lee "Scout" Ye-chan’s team were an iota away from victory, and they have truly scaled into the backend of this year. The LPL is fully stacked, when the team that breezed past both T1 and Gen.G, BLG, are overcome by LNG in a three-to-one game fashion, well, everybody is in trouble. LNG are big favourites to break out of the Swiss Stage and make a deep run into the tournament - can they be the ones to rain on JD Gaming’s parade?
It’s a tale as old as time - KT Rolster and Gwak "Bdd" Bo-seong coming so close, but yet so far. All year long, it feels like KT Rolster have been on a precipice. Ready to go, prepared to just reach out and take it all for themselves, so capable and yet so unwilling to take the final step that would truly prove themselves as contenders. In spring, a five-game series against T1 sent them spiralling into the lower bracket, where Gen.G prevented them from making MSI. In summer, yet another five-game series with T1 sent them out in third place. When it matters most, this team seems to fall apart. They have all the trappings of a top LCK team, and I fully expect them to go to quarterfinals, but not much further. “Bdd” is now the biggest ‘what if’ Mid Laner since “Chovy” finally won an LCK title.
After spring, it can safely be said that nobody expected this team to bounce back and secure a place at Worlds. However, the same could also be said for DRX at Worlds last year, and Worlds 2022 Champion Hong "Pyosik" Chang-hyeon has it easy this year, as he doesn’t even have to start in play-ins to defend his title. It is damning that this team couldn’t top the LCS as an essentially all-Korean team, but can they play into the home crowd advantage and break free of the Swiss Stage in spite of that? I have my reservations, but there’s always a chance.
After a disaster of an MSI where they were victimised so hard by T1 that they nearly allowed G2’s record of the fastest international series to be broken. After that 16-minute game that, to nobody’s surprise, they didn’t win, there aren’t a lot of hopes riding on MAD Lions. As the organisation became the only European one to lose a series to North America last year, it doesn’t bode well that their first game places them against Cloud9. On the bright side, their very presence at Worlds 2023 can be attributed to absolute tenacity, which took them through a lower bracket run in spring to an outright victory. I would be surprised, however, if this team could break free from the Swiss Stage.
Kang "TheShy" Seung-lok is back, at his first Worlds event since 2019. As Weibo Gaming mount the Worlds stage, it’ll be interesting to see whether he continues his coin flip approach to playing Top Lane. Regardless, I’m certain that each game of his will be worth watching. As the fourth-seeded team of their region, you might be quick to doubt. However, with the LPL reigning as the strongest region so far this year, and given that they faced stiff competition regionally in Bilibili Gaming, LNG, and JD Gaming (who all placed above them, and could all easily be the champion this year), I find it hard to have reservations about this team. I wouldn’t be too surprised to see them in the playoff bracket.
All the gear and no idea. Given the depth of his cultural impact, it feels like such a shame for Heo "ShowMaker" Su to only possess a single Worlds title. Falling just short of the back-to-back in 2021, Dplus have been slowly falling off for a little while now. It felt like the rebuild at the beginning of the year, where they brought in veteran and recent Worlds champion Kim "Deft" Hyuk-kyu, was a slam dunk. A proactive Mid/Jungle combo paired with a generally passive and safe Bot Lane duo who can go even no matter what. However, with Mid being in the weakest state it’s ever been in, and the vision never really seeming to truly click, I have my doubts that this team can come together before crunch time. Not as many doubts as were placed on DRX last year, mind you - so there’s always a chance.
After demolishing GG and clinging on for dear life against a PSG Talon that looked slated to wipe them clean from the tournament, Team BDS have earnt themselves a place in the Swiss Stage, with their reward being an opening game against JD Gaming. The play-ins can be a good warm-up for Worlds for some teams, as we’ve seen previously in the upsets that generally follow them. However, given the nature of BDS’ qualification, where they dropped to the lower bracket and were forced to reverse sweep in order to finally progress, I think the best teams in the world and maybe even the playoff stage of the tournament itself might be a bridge too far. You can only leverage Adam "Adam" Maanane’s unique champion pool for so long.
The only wild card appearance this year past the play-in stage, GAM Esports were not the team I had my money on prior to play-ins, so I am pleasantly surprised to see them mount the Worlds stage again. As they prepare to face Gen.G in their opening game, it may be looking bleak, but if they can draw a few western teams, then I can see this team of plucky Vietnamese players can get some real experience in this Swiss Stage, and maybe even make a few upsets.