By JAE WON SHIN
During the time of a pandemic, almost all sports organizations were respectively closed. Big names, such as the NBA and NFL, only recently opened up for the last half of their season and playoffs without in-person seating. One sport, however, continued to have strong viewership: e-sports. Large e-Sports games, such as League of Legends, CS: GO, and Valorant proved to have strong streaming numbers. And this trend only continued towards the largest online tournament of the year: Worlds 2020.
The Worlds 2020 promotional art (Source: Riot Games)
Worlds 2020 proved to be a challenge in how Riot (creators of League of Legends) would implement a tournament during the COVID-19 pandemic. While everything can be online, the high latency and difficulty of monitoring the different teams proved to limit this option. After hard deliberation, the multiple leagues, such as the LCS (North American league), LEC (European league), and LCK (Korean league), alongside the many wildcard regions, planned to meet the LPL (Chinese league) in China for the 10th Annual Worlds.
The Group Stage
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the first time every league was able to play internationally during the pandemic, each league had its own “strong” team (generally the first seed). With the first seed from the LCS (TSM), LEC (G2 eSports), LPL (Top eSports), and LCK (Damwon Gaming) all coming in as strong contenders for the title, the group stages commenced, with G2 eSports, Top eSports, and Damwon Gaming all the first seed from their respective groups. (TSM went 0-6 in their standings, making it one of the most disappointing Worlds run yet).
One of the most memorable rivalries would have to be the ones between the LPL and the LCK. With the LCK having the strongest performances from 2013 to 2017 with their big names, such as SKT T1 and Samsung Galaxy, the LPL rose to fame after winning the 2018 and 2019 seasons, leaving the rivalry between the two leagues on a tightrope. This only showed further during the group stages, where Damwon Gaming went against JDG (Jin-Dong Gaming), the second seed of the LPL. With one of the closest games in all of the group stages following the fastest group stage games, Damwon Gaming lost to JDG, giving hope to the end of Damwon’s reign.
Team Liquid, the third seed from the LCS, battled off against G2 Esports. (Source: Inven Global)
This year’s playoffs bracket proved to be increasingly difficult for the fans of the LEC, LPL, and LCK. The LEC teams (Fnatic and G2 eSports) had to fight in a bracket against the Chinese teams and Korean teams respectively.
Top eSports vs. Fnatic
With intensive BO5 games between each team, Top eSports was able to pull a reverse sweep (the equivalent of coming back from a 3-1 lead in basketball) and land themselves a spot in the semifinals. Although Fnatic looked stronger than ever in games 1 and 2, they seemingly lacked behind on their mid and jungle performances compared to their counterparts, with Karsa in the jungle position and the hyped-up mid laner, Knight, carrying the squad as they moved into the next fight against the winners of Suning and JDG.
Top eSports team lineup (from left to right) Yuyanjia, Jackeylove, Knight, Karsa, and 369. (Source: Riot Games)
Of course, this was everyone’s expectation. Many praised Fnatic for their two wins against what were the tournament favorites, Top eSports. However, many also criticized their mid laner, Nemesis, for a lackluster performance that cost them the continuation of their Worlds run, as one Reddit user wrote, “Nemesis seemed lost throughout the BO5. He seemed out of sync with the rest of the Fnatic squad and it showed. Very big disappointment.”
Suning vs. JD Gaming
While Suning vs. JDG was predicted by multiple analysts to be in overwhelming favor of JD Gaming, Suning, the third seed of the LPL, proved to outclass JD Gaming, the second seed of the LPL. While JDG won game 1, Suning proved to win games 2, 3, and 4 with superior macro team fighting and lane manipulations. With some of the largest plays coming from their star players, the AD Carry, Huanfeng, created what was one of the largest highlights in Worlds history, creating the perfect flank and denying any of the JD Gaming players from retreating to base.
SN Huanfeng (top left) ults JDG Zoom and JDG Yagao (bottom right), allowing Suning to win the game and the series. (Source: LOLeSports)
Suning has previously been crowned the “dark horse” of the tournament, already outclassing G2 eSports in the Group Stages and receiving the first seed of Group A. However, with this win against JD Gaming, Suning started to become a true threat to each of the other teams, with star players Bin, SofM, Huanfeng, and SwordArt performing wilding above anyone’s expectations.
Gen G. vs. G2
While some may have predicted that G2 would have a hard time against Gen G., a squad consisting of legendary players such as Ruler and BDD, G2 simply proved themselves to be a formidable team against the Korean team. With superior playmaking and even stronger laning phases, Gen G seemed to be simply outclassed by the European superteam. It seemed as if star super players, such as G2’s Caps and Perkz, were outclassing the aforementioned legendary Korean players, as G2 wrapped up the game in a clean 3-0 fashion.
Star player, Caps, was undeniably the MVP of this series, carrying multiple games and roaming/laning far better than BDD, his mid-lane counterpart. With his 11/0/11 game on Sylas in game 2, Caps proved to be a menace on the Rift, showing clean performances that would cement himself as one of the best players in the European League of Legends.
G2’s victory celebration over their dominating win against Gen G. (Source: Inven Global)
Damwon Gaming vs. DRX
With both teams coming out of the LCK, Damwon Gaming, the first seed of the LCK, and DRX, the second seed of the LCK, went against each other since the last time they met: the LCK finals. During the LCK finals, Damwon Gaming completely swept DRX in 3:0 fashion, cementing Damwon as the best team LCK has produced since SKT T1 in 2015-2017. And while DRX came into the tournament even stronger than before with star players, Chovy and Deft, seemingly out for revenge, Damwon proved to be the stronger team, once again beating DRX 3:0.
Damwon Gaming’s lineup (from left to right) Ghost, Canyon, Nuguri, Showmaker, and Beryl (Source: Inven Global)
Top eSports vs. Suning
With the first seed and third seed of the LPL fighting against each other for the placing in finals, it was the tournament favorites versus the dark horse of the competition. With a rivalry already narrated by SwordArt (Suning’s support) and Karsa (Top eSports’ jungler) after playing on the same team for multiple years before splitting into their respective teams, Additionally, during the LPL semifinals, TOP simply 3:0’ed Suning during their game. During Worlds, Top eSports would have to go up against Suning for the chance at the title in the finals.
With every analyst except one voting for Top eSports to take the win (in a pretty convincing fashion), Top eSports came into the BO5 as the clear favorites. However, the games spoke separately. Although Top eSports were able to pull out a win in game 2 with a carry performance from TES 369, Top eSports, seemingly underperforming since the beginning of Worlds, would lose multiple lanes against Suning as the star players on Suning’s side would defeat Top eSports convincingly.
Suning, a team that was expected to fall during the group stage, extended to the finals while TES, a team that was expected to win the whole tournament, failed against the very team. This huge upset proved Suning as a star lineup with multiple strong Chinese/Taiwanese players on their lineup.
TES Karsa hugging SN SwordArt after losing against his old teammate (Souce: TheGamer)
Damwon Gaming vs. G2 eSports
As another strong narrative is created, Damwon Gaming sought out revenge against G2 eSports. After losing their Worlds run against G2 eSports from the previous Worlds, players such as Showmaker and Canyon approached the game to win full revenge in their minds.
Showmaker, the mid laner for Damwon Gaming
Some of the audience came into the game believing that G2 eSports would easily win as they won in the previous Worlds against Damwon. Another portion of the audience believed that the newly strengthened Damwon Gaming was different from last year, proving themselves to be the best LCK team this entire year. While the series was close with G2 taking game 2, game 1, 3, and especially 4 were complete stomps in favor of the Korean team. In fact, with a 19:03 game in game 4, Damwon cemented themselves as they won the fastest Worlds game in the entire ten-year history.
Damwon’s entire squad was established as a strong team as each member was seen at the top of their roles. Damwon’s support, Beryl, was a complete league above his opponent, Mikyx, as he would perfectly set up roams and win the game through strong engagements upon the G2 squad. Damwon, in a convincing 3:1 fashion, gave hope to all LCK fans for the success of the region once again as the LCK and LPL would match up against each other in the finals.
As the LCK and LPL finals continued, the games would finally be played on the big stage in front of a limited audience (around 4,000 participants). Taking place in Beijing, Damwon and Suning would face off not only for the title but also for the league. Damwon Gaming arrives as the clear favorites of the game. However, the games were not one-sided.
Game 1 broke the scene with a constant “back to back” with both teams often getting advantages. Beryl, Damwon’s support, would land superior roaming against the members of Suning in a 35-minute game. However, with a narrow victory in Game 1, Game 2 proved to be in Suning’s favor as Bin would pick Fiora, landing a three-second kill against Showmaker and, eventually, the first and convincing Pentakill against Damwon Gaming.
Game 3 also proved to be incredibly tight, where both teams would have been successful in bringing back the championship. However, with one bad play from Suning’s ADC Huanfeng, as he would disappointingly lose a 1v1 against Shoemaker with Elder (the strongest objective in the game), Showmaker alongside his teammates were able to win the final team fight and win the game. Both Suning and Damwon would be going into game 4 and potentially 5 with everything on the line.
In Game 4, however, Damwon would prove their dominance over the rest of the World Championship tournament through a dominating and convincing game, winning in 27 minutes. With Canyon on Graves going 8/0/7 and Ghost going 9/1/5, Damwon was incredibly dominant against Suning during the final game of Worlds 2020, granting Damwon their first-ever trophy and the LCK’s first trophy in two years.
Damwon’s full squad after winning the LCK Summer Season (Source: Inven Global)
After a disappointing 3:0 finals in 2017, Damwon and Suning broke the trend and played games ranging from 30-45 minutes in games 1-3. However, as game 4 suggested, Damwon Gaming was leagues above the rest of the competition, only dropping three games throughout the entire tournament.
Damwon Gaming holding the Worlds Trophy (Source: Riot Games)
Initially, many teams disregarded Damwon Gaming even after their dominant performance in the LCK. In fact, during the power rankings for each of the Damwon lakers, they would often be placed between 5th to 17th place, with many teams stating that Damwon was dominant in the LCK simply because the LCK was bad. However, Damwon Gaming was successful in proving themselves as one of the tournament favorites and a strong contender for the Worlds title.