League of Legends Worlds: play-in teams have unexpected success

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Part of the excitement of the League of Legends World Championship is seeing which teams survive the play-ins. But these teams struggle during the main event of Worlds and we have some ideas why.

The play-in stage of the League of Legends World Championship is like the first four of the NCAA basketball tournament in a way, with teams getting a chance to play in a mini-tournament in order to advance to the main tournament. In basketball, many of these teams don’t see past the first round of the tournament if they win that initial play-in game. Worlds is a whole different story as some of the teams go on to success in groups, while others don’t.

But have play-in teams been historically successful and why have they been able to do so when the odds are stacked against them? I want to see if I can spot a trend into how well play-in teams perform at the League of Legends World Championships.

2019 Play-in results

In 2019 Damwon Gaming, Clutch Gaming, Splyce, and Hong Kong Attitude advanced from the play in groups at the 2019 League of Legends World Championships. Two of these teams managed to advance out of the main event group stage, while two went home.

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Splyce was in a tough spot in Group B at 1-2 after the first round-robin of matches, but they turned it around going 3-0 in the second round-robin, including a win over group favorite FunPlus Phoenix. This allowed them to finish with a 4-2 group record and tied for the first seed in the group ultimately placing second. In the quarterfinals, they, unfortunately, fell to SKT 3-1 to finish in seventh place overall.

Damwon surprised a lot of people by winning Group D with a 5-1 record, including a five-game winning streak over from the group stage before drawing G2 for the quarterfinals. In what was considered a fairly even matchup G2 took out Damwon 3-1 to eliminate them from Worlds in eighth place.

Clutch Gaming faced heavy odds to get out of a Group C with Fnatic, SKT and RNG. Unfortunately  for North America they couldn’t hang with the big boys and finished 0-6. This marks the first time a North American team failed to secure a group stage win since Team Dignitas went 0-3 in groups at the 2012 World Championship.

Hong Kong Attitude continued the LMS trend of going 0-6 in groups becoming the third team in two years do so from that region. The last time this happened was in 2018 with LMS play in team G-Rex also going winless in groups.  Yet in a group as tough as Group A was with G2 and Griffin, I think this was the expected outcome.