Before the LEC semifinals begin once again, we take a look back at the exciting and chaotic happenings of the LoL EU Masters 2021 summer Play-Ins. We’ll examine the main takeaway from the event, before we get to the Main Event on August 30.
The minor regions came to play, but…
The minor ERLs, or European Regional Leagues, are often overlooked, underestimated and considered free wins. This thankfully has not been true in recent EU Masters, last season MKERS (Italy) and ŠAIM SE SuppUp (Balkans) actually made top-eight, and Macko Esports (Italy) lost a spot in the quarter-finals by a single game. It felt like 2018 summer all over again!
While teams from the smaller regions were surely buoyed by the results of last season, there were no Cinderella stories or underdog tales from Play-ins this summer. The two closest to writing underdog stories were White Dragons and aNc Outplayed, second seeds from Portugal and Italy, respectively. They were both one game away from making the Main Event, with their hopes promptly dashed by Fnatic Rising and AGO ROGUE.
So close yet so far. Business as usual for the major region teams as they flexed their muscles.
— European Masters (@EUMasters) August 19, 2021
LPLOL host Ana “One Ring Wraith” Martins, like many of the Portuguese fans, was heartbroken for the White Dragons, but remains hopeful for the future of the region in the EU Masters.
“Up until now no Portuguese team has ever reached the Knockout stages. Both groups were balanced and both teams had a fair shot,” she said. “This was the second time for White Dragons, and after losing two games they shouldn’t have, they convincingly dominated the two tie-breakers and emerged as the first placed team of the group, a first for Portugal.”
Despite the heartbreaking loss to Fnatic Rising, Ana remains hopeful for the future and believes this could inspire better performances in future competitions.
“This series was so intense and so painful for the region, as they could’ve won but they didn’t. However, the defeat didn’t diminish what they have accomplished,” Ana said. “This step brought hope for future teams, history has been made and it also showed that there is a real chance to go far. This could be a new era for the Portuguese presence in European Masters for sure.”
With the announced ERL changes, the jury’s still out if this will strengthen the minor regions or if it will widen the gap. But at least for now, Macko Esports, Anorthosis Famagusta Esports and Zero Tenacity keep the minor ERLs hopes and dreams flying high as they look to cause upsets in their groups.
The Baltic Masters teams will be missed
Speaking of minor region teams, this edition of EU Masters will be the last time we will see teams representing the Baltic Masters, as next year the Baltics will be merged with the Polish Ultraliga.
To be fair, it always was the smallest regional league, playerbase and population wise. Without any real standout players or teams leading them to EUM success stories, the Baltics have had the hardest time promoting themselves to European fans. Thus for every edition of the EU Masters, the Baltic teams are always the ultimate underdogs. One of the fastest ever games, if not the fastest, was MAD Lions E.C vs eNsure in 2019 spring, where the Lions stomped their Baltic opponents in 15:35 minutes.
However, this has never stopped them from giving it their all, and Baltic teams have managed upsets. Kenty famously defeated MAD Lions Madrid in spring 2020. Five Kings took out 7more7 Pompa Team in summer 2020, and more recently, Method2Madness’ famous upset win over FC Schalke 04 Evolution in 2021 spring. They were on the cusp of making Knockouts as well, and would have been the first ever Baltics team to do so.
Baltic Masters caster Harry “DocDa” Evans’ favorite moments from the Baltic teams come from this season’s champions, the Iron Wolves, and their journey toward making EU Masters this summer.
“I have really enjoyed watching Iron Wolves grow over summer. For them to go into the Baltic Masters playoffs full of trash-talk and eventually making their first and potentially last EU Masters, that was a great journey to be a small part of,” he said. “It’s going to be really strange not seeing Baltics at EU Masters next year, though there is a chance that representatives make their way through the Ultraliga. None of us really knows what the future looks like for the region now, and it’s a shame the Baltics couldn’t go out with more of a bang.”
While there won’t be any more potential heroics from the Baltic Masters, we hope to hear more about them as further plans for 2022 are revealed.
Play-Ins still needs seeding, overall format requires changes
Despite the hype, excitement and anticipation of the EU Masters, it’s almost always plagued by one issue or another. Despite the reassurance that Riot were listening after the many complaints in spring, EU Masters summer brought one big change for the Main Event which changes the quarter and semifinals to best-of-five series, but nothing else after.
Riot revealed the Play-In groups with less than four days before the event began, giving teams and even casters limited time for preparation. Once again the official channel did not stream the event, but at least rights were distributed to those who wanted to co-stream the Play-Ins, which is a slight improvement over previous editions.
I am following up with the team. As far as I understand it is still randomized at the moment. I agree that is not ideal though and will see if we can create a proper seeding mechanism moving forward – which takes time to create.
— Maximilian Peter Schmidt (@RiotMAXtheX) August 12, 2021
But the biggest issue yet? Riot confirmed once again the Play-Ins groups were drawn by random seeding. “I am following up with the team. As far as I understand it is still randomized at the moment,” said head of esports for League of Legends in Europe and EMEA Maximillian Schmidt. “I agree that is not ideal though and will see if we can create a proper seeding mechanism moving forward – whch takes time to create.”
Though it seems the requests for a different seeding method have been heard by organizers, changes are probably still a way out.
Coach and Prime League analyst Josef “blackgator” Kolisang remains critical of the planning behind EU Masters, since it remains the most important competition for aspiring European talents to showcase their skills.
“The EU Masters are the equivalent to the champions league for Players in the European Regional Ecosystem. If you look at the 11 LEC Players who played in LEC this year, they played EU Masters in the last two years. Talent comes from the ERL, however the EU Masters receives little to no love,” he said.
“Groups were announced four days before it started, and also the lack of an official broadcast to show that every team that participated is valued. The biggest issue is the format of Play-ins and that it has no seeding with Group D having three out of four major region teams and some people would say Vitality Bee would have made it out of groups and potentially Main Event if they were in Group C or A, which they should have been in.”
Actual seeding might make Play-Ins less predictable, and it guarantees the big teams going through, but without it, the integrity and importance of the competition overall take a hit. Blackgator explains why the tournament desperately needs seeding and a good format.
“Why is it so important that we have a seeding format is firstly to help with the strength of each group and benefitting stronger regions to increase their chances to make the tournament as competitive as it can be,” he said. “The question then, is why does Riot not care about the talent that they always highlight on the LEC Broadcast and where are the actions to prove that?”
The Main Event groups are stacked
Since organizers revamped the Play-In system in 2020, at least one team from a minor region made it to the Main Event for an underdog run at each event. Just last spring, Italian second seed MKERS made it all the way from Play-ins to top-eight. But for this summer, we will not see any minor region team make it from Knockouts for the first time. All four qualified teams are from the major regions, hence making every group drawn to look extremely competitive on paper.
In fact, on paper alone, this could be one of the most competitive EU Masters group stages in recent memory.
The third seeds from major regions, such as Misfits Premier and Berlin International Gaming (BIG) in 2019, have had long histories of deep runs in this competition. Fans will likely be expecting another deep run from one of the four qualified teams from Play-Ins.
Even the group that people think could be the ‘group of life’, Group B could be a coin flip on who makes it out. While Group D is extremely stacked, A and C are not lagging behind in firepower. With big names across all four groups ready to do battle, the fans are in for one heck of a ride this EU Masters.
Here’s to one last hurrah before the big changes arrive in 2022.