Worlds 2021 Group A roundtable: NA shatters the tie-breaker curse
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Group A of the 2021 League of Legends World Championship has come to a close in a way unlike anybody could have predicted. DWG KIA advanced out of the group in first place, but the real spectacle of the day was Cloud9 trailing behind them after beating Rogue in an explosive tie-breaker match.

This marks North America’s first knockout stage berth at a World Championship since Cloud9 escaped alongside Royal Never Give Up in 2018. To commemorate the occasion, Upcomer’s staff got together to discuss the most exciting game of Worlds 2021 yet.

What went wrong for FunPlus Phoenix

Nick Ray: FunPlus Phoenix were obvious favorites heading into the Worlds 2021 but failed to deliver anything that lived up to the hype. Why? Can’t quite say, but there were some clear examples of what could’ve lead to their downfall, including the other teams in their group leveling up significantly in the second round-robin.

Kim “doinb” Tae-sang wasn’t able to grab champs to enable the masterful performances we’ve seen from him this year in the League of Legends Pro League. There were also glaring teamplay issues.

Tyler Erzberger: I hate attempting to read into what is happening with a team behind the scenes, but there has to be some conflict going on. They were horrid, unorganized on Summoner’s Rift with their bright spots coming through individual hero plays.

There was a clear disconnect from how they viewed the meta to how how they played around each other, especially in the case of Jang “Nuguri” Ha-gwon, who looked like he had never played with any of his teammates after landing in Iceland. FPX are too good of a team, with too much experience, with a veteran head coach that I can’t accept the catastrophic performance they showed at the tournament this year.

Parkes Ousley: It would be an understatement to say Jang “Nuguri” Ha-gwon had a rough day. With just a 0.82 Kill/Death/Assist ratio on the day, he fell flat for the team when they needed him most. Alongside him, Gao “Tian” Tian-Liang had an uncharacteristically poor performance, with a lot of issues synergizing with his team and engaging properly.

FPX were never supposed to be the best team in the round robin format, but they also were never supposed to go 2-4 in this group and 0-4 on the second day. They just fell apart. There’s no telling if they just had rough mental, poor prep, sickness or any other issue, but the fact of the matter is we just didn’t see the team that we saw in the LPL this year. What went wrong? They just didn’t show up.

Warren Younger: I think it comes down to draft and priorities. You have the arguable best mid laner in the world on your team in Doinb and you put him on Twisted Fate when it matters the most? That’s fine for other teams that have balanced rosters, but this team has been all Doinb all year. Not only that, but he played Rumble as well? Is it the Mid-Season Invitational again?

Also, Jang “Nuguri” Ha-gwon has been underperforming throughout the entire summer split, so it’s not a real surprise he fell off at Worlds, too. At the end of the day, the team that was firing on all cylinders in the LPL summer split simply ran out of gas and, to make matters worse, the engine blew up.

What went right for Cloud9?

Ray: Jack must’ve Amazon Primed a massive shipment of hopium for the Cloud9 boys last night. It’s no secret that Cloud9 have incredible players, but compared to what they showed us in the first half of the Group Stage, they looked like a team that truly deserves to make quarterfinals at the tournament. The stars really did align for them, but players like Philippe “Vulcan” LaFlamme and Ibrahim “Fudge” Allami have been rocks for the team throughout all of Worlds 2021.

Erzberger: They finally played to their high ceiling for a series of games instead of one-offs. We saw at the Mid-Season Invitational that they could go toe-to-toe with RNG and DWG KIA. It was just that they lacked the end-game to close out leads and the consistency to play at that level, even against less-decorated clubs.

In terms of individual performances, it’s Robert “Blaber” Huang for me. I’ve said this for years: he’s a generational talent for North America in terms of mechanical skill. LCS teams have never had a jungler who could try bullying the best junglers in the world in the early-game. Today, he faced the two most-recent Worlds finals MVPs and a jungler considered to be one of, if not the best in Europe.

Usually for LCS teams, it’d be how a jungler could survive those type of players. Not Blaber. He not only kept up with them, he bettered them in almost every game on Friday. When Blaber is confident and in form with his team playing around him, C9 can take games off anyone in the world, including DWG KIA.

Ousley: What went right for Cloud9 was them being the one NA team to historically make it out of groups no matter the odds. In 2018, they advanced over Gen.G and Vitality, alongside Royal Never Give Up in a similar fashion. Today, they made plenty of mistakes, but they also played fast — faster than FPX even, and that aggression brought a great payoff.

In their three games against FPX and RGE on the day, Robert “Blaber” Huang played incredibly well, getting early leads and controlling the pace, constantly using the often winning lanes of Luka “Perkz” Perković and Ibrahim “Fudge” Allami to great success. In both regular group stage games against FPX and RGE, he finished with a 6/1/9 KDA, and in the tiebreaker, he went 1/2/13.

Cloud9 need to keep up the pace, keep their foot on the gas and keep supporting Blaber in what he does best. No more scuttle crab funny business this time around.

Younger: It’s funny — I wrote a piece on how Fnatic could overcome their 0-3 Week 1 because they did it before back at Worlds 2017. I didn’t anticipate that the same scenario would happen, except for Cloud9. But in terms of what went right, well, the Cloud9 that pushed around FunPlus Phoenix for the first half of their first game showed up completely in Week 2. The team was finally able to bring it all together in four spectacular games. Every single player in every single lane stepped up when they needed to. The team even scared the reigning Worlds 2020 champs in the process.

What was your reaction to the 50-minute C9 vs. Rogue banger?

Ray: This match reminded me of why I love this game that I’ve played for so long. When it comes down to tiebreakers like that (between NA and EU no less), all analysis goes out the window. Watching these two teams carefully toe the line against each other and, at times, almost throw it all away in an instant, was one of the most exciting feelings I’ve gotten watching pro LoL in a long time. While I’m sad for the players at Rogue, I’m glad Cloud9 proved the doubters wrong.

Erzberger: I never doubted them for a second.

Ousley: Because of the history between the two regions in tiebreakers, I was nervous the entire time. Perkz did a bit of trolling, and the team overall over-aggressed at times, which caused the game to get delayed. So overall, I was just constantly nervous. At the end of the 50 minutes, I was mostly just exhausted from hoping and writing and shaking and hoping. Now we have to suffer through a few more games of that tomorrow and Monday, and then again when all three teams play their quarterfinals, too 😉

Younger: That game was a certified, instant classic. With everything on the line between the hopes of EU vs NA. This game will go down in history as one of the most entertaining experiences of all time. But the game was pretty damn good, too. There were clutch plays left and right, but I have to highlight the insane awareness by Philippe “Vulcan” Laflamme at the elder dragon fight to sniff out the Ryze Realm Warp. Such heartbreak for Rogue — but damn, Cloud9 deserved that one.

Can anyone realistically match up against DWG KIA?

Nick: At the moment, I believe Edward Gaming, T1, RNG and possibly LNG could. But as we saw today, things change drastically between the first and second half of the group stage. On paper, there has to be, right? But I don’t know if we’ll see that team before the quarterfinals.

Erzberger: I think EDG will be their main rivals, with the likes of T1 and RNG also capable of pushing them in the right circumstances. But honestly, even if their bottom lane still seems exploitable, their topside is so good that it is going to take a team’s best to really make them sweat.

Ousley: DWG KIA are still definitely fallible, but they’ve tightened the ship so much since the middle of the season saw them role swapping around. Many are excited about EDG, but RNG is also right there lurking in their shadows.

While it was disappointing to see RNG get knocked out so quickly in the LPL summer playoffs, it may actually be a slight boon for the Chinese third seed at Worlds, since people have somehow decided to underestimate them. Otherwise, it would take a G2 vs RNG at Worlds 2018 level upset for any other team to take down DK in a best of five in the knockouts.

Younger: Although FunPlus Phoenix were near the top of my list in terms of tournament favorites, I’ve been a firm believer that Edward Gaming are the team to beat at Worlds 2021. Even though DWG KIA kinda smacked around FunPlus Phoenix in the battle of the second and third ranked teams at Worlds, I think EDG are clear favorites. Not only that, don’t forget that Royal Never Give Up just beat DK right here in Iceland just a couple months ago for the Mid-Season Invitational title. I do think DK are better than I initially thought they were, and I look forward to a DK vs EDG final.

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