Worlds 2021 groups roundtable: Pick'ems and predictions
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The first half of the 2021 League of Legends World Championship group stage is officially wrapped. Things are still up in the air heading into the second round-robin, but one thing’s for sure: North America and Europe might need a miracle to stay alive with the slow start they had to the stage.  After today’s games, Upcomer’s staff sat down to give their thoughts on how the Worlds 2021 group stage is panning out so far and the potentially sad state of their pick’ems.

How are our Pick’ems doing?

Tyler “Fionn” Erzberger: My winner pick of Edward Gaming is looking quite beautiful at the moment. They’ve steamrolled all of their games, are being praised by opponents that have faced them in scrims and look like a fully-fledged steamroller come the mid-game.

My group pick’ems? I’m doing… alright. I had FunPlus Phoenix over DWG KIA for the Group A winner, and then due to my Western blind optimism, I chose MAD Lions and Team Liquid in Group D. I feel good with my Group B and C picks going into week two and there’s a chance FPX has a revival to snag that No. 1 spot, but it would take a miracle for both Western teams to advance against the Asian duo of Gen.G and LNG Esports. One of them? Maybe. Both? Feels impossible at this point.

Tom Matthiesen: I have FPX locked in as my crystal ball pick to win it all. Though they were demolished by DWG KIA in the opening game, they seem to have found their footing a bit more since. Here’s hoping that they get it together in the second half.

As for my group pick ‘ems… those swing from “perfection” to “depression.” Group A is shaping up about as I expected, though I thought that FPX would finish first there. I’m perfectly on track with Group B, where I had EDG in first, T1 in second, 100 Thieves in third and DFM in fourth. But Groups C and D are where I’m on a crash course.

If RNG finish first — they’re 3-0 now — that’s about the only point I could scrape up, as I had hoped that Fnatic would succeed with Louis “Bean” Schmitz on the roster. MAD Lions haven’t fallen as far in their group, but with a 1-2 score, it is looking unlikely that they’ll win.

Nick Ray: Considering I had Fnatic escaping Group C along with Royal Never Give Up and MAD Lions leaving Group D in first place, not so hot. My Group A and B picks aren’t looking too bad, however. Edward Gaming should make it out of Group B if they keep playing at this level.

E.G. Kant: I’m 50/50 at the moment. For Group A, I thought FPX would be ahead of DWG KIA, just by a slim margin, but DWG KIA at their best are looking nigh untouchable. Group B and C look to be proceeding as expected (more or less), and though I did put my hopes on Fnatic in C for Upcomer’s roundtable, my official Pick’ems look better, as I put PSG Talon as second. Yes, grill me with your “you’re playing both sides,” because I was. For Group D… it’s a mess. A total dumpster fire — but I believe in MAD Lions. FPX’s recent two wins and MAD Lions’ famous ramp up could save me from looking like Upcomer’s court jester (please…).

Who’s your MVP of the first half?

Erzberger: Heo “ShowMaker” Su isn’t only the main character of the Worlds song this year, but he’s the main character of this entire world championship. He’s the best player in the world right now and there really shouldn’t be any debate. He’s the reigning world champion, has won multiple domestic titles in a row and he went through the first-half of the group stage without dying once. Call it a statement or a proclamation, ShowMaker is just on a different level right now than every other player at Worlds 2021.

It must be nice to be DWG KIA head coach Kim “kkOma” Jeong-gyun. He went from coaching the GOAT in Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok now to managing his heir apparent.

Matthiesen: There are three teams currently undefeated in the group stage: DWG KIA, Edward Gaming and Royal Never Give Up. I’m inclined to pick a player from one of these teams because of their dominance, but narrowing it down was hard. Since my colleagues have given a well-deserved nod to ShowMaker, my MVP pick is going to be RNG top laner Li “Xiaohu” Yuan-Hao.

In a meta where jungle, mid and support hold hands to get the team ahead, Xiaohu has held the fort impressively on his top lane island. Once with his trademark Lucian, once with a monstrous showing on Kennen and once with a wild pick: Syndra. Such a flex can only be saluted.

Ray: Fnatic’s Bean is undoubtedly my MVP of the first half. Coming into Worlds as a sub with no LEC experience and being expected to fill the shoes of a player as skilled as Upset in the face of an unprecedented personal emergency is a tall ask. He’s risen to the challenge and then some. Bean is showing up against some of the best players in the world and demonstrating exactly why Fnatic were able to put their faith in him.

Kant: Gosh, so many to pick from. It would be easy to pick ShowMaker honestly, and why not? His performances have been incredible. But since Tyler has picked the main character of “Burn it Down,” I’m going to pick… Xiaohu as well, from RNG.

Xiaohu as Tom said, has performed as expected, just like in LPL and the 2021 Mid-Season Invitational. His odd picks, like Syndra and Lucian, have dominated the headlines, and his opponents should fear what they have not seen from him. Hu “Ale” Jia-Le from LNG is my honorable mention since it’s his first Worlds and he has not been found wanting. I want to see more from him because I know he is capable of it.

Biggest surprise so far?

Erzberger: How big the gap is between the top Asian teams and all of the west. It’s not that I didn’t know the likes of EDG, DWG KIA and RNG were better than any of the teams coming over from either Europe or North America, but it’s just the pure differential that is staggering. Aside from a few positives, it’s been a complete farce from both regions. MAD beating Gen.G is the only Western win over a major region Asian team in the main event so far.

I can accept if a majority of the west feels left behind, but the fact that we’re seeing games where it feels over by the fourth minute and there wasn’t even a wild level one makes me just give up all hope. We’re staring down the barrel of an all-Asian knockout rounds for the first time in world championship history, and it’s earned. No western team looks even close to being good enough to crack the top eight.

Matthiesen: Fnatic are down on the ground, but in every sense, their bot laner sub, Bean, has been a surprise. Subbed in at the very last minute for Elias “Upset” Lipp, who had to leave Iceland for private reasons, Bean made his debut on any big stage.

Considering the young German was playing in the European Regional League this year, his first appearance on the main roster could not have gone any better from an individual performance perspective. You could even argue he’s the most consistent player on Fnatic so far at Worlds. He plays fearlessly and with confidence that many established bot laners have never had. His Ashe outplay against RNG is one of the best plays of the tournament already.

Ray: The biggest surprise for me has been LNG’s consistency. I knew they were good and knew they’d do some significant damage in their group, but seeing them successfully carry over their momentum from play-ins is impressive. Like the Suning Gaming team of 2020, this is a team that everybody should keep an eye on from here on out. They’re going to keep surprising people as Worlds goes on.

Kant: I’m going to say LNG Esports. Coming from play-ins, despite being from the LPL, expectations for them would not be sky high — and rightfully so. Their loss to Gen.G almost cemented that, but LNG came back with a vengeance: dismantling Team Liquid and then taking down the LEC champions MAD Lions.

At 2-1, LNG look poised to make it to knockouts, and while I did pin them to finish second in Group D during Upcomer’s roundtable, they’ve far exceeded my expectations so far. Rogue are a close second for me, especially with how bot laner Steven “Hans sama” Liv has been performing recently. He’s been on fire.

For player, it’s a toss up between Bean, Wang “Light” Guang-Yu and Liao “Iwandy” Ding-Yao. I’m less surprised about Bean since I’ve watched him from the European Regional Leagues and EU Masters, so for our dear readers, watch those tournaments more. Light/Iwandy are rookies to the international stage and they have been performing immaculately. I’m keen to see if LNG maintains their momentum and exits Group D in first or second place.

Biggest disappointment?

Erzberger: It has to be FunPlus Phoenix. Western League of Legends might be down bad and searching through their couch cushions for G2’s phone number, but I’m not shocked that either North America or Europe have struggled.

FPX, though, they’re supposed to be a favorite to go all the way. I personally have EDG as my top team from China and my personal pick to win it all, yet I still expected more from a team with so much talent. It’s not only that they looked a level or two below DWG KIA in their opening matchup. It’s the fact that they should be 1-2 at best and were saved by Cloud9 throwing away such a gigantic advantage in their meeting.

I need to see more from FPX in the second round-robin, regardless if they’re already all but assured a spot in the playoffs. If they continue at this level in the knockout rounds, they’re going to be easy picks for a No. 1 seed from any other group.

Matthiesen: I would say “all of the west” based on the final day of the first half, but there is one team that has disappointed especially: MAD Lions. The back-to-back LEC champions have always had difficulty in best-of-ones, so in some regards a slow start was expected. However, given how Europe’s top seed has performed in previous years, the expectation was that MAD Lions would at least look consistent in how they play out their games. They simply haven’t.

Even in their game against Gen.G, where Humanoid, Elyoya and Armut all played arguably their most comfortable champions, the team had to sweat hard to get a victory. Humanoid is the best player on that roster, but the only thing MAD Lions lets him do is push a sidelane instead of setting him up to be the star of the show. Let’s hope that the team uses the many days off to evaluate what went wrong and quickly shift gears — they’ve done so before.

Ray: For whatever reason, MAD Lions aren’t quite living up to the hype surrounding them coming into the tournament. They were rated highly as a top five team by man but have only managed to scrape one win so far.

MAD definitely are a best-of-five team, however, and there are still plenty of games left for them to play. If they don’t come into the second round-robin swinging, however, they’ll be in a dire situation.

Kant: It would be easy for me to say MAD Lions but I’m sure the LEC expert here, Tom Matthiesen, will agree with me that MAD Lions are traditionally slow starters — kind of like the lazy male lions you see in prides. So for now, I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and, no, I was not hooked on copious amounts of hopium.

I am most disappointed in FPX, and not just because they’re ruining my shot to be Pick’ems king. I picked them to be the Worlds 2021 winner and they are not looking close to it right now. Yes, I remember 2019 very well, and Kim “Doinb” Tae-sang said in a post-match interview that he does as well. I hope this is a repeat and they literally perform a rebirth of sorts in the second round robin, because right now they are not looking as hot as their emblem suggests.

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