The 2021 League of Legends World Championship Play-In Stage has arrived. As the 12 group stage teams await the start of their campaign for the Summoner’s Cup, the remaining 10 franchises will battle for those final four spots in the next round of the tournament.
Upcomer’s staff has come together to give you our hot takes, predictions and an overall preview of the Play-In Stage, which begins on Oct. 5 when China’s LNG Esports faces off with South Korea’s Hanwha Life Esports.
What is the most interesting matchup possible in the Play-In Stage?
Tyler “Fionn” Erzberger: I think we’re actually starting off the play-in stage with the most interesting matchup. HLE and LNG are two teams that should have loftier aspirations than the qualifiers, and neither will be satisfied unless they advance into the group stages with a flawless record. It’s also the reunion of two former Griffin teammates, Jeong “Chovy” Ji-hoon and Lee “Tarzan” Seung-yong, who’ve gone on to become the aces of their respective new teams.
E.G Kant: I’m predicting most of Upcomer’s staff are going to say HLE vs LNG so I’ll try something a bit different: Give me Cloud9 vs DetonatioN FocusME. These two teams have unfinished business since the 2021 Mid-Season Invitational, and with DFM now able to play a full season with their exodia lineup, this, in my opinion, will be the match to determine which team makes it out of play-ins in Group B.
Rashidat Jimoh: It has to be HLE vs LNG. I mean, Korea versus China in League of Legends is always one to watch. LNG will be playing against the acclaimed Church of Chovy, so they will need to be prepared for that challenge. Both LNG and HLE went through a lot in their respective regions just to qualify for the 2021 Worlds play-in stage, and they will definitely want to begin with a win.
Declan McLaughlin: I think Galatasaray vs. Unicorns of Love will be the most interesting matchup. It’s a rematch of last year’s final play-in match, SuperMassive Blaze and UOL, in the mid lane. The matchup is also a proving ground for both teams, as Turkey would probably like revenge against the Russians and to show that they deserve to get out of the Play-In Stage since the region has not seen the main stage in three years. The two mid laners also have interesting and historic pocket picks that could clash.
Danny Appleford: I think Cloud9 vs DetonatioN FocusMe is going to be an interesting matchup. Cloud9 are expected to make it out of Play-Ins, but I think they won’t have games that are all that easy to win. I have a lot of faith in the Japanese scene for League of Legends this year and believe DetonatioN FocusMe could easily overtake Cloud9 if they catch them on the right day. Either way, all of Group B is going to be interesting with the addition of a North American team.
Who is your play-in player to watch?
Fionn: Chovy, Chovy, Chovy. Wait, let me think a bit more — nah, it’s Chovy. While it’s not the hipster selection some would have hoped for, I’m just excited to see a player that I’ve championed since he was a rookie let loose in the Play-In Stage when he’s already regarded as the strongest laning player in the world.
This is the third straight year Chovy has made worlds and the third straight year he’s done it on a different South Korean team. His previous two trips to the world championship ended in the quarterfinals. Anything but a semifinals or further placement would be considered a disappointment for Chovy, so I’m excited to see if his form can ramp up as the tournament goes along.
Kant: Gosh, there are so many talents that I’d like to watch. If I had to choose one, well… I’m going to cheat and choose two. I really want to see how Tarzan does for play-ins, not only because he has had a monstrous season for LNG, but also because the Worlds meta is going to be very interesting with the amount of oddball picks coming into the jungle. With jungle potentially playing a huge role in Worlds, plus the likes of Zed, Talon and Qiyana potentially being meta? I’m curious to see how Tarzan adapts.
My second is top laner Kiss “Vizicsacsi” Tamás, just because it’s such an odd signing out of nowhere for PEACE. I’ve watched him a long time in EU and I want to see him do well, naturally. Also, I want to see if he busts out his Poppy pick.
Jimoh: There are a lot of players to keep an eye on in this Play-In Stage, but watch out for DetonatioN FocusMe’s Lee “Aria” Ga-eul. After watching him at MSI 2021 and also the League of Legends Japan League Summer, there is no doubt he is one of the mechanically gifted mid laners out there. Also, even though DFM failed to make it out of groups at MSI, they really had some outstanding games. And just like LJL expert, Alex “Nymaera” Hapgood said, “Aria is always going to be a threat.”
McLaughlin: I think Mun “Steal” Geon-yeong or Lee “Aria” Ga-eul on DetonatioN FocusMe are two players worth keeping an eye on to see if they can translate their great performance at MSI to the World’s Stage. The Korean duo are not to be underestimated and may have a bone to pick with the other teams in their group.
Appleford: Luka “Perkz” Perković, from Cloud9, is my player to watch for play-ins. As a decorated veteran from the European scene who has been to Worlds several times, I think he has to prove he is still one of the best mid landers out there. Cloud9 struggled during this year, especially internationally, when the team finished fifth at MSI.
What is your hottest take about the worlds Play-In Stage?
Fionn: I still think Cloud9 are a good team. Call out my North American bias all you want, but I don’t think they’re a dumpster fire or a team prone to having a MAD Lions-esque collapse in the qualifiers. I’m positive they’ll probably have a game or two in the play-ins where it looks like the walls are caving in all around them, but I’m confident they’re talented and have enough veteran leadership to have a somewhat business-like advancement into the group stages.
Once there, though, with Group A almost assuredly their next destination, that’s when I’m jumping off the train and just hoping they can maybe steal a game from the likes of FPX or DWG KIA.
Kant: All Pool 1 teams should be favorites, despite the Cloud9/NA memes and PCS ones. Of course, LNG/HLE are overwhelming favorites, so the only nuclear take would be for none of them to make it. My hot take would be… Oceania will not be silenced. PEACE, with Vizicsacsi, are going to continue Pentanet.GG’s legacy at MSI 2021 and bring the heat from down under to volcanic Iceland. Maybe they don’t qualify for the Main Event, sure, but I predict they’ll cause a big ruckus and will not go down quietly.
Jimoh: I think Galatasaray Esports or DFM may top Group B over Cloud9, even though I still expect the NA team to make it to groups. I just see them having some struggles and dropping games to teams like Beyond Gaming and DFM.
McLaughlin: I think we will see a lot more fun matches in this edition of the play-ins, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the main event Group Stage turns into a snore-fest. The variety of playstyle and this year’s weird meta has hit each region differently, so as the stage with the most variety in regions, this should be the spiciest. DWG KIA and FunPlus Phoenix face off on the mainstage? Boring. Infinity Esports vs. LNG Esports in Group A? Riveting.
Appleford: My hot take is I think PEACE from Oceania has a chance to make it out. We have seen multiple players from the Oceania region rise up in North America and become some of the best. Two of the most notable players from Oceania are at Worlds in Cloud9’s Ibrahim “Fudge” Allami and 100 Thieves’ Victor “FBI” Huang. I think Oceania could upset, easily.
What four teams will advance to the group stages?
Fionn: HLE and LNG should be certain locks unless Chovy or Tarzan decide to forget how to play League of Legends. I’ve already planted my flag on the C9 hill and expect them to advance. For the final spot, Beyond Gaming would be the easy answer with how well they played against PSG Talon domestically, but that’d be boring. I’ll be cavalier and throw support towards DetonatioN FocusMe, the Japanese side that impressed at the Mid-Season Invitational and should feel at home in Iceland following their breakthrough tournament earlier this year.
Kant: Anything can happen but for Group A, to me it’s undoubtedly HLE/LNG. Which order? We’ll see who adapts better.
Group B is extremely tricky. It would be easy to say Beyond Gaming and Cloud9 for sure, but it’s definitely not as straightforward as Group A. You know what? I’m going to continue not having any faith in NA and say Beyond and DFM will make it out.
Jimoh: For Group A, HLE and LNG are clear favorites to make it out, and even I can’t play the devil’s advocate by saying otherwise. While Group B is quite tricky, just like Kant mentioned, it’s because you never really know what to expect from these teams coming into this tournament. Regardless of the uncertainty, C9 and DFM are my picks for Group B.
McLaughlin: This may not be possible since the play-ins are always a headache, but I think Beyond Gaming and Galatasaray will advance from Group B and Hanwha Life and LNG Esports will decimate Group A. I can’t see a world in which Group A goes any other way, and Group B has those hidden bosses mentioned previously who should impress on the World’s stage.
Appleford: For Group A, I have Hanwha Life Esports and PEACE (sticking with my hot take on this one) making it out of play-ins. For Group B, I have Cloud9 and DetonatioN FocusMe going through to the Group Stage. I feel like if Cloud9 does not make it out of play-ins, it will be a big let down for North America.