2022 League of Legends World Championship Play-Ins preview: Who will qualify for the main event?

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Oct 09

In seasons past, the Play-Ins stage of the League of Legends World Championship has been considered by many a LoL esports fan to be an afterthought in comparison to the other stages of the multi-tiered international event.

At best, fans often look at the Play-Ins as an undercard to the main event of the World Championship. For some, the Play-Ins stage has been criticized for featuring one-sided games between a few major region teams and lesser teams competing from the minor regions and wildcard regions. At worst, the Play-Ins stage has been panned for a lack of quality matches either due to the level of play from the teams participating regardless of region. 

Frankly, the Play-Ins stage of Worlds 2022 takes those criticisms and shoots them into the sun. Wildcard region teams have continued to grow throughout the past half-decade; particularly in the case of the League of Legends Japan League and the Turkish Championship League, who have franchised in that period of time. 

In addition, the Worlds 2022 Play-Ins features more elite teams than ever before. As the respective 4th seeds of China’s League of Legends Pro League and South Korea’s League of Legends Champions Korea, Royal Never Give Up and DRX are understandably considered formidable opponents. And RNG won the LPL Spring Playoffs AND the 2022 Mid-Season Invitational earlier this year.

Also, because the League of Legends Continental League was canceled this summer due to the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine, the League of Legends European Championship has been given a 4th seed in the form of MAD Lions. This has created an even more competitive Play-Ins stage than any other previous LoL World Championship. 

With the start of Worlds 2022 looming large on the horizon, let’s take a closer look at what is set to be the most competitive Play-Ins stage in the history of international League of Legends esports competitions. 

Group A of the Worlds 2022 Play-Ins has shaped up to be somewhat of a one-horse race for the #1 seed and a path leading straight to the tournament’s main event. Evil Geniuses, the third seed from North America’s League Championship Series, is the clear favorite to take the first seed in the group. This is due to Fnatic’s recent problems leading up to Worlds. First, AD carry Elias “Upset” Lipp has only just arrived in Mexico City the day before the competition because of a positive COVID-19 test earlier this month. Second, for the same reason, starting support Zdravets “Hylissang” Iliev Galabov will not join the team until the the second day of the Play-Ins. This leaves Rúben “Rhuckz” Barbosa–the support for Fnatic TQ, the organization’s academy team–starting for the first day of Fnatic’s Worlds run. 

To make matters worse, Fnatic top laner Martin “Wunder” Hansen has revealed that the team’s practice environment is well below ideal conditions.

This isn’t to say that Fnatic couldn’t defy expectations and hit the ground running in top form upon Hylissang’s return. Nor is it to say that the other teams in Group A are total pushovers. DetonatioN FocusMe has improved year after year in international competitions. Pacific Championship Series second seed Beyond Gaming are no strangers to the international stage. League of Legends Circuit Oceania representative Chiefs Esports Club have carry players with LCS experience, and Campeonato Brasileiro de League of Legends representative LOUD boasts players that have competed internationally multiple times throughout the last decade.

Still, Evil Geniuses should be the favorite for Group A. AD carry Muhammed Hasan “Kaori” Şentürk has practiced with the team for less than a month. But on less than a week of practice, had an impressive LCS debut against 100 Thieves in the penultimate match of the LCS Championship.

Should EG return to their form shown in the 2022 LCS Summer Split with Kaori in place of starting AD carry Kyle “Danny” Sakamaki, the first seed should be theirs and they will qualify for the main event of Worlds without having to play one of the teams in Group B, which boasts a far higher level of competition than Group A.

Group B is, without a doubt, the most competitive group in Worlds Play-Ins history. Royal Never Give Up is considered by many to be a top five team at the tournament despite starting in the Play-Ins stage and being seeded lower than third LPL seed and defending world champion EDward Gaming. DRX has failed to crack the top two in the LCK all season. But with a strong roster highlighted by veteran AD carry Kim “Deft” Hyuk-kyu and electrifying jungler Hong “Pyosik” Chang-hyeon, are likely to settle for second place in Group B, albeit only because of RNG’s presence.

Group B is segmented in three-tiered groups of two teams each, and if RNG and DRX are the A tier, then MAD Lions and second Vietnam Championship Series seed Saigon Buffalo are the B-tier teams. MAD Lions competed in a stronger region than Saigon Buffalo, but didn’t win a best-of-five series the entire year. Saigon Buffalo, on the other hand, have played five best-of-five series in 2022 to a 3-2 record, and at MSI 2022 in place of VCS Spring champion GAM Esports, exceeded expectations on the international stage despite a finish outside of the top four. 

The proverbial C tier rounds out Group B with TCL representative İstanbul Wildcats and Liga Latinoamérica Isurus Gaming. Both teams boast legendary regional talents in AD carry Anıl “HolyPhoenix” Işık and mid laner Édgar Ali “Seiya” Bracamontes Munguía, respectively. But whether the rest of the team can weather the storm against the superior teamplay–and in some cases, individual play–of non-wildcard region teams is the question of either teams’ chance at qualifying for the next round of the Play-Ins; let alone the main event of Worlds 2022. 

Despite the steep competition in the Worlds 2022 Play-Ins, every single team is capable of a potential upset in the right conditions. However, if one is to predict that Evil Geniuses and Royal Never Give Up–the only two MSI 2022 representatives in the Play-Ins–are the teams to move on straight to the main stage as the respective first place teams in Group A and Group B, some interesting matchups are likely to occur in the second round. 

As previously mentioned, DRX is likely the second seed from Group B due to RNG’s presence, and even with less practice than other teams in Group A, Fnatic should be able to finish second as well. DRX will likely be considered the favorite against any of the other four teams in Group A, regardless of which seed they secure ahead of round two, but Fnatic may have a bit more trouble.

It is likely that either Saigon Buffalo or MAD Lions will be Fnatic’s opponent, as both teams are likely to finish third and fourth in Group B regardless of order. Against MAD Lions, Fnatic will be facing a familiar opponent, but an opponent far more practiced than themselves in context of Worlds 2022 preparation. Saigon Buffalo, on the other hand, will be more than happy to play at Fnatic’s pace and has done so on the international stage to surprising efficacy in their early games. 

Some matches in the Worlds 2022 Play-Ins will be closer than others, but when the dust settles, expect the following teams to qualify for the group stage of the tournament’s main event:

Evil Geniuses (#3 LCS)Royal Never Give Up (#4 LPL)DRX (#4 LCK)MAD Lions (#4 LEC)

*All images courtesy of Riot Games*

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