Hello to the (surviving) League of Legends Worlds quarter finals underdogs

Photo credit: Riot Games

As Worlds began, everyone involved knew that there was a lot on the line. Sure, there’s the four million dollar (and climbing!) prize pool, but each team seemed more interested in making their region proud. A few clear favourites were defined (Team SoloMid from NA, Samsung Galaxy, and the ROX Tigers among them), and we were off to the races. While everyone expected a few upsets, no one could have foreseen 2016 being the year where the underdog rose up and took some major victories.

While the elite teams with the highest statistical chance of winning still have the rest of the tournament to prove themselves as dominant forces, there’s always the chance that one of these little teams might rise up against them. Let’s get familiar with 2016’s unexpected winners at Worlds as the quarterfinals continue.

King of the wildcards

Albus NoX Luma is not the first Russian team to emerge on the world stage and stun everyone with aggressive play and decisive victories: there are echoes of Moscow 5 in their story. The wildcard teams hail from regions where the League scene is less well developed, and are often considered free wins. While they may score an upset or two, they are expected to politely lose the rest of their games and shuffle home, a little richer for the experience. ANX decided to buck that trend and take the fight to their group. G2 Esports and Counter Logic Gaming were both sent packing home, while tournament favourites ROX Tigers and ANX furiously fought for the group’s first seed. 

“Being an underdog doesn’t mean being a loser,” Likkrit said in his speech after the game. ANX have made history already by making it to the quarterfinals. Now, they angle to take that massive achievement a step farther by advancing in the quarterfinals.

Underdog tales are compelling: watching the same teams win again and again is not.

Europe’s last hopeInterestingly enough, their opponent in the quarterfinals is an underdog themselves. H2K headed to Worlds along with G2 Esports and Splyce to represent Europe. G2 was considered Europe’s golden hope. They had enjoyed a dominant summer split, and were the region’s best team during the season. After scoring two consecutive first place finishes and being placed into a group with a Wildcard and the relatively weak appearing Counter Logic Gaming, they seemed primed to place well.

They failed, only picking up one win during their two weeks of competition. They worked hard to adapt to the Worlds meta, but weren’t able to make the picks work. H2K also experienced a rough first week, but they started playing their style. They went undefeated during their second week, cleaning out the competition and making it out of their group. H2K fought hard just to make it to Worlds as the third seed, and now they’re the region’s last hope as Splyce and G2 head home. 

Why underdogs matter

Imagine, if you will, that you put on one of the great sports classics, a tale like Rudy or Remember the Titans. The team struggles through challenge after challenge, only to preserve and manage to overcome the odds. Would you watch these movies if at the climactic game, just when things looked their most bleak, the rich team ended up winning anyways? Underdog tales are compelling: watching the same teams win again and again is not. The first argument as to why underdogs matter is a simple one: they're fun.

If we look deeper though, there’s a better justification. There are problems that plague teams who fall behind, both big and small. INTZ and ANX both struggled to find scrim partners, as no one wanted to waste time helping the wildcards catch up. That’s a significant problem, and ANX have made a massive statement by heading to the quarters. It’s likely that will effect some change, and next time the team won’t need to play World of Warcraft to fill time before the next international tournament.

Finally, they keep the other teams on their toes. It’s one thing to have one team claw their way to the top and stay up there, kicking down other challengers and constantly being on their guard. When wide gaps exist in competition and one team can stay above the rest, it’s makes for an unfortunate viewing experience and usually speaks to systemic problems. This year, the chasm between teams is narrowing. Underdogs are prevailing again and again, and hopefully it speaks to the beginning of a new era of League of Legends, where large tournaments like Worlds are truly anyone’s game.