After four days of group play, the League of Legends World Championship play-in stage is moving to its second and final round: the best-of-five eliminator. The eight remaining clubs have been split into four one-on-one matches and the victors will move on to play in the main event of Worlds, alongside the other already 12 qualified teams. Before the action kicks off in Wuhan, China, to decide the final field of 16, let's break down the first two matches that take place on Wednesday night ET.
Cloud9 (North America) vs. Lyon Gaming (Latin America North)
Following what was the most dominant performance in the opening round of the play-ins, North America's Cloud9 was gifted with the worst possible outcome. Lyon Gaming, winners of nine straight domestic titles, fought tooth-and-nail with China's Team WE through the first two days of the tournament, and ace AD carry Matías "WhiteLotus" Musso, from Argentina, established himself on the world stage as an undeniable threat. Lyon would have also probably preferred a different opponent than C9, but after almost beating Team WE in both its contests, no team in the play-in stage should scare the pride of Mexico.
Key matchup: Nicolaj "Jensen" Jensen vs. Édgar "Seiya" Ali Bracamontes Munguía
It's a mid lane matchup that very well could decide the series. When C9 is tested against a tough opponent, it likes to rely on Nicolaj "Jensen" Jensen, the ace in the mid lane, to pull the North American team through to victory. Where that worked in the first round against inferior competition, the ol' "Give the ball to Jensen" strategy might not hold up against Lyon. Édgar "Seiya" Ali Bracamontes Munguía was one of the best performing players in all of the opening play-in round, and though Lyon plays through its sharpshooting marksmen, Seiya is close behind when it comes to importance. Both clubs like to set the tone early, so expect the junglers from both teams to be prowling around the mid lane for a majority of the laning phase.
And the winner is...
It's unfortunate one of these teams will have to drop out before the main event group stage begins. An unlucky draw for both, the edge should still be on the side of C9, which showed almost no flaws in its speed run through the first round. All of C9's games ended before the 30-minute mark, and the team was even allowed to try out new strategies where Lyon had to battle it out with Team WE and Gambit Esports in a much tougher group. If WhiteLotus can take over the bottom lane matchup and Seiya can at least hold his own against Jensen, the LLN champion has a chance. But the experience of C9 should win out in this battle of the United States and Mexico that has all the makings of an instant classic.
Prediction: Cloud9, 3-2
Fnatic (Europe) vs. Hong Kong Attitude (Taiwan/Hong Kong/Macao)
Neither of these teams thought they'd be facing each other in the elimination round a week ago. Both entered the opening round of the play-ins as No. 1 seeds, and although Fnatic made it out of its group as the top club, HKA fell to Turkey's 1907 Fenerbahçe in a tiebreaker to lose its spot atop its group. Now that we're here, only one of these squads from the "Power 5" regions will move onto the main event, and like the previous matchup, the victor isn't clear. Fnatic struggled in a group where it was expected to be head and shoulders above the other two teams, and HKA had to battle with a Turkish side that came into the tournament with some hype behind it. Fnatic could've been in the same situation as HKA, if not for a comeback victory in its first game with Vietnam's Young Generation, while the Europeans needed 50 minutes to put away a squad who would come back the next day to decimate them.
Key matchup: Martin "Rekkles" Larsson vs. Wong "Unified" Chun Kit
Whichever AD carry wins out on the day could be the difference in this best-of-five series. Martin "Rekkles" Larsson, the MVP of the European LCS this most recent split, had a fabulous opening round of the play-ins before a series of blunders cost him and his team in its final match against YG. Wong "Unified" Chun Kit, the star of his team, was strong in the early game for his team and tried his best to carry his uncoordinated side to the top of its group to no avail. HKA has the worst late-game objective control out of all the teams left in the play-ins, meaning Unified will need to come up big in those chaotic, 30-second-long team fights and be left standing at the end if he wants to get the three LMS teams into the top 16 for the first time in Worlds history.
And the winner is ...
Fnatic hasn't looked like a world-beater, and that will be a problem if it makes it into the next round. HKA, if it wants any chance of surviving in the next round, will need to clean up its play in the late game and learn how to play around Baron. Both teams have shown glaring flaws in their games, and whichever club can bandage up their holes the best with the single day of practice in between stages should be the team moving on. Fnatic's inconsistency and somewhat lackadaisical nature might keep it away from going any further than the next stage, but that should be much easier to remedy than HKA's underwhelming coordination in the latter half of the game and lack of awareness around the Baron pit.
I expect another close one, this time between two teams still trying to figure themselves out on the fly, whereas Lyon and C9 is a battle of two teams walking into the eliminator stage with a bit of swagger.
Prediction: Fnatic, 3 - 2