After four days of group play, the League of Legends World Championship play-in stage is moving to its second and final stage: 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 twelve qualified sides. Before the action kicks off in Wuhan to decide the final field of 16, let's break down the matches that take place on Thursday night at 11 p/m/ Eastern time.
1907 Fenerbahçe (Turkey) vs. oNe Esports (Brazil)
The only non-No.1 seed to take the top spot in its opening play-in round group, Turkey's champion 1907 Fenerbahçe can hold its head high walking into the best-of-five elimination stage. A team that was hamstrung before the tournament even began -- starting jungler Kang "Move" Min-su having his visa declined -- the makeshift starting lineup has come together in quick time to be a formidable opponent on the world stage. Substitute jungler Lee "Crash" Dong-woo has done well to fit in and match Move's old playstyle instead of forcing his own more aggressive way of playing on a team. After splitting its series with Hong Kong Attitude in the group stage, it was the team's ace in the mid lane, Crash's old teammate on Longzhu last year, Kim "Frozen" Tae-il, who pulled out the victory in the end for his team, putting on one of the best individual performances of the tournament thus far.
For Brazil, the road hasn't been nearly as smooth. oNe struggled through its first three games of the tournament, and it needed a comeback in its fourth game and a tiebreak win over Oceania's Dire Wolves to make it this far in the tournament. While the late-game decision-making has been solid for the Brazilian champion, the individual plays have been hard to come by. Whichever mid laner oNe decides to start on Thursday between Bruno "Brucer" Pereira and João "Marf" Piola is going to have a difficult time containing 1907 FB's South Korea ace.
Key matchup: Ege "Padden" Acar Koparal vs. Luis "Absolut" Felipe Carvalho
This will be a series about which late-game AD carry can withstand the laning phase without losing too much heading into the team fight portion of the match. Both Padden and Absolut were abysmal in the laning phase in the opening round. oNe's Absolut on average was down 7 CS at the 10-minute mark against his opponent, and 1907 FB's Padden was even worse, clocking in at 17 CS behind at that same time point. For both players, though, the team fight section of the game is where they shine, especially Padden, whose wild, in-your-face way of playing was key in the Turkish champion upsetting the No.1 seed HKA and going 4-1 overall in the group stage. Despite being an albatross his team needs to worry about in the laning phase, his resourcefulness and knack for maneuvering himself back into relevancy have made him a positive more than a negative for his squad at Worlds.
And the winner is...
Over the years, Turkey and Brazil along with Southeast Asia have somewhat created their own "Big 3" feeling within the developing minnow regions around the world. The three have repeatedly sent teams to the major international events, and either Turkey or Brazil will once again have a representative when the main event of Worlds kicks off a week from now. Although the emergency substitution could have been a fatal blow to 1907 FB's chances of moving out, Crash's newfound flexibility and clutch smiting in the Baron pit has made him an important part of the club. Through the first five games of the tournament for 1907 FB, its ace player, Frozen, has been only relied on once to hard carry, that being against HKA, and it was a coming out party for the South Korean mid laner at his first World Championship.
If 1907 FB's bottom lane can survive the laning phase alongside the team's rock-solid solo laners, it is going to be a difficult match for oNe to stay competitive in. Dire Wolves let oNe come back in games with a lack of late-game decision making, but that won't happen against 1907 FB. The captain and shot caller of the Turkish side, Berke "Thaldrin" Demir, is a veteran, and aside from Chinese powerhouse Team WE, 1907 FB was the best team in the play-in stage when it came to playing around objectives in the late-game. 1907 FB is stronger in the laning phase (sans Padden), and if Frozen plays like he did in his most recent game versus HKA, this series should be a quick one.
Prediction: 1907 Fenerbahçe, 3-1
Team WE (China) vs. Young Generation (Vietnam)
Where in the other elimination matches you can at least make a viable case for either side taking the series, the final best-of-five matchup before the main event group draw is a classic David vs. Goliath story. Team WE entered the play-in stage as a massive favorite to run down the competition, whilst Young Generation, the second-place team from the GPL behind the Gigabyte Marines, is only here due to its league's champion performing so well at the Mid-Season Invitational and allowing Southeast Asia two spots at this year's Worlds. Team WE's early-game showed holes, but it more than made up for it with smart moves at the end of games and superior macro to take down clubs like Mexico's Lyon Gaming. Team WE play a rigid style and it's difficult to punish, especially when a majority of the teams in the play-in round lack the necessary firepower to knock the Chinese side out before it can get into its comfort zone past the 20-minute mark of the game.
YG, like a boxer with only a puncher's chance to win, might be the best, and at the same time worst, squad Team WE could have drawn in the best-of-five elimination match. On paper, YG is one of the weakest teams in the play-in and is only here due to a lucky draw of getting Kaos Latin Gamers in its opening round group. However, with two competitive games versus Fnatic, where YG actually won one of them (Fnatic was already clinched as No. 1 in the group when the two played again), Team WE can't take the Vietnam club too lightly. YG is the most aggressive team left in the tournament, and after watching Team WE struggle with Lyon's immense pressure in the laning phase, there is a chance we could see the Chinese team's lukewarm starts be exploited.
Key matchup: Xiang "Condi" Ren-Jie vs. Bùi Nguyễn "Venus" Quốc Hoàng
For YG to have any sort of chance in this series, Venus is going to have to play the best games of his life on Thursday. The practice partners of the Gigabyte Marines, Young Generation only know one speed (that being go), and if it wants to pull off off the heist of the century, it will need to take some major risks to somehow pull three wins against Team WE. In a best-of-one setting, you could see YG possibly pulling it off with a few gimmick picks or a full-court press strategy, but three out of five against one of the best late-game teams in the world? It's a lot to ask for from a team that played well against Fnatic one game before struggling with KLG the next.
WE has one of the best junglers in Condi, and in any scenario where the game goes late with the gold score even remotely close, YG will be in trouble with the man nicknamed "Son of Baron" on the map, known for his clutch takes of the all-important objective. Venus will not only have to somehow slow down Condi but keep up the tempo enough to get his lanes ahead in the early-game, and even if all that happens, it could just mean a single win for YG in a series where it needs three to move on. It'll either be the best night of Venus' life, or it'll be one that only takes two to three hours but feels like it lasted for millennia.
And the winner is...
It's unfair to count out a team at this stage, especially one who upset a No. 1 seed in the opening round, but it's hard to find any avenues where YG can pull it off, sans a miracle. In a best-of-one, like mentioned before, sure, there's a chance the uber-aggressive Vietnamese team can grab a stunner like Albus Nox Luna did last year to the ROX Tigers... but this isn't a best-of-one. This is a full best-of-five, where the best side wins in the end. Team WE is better at every position at an individual level, and even with a less than stellar early-game, do YG really have the tools to punish WE like Lyon did?
One game win for YG would be incredible. Two would be insanity. Actually winning the series would be the craziest upset I've seen in League of Legends, especially considering it's not a best-of-one like last year's ANX upset over ROX.
Don't bet on it, though.
Prediction: Team WE, 3-0