Play begins Saturday, Sept. 23 at the Wuhan Sports Center, as 12 teams jockey for position and the right to join a field of 12 awaiting them in the main event. Only four will move on, so let’s take a look at the play-in groups.
Group A: The group of death
Group stages tend to have one cluster that stands out above the rest, and this year’s play-in stage is no different. Group A features one of the favorites to advance: the Chinese side World Elite. But they’ve been matched with two of the stage’s most accomplished teams.
Gambit Esports made waves last year by qualifying for the World Championship playoff round from a wild card position. The move was so impactful it influenced Riot Games’ revamp of the World Championship structure this year. Paired with World Elite, Gambit will face an immediate stiff challenge.
It’s an even more disappointing draw for Lyon Gaming. The squad that has dominated the Latin America North region saw the expanded field at this year’s Worlds as a great opportunity. But drawing two of the play-in stage’s most daunting opponents means Lyon will likely make an early exit.
Group B: Cloud9’s clear road
American team Cloud9 found themselves on the receiving end of a much more fortuitous draw.
After narrowly defeating Counter Logic Gaming to advance to the World Championship, Cloud9 were rewarded with what should be a relatively easy group. The team matches up well with Brazilian upstarts Team One and Australia’s Dire Wolves, neither of whom have given fans much reason to move their betting money away from Zachary “Sneaky” Scuderi’s squad.
Group C: Questions linger around Fnatic
One of the hottest topics of discussion among League of Legends fans has been the shifting form of Fnatic. One of the most accomplished organizations in the esport, Fnatic produced wild swings in momentum and form this year.
Strong runs of play in the EU LCS weren’t enough to take the team to either the region’s Spring or Summer Finals, and Fnatic’s showing at Rift Rivals was disastrous.
Still, there is no denying the talent the team possesses. The question is whether they can adjust their game to fit the world’s meta and find success in that style of play. Fnatic shouldn’t be overly challenged by Kaos Latin Gamers or Young Generation, but fans aren’t likely to feel confident in a strong performance until they see it for themselves.
Group D: The underdogs
Without a headlining team like Cloud9 or Fnatic, Group D looks wide open. Hong Kong Assassins are the top seed hailing from the LMS and are the nominal favorites. Still, they’re relatively unproven on the international stage.
Their Turkish opponents, 1907 Fenerbahçe, may prove a stout challenge. They could be the team from a minor region to watch out for this year if Gambit should falter in their more difficult group. Japan’s Rampage will likely see an early exit.
Teams advancing from their groups in the play-in stage will still need to win a playoff series against another advancing team to break into the Main Event, which will get underway on Oct. 5.