On February 11, 1990, the odds in Vegas on the Heavyweight Championship were 42-1 in favor of Iron Mike Tyson. He was, at 23, the biggest name in boxing worldwide. He was the baddest man alive, and had steamrolled the competition so ferociously up until that point that the thought of him losing to anyone, let alone a relatively unknown boxer like the challenger Buster Douglas, seemed impossible.
Then, after out-boxing him for ten consecutive rounds, Douglas delivered an uppercut that Tyson could hardly stand up from.
“Is this where you start to believe?”
This year, Worlds viewers were witness to upsets of a similar caliber. Seventeen minutes into the game between INTZ esports and EDward Gaming, Brazilian mid-laner Tockers walked brazenly through tower fire to drop a crushing ultimate on top of Meiko, the Chinese support player. It was a bold move, perfectly calculated and executed flawlessly. It was also perhaps the fourth or fifth instance of a play like that in this game alone; INTZ esports were beating the favored team in every lane. “Is this where you start to believe?” cried one caster shortly afterwards. It must have looked like that miraculous uppercut from Douglas, the manifested divine. On the first day of Worlds, a Brazilian team many viewers had never even heard of took a game off the best team in China.
And that wasn’t the last time we’d see an almost unbelievable upset. Improbably, Counter Logic Gaming’s matchup with the tournament favorite ROX Tigers, considered by many analysts the best League of Legends team in the world, went the way of the North American underdogs. After a roam from mid-laner HuHi that came so unpredictably early that he hadn’t even reached level two yet, CLG established a dizzying pace, keeping ROX off balance from start to finish. I said that ROX Tigers might be put off by the speedy play of North American teams, but even I didn’t expect them to lose so conclusively to a team that wouldn’t even place on most top five lists.
Was it a freak accident, a unicorn of a match? Well, speaking in terms of regions, NA has the same win/loss record as KR right now. While the quality of their players is a little uneven across the board, wildcard teams (like INTZ, for example) are doing better than EU, who have a catastrophically bad record of 1-8 so far. Only time will tell if this is opening jitters or a real pattern, but this year looks a lot different from Worlds’ gone by.
Even the champions proving dominant so far are unfamiliar faces to the recent competitive environment. Mata was a nightmare on Alistar, while Lee Sin is turning out to be a surprisingly powerful option for junglers, and we’ve seen some outrageous performances on Syndra from mid-laners so far.
David has spent the whole week beating the shit out of Goliath.
So, to recap: David has spent the whole week beating the shit out of Goliath, nothing is sacred and much of the established wisdom about the current competitive League of Legends scene has been blown out of the water. Are these just the growing pains of top-tier teams adjusting to the new meta, or are we seeing a genuine upheaval? Could a Brazilian team make it out of group stages? Will we see a North American team in the finals for the first time in Worlds history? I can’t wait to find out.