Photo: Riot Games

For our first quarterfinal match of the day, we have a rather fascinating clash between the perennial League giants SK Telecom T1 and an unlikely challenger — Splyce! Now, coming into 2019, no one could have predicted such a random, confusing, out-of-place match-up. Heck, Splyce never attained much success (regionally as well as internationally), and their one Worlds appearance back in 2016 didn’t exactly blow anyone away, although it was a commendable showing overall.

SKT, on the other hand, is the most storied and accomplished organization in the game’s competitive history. That’s a nicer, much more prolonged way of saying that this is quite a big mismatch. But 2019 already gave us many exciting upsets, and Splyce is definitely a team that’s not afraid of trading heavy blows, regardless of the opponent.

The first two quarterfinal Best of 5s failed to deliver, in a way. We all expected hectic, back-and-forth matches that would be decided by the slimmest of margins. We wanted to see teams fight for every inch of the Rift; a fight between seemingly equal challengers. Instead, we got two one-sided shellackings, basically. It’s not that we weren’t entertained, but rather that it didn’t live up to the immense hype coming into the Knockout Stage.

Invictus Gaming didn’t need a lot of time in order to outclass Griffin (through sheer mechanics and experience), whereas Fnatic couldn’t find an answer to FunPlus Phoenix’s aggressiveness and clean play. Both matches were impossible to predict coming into the week, and yet they also surprised us a fair bit.

Before we delve deeper into the SKT vs. Splyce match-up itself, let’s take a closer look at how each team performed throughout the tournament.

SKT T1 are, without a doubt, one of the biggest tournament favorites, and that’s really saying something given just how competitive things have been. They were able to finish the Group Stage as the number one team in their group, which was fairly expected. Their talent and cohesion were second to none, and there wasn’t much Royal Never Give Up or Fnatic could have done to fight back (other than that one Veigar game). In short, this was the SKT we all expected: dominant, in sync, aggressive, flexible, and highly versatile both in the pick and ban phase as well as in game.

But even though they dominated against incredibly tough opposition, they were not without fault. In fact, the mistakes they made were baffling; they simply boggled the mind. A team of SKT’s caliber, a team that’s brimming with so much talent and potential simply cannot afford to play like this. Sooner or later a team will come that will seriously capitalize whenever SKT overextends or has a lapse in judgement. They’re often too aggressive and they tunnel in for a play that they feel like is the right call — and yet it rarely is. When they should farm up for late they always try to initiate, when they need to group up they decide it’s best to scatter across the map, and when they see an isolated target they feel like they’re more than capable of making a pick and swinging the game in their favor.

These are all natural in-game instincts, but SKT simply tries too hard at the worst possible moments. Now, when you’ve been as dominant as they have, it’s easy to get carried away. They closed out the last day of the Group Stage with a one-sided loss to Fnatic and a win over Clutch Gaming in which they fought tooth and nail to get their hands raised. Their unforced errors complicate things, and they mostly make them when they’re ahead. So sure, they got the first seed but they didn’t look particularly dominant in the process. It’s a deceptive result, by all means, and it didn’t instill us with much confidence.

Then again, this is SKT we’re talking about, and their biggest strengths shine brightest in the Best of 5 format. They know when they can slack off and they’ve surely done so over the last couple of weeks. When push comes to shove, they’re on point. That’s a given, and it’s also a historical fact as well. Fortunately for SKT, they’re not up against a challenger that’ll punish their mistakes as hard — if at all.

Instead, they’re facing the third seed from Europe: Splyce.

Even writing such a thing feels strange. For many of Splyce’s players, an appearance on the Worlds stage has been a long time in the making; it’s been long overdue. And to their credit, they’ve accomplished a spectacular thing here. Reaching Top 8 and standing shoulder to shoulder with the likes of SKT T1, Invictus Gaming, Royal Never Give Up and G2 Esports (among others) is no small feat. If you told them at the start of 2019 that they would be fighting against SKT by the end of the year they probably wouldn’t have believed you. Why would they? Such a luxury was always reserved for the most legendary European titans — something they never quite became, for a wide variety of reasons.

But 2019 brought a fascinating change in the overall status quo, and it was also positively inclined towards Splyce — a perennial gatekeeper. These most recent winds of change gave them a push in the right direction, and we can fairly say that Splyce didn’t disappoint. Heck, they overperformed by many metrics. Now sure, they were slotted into the “group of life”, but to nearly take down the LPL champions three times in a row is no small thing. They played far better than anyone ever thought they would, and were able to lock down a spot in the quarterfinals.

Now, Splyce — for all of their many faults and inherent weaknesses — is not a team that surrenders. They fight from the very get-go, and they’re not afraid of anyone. Such bravado and fearlessness allowed them to find so much success, but now they’re up against their hardest test yet: the LCK champions. It’s also fair to say that Splyce has more than enough tools to make this into a somewhat competitive series. They have the mechanical talent (enough of it, at least), the deep champion pools as well as a stellar coaching staff that’ll surely prepare them for the most biggest and most exciting Best of 5 of their careers.

Finally, Splyce will be playing without any pressure. They know they’re the underdogs in this one — they’re not crazy enough to think otherwise. That means no one’s expecting anything from them, so it’s impossible to actually disappoint. This is arguably their biggest asset coming into the series. Each and every member of the team will have to play out of their minds if they want to stand a chance of even winning a single game. But Splyce got this far with a roster that many thought wouldn’t be able to crack Top 3 in the LEC. Everyone doubted them throughout their 2019 journey, and yet they thrived and performed regardless.

Unfortunately, betting against SKT T1 on this one would be like betting against reason and healthy logic. The only thing we can hope for at this point is that Splyce really does step up and challenges the LCK giant as it’s hard to get excited for a one-sided shellacking.

Winner: SKT T1, 1.02 (odds @ Betway)

G2 Esports vs. DAMWON Gaming

Photo: Riot Games

This is where things become increasingly more interesting. A fight between the LEC champions and the third best team from Korea. On paper, there’s not much to get excited about. In reality, however, this match has “fireworks” written all over it. G2 Esports, by all metrics, disappointed during the Group Stage. Conversely, DAMWON played out of their minds. Neither team had an easy group, but it was DAMWON who was able to maintain a certain level of play throughout the two weeks and, as a result, lock down the number one spot in group D.

The fact that they took down Invictus Gaming — the defending World Champions, mind you — twice in a row with relative ease just goes to show that they’re an immensely talented young team that’s brimming with potential. They might not look the part, but this five-man line-up has the potential to go far, and they’ve shown it on more than one occasion. They’re not perfect, of course, but given what they have to work with, they’re performing well above expectations.

And it’s not just the fact that they’re currently a number one seed. Instead, it’s the fashion in which they got the job done. Their early game wasn’t always commanding, but they persevered. They played to their strengths and were always cognizant of what they had to do and when. Add a bit of bravado and even more mechanical prowess, and you get a fantastic, well-rounded team that’s hungry for the spotlight.

G2 Esports, on the other hand, disappointed. Maybe that’s a harsh way to phrase things, but it really comes down to what you expected from the best and most talented team that was ever assembled on European soil. No one thought they would end up second in their group. Not after dominating their region throughout the year, and not after they won the 2019 Mid-Season Invitational in record time. They’re the one team that defined today’s meta. So it is only natural for them to dominate and challenge for the Worlds throne. After all, that was the biggest narrative coming into Worlds.

“Did the rest of the world catch up with G2? Could they go for a repeat and complete the golden year?”

That’s why everyone was hyped beyond measure. It really didn’t matter for whom you rooted for. What did matter, however, is the fact that for the first time in history there were three regions who stood shoulder to shoulder, and each and every one of them had the tools to emerge victorious. Most of us expected a lot from G2 Esports, which was only natural after watching them dominate throughout the year with staggering ease. They’re the kind of team that had no problem with flexing a single champion in all five positions. They’re crazy, unhinged, confident and also quite a bit cocky. But when the going gets rough they’re always up to the task.

That’s the one reason why we’re giving them our benefit of the doubt on this one. They didn’t exactly earn it, and it mostly boils down to individual members underperforming (Jankos and Mikyx, in particular). But they made such egregious blunders at the right moment and as a result, had more than enough time to shore up their weaknesses and prepare a solid game plan for a dangerous opponent.

Now, this is definitely the easiest route G2 Esports could’ve gotten coming into the quarterfinals, and this isn’t a knock on DAMWON either. Fighting against SKT T1 or FunPlus Phoenix would’ve been a much harder test, both mechanically, strategically as well as stylistically. This one, however, is pretty okay in that sense. If the LEC champions play as well as they can, they’re bound to cruise through DAMWON with relative ease. If that fails to be the case, they’re going to struggle — a lot. Either way, we should be in for one heck of a series that has the potential to go the distance!

Winner: G2 Esports, 1.75 (odds @ Betway)