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[Clokwork’s Stopwatch] Play-in or Play-Out?

POSTED BY Andrea Barresi October 17, 2017

Hello community and welcome to Clockwork’s Stopwatch, a new column of analytical articles on the League esports panorama. While reading these articles, I invite you to stop for a second and look back (or forward!), forget about time and reflect about the details that go unnoticed in the fast-paced flow of time. I hope you will like my insights from now on!

Worlds 2017 is in full throttle, and among exciting matches, incredible upsets and great storylines we’re already halfway through the most popular tournament of the year. Group Stage has just ended, and as teams enter the quarterfinals many fans all over the world noticed an incredibly interesting detail: of the 8 teams that have proceeded so far, 3 took part in the Play-In phase, namely Cloud9, Fnatic and Team WE.

So I asked myself, why is that? Was the Play-In successful? If so, why?

Learning The Way of the Censer

One of the first reasons that might come to mind is adapting to the meta. As we all know, love it or hate it, 7.18 is the patch of choice for the Tournament Realm for the whole event. This means that teams had to bow to the overwhelming power of the Ardent Censer: peeling supports are kings and as a consequence lategame hypercarries get the time of their lives. By starting the competition a week before, even if admittedly against lesser competitors, the Play-In teams got more time to get a better grasp on the current meta and therefore adapt their playstyle to the occasion before getting to the Main Stage.

The United States of China

Royal’s coach Firefox is one of the major advocates of the Chinese Alliance

Chinese teams have experienced a unique way of training during Rift Rivals: cooperation. Teams, players and coaches worked together to break the meta and craft new strategies, and it worked: LPL toppled LCK in that occasion. Don’t fix what’s not broken, and you have a massive bootcamp of LPL’s cream of the crop working as a unit to defeat the titans again.

On the other hand, Play-In teams didn’t really have the chance to have the usual Korean bootcamp, or just stayed in Seoul for a mere week before leaving for the very city of Wuhan, so these teams had not other choice than enjoying scrims with this new Chinese Alliance.

The second week of Group Stage actually showed this pretty well. Chinese teams adapted to the said lategame hypercarry meta by busting out early fast-pushing ADCs (Tristana, Caitlyn, Sivir, even Vayne!) and punishing the lack of pressure exerted by their counterparts by taking the first turrets as fast as possible and then snowballing from there.

Who else showed up with similar gameplay? You guessed it: Fnatic and Cloud9.

Coincidence? I think not.

Preparing for the Unforeseeable

Scrimming with the Chinese Alliance isn’t the only benefit that the Play-In teams enjoyed. 8 of the 12 teams taking part in the first phase were Wildcard teams, and as we all know they are more than famous for pulling off unexpected picks or strategies that make sense only in their own region (look at the Gigabyte Marines for example). By scrimming with these creative squads, Play-In teams (except week 1 Fnatic!) learned not to underestimate anyone and to adapt on the fly to in-game surprises, which I believe to be an invaluable skill.

Best or Bust?

So, was the Play-In experiment successful? Absolutely yes for major region teams, who had the chance to learn things they wouldn’t have learned otherwise and exploit them to snatch a quarterfinal spot, but not so great for Wildcard teams, forced to face much harder opposition with little to no chance of competition. But the Play-In stage could be the frontrunner of an expansion of the current Worlds format, which will give more exposure to both Wildcards and 4th place teams from major regions.

Thank you for reading and see you on the next episode! Keep your time!