Wednesday, October 25, 2017

League Worlds Semifinals: Gaming's Longest-Running North America-Free Zone (since 2012)

I did not realize NA hadn't put a team in the Worlds semifinals since season 1. Back then, there were eight teams in two groups, and the top team in each group took a bye directly to semis. That ended up being TSM and Epik, NA teams who both lost in those semifinals. TSM then beat Epik in the loser's bracket before falling to against All authority, who went on to the Grand Finals.

These are the main takeaways as regards NA's history at Worlds:
  • NA has never won a winner's bracket match at Worlds. 
  • NA's only match win was in the loser's bracket of season 1 (the only season where there was a loser's bracket), in an NA vs. NA matchup.
  • NA has lost eight matches in the bracket stage (two each in 2011 and 2014; one each in 2012, 2013, 2016, and 2017).
  • Cloud 9's recent 3-2 loss to Team WE was the closest match for any NA team in the bracket stage since TSM's 2-1 loss to aAa in 2011, and the only time an NA team has won two games in a main bracket match.
  • It may be a misnomer to say NA has ever made the semifinals. TSM and Epik are listed as semifinalists in season 1, but after that match, Fanatic played aAa in the final, followed by a rematch in the Grand Final. If you define semifinals as the round of four—which is perfectly reasonable, I'm not trying to unnecessarily shit on NA here—then yes, those teams were proper semifinalists. But no NA team has ever been one match away from competing for the championship through the normal bracket (TSM would have been in the Grand Final had they beaten aAa in the loser's bracket).
  • NA is fucked and will never win in the bracket stage. (Speculation.)
Korea owns the stage because they, as a gaming culture, are obsessed with being number one. China's bonkers-huge population should, or at least can, give them the advantage in the long run. Europe in theory can out-perform NA because Europe's population is about double, but it remains to be seen what the effect of the new four-region system is on their international performance. The Champions League style sounds really cool, but since it will be confined to EU and they're more than doubling the number of teams involved, it's hard to see how they avoid the situation of having improved performance top to bottom but more dispersal of talent from the teams that would be representing the region at Worlds or MSI.

Plenty of people more engaged with the scene than I am have opined on the reason for NA's failures, so I'm not going to pretend to have equivalent expertise. I'll just say this about NA's performance and the comments that follow up: the general sense is that NA should be good enough, yet somehow isn't, so why? There was no reason Immortals should have failed to make it out of groups, but they did. That group was split by hairs, though, and sometimes that happens. Plenty of people (including me) had TSM first in their group, but that was without realizing how good Misfits had become. What looked like an amazing group for the team to be in wound up as one where TSM was clearly third-best. Likewise, Cloud 9 was the second-best team in their group, even though going in it looked like EDG should have been superior. 

One thing the NA's history should make clear is that arguments about whether Bo1 or Bo3 are better for domestic competition are pointless. They haven't made a difference. Cloud 9 got their 3-2 match against WE because it was WE. As well as WE performed in groups, remember, that was the group where TSM was expected to do well because it was so theoretically weak. C9 sure as shit wouldn't have taken Longzhu, SKT, or RNG to five games. 

Yet, what do you do to the rosters to improve them? Short of throwing out the import rules and making a bunch of Korean kids rich, who do you take off of TSM to noticeably improve the team? Svenskeren is the easy target, for good reason, but numerous comments have been made about how he's playing a style that doesn't suit him. Maybe pull Xmithie now that Immortals disbanded? Sure, that's a start. It's hard to see him performing worse, and the change would free up an import slot. Hauntzer? Opinions on him vary wildly, but he's American, and it's hard to see what NA top laner is going to be a substantial improvement. If Sven is replaced by Xmithie or another NA jungler, then the sky's the limit, in theory. If TSM has another import slot available—I can't tell if they do, but it seems like Biofrost is Canadian and the other EU player listed on the roster is a backup who should be easy to drop for a high-quality starter—maybe you see about getting somebody with a better rep than Biofrost? Even then, Biofrost has had enough good performances to make it difficult to find someone that will be both available and unquestionably better.

I don't know, man. I want to see NA do well, but I want to seem them do well in a sustainable way. C9 squeaking past WE would have felt good but disregarded the fact that Misfits were the best Western team in the quarterfinals. They have something to build on. NA... maybe someday.

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