Royal Never Give Up and Hanwha Life Esports qualified for the Knockout Stage at the close of Group C action Sunday, with Royal Never Give Up earning the group's top seed with a tiebreaker victory over HLE.
The big story of the day, at least until the tiebreaker, was the rise of Hanwha Life Esports (4-2), Korea's fourth seed, and the fall of Royal Never Give Up (4-2), China's third seed. The "fall" wasn't significant, as RNG slipped from first to second in the group, but their performance throughout Sunday was concerning for fans of the squad.
Hanwha Life Esports had an excellent showing all day long, rattling off three straight wins to go from a 1-2 record at the start of the day to tied atop Group C. HLE started with a 30-minute win against the PCS' PSG Talon (3-3). HLE was led by mid lane savant Jeong "Chovy" Ji-hoon, who was exceptional against PSG, farming up a storm and only missing his first minion kill at 12 minutes into the game. With Chovy ridiculously farmed, and with the rest of HLE winning their matchups, Hanwha Life did whatever they wanted while PSG was unable to respond en route to the win.
RNG, on the other hand, started their day by losing to the previously winless European second seed, Fnatic (1-5), in 37 minutes. Neither team was able to create much separation from the other, trading gold and objective leads back and forth throughout the mid game. It was only after 33 minutes where Fnatic was able to build on their gold lead, which quickly snowballed to a lead of 8,600 gold. With Mountain Soul and two Baron Nashors, Fnatic picked up their first win of the tournament over the group leaders.
Fnatic would go on to lose to Hanwha Life in a 43-minute slugfest that ended the European side's chances to qualify for the Knockout Stage. Then, Fnatic fell to PSG Talon in 39 minutes in a match where neither team had a chance to advance in the tournament. Fnatic's struggles with the sudden departure of bot laner Elias "Upset" Lipp are understandable, but time will tell what's next for this squad. Meanwhile, PSG Talon looked decently strong, but couldn't string together consistent wins against the top dogs of the group when it mattered.
After Royal Never Give Up rebounded with a 32-minute win over PSG Talon, it squared off with Hanwha Life in a match that HLE took in 36 minutes. This game wasn't ever truly close as HLE got ahead early on, winning most of their matchups while RNG grasped at straws. While RNG's teamfighting prowess was heralded as exceptional coming into the tournament, they failed to impress against HLE, freezing in place instead of engaging in a final fight that HLE would comfortably take to finish the game.
Then, in the tiebreaker game, HLE expected to roll over RNG again, but the Chinese representatives came alive, securing the win and first place in Group C in a 44-minute win. HLE was in control early on with their solid teamfighting composition, especially with Chovy's Twisted Fate farming out of his mind, even securing a Flame Horizon, a League colloquialism for when a player holds a 100 CS (Creep Score) lead over their opponent.
As the tiebreaker went on, though, RNG rediscovered their elite teamfighting form, allowing them to take over the late game. Once RNG turned around a 6,400-gold deficit at 37 minutes through picking up two Baron Nashors and an Ocean Soul, there was little HLE could do to stop them in straight-up 5-vs.-5 teamfights. The end of the game saw Chovy still farming in the mid lane while the rest of RNG tore apart HLE's base, giving RNG the win in 44 minutes and turning around what was close to a disastrous day for China's LPL.
In the 2021 Worlds Main Event, 16 teams are competing in four groups based on seeding, contesting a double round-robin of best-of-one matches in the Group Stage. The top two teams from each group advance to the Knockout Stage, which consists of a single-elimination bracket.
Teams will be randomly drawn for the Knockout Stage so that first-place teams will oppose second-place teams, and no two teams from the same group will be placed in the same half of the bracket.
Matches in the Knockout Stage will be best-of-five all the way through the Nov. 6 grand final. The championship team will receive 22 percent of the total prize pool, which would equate to $489,500 based on the minimum guaranteed payout of $2,225,000.
Group play continues Monday with six matches from Group D:
Gen.G Esports vs MAD Lions
LNG Esports vs Team Liquid
Gen.G Esports vs LNG Esports
MAD Lions vs Team Liquid
Team Liquid vs Gen.G Esports
LNG Esports vs MAD Lions
League of Legends World Championship Group Stage standings
1. DWG KIA (6-0)
2. Cloud9 (2-4)
3. Rogue (2-4)
4. FunPlus Phoenix (2-4)
1. T1 (5-1)
2. EDward Gaming (4-2)
3. 100 Thieves (3-3)
4. DetonatioN FocusMe (0-6)
1. Royal Never Give Up (4-2)
2. Hanwha Life Esports (4-2)
3. PSG Talon (3-3)
4. Fnatic (1-5)
1. Gen.G Esports (2-1)
1. LNG Esports (2-1)
3. MAD Lions (1-2)
3. Team Liquid (1-2)
--Noah Waltzer, Field Level Media