Since League of Legends exploded and expanded internationally in Season 2, there has been a marked difference in the international results of the Eastern regions (China, Korea, South-East Asia) and those in the West (Europe and North America). With the East winning the last seven World Championships and every Mid-Season Invitational title, many Western fans desperately wondered if the gap between the regions would ever close.
The answer for many fans may have come in the form of the 2019 MSI where for the first time since Season 1, there was an all-Western Final. The LEC’s G2 Esports and the LCS’s Team Liquid would clash in Taipei to crown a Western Champion at the MSI for the first time in the history of the event.
Team Liquid’s road to the Finals was to most fans and analysts unlikely and unexpected. North America has long failed to meet expectations at international events, and with Team Liquid’s failure to escape the Group Stage at the 2018 World Championships fresh in fans minds, there was little reason to believe this year would be any different.
These fears were reinforced when Team Liquid stumbled through the Group Stage to a 4-6 record, barely making it to the Knockout Stage. There they met the heavily-favoured Invictus Gaming, fresh off their recent World Championship victory and a dominant Group Stage. While Team Liquid had failed to impress early in the tournament, they delivered upon their potential in full when they defeated Invictus Gaming in a shocking 3-1 Semi-Finals upset.
Conversely, G2 Esports entered the tournament already grouped among the elite. Their strong performance at last year’s World Championship (where they upset one of the tournament favuorites Royal Never Give Up to advance to the Semi-Finals), coupled with the addition of LEC MVP Rasmus “Caps” Winther to their starting lineup created a talented and dynamic roster that many felt could challenge for the MSI title.
While Europe has found some international success in recent years, this year’s MSI represented the next chapter in their transition to being considered a region amongst the League of Legends elite. While many fans may be quick to write off North America and Team Liquid’s success at MSI as a fluke, recent European successes included two of the final four teams at the 2018 World Championships cannot be ignored.
Pairing the surprising ascent of Team Liquid at MSI with the recent success of Europe, it may be fair to say the gap is closer now than it has been in years. After two best-of-five victories against the best that China and Korea could offer, the perceived skill difference between the Eastern and Western regions has finally narrowed to the point where there is more than just a stubborn belief that a Western team could prevail in any given series.
While the gap may be closing, it will still take time for the playing field to truly level, if ever at all. China’s emergence as a force in League of Legends appears to have hit a snag, but surely the region as a whole will only continue to rise as it remains a hotbed for investment and is easily the largest region in the World. Whoever the Chinese champion may be entering this year’s World Championships, it would be hard to bet against them claiming China’s second consecutive World Championship.
Still, for one tournament at least, the West has had its moment in the sun. An all-Western Final preceded by two statement victories in the Semi-Finals that proved the West can no longer be overlooked on the international stage. Looking forward to the World Championships, this year’s MSI should only continue to help build that confidence and the belief that the gap may truly be closing.