The road to the League of Legends World Championship, aka Worlds, is long, arduous and hilariously complicated - a dizzying vortex of playoffs, qualifiers and seeding calculations that never seems to end. But it has ended! And now the actual tournament is upon us! Praise be! Let's break it down quickly before the Korean teams knock everyone out.
Which teams qualified for Worlds 2016?
The League of Legends World Championship will be contested by the 16 best teams on the planet according to the aforementioned bewildering array of qualification criteria. The group draw took place in early September and means we will see the following, in order of seeding:
ROX Tigers (LCK)
G2 Esports (EU LCS)
Counter Logic Gaming (NA LCS)
Albus Nox Luna (CIS)
Flash Wolves (LMS)
SK Telecom T1 (LCK)
Team I May (LPL)
Cloud9 (NA LCS)
EDward Gaming (LPL)
AHQ e-Sports Club (LMS)
H2k Gaming (EU LCS)
INTZ e-Sports (CBLoL)
TSM (NA LCS)
Royal Never Give Up (LPL)
Samsung Galaxy (LCK)
Splyce (EU LCS)
Where and when is Worlds 2016 taking place?
This year's League of Legends esports showpiece takes place in the game's very own backyard, the United States of America. The action kicks off in San Francisco before moving east to Chicago for the quarterfinals and further east to New York for the semifinals, before moving even further east to Riot's secret underwater base in the atlantic for the grand final. Oh wait, they're swinging back to LA for the final. Forget about the underwater base - that definitely doesn't exist.
Dates: September 29 to October 2, then October 6-9
Location: Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, San Francisco
Dates: October 13-16
Location: Chicago Theatre, Chicago
Dates: October 21-22
Location: Madison Square Garden, New York
Date: October 29
Location: STAPLES Center, Los Angeles
Seriously, there's no underwater base. Don't go looking for it.
What are the tournament formats and prizes?
Worlds is split into the group stages and then knockout rounds. The group stages, which take place over two weeks, divide the 16 competing teams into four groups of four teams who play each other in double Round Robin best-of-one matches. That means everyone in the group plays each other twice. Teams were seeded before the tournament based on a mixture of their performance across the season and typical bullshit Rito RNG.
Once groups are over, the top teams from each will go forward to the quarterfinals, with winners facing second-placed teams from other groups. For example, if G2 Esports wins Group A (don't laugh), they would face the second-place team from Group D. Quarters funnel into semis and into the final. The knockouts are all best-of-five, so any hiccups or aberrations from the group stages are likely to be smoothed out by the cold, hard law of averages.
The overall winner will get their hands on the fabled Summoner's Cup, which is reportedly so heavy that it takes an entire team to lift. (What a lovely coincidence for a game that is so dependent on selfless coordination.) Just as importantly, the winners get a cool one million dollars - a figure that will then be inflated further by sales of this year's Championship Zed skin. (The winners will also make some extra scratch next year when their Team Championship skins are released, because Riot has pledged to share 25% of that revenue with past and future winners as well.)
The runners up get $250k, 3rd and 4th get $150k, 5th-8th get $75k, 9th-12th get $45k and the rest get a certificate of participation. (Alright: $25k.)
Which patch will Worlds be played on?
The League of Legends World Championship will be contested on patch 6.18, where the majority of changes were aimed at professional play. Patch 6.18 saw Lux and Miss Fortune buffed in the hope of bumping them back into their respective lanes, while Ashe, Ekko, Gnar, Lissandra, Rek'Sai, Shen, Taliyah and Vladimir, all of whom have been popular in pro play for a while, experienced various nerfs. These were not primarily to stifle them, I imagine, so much as to even out the more pronounced differences between them and other champions in their roles. In other words, Riot hopes the changes will mean a more diverse champion pool during the tournament, which is always fun for spectators. (Singed plz.)
The other big news in 6.18 was the launch of the Yorick rework, but anyone hoping to see the Shepherd of Lost Souls in esports will have to wait until later in the year, because Riot's decided to disable him for Worlds to avoid blindsiding the pros. (You know, on top of the recent decision to nullify laneswaps.) On the plus side, Worlds will be the first real opportunity we've had to see Kled at work, so that's total insanity you can rely on!
Players to watch
There is no surer way to enrage the League of Legends community than to list professional players in order of perceived ability, but that doesn't seem to stop everyone doing it. Riot's own LoLesports.com crew put out a top 20 a little while back, while ESPN has individual top fives for top, jungle, mid, AD carry and support. It's enough to send Reddit into a frenzy. (Mind you, so is a passing breeze.) However you wanna rank them, though, there's no question that Worlds will be alight with astonishing individual talent - even in a team-focused meta - from the first to the last day. Here are some of the (incredibly obvious) ones to watch:
Smeb (Top lane, ROX Tigers, LCK)
Smeb was MVP in Korea in the spring and summer splits, meaning he's not only among the very best in the world right now but has been consistently all year. Come to think of it, he was a bit handy at Worlds in Europe in 2015 as well as part of the Tigers team that finished runner-up to Faker's SKT T1. Can he go one better in 2016?
Faker (Mid lane, SK Telecom T1, LCK)
Faker is the player everyone thinks about when they think about mid lane. Last year he 1v1ed a wildcard mid-laner with his level-two Olaf, did a forward roll and then won the world championship. SKT haven't had it all their own way in 2016, though, despite winning the Mid-Season Invitational in Shanghai. Can Faker and his team-mates become back-to-back world champions? If anyone can...
Deft (AD carry, EDward Gaming, LPL)
Will China finally get their act together in 2016 or will they wash out again? If they do, it won't be for a lack of talent. I haven't watched a ton of LPL this year (read: any), but Deft gets some of the hottest press when people talk about the region, and he would no doubt like to have the Summoner's Cup to show for it, especially after he famously wept on stage after his team lost out to Samsung White in the semifinals two years ago.
Clearlove (Jungler, EDward Gaming, LPL)
The best jungler in the world according to those who should know, Clearlove has won everything except the Summoner's Cup. With his team in rude form and China desperate to prove it can stand up to the might of the Korean teams, this feels like it could be the moment.
Bjergsen (Mid lane, TSM, NA LCS)
The sole survivor of the TSM team that failed to make it out of groups last year, the Danish mid-laner has looked imperious as TSM dominated the summer split in North America. He's clearly enjoying himself, too, in a team that also features the ferocious Doublelift in bot lane. Can they do something at Worlds?
Zven (AD carry, G2 Esports, EU LCS)
Let's have one from Europe as well then. Zven and his support Mithy switched teams between the spring and summer splits, leaving Origen somewhat in the lurch and delivering a significant upgrade to a G2 Esports team that had already dominated spring. G2 will be keen to make amends at Worlds after their ill preparation turned them into a punchline at MSI, but whether or not they go far, their confident AD carry will be one to watch.
Do you have anything else to help me get in the mood?
Funny you should ask...