League of Legends World Championship viewers guide: the teams, the players, the stories

As in any good sports event — eSports or the flesh-and-blood kind — the League of Legends World Championship tournament is not without its own storylines and narratives. Regional styles will clash, expected powerhouses will face off with dark-horse underdogs and the very best players in the world will face off against each other.

First, let’s look at the tournament format.

Fourteen teams have qualified from around the world; four of those have been gifted an automatic spot in the quarterfinal round of eight thanks to winning their respective regions. The only regional winner to not receive a quarterfinal bye is the European team Fnatic due to Europe's last-place finish at the All-Star tournament held in Shanghai in May.

The remaining ten teams have been divided into two groups. In the first part of the tournament, the groups will play one another in a round-robin format, with each team playing each other team in its group twice. The two teams with the best records at the end of the group stages will move on to the quarterfinals where they will face the top-seeded teams already waiting. From there, it becomes a straight single-elimination tournament leading up to the Grand Finals at the Staples Center.

Perhaps the biggest overarching story to the Season 3 World Championships is the changing of the guard and the rise of new blood. Of the fourteen teams from around the world who have qualified for the tournament, only three had previously competed in the Season 2 World Championship last year: North America's Team SoloMid, Europe's Gambit Gaming (then Moscow 5) and Korea's NaJin Black Sword (then NaJin Sword). Though all three retain sizable fan bases, none of the old-guard teams are heavily favored to win.

Notably not one of the three returning Season 2 teams is Season 2 World Championship winner Taipei Assassins. After changing much of its title-winning roster, TPA was knocked from contention in the Taiwanese qualifying tournament by Gamania Bears, who would go on to qualify in their place.

Another major narrative point is the expected dominance of Korea. Long considered the home of eSports thanks to its early and fervent embrace of professional StarCraft, Korea’s All-Star players won the tournament without losing a single game; they made it look simple. The Korean teams are heavy favorites to take the world title, though eyes are on Europe's Lemondogs and North America's Cloud 9: Both are relatively new teams that did remarkably well in their regional competition against established squads, though they have yet to prove themselves on an international stage.

Here are the fourteen teams, divided up by regions.

Rumble2

NORTH AMERICA

Cloud 9 HyperX (Cloud 9)

Regional Standing: 1st Place

Tournament Standing: Quarterfinals

It is difficult to overstate just how dominant Cloud 9 was in the regular season of the North American League Championship Series (LCS). Despite not qualifying for the spring split by a narrow margin, Cloud 9 made it to the summer split in dominant fashion and proceeded to win almost every single one of its games. Cloud 9 has simply had no equal in North America since the beginning, and with a record of 30-3 is the region's top hope for success at Worlds. However, while even top Korean players have noted that Cloud 9’s mid-to-late game play is "flawless," its early laning phase shows weakness that the world’s best might be able to capitalize on.

Player to Watch: William "Meteos" Hartman (Jungler). Much of Cloud 9's success can be chalked up to the dominant presence of the team's jungler, Meteos. Named the NA LCS' season MVP, Meteos' consistent lane pressure and apparent immortality will be tested against the best the world has to offer.

Team SoloMid Snapdragon (TSM)

Regional Standing: 2nd Place

Tournament Standing: Group A

The only team from North America to have attended the Season 2 World Championships, Team SoloMid struggled to retain its former dominance in both Spring and Summer splits of the NA LCS. Both times, the team managed relative triumph in the end, taking first place in the spring split and scraping out a second-place finish in the summer split with an 0-3 loss in the finals to the dominant Cloud 9. Last year, TSM lost to Azubu Frost in the quarter-finals; with teams like SKT T1, Lemondogs and OMG in its group this year, TSM might count itself fortunate if it even gets that far.

Player to Watch: Marcus "Dyrus" Hill (Top). One of two TSM players to be voted into North America's All-Stars team in May along with the team's Support player Alex "Xpecial" Chu, Dyrus' performance was spoken of highly by his Top-lane opponents, and he remains perhaps the most consistent player on TSM. There's a good chance that none of those opponents will face him at Worlds, however; Dyrus and Fnatic's Paul "sOAZ" Boyer are the only All-Star Top-laners whose teams made it through qualifiers, and Fnatic is in the other group.

Vulcun TechBargains (Vulcun)

Regional Standing: 3rd Place

Tournament Standing: Group B

Though Vulcun struggled to succeed against established teams as a relative newcomer in the NA LCS spring split, Vulcun surged upon replacing its original Support player Jake "Muffinqt" Lowry with Lyubomir "BloodWater" Spasov, ultimately clenching third place over the then-dominant Team Curse. For all of the summer split, Vulcun easily held second place and remains one of only two teams to have taken games from regional champion Cloud 9, though they were ultimately defeated by TSM in the regional semifinals and forced to settle for a third-place finish. Despite a dominant performance in North America, Vulcun like Cloud 9 remains untested on the world stage.

Player to Watch: Zachary "mandatorycloud" Hoschar (Mid). Even in Vulcun's early days when it struggled to take wins off of older, more experienced teams, Mancloud was proving himself as one of the best Mid-laners in the country and his team's victories were frequently on his back. The centerpiece of Vulcun, Mancloud will face top-tier Mid-laners like Fnatic's xPeke and Ozone's Dade in Group B.

Fizz

EUROPE

Fnatic

Regional Standing: 1st Place

Tournament Standing: Group B

One of the oldest and most successful professional League of Legends teams, Fnatic claimed victory in the Season 1 World Championship tournament in 2011, but failed to qualify for Season 2's event. Fnatic was resurgent in the European LCS, claiming a dominating first-place finish in the spring split and squeaking by Lemondogs to do the same in the summer split. The only 1st-place team not to automatically advance to the quarterfinals thanks to Europe's last-place finish at the All-Star event, Fnatic faces stiff competition even in the group stage. Still, Fnatic is well-seasoned in international competition and has taken games from teams like Korea's SKT T1 before; it would be unwise to wholly count them out.

Player to Watch: Johannes "puszu" Uibos (Carry). Fnatic has made no secret that it plans on running the talented young Martin "Rekkles" Larsson as its Carry in Season 4 but could not in Season 3 due to his age. His substitute Puszu has proven himself more than competent, and knows this may well be his last League of Legends hurrah. Expect him to go down with metaphorical guns blazing.

Lemondogs

Regional Standing: 2nd Place

Tournament Standing: Group A

A relatively new pro League of Legends team, Lemondogs showed startling strength in its debut season as the only team to rise above the frantic dogpile that was the EU LCS summer split; though it ultimately lost its first-place spot to Fnatic in the regional finals, Lemondogs should not be easily dismissed. Like its North American counterpart Cloud 9, Lemondogs remains untested on the international scene.

Player to Watch: Alfonso "Mithy" Aguirre Rodriguez (Support). The turning point for Lemondogs in the EU LCS was its early replacement of Support player Bram "wewillfailer" de Winter with the talented Spaniard Mithy. Mithy remains undefeated while playing as Sona, and may bust out his beloved Blitzcrank for a trip to Hook City.

Gambit Gaming BenQ (Gambit)

Regional Standing: 3rd Place

Tournament Standing: Group B

Once widely considered invincible when the team was called Moscow 5, Gambit's star has dimmed since its semifinal loss to eventual victors Taipei Assassins at the Season 2 World Championships. After losing renowned Support player Edward "EDward" Abgaryan to the North American team Curse, Gambit failed to rise out of the chaotic middle of the pack in the EU LCS summer split. The team finished the tiebreaker round at fourth place but ultimately took third from Evil Geniuses in the regional qualifiers. In Gambit's favor is its storied record in the international scene; Gambit has played favorably against many of the top teams in the world and never placed lower than fourth place in an international competition. But the group stage at Season 3 worlds will be a brutal challenge on its own.

Player to Watch: Danil "Diamondprox" Reshetnikov (Jungler). Long considered one of the most innovative Junglers in the world, Diamond pioneered now-common jungle picks like Nasus (and some that never quite caught on, like Karma). If any player on Gambit is planning on pulling out something unexpected at Worlds, it will be Diamondprox.

Zed

KOREA

NaJin Black Sword

Regional Standing: 1st Place

Tournament Standing: Quarterfinals

Despite being the first seed in what is considered the most powerful region, Korea, NaJin Black Sword is not as heavily favored to advance as the other Korean teams. This is partly to do with Korea's unique seeding mechanism: Though NaJin Black Sword's performance in Korea’s recent Champions league seasons has been thoroughly mediocre, the team is placed so highly due to its commanding wins in the Champions Winter tournament early in the year as well as the second-tier NLB tournaments. Combined with the departure of its skilled and popular Top-laner Yoon "MaKNooN" Ha-woon earlier this year, few are predicting NaJin Black Sword to be Korea's strongest team at the Season 3 Worlds. However, there is still top-tier talent on Sword; victory is hardly out of the question given their quarterfinals bye.

Player to Watch: Kim "PraY" Jong-in (Carry). Though Maknoon was NaJin Sword's most popular player, Pray is world-class in his own right. Pray and CJ Frost's acclaimed Support player Hong "MadLife" Min-gi dominated their international counterparts at the All-Star match; the two of them seemed unstoppable. As the only Korean All-Star to attend Worlds, expect Pray to try and carry his team to victory.

Samsung Galaxy Ozone (Ozone)

Regional Standing: 2nd Place

Tournament Standing: Group B

Electronics giantSamsung may have changed the team's name after purchasing it in early September, but this is still the same roster as the talented MVP Ozone that convincingly won Korea's OLYMPUS Champions Spring tournament in June. Whichever name you want to give it, Ozone has a roster of top-level players across the board and despite a third-place finish in Champions Summer remains a top contender for the Worlds title. Despite its success in the most competitive region, however, Ozone has never competed on an international stage of this caliber and remains untested under that scrutiny and pressure.

Player to Watch: Choi "DanDy" In-kyu (Jungler). Dandy was responsible for the especially memorable Baron Nashor "steal" mentioned earlier in the article; and is rightly considered one of the world's top Junglers. Beyond his considerable skill, Dandy brings an interesting storyline of his own to Worlds: When playing as an amateur, he promised Fnatic's Mid-laner xPeke that he would one day meet him on a "global stage." As the two teams are both together in Group B, Dandy has lived up to his vow.

SK Telecom T1 (SKT T1)

Regional Standing: 3rd Place

Tournament Standing: Group A

Though in theory the last-seeded Korean team, SKT T1 may be the favorites to win the World Championship title. The most recent winner of the Champions league in Korea, SKT T1 handily defeated the powerhouse KT Rolster B - who had already beaten world-class teams just to make it that far - to clench its spot at Worlds. SKT T1 was as dominant in Champions Summer as fellow Korean representatives Samsung Galaxy Ozone and NaJin Black Sword were in Champions Spring and Champions Winter respectively; that recent momentum cannot be discounted. SKT T1 is all but considered a lock to make it out of the group stage, and winning it all may be in their grasp.

Player to Watch: Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok (Mid). Every player on SKT T1 might be considered a player to watch - the team's Carry, Chae "Piglet" Gwang-jin in particular - but Faker's dominance of the Mid lane in Champions Summer cannot be overstated. A mechanically astounding player, look for him to excel on champions like Zed. If SKT T1 is the dominant Chicago Bulls of the mid 90s, Faker is Michael Jordan.

Annie

CHINA

Royal Club Huang Zu (Royal Club)

Regional Standing: 1st Place

Tournament Standing: Quarterfinals

Though Royal Club finished second in the Chinese Tencent LoL Pro League (LPL) summer season, they triumphed over first-place OMG in the regional qualifiers to secure a pass to the quarterfinals. In the LPL summer season Royal Club went a combined 5-1 against China's previous World Championship contenders World Elite and Invictus Gaming, though the current squad has not yet seen international competition on this level.

Player to Watch: Wong "MikakoTabe" Pak Tan (Support). Formerly a member of elite Chinese team Invictus Gaming, this will be Tabe's first international competition - he left IG months before they attended the Season 2 World Championships. Tabe is known for unconventional supports like Annie and Cassiopeia that are rarely played at all elsewhere in the world, and may look to surprise his international foes with more out-of-the-box picks.

OMG: Oh My God (OMG)

Regional Standing: 2nd Place

Tournament Standing: Group A

With a 17-4 record in LPL's summer season OMG looked all but unstoppable, but in the regional finals the team was swept by Royal Club in three straight games and forced to settle for second place and a spot in the group stage. Like Royal Club, OMG has not yet seen an international stage of this sort. Nonetheless, OMG's performance in the regular season was head-turning, and they should be considered more than capable of fighting their way out of Group A.

Player to Watch: Le "LoveLin" Yin (Jungler). Though it hasn't caught on outside of China, LoveLin's pioneering jungle Yorick pick brought his team great success in the LPL summer season. However, Royal Club seemed to use its lack of lane pressure against OMG in the regional finals. Will LoveLin's signature pick see use against international teams - or will it just be banned against him every time?

Zac

TAIWAN & SOUTHEAST ASIA

Gamania Bears

Regional Standing: 1st Place

Tournament Standing: Quarterfinals

The Gamania Bears are a relative unknown quantity in pro League of Legends. The Bears finished with a 12-13 record in the Taiwan eSports League, but beat the Season 2 World Champions Taipei Assassins and their heavily favored sister team Taipei Snipers - who had gone 20-5 in that same league - in the Taiwanese regional finals. They are untested on the world stage and relatively unknown, but may be relying on that: Taipei Assassins' Season 2 win was on a dark horse streak of its own.

Player to Watch: Chou "Steak" Lu Hsi (Top). Steak may have been the Bears' most consistent player in his team's victory over the Taipei Snipers, turning in solid performances on Renekton and Zac both; his relentless split-pushing is critical to the Bears’ success. However, his suicide dive into the Snipers' base after his team had secured the win and their spot at Worlds may reflect a disrespectful or cocky attitude that belies his consistency.

Mineski

Regional Standing: 2nd Place

Tournament Standing: Group B

By all rights, Mineski shouldn't be at Worlds. The team placed second at the Philippines' qualifying tournament and their run should have ended there, but a last-second problem with the first-place team Exile sent Mineski to the Southeast Asian regional finals in Vietnam instead, where they beat the heavily favored Singapore Sentinels to secure a spot at the World Championship. The crowd and bets will be against Mineski, so they have a considerable amount to prove.

Player to Watch: Eric "Exo" Allen Gubatan (Carry). Exo's mechanics on Ezreal proved impressive in Mineski's victory over the Singapore Sentinels, and the announcers' reactions to his duel with the Sentinels' Carry Wong "Chawy" Xing Lei may have burst some eardrums.

INTERNATIONAL WILDCARD

GamingGear.eu (GG.eu)

Regional Standing: N/A

Tournament Standing: Group A

For the last spot in the World Championship, Riot Games held a Wildcard tournament at GamesCom 2013, featuring the top teams from five regions with their own LoL servers but no major professional scene: Brazil, Latin America, Turkey, Oceania and the Commonwealth of Independent States. GG.eu, the CIS team, won the GamesCom tournament to secure the final spot at Worlds. This will be the Lithuanian team's biggest challenge and few expect anything from them. Considering that GG.eu's group includes Korean powerhouse SKT T1 and veteran North American squad TSM, making it out of the group stages would be a huge win.

Player to Watch: Gediminas "Alunir" Navakauskis (Jungler). As the oldest player on GG.eu at a wisened 24 years old and the only Challenger-level player on the team, Alunir is going to have to make plays if GG.eu is to survive past groups.

Season_2_champions_tpa

MATCH SCHEDULE

So, you know the basics of League of Legends. You know the teams and the storylines (are you rooting for anybody, yet?) - when is this all kicking off?

The group stage begins this Sunday, Sept. 15 as TSM takes on GG.eu. All matches can be viewed on Riot Games’ Twitch.tv and YouTube channels.

Group Stage

The match times in the Group Stage should not be held as gospel; each game will start shortly after the previous match has concluded, whether it was a grueling 70-minute slug-fest or a 25-minute one-sided stomp.

All times provided are in North American Eastern, GMT -5.

Day 1: Sun, Sept. 15 - Mon, Sept. 16

Group A:

  • 3 PM: TSM vs. GamingGear.eu
  • 4 PM: SK Telecom T1 vs. Lemondogs
  • 5 PM: TSM vs. OMG
  • 6 PM: Lemondogs vs. GamingGear.eu
  • 7 PM: OMG vs. SK Telecom T1

Group B:

  • 8 PM: Vulcun vs. Fnatic
  • 9 PM: Gambit vs. Mineski
  • 10 PM: Ozone vs. Vulcun
  • 11 PM: Mineski vs. Fnatic
  • 12 AM: Gambit vs. Ozone

Day 2: Mon, Sept. 16 - Tues, Sept. 17

All matches are Group B only:

  • 10 PM: Mineski vs. Ozone
  • 11 PM: Vulcun vs. Gambit
  • 12 AM: Ozone vs. Fnatic
  • 1 AM: Mineski vs. Vulcun
  • 2 AM: Fnatic vs. Gambit

Day 3: Tue, Sept. 17 - Wed, Sept. 18

All matches are Group A only:

  • 10 PM: Lemondogs vs. OMG
  • 11 PM: SK Telecom T1 vs. GamingGear.eu
  • 12 AM: TSM vs. Lemondogs
  • 1 AM: GamingGear.eu vs. OMG
  • 2 AM: SK Telecom T1 vs. TSM

Wed, Sept. 18: Mid-Stage Break

Day 4: Thurs, Sept. 19 - Fri, Sept. 20

All matches are Group B only:

  • 10 PM: Ozone vs. Gambit
  • 11 PM: Fnatic vs. Vulcun
  • 12 AM: Mineski vs. Gambit
  • 1 AM: Fnatic vs. Ozone
  • 2 AM: Vulcun vs. Mineski

Day 5: Fri, Sept. 20 - Sat, Sept. 21

All matches are Group A only:

  • 10 PM: Lemondogs vs. SK Telecom T1
  • 11 PM: OMG vs. GamingGear.eu
  • 12 AM: TSM vs. SK Telecom T1
  • 1 AM: GamingGear.eu vs. Lemondogs
  • 2 AM: OMG vs. TSM

Day 6: Sat, Sept. 21 - Sun, Sept. 22

Group B:

  • 3 PM: Gambit vs. Fnatic
  • 4 PM: Vulcun vs. Ozone
  • 5 PM: Fnatic vs. Mineski
  • 6 PM: Gambit vs. Vulcun
  • 7 PM: Ozone vs. Mineski

Group A:

  • 8 PM: Lemondogs vs. TSM
  • 9 PM: GamingGear.eu vs. SK Telecom T1
  • 10 PM: OMG vs. Lemondogs
  • 11 PM: TSM vs. GamingGear.eu
  • 12 AM: SK Telecom T1 vs. OMG

Bracket Stage

The quarterfinal matches will be played in a best-of-three format, while the semifinals and finals will be played in a best-of-five. Unlike the group stage games, where each game’s starting time is dependent on when the one before it finished, Riot has said that the quarterfinals, semifinals and grand finals will be running on a schedule.

None of the matchups have yet been determined, but the four teams to already have qualified for the quarterfinal stage are: Cloud 9 (North America), NaJin Black Sword (Korea), Gamania Bears (Taiwan & Southeast Asia) and Royal Club Huang Zu (China).

Quarterfinals

Mon, Sept. 23, 3 PM: Quarterfinal #1

Mon, Sept. 23, 8 PM: Quarterfinal #2

Tues, Sept. 24, 10 PM: Quarterfinal #3

Wed, Sept. 25, 1 AM: Quarterfinal #4

Semifinals

Fri, Sept. 27, 11 PM: Semifinal #1

Sat, Sept. 28, 3 PM: Semifinal #2

There will be a week-long break before the finals to allow both qualifying teams time to rest and properly prepare.

Grand Finals

Fri, Oct. 4, 11 PM at the Staples Center in Los Angeles

Enjoy the games! Let us know who you’re rooting for in the comments section. Make sure to read our guide on watching the championships too.

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