Melany M. October 20, 2019
On October 19, Royal Never Give Up and Clutch Gaming were eliminated from the 2019 League of Legends World Championship. It marked the first time RNG failed to make it out of the group stage and the last games for Clutch as a brand.
RNG and Clutch were part of the “group of death” alongside SK Telecom T1 and Fnatic. The group was highly competitive until the final game of the day, when Fnatic ultimately snatched the final spot at the Knockout Stage.
Clutch was the underdog in the group and expected to leave the tournament early. RNG, on the other hand, was looking like a possible contender for the title after three strong games. The final day of Group C completely flipped the narrative and Fnatic showed up with a new strategy that pushed them to the finish line.
RNG and Clutch are leaving the competition early but the reactions to these results couldn’t be more different. One team is receiving praise for their resilience and effort, while the other is being heavily criticized for being a mediocre team that is undeserving of the community’s support.
Clutch Gaming: A Cinderella story
Out of all the new organizations that joined the LCS, Clutch Gaming had the most significant impact competitively. Clutch didn’t have the best branding or the biggest personalities supporting the team. In fact, the team started with one popular European player, one okay Korean import, and three American players that no one cared about.
The first iteration of Clutch made a statement when they finished the 2018 LCS Spring Split in fourth place. To get there, they had to go through Team SoloMid and sparked an unexpected rivalry that would last through 2019.
Ahead of 2019, the team made some necessary changes, hiring a new coach and acquiring part of Echo Fox’s roster. Clutch’s Cinderella story starts in the 2019 LCS Summer Split when the team was stuck in ninth place. There were rumors that the organization was about to be acquired by Dignitas, setting the team up for an underwhelming final hurrah for both the roster and the brand.
Once the deal went through and Clutch became part of Dignitas, the team changed completely. The new coaching staff and owners brought new life to a team that was looking doomed. Clutch climbed the standings and reached fifth place, allowing them to advance to the playoffs. TSM would be the gatekeepers once again and Clutch was more than ready to take on North America’s most popular team. Clutch defeated them yet again, and TSM had to watch the rest of playoffs from home.
Team Liquid chose Clutch as their semifinal rivals, considering them the easier opponent in the bracket. Clutch would not go down without a fight and took the three-time LCS champions to game five. Clutch ultimately finished playoffs in fourth, which set them up with a spot in the regional gauntlet.
There, Clutch and TSM met one final time. Clutch took the game and denied TSM its ticket to Worlds. It would be the second year in a row that TSM missed Worlds. Once in Europe, Clutch took the play-in by storm and made it to the main event.
LoL Worlds group of death too much for Clutch
Clutch was destined to end up in Group C. Liquid and Cloud9 were placed into groups D and A, respectively and the distribution of other teams made it almost certain that Clutch would be forced into the group of death. Driving this home further was the fact it had SKT and Fnatic, two of Heo "Huni" Seung-hoon's former teams who he expressed a desire to face.
Ultimately, Clutch finished the stage winless, but they made the opposition sweat for each and every one of those wins. On more than one occasion, they had the opponent against the ropes.
The North American squad left the competition proud and happy with their achievements. Around the world, the LoL community shared messages of support to Clutch Gaming's players and praised them for their resilience. The team went from ninth in the LCS to Worlds in a matter of months.
Clutch’s journey is over and the cowboys will not return to the stage in 2020. The future of the roster is uncertain at the moment, but it’s likely in the organization’s best interest to keep players like Huni, Tanner “Damonte” Damonte, Sun "Cody Sun" Li-Yu and Philippe "Vulcan" Laflamme. The only question mark would be jungler Nam "Lira" Tae-yoo, who posted a pedestrian performance at Worlds.
That said, Dignitas could go in a different direction and start its LCS venture with a clean slate and a new roster.
The rise and fall of RNG
RNG might not be the team with the most titles or the best track record, but they’re a team that demands respect. Coming from a region with 16 teams competing in the league, RNG had to work extra hard to stay relevant and earn fans' love. Now, after a disappointing end to their Worlds’ run, RNG might lose a big portion of that support.
RNG was supposed to win Worlds in 2018. The team earned back-to-back LPL titles and took home the 2018 Mid-Season Invitational title. They were on the golden road, close to achieving what no one else had achieved before.
The team then failed to advance past the quarterfinals, where they lost to G2 Esports. From there, Invictus Gaming became the first Chinese team to win the World Championship. The pride of the region was saved, but RNG would never be the same.
Worlds seems to be the test that RNG is destined to fail. For the first time, the organization has failed to make it out of groups. The players are not happy and the fans are angry, to say the least.
Fnatic finally gets revenge on RNG at Worlds 2019
Group C was decided in the final match of the day between Fnatic and RNG, a situation they were well familiar with. RNG and Fnatic have developed a rare international rivalry, with RNG as the bully that denies everything to Fnatic. This time around, it was Fnatic’s turn to destroy RNG’s dream and send them home early.
LEC fans reveled in Fnatic's victory as they conquered their biggest demon. The RNG players had to watch from their seats as their opponents took one last, glorious bow. From his seat, Jian "Uzi" Zi-Hao watched with tears in his eyes, knowing what would come next. As if the elimination wasn’t dramatic enough, it could also be Uzi’s last international appearance.
It’s not a secret that Uzi has been dealing with back injuries for a while now. The bottom laner took time off in 2018 to recover and came back just in time for Worlds. Dealing with the backlash and health issues might be too much for Uzi, who has been playing since 2012 when he was barely 15 years old.
Nothing is confirmed yet. Uzi may have one more year in him, but this could be the end of China’s biggest star.
Luckily for Uzi, he isn't the one bearing the brunt of the backlash for the elimination. The community is asking for Li "Xiaohu" Yuan-Hao’s resignation. They want the player out of the team, as well as new coaches and an apology. The fans are so livid that some have expressed their plans to no longer support the organization.
Precedent suggests that this will not stop, especially if the LCK manages to reestablish itself as the top LoL region. The LPL can still salvage Worlds 2019 with FunPlus Phoenix already qualified for the Knockout Stage and Invictus Gaming looking to advance on the final day of groups. It’s good, but it might not be good enough.
The group stage ends on October 20. The competition will resume on October 26.