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Bottas on pole, Red Bull closing in, Hulk back in action

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It was 24 hours later than planned, but Formula One’s return to action at the Nurburgring was worth the wait. ESPN rounds up all the big stories from qualifying day for the Eifel GP…

Bottas must capitalise on good qualifying

Valtteri Bottas has never won back-to-back races, but there is no better time to start than on Sunday at the Nurburgring. Very few people outside of his closest supporters see him a genuine title challenger this year, but with everything that’s happened in 2020 and a mathematical shot at the title, it’s not over until it’s over.

Bottas’ win last time out in Russia had an element of luck after teammate Lewis Hamilton was hit with a ten-second penalty for a pre-race incident, but it may just have been the boost his confidence needed.

Luck certainly didn’t play a part in Saturday’s qualifying as he beat Hamilton to pole position by 0.256s in difficult conditions. It was Bottas’ third pole position of the season, but it’s worth remembering that he’s been less than 0.1s off Hamilton at five other venues in 2020, so the 44 point gap in the championship is, perhaps, slightly unrepresentative.

Given the forecast of rain and a long list of unknowns going into Sunday’s race, there’s no guarantee that pole position will result in an easy win on Sunday. But as Hamilton enters another race day on the back foot, Bottas must capitalise on his strong qualifying performance to keep his small championship hopes alive.

“Being on pole is a good achievement but it is the race that matters,” Bottas said after the session. “I never had a doubt that I couldn’t be on pole or win races, but of course it’s a nice thing to get it.

“I can’t say it’s a turning point because I’ve been feeling upbeat all year long and I’ve been so close many times, anyway, this season, to win but it’s just things haven’t come together.”

The return of the Hulk (again)

It was a wild day for Nico Hulkenberg. At 11AM he was drinking a coffee with a friend in Cologne, ahead of a leisurely trip to the Nurburgring for some punditry duty for German broadcaster RTL.

That trip was moved forward in his schedule after an unexpected call from Racing Point boss Otmar Szafnauer, informing Hulkenberg he was needed to fill in for the poorly Lance Stroll.

There was an element of déjà vu for Hulkenberg given the fact he deputised for Sergio Perez at the two Silverstone races earlier this year, but on both of those occasions he got some practice sessions in at least.

Not this time, on arriving to the circuit and having a negative COVID-19 test, Hulkenberg threw on some pink Racing Point overalls and got in the car for qualifying. It’s little surprise he finished 20th out of 20.

“I feel good considering I had a heart attack around 11am,” he joked after the session. Asked how the experience compared, he said: “It was even crazier and wilder than last time.” The German driver said a lot had changed for him, including the Racing Point car he had for two F1 events a few months ago.

“It felt quite different to Silverstone, completely different circuit, the car has moved on too. There’s a couple of technical bits that are very different that give the driver different sensations, so I had to adjust around that a bit and just find my feet again. Obviously in four laps, that’s not so easy. All in all, even though I’m last I’m quite pleased with the laps we produced just now.”

Red Bull closing in…

The gap between the Mercedes on pole position and the Red Bull leading the pack was the closest it has been all year in Saturday’s qualifying session. The narrowing of that gap has been something of a trend at recent races and could be a positive sign for more competitive races towards the end of the season.

Max Verstappen secured third place on Sunday’s grid, but he believed the lack of Friday practice cost him as he tried to dial the car into the circuit and get the most from the latest upgrades.

“The car’s been handling quite well, quali as well. I felt quite comfortable. Of course, there were a few little balance things I would have liked to get improved but, of course, short notice. Overall I think it was a good qualifying. I just struggle a bit with understeer – and I don’t like understeer but also this track, at the moment when it’s so cold, with the tyres, yeah, it just didn’t come towards us, dry qualifying.

“I think from the beginning it was fine but then it just slipped away a bit. When you’re understeering, you can’t carry that mid-corner speed through the corners, you have to V-style it a bit more and you lose a bit of time. Still, a good qualifying. To be that close to them.”

But while Red Bull’s progress is positive for the competitive picture of Formula One, we’ve seen a number of false dawns for Mercedes’ rivals in recent years and the team from Brackley has always stayed on top.

Since the first race of 2020, Mercedes has had a very competitive car and therefore it has only needed to bring relatively minor upgrades over the course of the season to maintain its advantage at the front. While that has helped Red Bull close the gap at recent races, it’s more likely a symptom of the world champions shifting their focus to the future than a genuine change in the order.

Downforce cuts next season mean teams have to redevelop their cars for 2021 even though the chassis is remaining the same. Completing as much of that development work as early as possible will only help free up resource and money when it will be at even more of a premium next year.

“We tend to see this pattern that Red Bull catches up towards the end of the season,” Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff said on Saturday night. I guess it’s good for the championship we are deploying the strategy that we believe is right, balancing next year and this year.

“We can see the results on track but we need to be vigilant and accept that the competition will increase over the last few races.”

Leclerc the star of qualifying

It puts Ferrari’s season in context that a second-row starting position is being heralded as a good result, but Charles Leclerc’s fourth-place grid position certainly deserves some praise. On a day when Sebastian Vettel was 0.4s off the top ten, Leclerc managed to split the Red Bulls and stands a good chance of scoring Ferrari some much-needed points on Sunday.

“I don’t really know [where the pace came from], I’m quite surprised, especially with this weather, I expected to struggle in the cold weather,” Leclerc said. “From the beginning of the season, we are struggling to make [the tyres] work any time it is cold. Today, it seems it has worked out for us. I’m very happy, very happy with my last lap. I put everything together and P4 is great.

“Surely there were upgrades this weekend that worked in the proper way. We are not trying to find an update that is giving a huge amount of lap time, just small differences every weekend which for now is working well. Every time we are bringing something on the car, it’s working, which was not the case in the past. This is very important and it helps us to build a solid base for the car.”

Cancel Fridays?

The fog which canceled Friday’s practice sessions left every driver — minus Hulkenberg — with just one hour of practice ahead of qualifying at a circuit which hasn’t hosted an F1 race since 2013. The cold temperatures also created a tricky proposition for drivers.

A lack of practice has often been a factor in thrilling races on Sunday, with teams unable to completely maximise their set-ups.

Valtteri Bottas welcomed the shortened race weekend.

“Currently in a normal weekend I feel like there is too much practice,” he said. “Everyone finds their ways on set-ups and optimal things in terms of driving and the car set-up.

“But if there would be a bit less practise, maybe some teams can get it right, some drivers can get it right and some don’t. So I’d kind of like it with a bit less practice.”

Max Verstappen shared that opinion, saying: “Especially when you have little issues or whatever, you can go over it through a whole night. You can look back at it in the factories as well, work in the simulator and stuff.

“But overall like Valtteri said, we have a lot of practice so you also take your time to settle in. Now, you know that it’s only one session, you’re straight away on it I think a bit more than what you would normally do in first practice or whatever. So it evens out a bit, but there are little things which can always be improved.”

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Passan: Legendary Game 4 was straight out of a sandlot daydream

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ARLINGTON, Texas — It happened just past midnight on the East Coast, 34 years to the day the last time a World Series game concluded like this. There are so many possible outcomes for the final play of a baseball game. Home run. Strikeout. Single. Groundout. It’s a testament to how good players are that what unfolded in the earliest hours of Sunday morning was so jaw-dropping, an unforgettable October moment, when a fielding error ends a World Series game.

Actually, it was two errors. A game like this, jam-packed with the very things that make baseball so addictive, deserved no less than something historic — something even more improbable than Bill Buckner’s infamous gaffe Oct. 25, 1986. The denouement of Game 4 — Los Angeles Dodgers catcher Will Smith dropping a ball at home plate that allowed Tampa Bay Rays outfielder Randy Arozarena to dash home, pound home plate with his right hand and gift-wrap their breathtaking 8-7 victory — squashed a potential coronation and breathed life into a series that’s again even.

How these 4 hours, 10 minutes of pure baseball bliss came together only adds to the implausibility of it all, but then that’s why this game is bound to go down in the annals as one of the most memorable in the 116 World Series that have been played. Even before Brett Phillips looped a two-out, two-strike pitch off Kenley Jansen into center field, even before Chris Taylor committed the other error booting the ball as he tried to field it, even before Arozarena stumbled after rounding third, even before Smith’s howler let him off the hook, this was a righteous ballgame, an emotional vise, squeezing tighter and tighter until the whole thing was too much and burst in spectacular fashion.

It all started around 2 p.m. on Aug. 27. Four days before the trade deadline, the Kansas City Royals had agreed to a deal to send Phillips, a backup outfielder, to the Rays. Phillips was elated. He was from Seminole, Florida, a 20-minute drive from Tropicana Field. It didn’t matter that he would get only 25 plate appearances and be used mostly as a pinch runner and defensive replacement. He was home. And this amazing Rays team embraced him, too.

Which admittedly isn’t difficult. Phillips is one of the most well-liked players in baseball. When he laughs, it sounds like a goose honking or a pterodactyl bleating. Last week in the ALCS, when he wasn’t even on the Rays’ roster, he nevertheless spent the games in the team’s dugout, walking around with a stopwatch and clipboard, a faux coach who would write motivational messages, most of which had to do with Arozarena’s postseason exploits.

It was fitting, then, for the Rays and Phillips, that the ninth inning of Game 4 unfolded in such fashion. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, who had foolishly left reliever Pedro Baez in to blow two leads earlier in the game, forsook his hard-throwing rookie reliever Brusdar Graterol, who had finished the eighth inning, and at one minute past midnight East Coast time summoned Kenley Jansen, hopeful his magic had not vanished for good.

By no means in this series, or this season, were the Dodgers the Cinderellas of any manner or variety. They are leviathans in payroll and talent, and if Jansen could secure the 7-6 lead Roberts handed him, they would hold a 3-1 series lead and find themselves in prime position to win their first World Series since just two years after the Buckner error.

The Rays’ lineup and Dodgers’ defensive alignments were complete messes, owed to what had happened in the four or so hours prior. The first three games of this series weren’t duds exactly. The Dodgers had hit at a historic clip with two outs. The Rays had stolen the middle game. There wasn’t a single lead change. Good baseball was played by two excellent baseball teams. Drama has been hard to come by.

Game 4 made up for it. There were home runs. From the Dodgers’ Justin Turner in the first and Corey Seager in the second, highlights on a night when both went 4-for-5, and all for naught. From Arozarena and Hunter Renfroe and Brandon Lowe and Kevin Kiermaier as the Rays fought and clawed and tried to keep pace. Every time they did, the Dodgers answered with more. They barreled balls the whole evening, hitting 19 at 95 mph-plus to the Rays’ seven. That Tampa Bay was even here, within a run and ready to stare down Jansen, felt like providence.

When Jansen blew a sinker past pinch hitter Yoshi Tsutsugo for the first out, the crowd of 11,411 at Globe Life Field, which has turned into Dodgertown South, roared. This was it. They were going to win Game 4, and then Clayton Kershaw, pitching 30 minutes from his hometown of Highland Park, Texas, was going to pitch them to victory in Game 5, and the postseason demons of their iconic pitcher would vanish alongside those of an iconic franchise going on three decades without the most meaningful sort of hardware.

Kiermaier swung at a first-pitch cutter, 93 mph, the kind of velocity Jansen only found in recent days. It sawed Kiermaier’s bat all the way down to the knob. Broken bats don’t always equal outs, though, and the ball fell just out of the reach of diving Dodgers second baseman Enrique Hernandez out into center field. The hardest-hit ball of the inning came courtesy of Joey Wendle, who lined out to left field. With two outs, up stepped Arozarena.

For nearly a month, the 25-year-old rookie, almost a complete unknown outside of front-office circles and extra-deep fantasy leagues, has looked like the best hitter in the world. His home run in the fourth gave him nine this postseason, a major league record. His third hit of the night pushed his total to 26, tying the most in a single playoffs. Arozarena stood in against Jansen, his upper lip curled into a slight snarl. He took a cutter for a strike, stared at a slider for a ball, whacked a slider foul, spit on a cutter just off the plate, stared at another to run the count full, fouled off a slider and trotted to first after Jansen bounced a slider for ball four.

It wasn’t the worst outcome. In the previous inning, Phillips had entered as a pinch runner for Ji-Man Choi, who himself had come into the game as a pinch hitter. Under normal circumstances, the Rays might have pinch hit for Phillips, but the only bat left was catcher Michael Perez, whose career numbers are worse than Phillips’. The Rays are here in large part because manager Kevin Cash so astutely leverages his roster and makes use of his 28 players, but to say that with the game on the line the Rays wanted Phillips at the plate would be some kind of revisionism. This is playoff baseball. It’s the same reason Taylor, who had last played center field Sept. 12, found himself there in the ninth inning. Cody Bellinger, the Dodgers’ usual center fielder, had to DH because his back tightened up before the game, and Roberts had pinch hit for his replacement, A.J. Pollock, with Joc Pederson, whose single in the seventh pushed them ahead 6-5. The move looked deft until it didn’t.

Before it was clear Phillips would even bat, Paul Hoover, the Rays’ field coordinator, had told him that he was going to win the game. Rodney Linares, the Rays’ third-base coach who had managed Phillips when he was a highly touted prospect in the Houston Astros system, pulled down his mask after Phillips stared at a ball and then two strikes and yelled: “Just swing the bat, kid!”

On the fourth pitch, Phillips swung. It was a 92 mph cutter, middle-in, where Phillips likes it. Never mind that in his career with two strikes he was 22-for-205, a .107 hitter. Never mind that he hadn’t registered a hit since Sept. 25, two days before the end of the regular season. Never mind that he had logged only two plate appearances in October. Never mind that he had taken only 10 swings in the batting cage behind the Rays’ dugout to prepare for the biggest at-bat of his life. Never mind that the ball left his bat at only 82.8 mph.

Never mind any of that, because what players like Brett Phillips illustrate, what moments like this remind us, is that baseball’s unpredictability is its finest quality. Nothing about this lined up for Phillips to be the hero, and yet there he was, the kid who as an eighth grader screamed himself hoarse as the Rays advanced to a World Series in 2008 that they didn’t win, feathering a ball past the shift, toward Chris Taylor and into history.

Everything unfolded over the next 13 seconds. Kiermaier scoring the tying run. Taylor’s error. Arozarena never breaking stride until he stumbled. Linares screaming at him in Spanish to go back to third. Smith not realizing Arozarena had fallen and trying to sweep the relay throw from Max Muncy. The ball squirting away. Jansen not backing up the play. Arozarena reversing course, diving into home, pounding his right hand on the plate nine times.

Phillips rounded second and ran toward forever. He had seen Kiermaier spread his arms and run like an airplane and thought it looked fun, so he tried it. The Rays met him in left field and moshed around him. Phillips couldn’t breathe. He extracted himself from the pile and knelt and thanked God. His smile was iridescent. He wanted to hug his wife, Bri. She had been working at a jewelry store in St. Petersburg, Florida, and wasn’t in the bubble, so the closest they had gotten was pregame, when she stood on the concourse and told him she loved him, not knowing the biggest moment of his life — next to marrying her, Phillips made sure to note — would happen hours later.

This game, which had been 1-0, then 2-0, then 2-1, then 3-1, then 3-2, then 4-2, then 5-4, then 6-5, then 6-6, then 7-6 and finally 8-7, which Lowe said aged him 10 years on the final play alone and Roberts called “the unperfect storm,” which left the Rays with perma-grins and the Dodgers sulking off the field wondering how this could’ve happened, had everything. One more strike and the series is completely different. One more inch of movement on Jansen’s cutter. One more foot of defensive positioning on Kiermaier’s blooper. The permutations are endless and the lamentations inescapable. One’s cruelties are another’s beauties. The Dodgers had scored six runs with two outs. The Rays scored the only two runs with two outs that mattered.

“Baseball,” Kiermaier said, “works in mysterious ways.”

On a night like this, it’s easy to fall back on those kinds of clichés — on the baseball gods smiling upon one team, for whatever reason deities would do such things. It was impossible to listen to Brett Maverick Phillips, whose family calls him Maverick, and not appreciate or embrace or understand his platitude. As self-reverential as baseball can be, as much as the game can disappoint and frustrate, there are always going to be kids in the backyard pretending.

World Series.

Bottom of the ninth

Down a run.

Two strikes.

The hometown guy at the plate.

He wins it.

“Keep dreaming big,” Phillips said. “These opportunities, they’re closer than you think.”

He laughed, not one of his guffaws but more an aw-shucks. Thirty-four years after the most famous error in baseball history, he was right there for its cousin in infamy, rounding second, airplaning like a kid whose backyard dream actually became a reality.

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Suning, DAMWON to meet in 2020 League of Legends World Championship final

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Suning, the No. 3 seed out of China, pulled off another upset in the 2020 League of Legends World Championship knockout stage on Sunday and reached the world final with a 3-1 win over tournament favorite Top Esports.

After taking down the LoL Pro League’s second seed, JD Gaming, in the quarterfinals, Suning upset the top seed out of their region to reach the Oct. 31 final at Pudong Stadium, where they’ll face South Korean squad DAMWON Gaming for the international title.

Here’s how Suning, once considered a team with an outside at the League of Legends World Championship, managed to tear up everyone’s bracket.

Coverage of previous matches is available on our 2020 League of Legends World Championship groups and play-ins page.

Suning 3, Top Esports 1

A LoL Pro League semifinal, as they say, hits differently.

While many will (rightfully) talk about how awful some of these drafts were, especially in the first game of this series, which set the tone for the rest, whenever two LPL teams meet each other on the international stage, a series feels different. Suddenly, the draft changes. Even if teams stick to their respective playstyles, they play faster and looser within those styles.

Suning’s win over Top Esports on Sunday was this type of matchup. It was also a testament to just how much Suning have grown as a team since they were swept by TES in the LPL summer playoffs.

The worlds meta suits Suning much more than it did Top Esports, which was exemplified by both of these teams’ respective quarterfinals matches. There, Suning had to go through the LPL’s No. 2 seed in JD Gaming and looked much more comfortable in how they played around jungler Lê Quang Duy. Mid laner Xiang “Angel” Tao, who was mediocre throughout most of the season, leveled up to a world-class mid laner. Chen “Bin” Ze-Bin had already impressed in groups but was showcasing a larger champion pool than previously thought, and his aggressive laning style made things difficult for opponents — even JDG’s Zhang “Zoom” Xing-Ran, who is a stronger and more experienced laner. The Suning bot lane of Tang “huanfeng” Huan-Feng and Hu “SwordArt” Shuo-Chieh appeared ready to take on anyone.

Meanwhile, TES were rightfully lauded for their mental fortitude and adjustments around jungler Hung “Karsa” Hao-Hsuan to reverse-sweep Fnatic (another team that was more suited to the current meta than TES) in their quarterfinal but looked shaky.

If there’s one key takeaway from any of this, it’s that this Suning team is not the same Suning team that lost to TES in playoffs. They’re also not even the same Suning team we saw take the first seed out of Group A. This Suning team has shown throughout their best-of-fives, knocking out both of their LPL brethren en route to the worlds final, that they are flexible within the framework of the current meta in a way that few teams are.

A lot of the LPL’s recent success has come from their teams hitting a meta at the exact right time. This year, Suning is that team.

A fond farewell to: Top Esports

I fully expected Top Esports to go through. Similarly, I expected JD Gaming to face them in the semifinals. In both cases, Suning proved me wrong.

The story of this TES team is an interesting one. With the addition of Yu “JackeyLove” Wen-Bo in the bot lane late spring as the coronavirus pandemic was beginning to clear up in China, TES went on a tear. The team nearly won the spring finals, took the Mid-Season Cup and razed through summer to win their first LPL title.

This is a roster made of stars that relied on besting their opponents in lane and 5v5 teamfights. They were fun and explosive to watch all year, particularly as the team became more coordinated between spring and summer. There’s a reason why they were heavily favored as a worlds finalist or winner, but the meta shift away from them made just enough of a difference for Suning to advance.

Quotable

Sometimes in competition, we find that the face staring back at us from across the table, room or digitally behind a screen, is a close friend. Sunday was not only a marquee matchup between TES and Suning but a reunion of former Flash Wolves teammates and close friends SwordArt and Karsa.

Both of them toiled away on Flash Wolves in the now-defunct LoL Master Series before going to mainland China’s LoL Pro League. The two talked about how emotional it was to face each other prior to the series, spammed Flash Wolves emotes at each other in game, and after it was over, Karsa nearly threw himself into SwordArt’s arms for a hug in the end game receiving line. Karsa had been clear in pre-match interviews that regardless of who won, he wanted them to take the entire thing.

In the post-match press conference, he wished this for his former teammates and friend.

“I really hope that he can grab the win and also make his dreams come true.”

Every game in a sentence

  • Suning 1, Top Esports 0: Suning turn the tables after a crucial dragon fight and overcome TOP Esports despite TES’ bot lane advantages.

  • Top Esports 1, Suning 1: A shaky start for TES ends up turning out alright thanks to 369 PvE-ing half of the game to accrue advantages, another strong performance from Knight and some clutch Lee Sin kicks from Karsa.

  • Suning 2, Top Esports 1: The top lane matchup swings heavily in Bin’s favor after multiple mistakes from 369 and TES, and while TES do make things interesting behind Karsa’s Lee Sin, this game is Suning’s.

  • Suning 3, Top Esports 1: TES look better in this game, but Suning still overtake them with Angel’s impressive Akali performance.

More: Suning evolve into League of Legends World Championship dark horse | TSM’s Bjergsen announces retirement | Ten years of worlds: A League of Legends World Championship oral history


DAMWON Gaming 3, G2 Esports 1

DAMWON Gaming became the first South Korean team to make the League of Legends World Championship final since 2017 and took down the G2 Esports team that eliminated DAMWON last year with a 3-1 win on Saturday in Shanghai.

The win came with the fastest game in League of Legends World Championship history, with DAMWON shutting the door on G2 around the 19-minute mark in a decisive Game 4.

When G2 Esports met DAMWON Gaming in 2019, G2 were a few series away from completing the Royal Road: winning every major event that they participated in domestically and internationally. DAMWON were an upstart LoL Champions Korea team that provided a beacon of hope for the LCK after South Korean teams had struggled internationally following their 2018 worlds collapse. Like Griffin before them, DAMWON came to 2019 worlds with the hope that a younger, aggressive team was more suitable to the current meta.

Although G2 did not complete their Royal Road, they did overwhelm DAMWON in the quarterfinals with a similar 3-1 scoreline to what we saw Friday. DAMWON didn’t have answers for Luka “Perkz” Perković and Rasmus “Caps” Winther’s champion flexibility. In particular, then-starting bot laner Sin “Nuclear” Jeong-hyeon was completely outclassed by Perkz.

Fast-forward to this year, where DAMWON players like mid laner Heo “ShowMaker” Su have talked about how much they want this rematch with G2 Esports to prove how much they’ve grown in a year. Bot laner Jang “Ghost” Yong-jun was a much more stable fit for the team in 2020 and took on a shot-calling role, while support Cho “BeryL” Geon-hee evolved into an aggressive innovator. ShowMaker himself improved significantly and, most importantly, DAMWON’s jungle-focused playstyle around Kim “Canyon” Geon-bu suited DAMWON much better than the efforts G2 made to play around Marcin “Jankos” Jankowski.

DAMWON put together a highlight reel during this series, but the best one is definitely the fervor with which they attack G2’s Nexus with the Rift Herald in Game 4 to firmly shut the door on G2 in under 19 minutes. This was a team that desperately wanted to prove that they were now better than G2, that they had shed their mental hangups of 2019, and they proved themselves convincingly.

A fond farewell to: G2 Esports

Despite winning both LEC splits again this year, it’s not been the best season for G2 Esports.

Europe’s No. 1 seed looked remarkably shaky in both of their regular seasons, with the initial swap of Caps to the bot lane and Perkz back to the mid lane not working nearly as well as Perkz in the AD carry role. The LEC was also full of rising teams like MAD Lions and Rogue who were starting to look like threats to LEC stalwarts G2 and Fnatic. All of this was forgotten and erased with G2’s LEC summer final performance and arrival at worlds. This was G2. Of course they would be a title contender.

In groups, G2 were one tiebreaker away from coming out as the top seed. Yet their matchup against Suning pointed out the different trajectories that both teams were taking at this worlds. G2 looked less comfortable with how to play around their jungler than Suning, who have the perfect unit of five to excel in this meta, especially jungler Lê “SofM” Quang Duy. Jankos and G2 seemed to have solved this to some extent in their 3-0 quarterfinal drubbing of Gen.G Esports, but looking back on that series now, it’s difficult to consider Gen.G as a particularly formidable opponent.

G2 are still one of the strongest teams in the world. Their mid-game cross-map play continues to be the best of any team in the world. Yet on Saturday, they were outclassed by a DAMWON Gaming team that, again, suits the current meta a lot more with the way that they play around Canyon.

With a finals appearance in 2018 and three consecutive semifinal appearances, this five-man unit of G2 is something very special, and I hope this isn’t the last time we see them together on an international stage.

Quotable

After the series ended, G2 weighed in on what happened against DAMWON and how DAMWON had improved from the previous year. Here’s what Perkz had to say.

“I think this year the meta favors them much more than it did last year. I think that this year they, and the Asian teams in general, they’ve been playing ever since summer split started these farm junglers and junglers that power-farm, and teams play around them and around objectives more than other teams. They were just very, very good at what they were doing for a few months already, whereas we did not start playing it until worlds bootcamp. We were a few months behind other teams.”

Every game in a sentence

  • DAMWON Gaming 1, G2 Esports 0: A few early mistakes put G2’s more early-game-focused composition behind, and DAMWON takes over in the mid game.

  • G2 Esports 1, DAMWON Gaming 1: DAMWON pick Fiora for a split-push composition but enter disadvantageous fights and skirmishes mid-game without optimizing their split-push pressure.

  • DAMWON Gaming 2, G2 Esports 1: Ghost’s Ashe gets two kills early after a G2 dive, and DAMWON snowball the game from there with Lulu shields and a Mountain soul.

  • DAMWON Gaming 3, G2 Esports 1: This game is all DAMWON from the get-go with Showmaker’s 1v1 kill onto Caps and a 19-minute victory that nearly ends with a Rift Herald on G2’s Nexus.

Quarterfinals

G2 Esports 3, Gen.G 0

After two exciting quarterfinal matchups in JD Gaming vs. Suning and Top Esports vs. Fnatic, the League of Legends World Championship returned to a quick 3-0 stomp, with G2 Esports defeating Gen.G in a match reminiscent of DAMWON Gaming’s utter destruction of DRX in the first quarterfinals series.

G2 advanced to face South Korean squad DAMWON Gaming at 6 a.m. ET on Oct. 24 in a rematch of the 2019 worlds quarterfinal, while China’s LoL Pro League contenders, Top Esports and Suning, will square off at 6 a.m. ET on Oct. 25 in the second semifinal.

The end result of this series was always going to be an interesting semifinals narrative. Either we would receive the LoL Champions Korea summer finals we thought we would have between DAMWON Gaming and Gen.G, or there would be a rematch of last year’s quarterfinals between G2 Esports and DAMWON. Since DAMWON players have been pretty vocal about G2 living somewhat rent-free in their heads despite their domestic success, it’s great to see that we will end up getting this semifinals match in a week.

As for the games themselves, G2 looked much more prepared for the current metagame and brought their superior understanding of cross-map trading and mid-game wave management, skirmishing and lane assignments. Interestingly enough, G2 tend to make more mistakes early but overcome them almost immediately with a remarkably strong and intelligent mid game.

In this series, G2 were off to an excellent start from the first match where their pick composition was designed around Twisted Fate, Pantheon and Jhin. Gen.G were relegated to having to throw Taric in with their Kalista ultimate just to try to get a good 5v5 engage that their composition desperately needed. The series didn’t improve for Gen.G after that, although they did show a few signs of life in Game 3, where bot laner Park “Ruler” Jae-hyuk was visibly trying as hard as he could on Ezreal to at least drag his team to a fourth game.

The obvious player of the game was Rasmus “Caps” Winther, who amassed a 56 Kills + Assists in the series, the most of any player at worlds since 2015 KOO Tigers mid laner Lee “Kuro” Seo-haeng. His overall KDA for all three games was 14.

A fond farewell to: Gen.G

It’s sad to see Gen.G go out like this, especially with South Korea’s third seed in DRX leaving in a similar 3-0 fashion. One of the questions surrounding the three LCK teams at this year’s world championship was whether the LCK had improved as a whole, or whether it was just DWG rising to become one of the world’s best teams.

We now have that answer — although it’s somewhat skewed by the fact that DWG knocked out their LCK brethren in DRX — and it’s DWG who appear significantly ahead of the rest of their region.

Neither Gen.G nor G2 seemed particularly well-suited to the current meta going into this series — certainly not as much as other teams like DWG, Fnatic and Suning. However, Gen.G didn’t really seem to adjust their more standard, bot-lane-focused approach and play around jungler Kim “Clid” Tae-min in a similar way that Suning or Fnatic have played around Lê “SofM” Quang Duy and Oskar “Selfmade” Boderek respectively. They were also unable to pivot to the facilitator role that Top Esports’ Hung “Karsa” Hao-Hsuan took on in TES’ reverse sweep of Fnatic on Saturday.

Quotable

Despite G2’s struggles this year, bot laner Luka “Perkz” Perković asserted that this G2 team is even stronger than last year’s and 2018. He, like DAMWON, has been waiting for their rematch. Here’s what he had to say in the post-game press conference.

“I’m not entirely sure how to tell them but I saw some interview with ShowMaker where he was talking a bit about how much he wants to beat G2 and how he wishes that we won against Gen.G so he doesn’t care if there is one LCK team in the finals for sure he wants to beat us really badly. But I feel sorry for LCK that they will not have one LCK team in the finals.”

Every game in a sentence

  • G2 Esports 1, Gen.G 0: Gen.G lock in a 5v5 composition but lack engage while G2 are able to play around that easily with globals to avoid fights.

  • G2 Esports 2, Gen.G 0: Gen.G try to pick a composition more like G2’s, but G2 have a significantly stronger mid game and better skirmishing.

  • G2 Esports 3, Gen.G 0: Ruler tries his hardest to drag Gen.G to a fourth game, but this game is also almost entirely G2.


Top Esports 3, Fnatic 2

Top Esports’ nail-biting 3-2 victory over Fnatic on Saturday in Shanghai became the first-ever reverse sweep in League of Legends World Championship history.

Here’s how it happened, a look back at Fnatic’s performance throughout worlds and a quick breakdown of each match of the historic series.

Although Top Esports were, and still are, a favorite to win the world championship as China’s No. 1 seed, there should be a small shadow of doubt after this series as TES looked more disorganized than in the single-game group stage. Fnatic, meanwhile were visibly ramping up after a rocky start and slight meta misread. Once they became comfortable in the current meta, they looked unstoppable with strong Level 1’s and focused drafts around jungler Oskar “Selfmade” Boderek as one of the team’s primary carries.

In their first two games against TES, Fnatic had full control of the bot side of the map, continuously making plays after their first reset and ensuring that Martin “Rekkles” Larsson and Zdravets “Hylissang” Iliev Galabov were ahead of Yu “JackeyLove” Wen-Bo and Liang “Yuyanjia” Jia-Yuan. Once TES’ bot lane collapsed, even with any advantages they may have been able to get in mid or top, TES struggled in teamfights and frequently took them without thought to setup.

TES started turning the series around when they put jungler Hung “Karsa” Hao-Hsuan on Lee Sin and Nidalee to make more plays in the early game. Even when their bot lane fell behind early, Karsa was able to make an impact elsewhere on the map to get other lanes, particularly Zhuo “Knight” Ding’s mid lane, ahead. Once TES were making more proactive plays early, even with a scaling draft like they had in Game 5, they were able to take teamfights much better and adjust to how Fnatic wanted to play around Rekkles and Selfmade.

Perhaps the most impressive part of TES’ victory is how they kept their cool, even after two disappointing losses to start the series.

A fond farewell to: Fnatic

Prior to this series, I had said that Fnatic was more well-suited to this meta because of the way they play around jungle and that they matched up well with TES because of how strong Hylissang is, while rookie Yuyanjia is in still developing as a support.

In their first two games Saturday, the Fnatic bot lane proved the latter point and showcased just how strong they were. Fnatic also had a strong understanding of when to make plays after resetting early to get themselves ahead, earning nearly all of the First Bloods in every single one of their matches. This Fnatic team grew significantly stronger as they learned how to better play around Selfmade this summer, and they should hold their heads high even in the face of this loss.

Quotable

After some tremendous bot lane performances with Hylissang, Rekkles was asked to reflect on his performances against TES and at this world championship. Here’s what he had to say.

“I’m really happy how we were able to show, yet again, our strength as a duo on the international stage and I think it’s something we’ve managed previous years too, but it’s nice to see that we’ve still got it year after year so that part I’m happy about. But I think still, no one will really remember how we played today. I don’t think it will be OK, in a way, to lose because of this. A loss is a loss, and a win is a win, so in a week from now or a month from now, I don’t know when I’ll be looking back at this, but I still think I’ll feel very disappointed with what I managed to do today.”

Every map in a sentence

  • Fnatic 1, Top Esports 0: Everyone will be talk about Bwipo’s Singed, but it’s Hylissang that makes the massive difference for Fnatic, both in the 2v2 and outside of lane.

  • Fnatic 2, Top Esports 0: Another game where Fnatic play significantly better around their bottom lane and Hylissang is stronger than Yuyanjia.

  • Top Esports 1, Fnatic 2: With Karsa taking over with Lee Sin and TES’ bot lane doing better, TES are able to snowball their early lead despite greedy mid-game mistakes.

  • Top Esports 2, Fnatic 2: Although Fnatic continue their bot lane dominance, Karsa’s Nidalee takes over the game, Knight accrues a significant advantage on Jayce, and 369 soaks up all of Fnatic’s damage in teamfights.

  • Top Esports 3, Fnatic 2: Once again, Karsa’s Lee Sin makes moves early, and Yuyanjia redeems himself for his earlier performances as TES’ composition snowballs to a reverse-sweep victory.


Suning 3, JD Gaming 1

Another regional rivalry took center stage in the 2020 League of Legends World Championship quarterfinals on Friday. Following the repeat of the 2020 LoL Champions Korea summer finals on Thursday, Chinese squads JD Gaming and Suning faced off in an all-LoL Pro League showdown.

The results did not necessarily go as expected, with Suning not only besting JD Gaming 3-1 but doing so convincingly through strong teamfighting and skirmishes.

Unlike DAMWON Gaming’s series against DRX, where the two teams had played each other recently and DAMWON quickly stomped their opponent 3-0, Suning had not met JD Gaming since the second week of the LPL summer split.

Back then, it was a JDG 2-0 that Suning arguably should have won, but Suning were still in the beginning stages of building the team that is currently on the worlds stage; JDG also had a good understanding of how to stop Suning with vision control and flanks from top laner Zhang “Zoom” Xing-Ran or mid laner Zeng “Yagao” Qi.

That approach was what was expected from this series as well. Despite the fact that Suning had arguably looked better in groups — something that could also be attributed to not having DAMWON in their group — and were well-suited to the current metagame, JDG presumably had the upper hand in this series.

They didn’t.

Instead, we had the rare, shining moment where a much-lauded rookie player steps into the international spotlight and exceeds expectations in the best way. Most fans already knew of Suning bot laner Tang “huanfeng” Huan-Feng’s incredible journey to get to worlds thanks to an interview by the LPL broadcast team, but on Friday, he fully embraced his role as the LPL’s best up-and-coming bot laner.

Huanfeng’s Jhin in particular was remarkable, and he cemented his place as a king among Jhin enthusiasts with an ultimate from inside JDG’s base during Game 2 that went viral on multiple social media platforms.

Suning’s win was also a testament to jungler Lê “SofM” Quang Duy and support Hu “SwordArt” Shuo-Chieh’s veteran leadership on the team, something that rookie top laner Chen “Bin” Ze-Bin has cited as the reason why Suning are such a strong squad right now.

A fond farewell to: JD Gaming

For the majority of the year, JDG were one of, if not the LPL’s best teams. They were smart, well-coordinated, drafted around their players’ obvious strengths and weaknesses, and supplemented this with remarkable 5v5 teamfighting.

Even in their quarterfinals loss to Suning, there were several times where JDG’s group engages were clearly better, and if they had a lead (especially in Game 3, which was pretty much over for JDG once Bin’s Gangplank got a Level 1 double-kill and took a Sheen to the top lane) at those times, they would have won those fights.

Although they won’t be moving on at worlds this year, 2020 JDG were a special team to watch and should still be remembered as one of the LPL’s best.

Quotable

Although huanfeng was the star of Suning on Friday, SwordArt’s efforts in helping lead this team and his direct involvement in huanfeng’s improvement should never be overlooked, especially since this is the furthest he has gone at worlds in his own career. The support had this to say about huanfeng’s growth.

“Huanfeng is a very hard-working player, and I think he made a lot of improvements in communications and also in terms of our synergy. Now he really immerses himself in the whole team. I don’t think we are able to provide that much help, but he can always carry the game. I think maybe not now, but later in some moment, I believe that huanfeng will become a really good player that will be memorable for all.”

Every game in a sentence

  • JD Gaming 1, Suning 0: Although Suning have a scaling advantage, Yagao’s Zoe and Zoom’s Renekton take over the mid-game.

  • Suning 1, JD Gaming 1: Suning’s scaling works out well here while Yagao is unable to have an impact on Galio, and huanfeng’s Jhin steps into the spotlight.

  • Suning 2, JD Gaming 1: This game is over from Level 1, when Bin’s Gangplank gets a double kill and Sheen to start the laning phase.

  • Suning 3, JD Gaming 1: JDG take an early lead, but stronger dragon setups and huanfeng’s Jhin once again lead Suning to victory.


DAMWON Gaming 3, DRX 0

Quarterfinals got underway at the 2020 League of Legends World Championship on Thursday. The first series was a rematch of the 2020 LoL Champions Korea final between DAMWON Gaming and DRX that went in the exact same way that first matchup did: a 3-0 sweep for DAMWON.

The moment DRX were drawn against DAMWON Gaming, they were already considered out of the tournament.

We had already seen what DRX could do against DAMWON in their summer finals best-of-five ,and it wasn’t much. DAMWON were not only able to best DRX individually, but more importantly had much stronger objective setups and trading across the map. DRX had, however, looked a bit more cohesive in the group stage, particularly in their games against LoL Pro League No. 1 seed Top Esports.

Although Top Esports won both of those games due to stronger teamfighting, there was hope for DRX. Despite the team’s reliance on mid laner Jeong “Chovy” Ji-hoon and a back injury hindering bot laner Kim “Deft” Hyuk-kyu, the team seemed like it might have improved enough to give DAMWON more trouble than they were able to in that quick summer final sweep.

I had hoped to say that this series wouldn’t play out as expected — that DRX would be able to take at least a game off of DAMWON. They could not. The series ended in similar 100-minute fashion, with DAMWON too strong to allow DRX even one game. DRX came closest in Game 2, but a clutch engage from DWG top laner Jang “Nuguri” Ha-gwon on Ornn flipped the game back into DAMWON’s favor, and they didn’t give DRX any advantages afterwards.

DAMWON will now go on to the semifinals to face either the team that knocked them out of worlds in 2019, G2 Esports, or another fellow South Korean squad in Gen.G. DAMWON should be favored in both matchups with how strong they’ve looked at this tournament.

A fond farewell to: DRX

For most of the 2020 LCK season, DRX were a fun team to watch and always near the top of the standings. They had interesting drafts (which sometimes hurt them more than they helped), and the continued evolution of Chovy was one of the highlights of the season. In 2020, the mid laner grew from a 1v1 outplay king who somewhat relied on favorable matchups from his team to a legitimate team player with much stronger teamfighting skill and engage sense, making DRX a legitimate threat against any team not named DAMWON.

DRX have two standout young players that people watch going into 2021, too, despite some rough performances Thursday. Jungler Hong “Pyosik” Chang-hyeon and, in particular, rookie support Ryu “Keria” Min-seok have a lot of potential going forward in future LCK seasons.

The saddest part of DRX’s exit: The revelation about Deft’s back injury. The bot laner’s been one of the best in the world and competed professionally since 2013. He hasn’t mentioned retiring, but given the physical setback and length of his pro career, we’ll hope that this isn’t the last time we see Deft in an international showdown.

Quotable

DRX coach Kim “cvMax” Dae-ho reflected on the season after Thursday’s sweep, giving credit to both Chovy and Deft for helping coach the team.

“Thanks to Chovy and Deft, the core players, Keria, Pyosik, and Doran were able to soak in all of the game knowledge and experience,” cvMax said via a translator. “Also, Chovy and Deft were even coaching better than the real coaches. Maybe they were the realistic coaches of our team leading the team so well. I also learned so much by watching them doing feedback for the players. Compared to myself in Griffin and this year, I think I’ve become better at coaching, and it’s all from Deft.”

Every game in a sentence

  • DAMWON Gaming 1, DRX 0: DRX are unable to get their Caitlyn ahead early and DWG have stronger objective setups overall, even when it looked for a short moment like DRX would be able to poke them down in the mid game.

  • DAMWON Gaming 2, DRX 0: A big teamfight in mid where Nuguri controls the entire fight with Ornn makes the difference for DWG.

  • DAMWON Gaming 3, DRX 0: Another limited-to-no-engage composition harms DRX as DAMWON are easily able to jump on them and, despite Doran’s Vladimir doing relatively well early in top lane, beat DRX in the mid game.

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Sources: Thomas in jeopardy of missing Week 8

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New Orleans Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas, after suffering a hamstring injury during practice this past week, underwent an MRI that revealed a Grade 1 strain that is expected to sideline him one to two weeks, league sources told ESPN.

Thomas already has been ruled out for Sunday’s game against the Carolina Panthers, and there’s a real chance he will not be able to play next week against the Chicago Bears either, according to sources.

Thomas is likely to be considered questionable for next week, as he tries to recover from his hamstring injury as well as the high ankle sprain that he suffered in Week 1 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

This means the Saints could be without their top two wide receivers for each of the next two weeks, with Emmanuel Sanders already having tested positive for the coronavirus and being placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list.

Sunday’s contest will be the fifth consecutive game that Thomas has missed after he suffered the high ankle sprain and was benched for team disciplinary reasons in Week 5 after a practice altercation with teammate C.J. Gardner-Johnson.

Thomas appeared likely to return from the ankle injury before that incident in Week 5, and he was definitely expected back after the Week 6 bye. But the hamstring injury was a new ailment that showed up for the first time on Wednesday’s injury report.

The Saints feel fortunate to have detected Sanders’ coronavirus case when they did. His COVID-19 test Wednesday came back negative, and when he wasn’t feeling well Thursday but practiced, the Saints conducted another test that came back positive. They immediately put into effect contract tracing, with the hopes of containing the spread of the virus.

Saints coach Sean Payton said Friday that the organization also tested about 20 other people who might have been near Sanders, and all of them tested negative. But Payton said reserve cornerback Ken Crawley will be added to the reserve/COVID-19 list as a precaution because of their close contact.

ESPN’s Mike Triplett contributed to this report.

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