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Top Esports reverse-sweep Fnatic to make worlds semifinals

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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.

Check out our recaps of the groups and play-in stages of the 2020 League of Legends World Championship as well.

Top Esports 3, Fnatic 2

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 thank 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.

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.

More: Suning evolve into League of Legends World Championship dark horse | Is the gap closing between minor and major regions in League of Legends? | Ten years of worlds: A League of Legends World Championship oral history

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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Toronto FC hoping to make MLS Cup run having spent much of 2020 far from home

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On a recent Thursday in Hartford, Conn., Toronto FC goalkeeper Quentin Westberg pondered the dichotomy of wanting to reach MLS Cup on Dec. 12, but also desiring to see his family again. Meanwhile, Jim Liston, the team’s director of sports science, was planning a trip to Lowe’s to buy 15 garbage cans so players could have an ice bath after training. As for manager Greg Vanney, he was fretting about his team’s health and the lack of practice time their schedule was affording.

Such is the life of a team as it attempts to not only navigate its way through the COVID-19 pandemic, but has been forced to do it away from home.

Due to travel restrictions between the U.S. and Canada, TFC — like the league’s other two Canadian teams, Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps — set up a “home” base in the U.S. for the remainder of the season; Toronto were stationed in Hartford. (Vancouver Whitecaps took roost in Portland, ground-sharing with Timbers, while Montreal Impact split use of New York Red Bulls’ facilities in Harrison, N.J.) This was on top of nearly every team spending nearly a month inside a bubble back in July at the MLS is Back Tournament outside Orlando, Florida.

The Reds spent about seven weeks back in Toronto as they played a series of matches against Canadian teams. In mid-September, the remainder of the regular season — and the temporary move to Hartford — beckoned. The vagabond nature of the campaign is what led Liston to joke that he was willing to discuss “whatever five seasons” the team has been through so far. But for Vanney and the players, the campaign has required a special kind of focus.

“A lot of what we’ve done here, and what we try to preach here is just control the controllables, and don’t get too drawn into the things you can’t,” Vanney told ESPN. “Roll with it, and make the best out of whatever the situation is.”

Stream FC Daily on ESPN+
– 2020 MLS Playoffs: Who’s in, schedule and more
– MLS on ESPN+: Stream LIVE games and replays (U.S. only)

Toronto has largely succeeded in spite of its odyssey. While there was disappointment at missing out on the Supporters’ Shield to the Philadelphia Union, TFC went 7-3-2 during its Hartford sojourn and finished with the second-best record in the league. But the challenges have still been immense. Simply being out of one’s home environment is difficult enough, but the time spent away from family and loved ones weighs heavy on the psyche, even as Vanney has given players the occasional trip back to Toronto — under quarantine — to reconnect with loved ones.

“It’s just very different, very challenging and emotionally exhausting,” Westberg said of his experience while based in Hartford.

Westberg has arguably had it tougher than most. The TFC goalkeeper is married with four children, including a baby girl who was born in June. For that reason, Westberg and his wife, Ania, made the decision at the end of September that it would be better for her and their kids to head back to his native France so they could be surrounded by family. Westberg called it “the least bad decision,” but there are difficulties nonetheless.

“I’m a very even person, and this year has challenged me a lot,” he said. “I’m still pretty even, but I keep a lot to myself and for sure there’s some difficult days, seeing your family [struggle] from your absence.”

The inability to be home has affected the players and staff in other ways. In Toronto, there are ways of disengaging from the game. Being with friends, loved ones or even in familiar surroundings can be the best medicine in terms of forgetting a bad game or training session. But in Hartford, at the team’s hotel, that escape is nearly impossible even as players try to distract themselves by reading or taking online classes.

“You don’t really unplug,” Westberg said. “You FaceTime family, or this or that, but it’s too short. You’re 100 percent focused on your soccer, and your whole day basically relies on being ready for whatever soccer activity that you have next, whether it’s practice or game. It’s good for your physique, it’s optimal for the way you eat and the way you [train]. But mentally, you’re not as fresh as your body.”

That isn’t to say there are only negatives to the separation. There is also an us-against-the-world mentality that Toronto has adopted, given that their players and personnel are experiencing the season in a way that is vastly different than most other teams. The team staff has done what it can to make their surroundings a home away from home, whether it’s personalizing the locker rooms at Rentschler Field or having hotel staff brand the surroundings in TFC colors. The hotel went so far as to bring in a barista who could consistently give the players their coffee fix. Supporters groups have even sent down banners in a bid to convey the fact that the players are remembered.

The care that TFC takes for players has extended to families back home, with the club supplying meals to loved ones three times a week.

On the logistical side, Liston made sure that one of the gyms used at MLS is Back was brought to TFC’s hotel in Hartford, and he remarked that the food at the hotel is “arguably the best we’ve ever had on the road.”

There have also been efforts to create new routines. Assistant coach Jason Bent, aka DJ Soops, has been in charge of the pregame music selection for the past 18 months — no easy feat for a squad that has a considerable international presence. In Hartford, Bent has set aside Thursday nights to spin music in one area of the hotel. He’ll even go live on Instagram or Twitch for those who prefer to relax in their rooms.

“[We] opened it to players and staff and basically anyone that’s part of our bubble to come relax, listen to music and just enjoy each other’s company,” Bent said. “I enjoy making people happy so if it’s helping everyone even in the slightest, I have no problem arranging the set and spinning.”

For Vanney, the pandemic and operating outside of the team’s home market has meant any number of challenges. He said the team has used three different training facilities in Hartford, with varying field conditions. He recognizes that the trips home are vital for the mental health of his players and staff, but any breaks also mean less time spent on the practice field. The compressed schedule, which at times involved games every three or four days, has had an impact as well. Even the best-laid plans in terms of squad rotation were impacted as minor injuries began popping up.

“We end up with a lot of guys in different positions because they need special kinds of treatment or care to help them get fit and back to health,” Vanney said. “So it ends up being a lot of different things kind of going on all at once, and that’s been the challenge of it.”

Recovery from matches has been complicated by the fact that TFC doesn’t have access to the same level of facilities that it does at home — hence Liston’s emergency trip to Lowe’s to fashion impromptu ice baths for the players. Then there are the different ways the players occupy themselves on the road as compared to home, especially amid the pandemic.

“There’s really no life outside of the hotel,” Liston said. “[At home], you may go walk the dog in the afternoon or go for a walk with your wife or friend or girlfriend or family and you’re out and about. The recommendation [here] is to kind of stay put. So you’ve got a really active population and pro athletes, who we’re asking them to be sedentary the rest of the time, kind of stay in the hotel from a COVID and safety standpoint. That’s not optimal for recovery either.”

There are also the creature comforts of home that are no longer available on the road, which can impact sleep.

“Sleep is the number one tool for recovery, and that’s definitely been a challenge,” Liston said. “We do well-being questionnaires and the scores on quality of sleep, and hours of sleep, just drop.”

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Tom Barlow and Brian White seal Toronto’s fate in a 2-1 win for New York Red Bulls. Watch MLS on ESPN+.

Another change has been same-day travel, which has drawn mixed reactions from the TFC players and staff. Vanney and Westberg are generally in favor, saying it reminds them of when they each played in France. Flying back the same night also means a training day isn’t lost. Liston has a different perspective in that he prefers arriving the day before, and then leaving the same day.

“I think [same-day travel] makes for a really long day,” he said. “And there’s definitely a negative impact on performance, taking three bus rides and a plane ride before your game. You’re getting home — it can be 12:30, but it could also be 1:30 in the morning, and that’s where you know our well-being scores and sleep hours and quality just disappear. When you have so many games in succession, you can’t make up the sleep.”

With the playoffs set to begin for TFC on Nov. 24, the end is in sight, even as it makes for a complex — and even conflicting — set of emotions.

“This is the tricky part. I miss them a lot,” Westberg said of his family. “But in a way I want to see them as [late] as possible in December, because obviously, there’s this idea that we want to do well in the playoffs and we want to keep going. TFC has a history of setting high standards and high expectations. It’s a heavy load to carry but also an exciting one.”

Win or lose, it’s a season they’ll never forget.

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Bettman: NHL is mulling temporary realignment

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The NHL is considering a temporary realignment of its teams for the 2020-21 season due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, according to commissioner Gary Bettman.

Bettman said Tuesday that restrictions on travel across the Canadian border, as well as “limitations in terms of quarantining when you go from certain states to other states” within the United States, could mean the NHL creates a more regionalized alignment for its upcoming season.

“As it relates to the travel issue, which is obviously the great unknown, we may have to temporarily realign to deal with geography, because having some of our teams travel from Florida to California may not make sense. It may be that we’re better off — particularly if we’re playing a reduced schedule, which we’re contemplating — keeping it geographically centric and more divisional-based; and realigning, again on a temporary basis, to deal with the travel issues,” Bettman said during a 2020 Paley International Council Summit panel with fellow commissioners Adam Silver of the NBA and Rob Manfred of MLB.

The NHL board of governors has a meeting scheduled for Thursday which will provide a progress report and possible recommendations for a season format, based on talks between the league and the NHL Players’ Association. The target date for starting next season remains Jan. 1.

Bettman said the league is considering a few scheduling options for the 2020-21 season. Something that’s off the table: playing the entire season in the kind of bubbles the NHL had in Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta, to complete last season. But Bettman said teams opening in their own arenas is a possibility, along with a modified bubble.

“We are exploring the possibility of playing in our own buildings without fans [or] fans where you can, which is going to be an arena-by-arena issue. But we’re also exploring the possibility of a hub. You’ll come in. You’ll play for 10 to 12 days. You’ll play a bunch of games without traveling. You’ll go back, go home for a week, be with your family. We’ll have our testing protocols and all the other things you need,” he said.

Bettman also indicated that the NHL is exploring “a hybrid, where some teams are in a bubble, some teams play at home and you move in and out.”

The NBA’s board of governors unanimously approved a deal with the players’ union that sets the stage for a season that will open on Dec. 22 and with a reduced schedule of 72 games. Silver said that the commissioners are in communication on COVID-19-related issues, especially the NBA and the NHL, since the two leagues’ teams share arenas and, in some cases, team owners.

Silver said he senses that the NBA will have fans in many of its buildings this season.

“We’re probably going to start one way, where we’re maybe a little bit more conservative than many of the jurisdictions allow,” he said. “What we’ve said to our teams is that we’ll continue to work with public health authorities. Arena issues are different than outdoor stadium issues. There will be certain standards for air filtration and air circulation. There may be a different standard for a suite than there will be for fans spaced in seats.”

Silver said there will be standardized protocols that are consistent from arena to arena, such as proximity between players and fans: “In certain cases, for seats near the floor, we’re going to be putting in testing programs, where fans will certify that they’ve been tested — some within 48 hours, some within day of game.” While Silver supported a continued expansion of the NBA postseason through its play-in tournament, Bettman said that he’s not in favor of expanded playoffs or “playing with the fundamentals of the game.” The NHL had 24 teams in its postseason last summer.

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The Battleground States Where We’ve Seen Some Movement In The Polls

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With apologies to The Raconteurs, the presidential race continues to be “steady as she goes,” with little sign of tightening despite a plethora of new polls. FiveThirtyEight’s presidential forecast gives Joe Biden an 89 in 100 shot at winning the election, while President Trump has just an 11 in 100 chance. This makes Biden the favorite, but still leaves open a narrow path to victory for Trump, for whom a reelection win would be surprising — but not utterly shocking.

At the same time, we also have fewer polls from live-caller surveys, which have historically been more accurate and have shown slightly better numbers for Biden, than polls that use other methodologies, such as polls conducted primarily online or through automated telephone calls. Nevertheless, while the overall picture has shifted only a little in recent days, a few battleground states have seen at least some movement in their polls, which has slightly altered the odds Biden or Trump wins in each of those places.

What election stories need to get more coverage | FiveThirtyEight Politics Podcast

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