Road to Worlds: Locked in, on the fringe, and hail marys

— -- It feels like almost yesterday when SK Telecom T1 thwarted South Korean rivals ROX Tigers to win the 2015 Summoner's Cup and establish itself as the first true global dynasty in League of Legends. Don't look now, but the summer regular season is wrapping up for all five of the major regions, and we're only two short months away from beginning the next all-out war for the world title.

So, who looks locked in to take part in the biggest tournament of the year, and which teams still need heavy lifting to do if they want to make it?

North America

Almost Lock(s): Team SoloMid

It's good to be a TSM fan currently, isn't it? With the top seed in this split's playoffs, no team in North America is as close at reaching Worlds than the 17-1 TSM. The quickest way for TSM to lock in its sixth straight trip to Worlds would be if CLG falls before the finals and SoloMid advances to its unheard of eighth straight domestic final. And as long as Cloud9 takes care of business in the semifinals vs. slumping Team Envy, CLG's only path to the finals would be through TSM in the final four.

On the Bubble: Immortals, Counter Logic Gaming

If you were to bet on the three teams to go to Worlds today from NA, the safest choices would be TSM, Immortals, and CLG. TSM is ahead of the pack with a lot of circuit points, Immortals won third place last season and are sitting in the semifinals following a bye, and CLG have 90 circuit points from winning the league last split in Las Vegas, Nevada. For Counter Logic, getting to the finals would ensure them a trip to the Worlds Championships. Immortals, on the other hand, will need to hope CLG or TSM falter in the playoffs if it wants to qualify from points. But as the second place team in the regular season and last split's regular season champions, Immortals will be looking for the domestic title and an auto-qualification into the tournament.

Outside Looking In: Team Liquid, Cloud9

These two teams will need to make the finals if they want to avoid the North American Regionals and make it into Worlds without going through the gauntlet. TL finished fourth last split while C9 fell in the quarterfinals. While the points favor TL, the bracket is on the side of Cloud9, who faces Team Envy in the first round while Liquid faces CLG.

Hail Mary: Team Envy

The only team statistically left able to make Worlds from NA, Team Envy will need a hail mary run if it wants to make Worlds. Put simply, Envy either needs to upset Cloud9, TSM, and then the team in the finals to get an auto-qualification, or it needs to run the gauntlet in the North American Regional Finals to make it in. Fortunately for them, Cloud9 were in the same "Hail Mary" position Envy sits currently. Likely to happen again? No. Theoretically possible? Hey, it happened last year.


Almost Lock(s): G2 Esports

G2, outside of maybe the two teams in South Korea, are the closest to a sure thing when it comes to making Worlds. The champions of Europe last split came back this season with a regular season title. Atop of all that, its closest competitor in circuit points, Origen, fell off a cliff this split, is in relegations, and lost all of its circuit points from spring. G2 is 40 circuit points up on the next European team in Fnatic, and it will play the lowest seed come the semifinals.

On the Bubble: N/A

Outside Looking In: Fnatic, H2K Gaming, Splyce, Unicorns of Love, Giants Gaming

Sure, purely based on statistics, Fnatic and H2K have an edge due to spring circuit points, but unlike NA where three teams are frontrunners, it's a crapshoot for the final two spots in Europe. H2K and Fnatic, the two teams with the most circuit points, are playing in the quarterfinals against each other, and Splyce, the second best performing team in Europe with a bye in the first round, enters with 0 circuit points from spring.

While G2 should waltz its way to Worlds, it's anyone's game when it comes to taking the final two spots. The winner of Fnatic and H2K will be in a good position going into the semifinals, but neither team has been consistent enough to be put in the 'On the Bubble' category. Out of all the playoff and Road to World races across the five major regions, Europe's should be the most fun to watch.

Hail Mary: N/A

South Korea:

Almost Lock(s): ROX Tigers, SK Telecom T1

Unlike other regions where the playoffs are more spread out, South Korea has a straightforward approach to its postseason. The top team is rewarded with a berth straight into the playoff finals, second place in the semifinals, third in the quarterfinals, and the fourth and fifth place teams battling it out in a wild card match to decide who'll play the third place team in the quarters.

Both the Tigers and SKT T1, the runners-up and champion of last year's World Championships, are almost locks to make it back to the event this year. SKT T1 won the spring split while ROX came in second, and this split ROX is holding on barely to the first place position with SKT T1 right on its tail. If ROX can finish first in the regular season and make the finals, the Tigers will qualify for Worlds through either winning the domestic title or coming in first when it comes to circuit points.

For SK Telecom T1, currently second in the league and first in circuit points at 90, it's in the same position as ROX. Even if T1 plays in the semifinals or quarterfinals instead of directly going to the final match, it'll still make the World Championships if it can get to the finals.

On the Bubble: KT Rolster

The only team that can break up ROX and SKT T1 going directly to Worlds is -- unless, of course, someone like Samsung or the Freecs win the entire season -- KT, who are currently seated in the third place position this split with only one week left remaining. While it's likely SKT T1 and ROX will go through as the automatic qualifiers, KT Rolster should be at top of the king-of-the-hill style gauntlet that will decide the third South Korean team to go to Worlds.

The most likely scenario is KT Rolster in a best-of-five against either Afreeca, Samsung, or Jin Air to make the World Championships.

Outside Looking In: Samsung Galaxy

Samsung could be the team that disrupts the "South Korean Big 3" of SKT, KT, and the Tigers. It doesn't possess the circuit points to make it to Worlds without winning the gauntlet, but Samsung will be a dangerous opponent for anyone in the last chance qualifier attempting to make Worlds. At the moment, KT vs. Samsung appears to be the battle that won't only decide third place, but also show us who will join T1 and the Tigers.

Hail Mary: Afreeca Freecs, Jin Air Green Wings, MVP

None of these teams should be expected to make the World Championships. The team with the best chance realistically, Afreeca, has been able to consistently beat the world champions SK Telecom T1 but lose to teams below them in the standings. It'll be a huge surprise if any of these three clubs get close to the World Championships this year.


Almost Lock(s): EDward Gaming, Royal Never Give Up

The two top teams from last split are again atop of the standings this split. While RNG has stumbled a bit in the past week or so, it still holds the most circuit points due to winning the spring season, and if it can win its last two regular season matches vs. LGD and I May, it'll directly go into the semifinals of the LPL summer playoffs. On the other side, EDG is unbeaten this season, got second place in the playoffs last split, and are sitting in the semifinals with all the momentum in the world to march back into the World Championships for the third straight year.

On the Bubble: Team WE

Similar to South Korea, we have two teams ahead of the pack and a third team sightly below them. The difference is Team WE might be the second best team in China at the present behind EDG, and it still has a shot of winning its group over RNG if things shake out in the final week of regular season play. Still, even if Team WE can't surpass RNG in the regular season, Team WE are in the right form to make a deep run in the playoffs, and due to making the semifinals last split, should be in a great position to advance.

Outside Looking In: Snake, I May, Newbee, Vici Gaming, Game Talents

These are teams with all varying chances of going to Worlds based on how they do in the playoffs. Newbee, formerly Qiao Gu, has the most circuit points of the bunch for making the semifinals last split, but are 5-10 and could even be passed up by Invictus Gaming if things go south in the final week of regular season play. Out of all these teams, Group A's Snake has the best chance to snatch the final ticket to Worlds from Team WE.

Hail Mary: Invictus Gaming, LGD Gaming

Both of these teams made Worlds last year, and now both will need help just to have a chance to make it back this year. LGD, who looks like a contender once more with the return of starting mid laner Wei "We1less" Zhen, will need to beat RNG this week and get help from Vici Gaming slipping up to even make the summer playoffs. It could be just too little too late for LGD and Invictus.


Almost Lock(s): N/A

On the Bubble: J Team, Flash Wolves, Ahq E-Sports Club

In our final region, Taiwan operates differently from the other four. Only two clubs make it to Worlds instead of three. Plus, since there is only two teams going, only the champion of the summer season and the winner of the Taiwan Regional Finals go to Worlds, which means no team can directly get through with circuit points. That being said, there are no locks or even "Almost Locks" for Taiwan. We have three teams in J Team, Flash Wolves, and Ahq with the ability to make it to the World Championships and two plane tickets to America.

Currently, J Team leads the summer regular season, but it plays Ahq in the final week and is only up a few points against its rivals. It's a three-way battle for the regular season title, domestic championship, and Regional Finals berth to Worlds, and it'd be a stunning turn of events if two of these three teams don't make Worlds from Taiwan.

Outside Looking In: N/A

Hail Mary: Machi E-Sports, Hong Kong Esports, Midnight Sun Esports

Hong Kong Esports has the best shot of sneaking in to take away one of the two slots from Taiwan's titan trio, but I don't see it happening unless something gigantic happens in the next few weeks. Ahq, Flash Wolves, and the former Taipei Assassins, J Team, have owned the Taiwanese region since its inception, and it'd take a reversal of the ages to change that narrative.