Only two teams are in the running to raise the Summoner’s Cup at the 2023 League of Legends (LoL) World Championship.
Weibo Gaming, initially regarded as the underdogs of the Chinese LoL Pro League (LPL), have defied expectations by causing upsets in the Knockout Stage, earning them a spot in the Grand Final. Despite being perceived as the weakest LPL team at Worlds, they are now on the verge of completing an incredible Cinderella run.
On the other side of the field, South Korean powerhouse T1 are striving for redemption from last year’s heartbreak as they pursue their fourth Worlds title.
Despite Weibo Gaming boasting a roster filled with former World and MSI Champions alongside LPL stars, and T1 being the winningest team in LoL esports history, both teams weren't initially regarded as the top favourites for the tournament.
Let’s look at each team's narrative and what’s at stake for them at the Grand Finals on 19 November.
Can T1 complete their redemption arc from their Worlds 2022 heartbreak?
T1’s roster has been together for over a year, and their prowess and chemistry as a team have won many hearts since.
At the helm is LoL G.O.A.T. Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok, who has been in the scene for over 10 years, having won three Worlds titles in 2013, 2015, and 2016, and one Mid-Season Invitational, along with multiple regional championships.
From the existing lineup, three individuals originated from T1 Academy: Choi "Zeus" Woo-je (Top lane), Lee "Gumayusi" Min-hyeong (Bot lane), and Mun "Oner" Hyeon-jun (Jungle). Adding diversity to the mix, Ryu "Keria" Min-seok, who assumed the role of Support in 2021, joined the team after previous stints with different squads.
Despite pulling off the longest win streak in LoL Esports history in Spring 2022, T1 faced many heartbreaks and second-place finishes since then, including the biggest disappointment of all: a very close series that ended with a crushing 3-2 upset that went in favour of the only Play-in team that has ever made it to a Worlds Grand Final: DRX.
Spring 2023 came and the team remained intact—yet the narrative unfolded predictably: strong regular seasons, no regional title, and even a quarterfinal exit against Bilibili Gaming at the MSI.
As the LCK Summer season dawned, the team were grappling with low spirits. Adding to the adversity, another challenge surfaced when Faker revealed his injury struggles in early July, affecting his in-game performance.
In response, T1 took decisive action, announcing a medical break for Faker to rest and undergo treatment.
The absence of the LoL G.O.A.T. took its toll, causing T1 to plummet to fifth place with a 7-8 standing, putting their LCK Summer Playoffs prospects in jeopardy.
However, Faker's comeback sparked a remarkable T1 resurgence. Securing a crucial victory against top-seeded KT Rolster, they earned a coveted Grand Finals spot.
With Faker calling the shots and fostering team cohesion, T1 rediscovered their winning form.
Despite a loss to eventual LCK Summer champions Gen.G, their qualification for Worlds 2023 showcased a triumphant comeback after navigating challenges.
In a T1 feature, “Easing the Load, Embracing the Gold”, Zeus acknowledged that this could be the final year for the current T1 roster, expressing the team's desire for success.
Casters aptly named their journey the "last dance," aiming to secure a Worlds Championship title in their farewell year.
T1 openly shared communication struggles at the Worlds Swiss Stage in T1’s feature video Cogwheel.
Despite winning against Team Liquid, they felt their performance was lacking, and they dropped a game to Gen.G.
However, T1 bounced back, defeating Cloud9 in a deathless match and sweeping BLG 2-0 to reach the Playoffs.
In the quarterfinals, T1 faced a daunting challenge against LNG Esports, the second-strongest team in the LPL. Despite the perceived difficulty, T1 effortlessly navigated through, surprising their opponents with unconventional draft strategies and securing a decisive 3-0 sweep.
Moving on to the semifinals posed another formidable task: confronting LPL Champions and 2023 Golden Road contenders, JD Gaming. In an interview with Keria, he said he believed that T1 could stop the Golden Road.
And they did just that, with T1 once again showcasing their peak form, surpassing expectations and defeating the tournament favourites with a 3-1 victory.
Now, standing merely five games away from lifting the Summoner’s Cup, T1 remains cautiously optimistic, bearing in mind their past heartbreak at Worlds 2022.
The team understands that the journey isn't over until the last game concludes, given their prior experience of overcoming challenges in the playoffs.
“Throughout the year, we just tried to hang in there and keep improving ourselves. We finally reaped the results,” Zeus said in a post-match interview last Sunday (12 November).
“Based on last year’s experience, what really matters in preparing for Worlds is keeping yourself healthy and utilising the 1-week gap between semifinals and finals,” he added, referring to the team’s preparation for the Grand Finals.
Should T1 continue to show full understanding of the meta and potential answers to champion picks, communicate well, remain on guard and keep their cool, they have a big chance to finally be able to raise the Summoner’s Cup this year.
Weibo Gaming’s attempt to replicate DRX’s success
Weibo Gaming formed this year’s roster with high hopes that the team will perform and achieve great things.
After all, they had two World Champions in the team: Kang "TheShy" Seung-lok in the top lane, who won Worlds in 2018, and Liu “Crisp” Qing-Song, the former support of FunPlusPhoenix, who won Worlds 2019.
They also had the LPL “Spring King”, Li "Xiaohu" Yuan-Hao, who won three Mid-Season Invitational titles, along with promising talents in Wang "Light" Guang-Yu in the bot lane and Wei “Weiwei” Bohan in the Jungle.
Despite this star-studded lineup, Weibo struggled throughout the season, labelled as the LPL wildcard, falling short of the LPL Spring Semifinals and placing 5th-6th in the Summer season.
However, their fortunes changed during the LPL Worlds Regional Qualifiers. They pulled off a significant upset against 2021 World Champions EDward Gaming, securing a 3-1 victory in the Lower Bracket Final to qualify for Worlds.
In the Swiss Stage at Worlds, Weibo faced several challenges, losing to G2 and KT Rolster but rebounding with victories against NRG, MAD Lions, and Fnatic to reach the playoffs.
But naysayers said they had it easy, winning against Western teams throughout the Swiss Stage, and the team were having none of that as they looked to push back against their detractors.
Despite doubts about their competition level, they dominated the Quarterfinals, sweeping LCS first seed NRG 3-0. And the Chinese team were not done.
In the Semifinals, Weibo Gaming defied expectations against favoured opponents Bilibili Gaming (BLG). TheShy's resurgence and an impressive 3-2 upset secured their spot in the Grand Finals, echoing the Cinderella run reminiscent of DRX's last year.
Notably, TheShy's birthday celebration on stage, mirroring Deft's birthday on stage in 2022, added a serendipitous touch.
Now, against all odds, Weibo will face T1 in the Grand Finals as the underdogs. Can Weibo pull off an upset against T1, despite evident gaps in skill and KDA?
Success hinges on TheShy's dominance in the top lane against Zeus and strategic jungle plays led by Weiwei against Oner.
On top of this Xiaohu must overcome Faker in the mid lane, and Weibo’s bot lane duo should outclass T1's formidable pair, Gumayusi and Keria.
Weibo Gaming must also demonstrate superior strategic acumen throughout the series against T1. It's a tall order, but definitely not an impossible one.
The Worlds 2023 Grand Finals match between T1 and Weibo Gaming will be on 19 November at 4pm Singapore Time.
Anna is a freelance writer and photographer. She is a gamer who loves RPGs and platformers, and is a League of Legends geek. She's also a food enthusiast who loves a good cup of black coffee.