On October 10, Team Vitality scored its first Worlds victory with an insane backdoor against reigning champions Gen.G. After the match, North American caster Clayton "Captain Flowers" Raines praised Vitality for being daring enough to follow their heart and make such a bold call at the most competitive tournament in League of Legends.
Vitality’s head coach Jakob "YamatoCannon" Mebdi later echoed this sentiment. "Just stay true to yourselves," he said in an interview to Sjokz. "Don’t try to chase anyone, don’t try to copy anyone. Just be confident… That is the mentality you need to have to conquer the best. Because anything is possible if you just believe, and play with confidence, and stay true to yourselves."
Vitality’s story didn’t have a happy ending. YamatoCannon’s words came right after his team suffered a crushing loss to Cloud9 and fell within touching distance of the Worlds playoffs. Still, his speech achieved its original goal—to inspire, to sound a thunderous battle cry that Western fans and teams could rally behind. If you want to find success at Worlds, you have to go against the grain and pave your own path to victory. You have to play your game.
That is, unless your game really, really sucks.
As inspiring as YamatoCannon’s speech is, there are plenty of League of Legends examples when sticking to your guns is the exact wrong thing to do. Even at Worlds 2018, Team Liquid tried to play their style by funneling resources into a scaling marksman in the bot lane and fighting for dragon control, however, this approach backfired when its enemies started pressuring its solo laners and contesting early dragons.
The same applied to 100 Thieves, who tried to press on with a rookie AD carry and a passive late game playstyle only to have one of the most underwhelming group stage showings at the event. Vitality themselves became a part of this trend when they went with a Trundle comfort pick in the deciding game against Cloud9.
If you want more high-profile examples, look further than the LCK. Every team from South Korea entered the tournament with a well-defined style and a firm belief that following it would help it make a deep Worlds run. Now that no Korean lineups have made it past quarters, it’s safe to say they were wrong. For the first time in a while, Western lineups figured out something that Korean teams haven’t, and Koreans failed to adapt.
They were too focused on playing their game.
In the end, there’s a thin line between confidence and stubbornness. It’s one thing to bring out bot lane Brand or Heimerdinger if you believe they can add something to your team comp, but you should abandon these picks with no hesitation if they fail to do their job on the Rift. No matter the era or the meta, adaptation is king at Worlds. Even Cloud9, the first North American team to make the semifinals since 2011, had several hectic showings in the Play-In group stage and a rough Bo5 against Gambit Esports. However, they made the necessary adjustments and persevered where other NA LCS team didn’t.
So while following your heart might sound like a great motto, it becomes much less enticing when you start losing crucial matches because your trademark picks and strategies aren’t nearly as effective as you thought they were. At times like these, you need to have enough awareness to switch gears and look for other ways to move forward. Maybe even borrow a couple of plays from someone else’s playbook. Otherwise, playing your game will be synonymous to falling behind.