MADRID -- Berlin and the group stage of the League of Legends World Championship are in the rearview mirror, and that can mean only one thing: The knockout rounds are upon us.
The field of 24 that began their journey in Germany three weeks ago has been cut to just eight teams in the hunt for the Summoner's Cup. Favorites have fallen, entire regions have been deleted (sorry, North America) and all the competitors left standing are dreaming of a fairy-tale ending on Nov. 10 in Paris at the final.
But before Paris, there are still quarterfinal and semifinal matches to be played, and where there are big games, there are also wagers to be had. Here are the best (and worst) bets you can make in the upcoming round-of-eight matches this weekend from the Palacio Vistalegre in Madrid. All odds are via bet365. All series are best-of-five.
Griffin (-150) vs. Invictus Gaming (+110)
Over 3.5 games: -300
Under 3.5 games: +225
The quarterfinals kick off with a match between possibly the two most mechanically gifted teams left in the tournament. Griffin and the reigning world champion, iG, might seem similar based on how they're led by players often seen atop of online solo queues and are renowned for their technical prowess, but these teams have a stark difference in how they play.
Invictus are a team whose most famous highlights are individual outplays or one of their star talents taking over a game. Griffin, however, are at their best when they're all in sync as a unit, the five players moving as one. This leads us into a series where it'll be the teamwork of Griffin butting heads with the imposing pure skill of iG's three lanes coupled with the erratic play of last year's final MVP, iG jungler Gao "Ning" Zhen-Ning.
Overall, I think iG are a good bet as a slight underdog. In matches like these where it can go either way, I normally look at experience and which team has the best players on the Rift. For this match, I feel there are a few players who are performing at an almost peak level, and it's the experience that wins out for me. Invictus Gaming have been in these best-of-five wars before and prevailed, whereas Griffin have become infamous for stumbling in big matches with a large crowd watching them.
It's not my favorite bet on the board, though I'm siding with Invictus Gaming in a tight one that goes at least four games. I'd be surprised by a clean sweep.
FunPlus Phoenix (-188) vs. Fnatic (+137)
Over 3.5 games: -300
Under 3.5 games: +225
I haven't been always spot-on with my bets this tournament -- let's forget that whole me thinking Vietnam's Gigabyte Marines were a dark horse candidate -- but when it comes to Fnatic, I've been on the mark. When groups were announced, and they were stuck in the toughest pool in world championship history with SK Telecom T1 and Royal Never Give Up, I was still confident Fnatic would advance. Even though it wasn't the prettiest qualification, Europe's No. 2 seed made it and are now in a solid position moving forward.
Out of all the matches on the board, this is the one I like most. FunPlus are getting a lot of love based on their reputation and dominance of the Chinese domestic league, which occurred over a month ago at this point. They're a stagnant team with a predictable playstyle, and although they play it very well, that doesn't mean it can get them any further at worlds. They were in what I believe to be the easiest group in worlds history, the exact opposite of Fnatic, and FunPlus didn't even look impressive advancing from there, needing a tiebreaker over Europe's No. 3 seed, Splyce, to lock down the top spot in Group B.
Experience? It's heavily in the favor of Fnatic. Four of their five starters played in the world final last year, and the only rookie on the team, Tim "Nemesis" Lipovšek of Slovenia, has ice in his veins. He didn't flinch when playing against League's biggest name in Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok, and I don't expect him to have any nerves for a quarterfinal match in front of a pro-Fnatic European crowd.
If there's one bet I'm confident in, it's this one: Fnatic are undervalued because they struggled in Week 1. They're on a three-game winning streak that includes victories over SKT and Royal Never Give Up, the latter in a win-or-go-home match. Take Fnatic, and don't look back.
SK Telecom T1 (-15,000) vs. Splyce (+1,600)
Over 3.5 games: +175
Under 3.5 games: -250
The price you have to pay for three awesome quarterfinal matchups is a series between the winningest franchise in League of Legends history and a team that is rumored to be changing its brand following the exit from the event.
This isn't to say Splyce are a bad team, but they've had issues at worlds, first almost getting eliminated in the play-in stage by Russia's Unicorns of Love and then having the great fortune of rolling into a group in the next round that was devoid of any South Korean teams and featured an underperforming Chinese champion.
Let's make this clear: If Splyce win this match, it's the biggest worlds upset to ever happen in the game's nine-year professional history, and it probably isn't close. There are some windows of opportunity for Splyce to sneak in a game, so I wouldn't be opposed to someone taking the juicy over on this best-of-five series. But it's almost impossible to think of ways SKT lose this series unless they combust under pressure and every player on Splyce plays the best they ever have all at the same time.
Crumbling under the weight of being the tournament favorite and looking past Splyce might be in play for other teams, but this is Faker and SKT. They've made the final every time they've made it to the world championship, and although that streak might end in the semifinals, it's almost definitely not ending here.
Damwon Gaming (+100) vs. G2 Esports (-138)
Over 3.5 games: -225
Under 3.5 games: +162
Riot saved the best game for last.
It's a showdown between the terrific rookie-led South Korean squad Damwon and Europe's kings, Mid-Season Invitational champion G2 Esports. Both of these teams like to make plays and put up a lot of kills, so expect a high-scoring affair with a lot of in-game swinging back and forth depending on which team can get the upper hand amid the chaos of champions flying everywhere.
Of the three matches, this is the one that I have the hardest time predicting. As for the bet, I feel it's fair to give a small edge to the more experienced G2 Esports with the additional bonus of having a crowd that will be almost assuredly 100% behind the continent's champion. Damwon haven't run through teams in any best-of-five this year, and even though they should have had an easier team qualifying for worlds, small mistakes in their regional qualifier final against Kingzone DragonX made that series a lot closer than it needed to be. Even in the play-in stage, where they were leaps and bounds better than every team competing, Damwon still dropped a wayward game to Vietnam's Lowkey Esports after the underdog side threw a curveball at them with a lane swap to open the series.
Damwon have been called the best scrimmage team at worlds and even bested G2 in those practice matches, though what happens in the comfort of the players' hotel rooms is nowhere near the same thing as needing to perform when it actually matters. I would advise against betting this match just because of how razor-thin the gap is between these two teams and how rapidly Damwon have improved as the tournament has gone along, but if forced to pick, I'm siding with G2 Esports in a match that goes all five games.