Marek “Humanoid” Brázda has been here before. He’s felt the adrenaline rush that’s synonymous with the League of Legends World Championship on one prior occasion. His teammates, however—all four of them—have never felt pressure quite like this.
For Humanoid, a second consecutive trip to Worlds is simply another day in the office. For the rest of MAD Lions, though, playing on the biggest stage in the world is something that’s going to take some time getting adjusted to.
Worlds presents an entirely new challenge for MAD Lions, who, as a roster, had only played 14 games together on a live professional stage coming into the World Championship. From the middle of March to the beginning of the tournament, the players had played 45 games from the comfort of their home. Only now, six months later, is the team getting a chance to play in a live environment once again.
“It finally feels like we’re playing high-stakes games again,” Humanoid said after the tournament’s first day. “Playing from home just felt like we were playing a scrim. This is the biggest tournament of the year. It feels like there’s a lot of pressure that comes with every single game.”
During the early phases of the Worlds play-in stage, that pressure might be a major contributing factor to the Lions’ inconsistencies. Particularly, MAD Lions struggled against a Team Liquid squad that, if anything, is a walking antithesis of the “four rookies, one veteran” makeup that the European squad sports.
And on day two, the struggles for MAD Lions continued as the team fell short of the mark against the TCL’s Papara SuperMassive. With losses at the hands of two of the most formidable teams at the play-in stage already setting them back, the Lions will undoubtedly have to uncover the necessary formula for running the table and turning their Worlds performance around with haste.
But even though the walls are beginning to collapse around MAD Lions, the team’s unofficial leader in Humanoid insists that “everyone can take on a bit of the pressure.” The belief that the weight of the team’s expectations can be spread throughout the lineup evenly is certainly intriguing. But if the team is going to navigate its way to the next stage of the tournament, it will need to look to a player who brought a Splyce roster to the quarterfinals at last year’s event.
Throughout the first two days of the play-in stage, Humanoid has posted a KDA of 1.8, and a KP just over 60 percent, according to gol.gg. Both of those marks rank among the lowest when it comes to mid laners at the World Championship, making it feel like the MAD mid laner has been invisible at times through the team’s first three games.
Humanoid is the centerpiece of the Lions’ equation. When he succeeds, the team succeeds. When he fails, MAD Lions fail with him. And now, the situation is getting drastic. MAD Lions must look to Humanoid for a potential boost over the course of the next few days. With little opportunities to secure advancement left on the table, the rookie roster with one sole veteran will need to quickly realize the circumstances around it.
“Even though [my teammates] haven’t played on the Worlds stage, it’s not so different from a normal stage,” Humanoid said. Plenty of well-seasoned veterans would beg to differ. On the surface, it looks like the MAD Lions’ mindset hasn’t been necessarily altered by the drastic circumstances of the season’s most prestigious tournament. If the team is going to give the LEC four representatives in the group stage, it’ll need to heavily adjust.
It’s Worlds, after all, and the Summoner’s Cup is etched with countless on-the-fly adjustments made by past champions. For MAD Lions, those necessary adjustments are going to have to be made after just two days at Worlds.
Even with MAD Lions being on the ropes heading into the second half of the play-in stage, the team’s lone veteran still has immense confidence in the young talent around him. Despite naturally being viewed as the player who’s “been there before,” Humanoid insists that the key to the MAD Lions’ success will be leadership via a group effort.
The pressure and responsibilities of a traditional leader are “never really on one player” when it comes to MAD Lions, he noted after citing the team’s natural levels of comfort at the World Championship. With a near-full year of professional experience under the belts of all four of Humanoid’s teammates, the Worlds stage should be serving as a stepping stone to further greatness—not an impassable wall.
Finding a rhythm early on in the tournament is important. And for MAD Lions, getting acclimated to the pressure of Worlds is going to be a key factor in determining whether or not this team has a chance in Shanghai. Should the team progress on to the group stage of the World Championship, it will have an extra week of high-intensity on-stage practice under its belt before it comes face to face with the strongest teams on the planet. For a roster with just 14 games played on-stage together all year, any ounce of live practice these players can get a hold of will certainly be valuable.
And even if the Lions don’t find success over the next few days and fall short of the group stage, these Play-ins could serve as a major learning experience for a team with players that are bursting with mechanical ability but lacking when it comes to international experience and prowess.
After two days of play, it surely is beginning to look like MAD Lions will need to find their groove sooner rather than later. A rough stumble against Team Liquid threw the team into an early rut, and another weak showing against SuperMassive dug the hole even deeper. With the clock ticking down until the Worlds group stage, the Lions will most definitely need to find some sort of spark—preferably from its struggling veteran mid laner.
MAD Lions have the opportunity at this year’s World Championship to completely defy expectations and turn things around practically overnight. No one said it was going to be easy trying to prove that a team full of young, relatively inexperienced players could hang tough with some of the most seasoned veterans in the scene.