LEC fourth seed MAD Lions has kept its championship hopes alive in the 2022 League of Legends World Championship. In the Play-In Stage knockout phase, MAD Lions overcame Vietnamese opponent Saigon Buffalo in a bloody series with a 3-1 score. As a result, Saigon Buffalo has been eliminated from the tournament, while MAD Lions advance to play Evil Geniuses in a best-of-five for a spot in the Worlds 2022 Group Stage.

From calm gameplay to aggressive chaos

The series started with uncharacteristic restraint from Saigon Buffalo. Rather than running at MAD Lions to find skirmishes, which had been the VCS team’s gameplan all tournament long, they allowed MAD Lions to lead the game. It would cost Saigon Buffalo a lot. MAD Lions top laner İrfan “Armut” Tükek could play the game freely on his signature champion Gnar. As the map opened up, mid laner Yasin “Nisqy” Dinçer and jungler Javier “Elyoya” Prades forced Saigon Buffalo back further and further while accumulating resources for themselves. MAD Lions stayed composed and closed out the first game.

It was a wake-up call for Saigon Buffalo to return to their tried and tested method of playing aggressively. A surprise Vayne pick for top laner Lâm Huỳnh Gia “Hasmed” Huy perfectly countered Armut, who had gotten his hands on Gnar again. But it was jungler Trần “BeanJ” Văn Chính who led Saigon Buffalo to a quick victory. His Maokai kept splitting up MAD Lions and he repeatedly made them fall prey to his teammates’ damage. MAD Lions tried to salvage the game with a few desperate plays, but Saigon Buffalo couldn’t be stopped and brought the series to a 1-1 score.

(Source: Ingrid Muhlenbrock for Riot Games)

Elyoya’s Bel’Veth seals the deal

MAD Lions had to pivot with their approach. Their response was to play heavily around jungler Elyoya, who locked in his second Bel’Veth of the Play-In Stage. The Spaniard had played Bel’Veth on Day 4 against DRX alredy and performed well in the game despite the eventual loss. Against Saigon Buffalo, Elyoya was unleashed. He was involved in every kill in the early game and mid game, propelling his champion ahead in items and gold. MAD Lions had learned a lesson from Saigon’s stomp in game two and returned the favor, ending the game under 25 minutes.

With their backs against the wall, Saigon Buffalo tried throwing their own curveballs in the draft phase. Hasmed opted for the Fiora in the top lane, Beanj went for a Pantheon in the jungle. MAD Lions went for a similar composition as in the third game, with a Bel’Veth/Vex/Varus triple-threat combination. The game was significantly harder for MAD Lions to play. Elyoya did not get the early snowball rolling and Beanj shut down many plays MAD Lions tried to play. Meanwhile Hasmed’s Fiora kept splitpushing, dividing MAD Lions’ attention. But Saigon Buffalo did not have the coordination to close out the game. They picked a few team fights too aggressively and MAD Lions outplayed them with excellent engage timings from Nisqy’s Vex.

MAD Lions versus Evil Geniuses is the first best-of-five between a European team and a North American team since the 2019 Mid-Season Invitational. Norman “Kaiser” Kaiser, MAD Lions’ support, said to Em Dash that he hoped to face Evil Geniuses because “they might just be the weakest of the bunch” of their possible opponents.

The series starts on Oct. 4 at 8 PM CEST and can be viewed live on the official LoL Esports channel.