Worlds Group A

Worlds Group C preview: The Group of Death™, or a song of Fire and Ice

There’s one every year, and this year it’s the fated Group C that has been dubbed by many as the Group of Death™. Honestly, it’s hard to debate this fact. You’ve got the top seed from Europe in G2, the tyrannical kings of Europe whose track record at international tournaments can be shaky but domestically unquestionable. You have the storied Samsung, managing again to upset KT and find themselves back at the World Stage, looking across from what is quietly becoming somewhat of a Worlds Rivalry in Royal Never Give Up. RNG, the golden darlings of the LPL, return once again to Worlds, bringing the ferocity that the LPL is known for in droves.

It’s a spicy group, but more interestingly it’s a clash of identities, between the cold Ice of a mid to late game team and the fire of early game aggression. G2, once known for their aggressive tendencies, have become quite the defensive team as of late, absorbing early game aggression with grace, to come out swinging in the late game to demolish teams. Samsung are of a similar philosophy, as was shown in their series against KT Rolster, the most aggressive early game team in the LCK. Samsung played like a defensive boxer, taking blow after blow, but ultimately doing so only to wear out their over eager opponents to close in for the knockout.

RNG have never had such ideas cross their mind. They’re aggression through and through, bringing the LPL’s almost trademarked style of taking fights wherever they are, whenever they are and however they are. But RNG is even known within this region of brawlers to be exceptionally brawly, and early aggression is one of their fortes. While the Group is most obviously dubbed the Group of Death™, it very well could be just as easily understood as a case study in style. Will the two defensive sides, absorbing blow after blow effectively, come out on top in a late game orchestra of macro play and team fights? Or can the scrappy, fast and furious Chinese squad of RNG bring that fire into the post-group stage? What could the possible addition of, as Joshua “Jatt” Leesman pointed out, the likes of a Cloud 9 thrown into the group do too?

 

G2 Esports: The tyrant kings of Europe

 

Another EU LCS Finals, another G2 win to make the fourpeat a reality. Courtesy of LoL Esports Flickr.

G2 are one of those teams that just look too damn good domestically. Sure, they’ve stumbled, but a four-peat at claiming the EU LCS title (something they’ve done since qualifying for the league) is something that has to be respected. And yet, commentators are almost always going to remember the G2-8 memes, even if G2 has shown to be much better now internationally at the most recent MSI, making it to the finals after a 3-1 victory over LPL side Team WE. They’re unquestionably the strongest team in Europe, but outside of it they’ve had some troubles.

But that is the past. Too often analysis has to focus on what was, and G2 look to prove that wrong in this group. Lady Luck was not on their side, as they’re facing some of the strongest opponents at the competition. Against Samsung, Jesper “Zven” Svenningsen will be tested against the likes of Park “Ruler” Jae-hyuk who has been a dominant force in the LCK. Against RNG, Perkz matches up against the Little Tiger in Li “Xiaohu” Yuan Hao . While Europe is renown for its mid lane talent, Xiaohu, the LPL’s Summer Split MVP, has had the split of his life.

But G2 brings the talent where other teams may not. Sure, against RNG they may struggle in the mid lane, but they very well may not. Luka “PerkZ” Perković has had some great showings against the likes of Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok (getting a first blood quasi solo kill on God himself counts for something); and while Jian “Uzi” Zi-Hao and Shi “Ming” Sen Ming are a great bot lane, the Zven/Mithy combo has been one of the most constant terrors in the bot side Europe has ever produced. G2 has recently overcome its international woes, but even then its group stage hasn’t been nearly as dominant as their Bo5’s. Whether G2 can come in strong in a one game showing will determine whether they can flex that adaptability.

Oddly enough, it’s the Korean top side that has questions for me going into this group. While Liu “mlxg” Shi Yu and Kang “Ambition” Chan-yong, one a snowballing gank bot and the other a defensive jungler, may not be the most formidable. Lee “CuVee” Seong-jin and Yan “LetMe” Jun Ze both match up stronger into Ki “Expect” Dae-Han for me. Equally, Kim “Trick” Gang-Yun has not been the strongest point for G2, and is something that can easily be abused if teams want to. Particularly against the likes of RNG this can be worrisome, as an early lead is something the Chinese side will be looking for. However, consistent play from the Korean top half can thwart the game plans of not just RNG’s early game, but Samsung’s mid to late game too.

 

The X Factor: Perkz and Zven/Mithy

The star mid laner Perkz is behind much of G2’s success domestically, but can he show up at Worlds? Courtesy of LoL Esports Flickr.

League of Legends has always required that laners be as strong as they can be for teams to win, but it’s particularly important in the primary carry position of the mid lane. Group C is no exception, with the star Mid of RNG being a constant threat, but also the ability for Perkz to show up against a slightly weaker Lee “Crown” Min-ho. Winning in lane doesn’t just put Perkz ahead, but also puts the opposing jungler on the back foot, making them decide whether to try and save their ailing mid laner with gank(s), something Perkz has been adept at avoiding, or to try and help other lanes get ahead. But that pressure that Perkz can create on the map will only be a good thing, and the European phenom will need to step up against some of his toughest competition yet.

Zven and Mithy also are key factors for this team’s success, not just because they too occupy a huge carry position, but because they can nullify the strongest parts of both of their opposing teams, in Ruler/Jo “Core JJ” Yong-in and Uzi/Ming. Winning lane, or even being ahead in lane, has important macro advantages too, something that G2 can take advantage of over the more pensive Samsung or the rash RNG. An early lead, or at least a showing of good form, can either set themselves up for the late game, or put a halt to the aggression. Either way, Zven and Mithy need to bring their A game for G2 to stand a chance making it out of groups.

 

Samsung Galaxy: The defensive, pensive boxers of the LCK

 

What was tragedy for the KT Rolster organization and their fans (those poor, poor fans…) is a happy repeat for the Samsung organization, qualifying for the second year through the gauntlet format. The roster, largely unchanged from last years iteration, bring a sense of stability to the LCK representatives this year. And as the saying goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

The Samsung organization is one of the few teams to know the sweet taste of winning at Worlds. Can they make a return to the Finals this time around? Courtesy of Leaguepedia.

Samsung occupy a unique space within Group C. They’re the Korean team, so a lot of expectations of them advancing from the group exist. But they’re also stylistically very different from the real wildcard of the group in RNG. They also match up in similar style to G2, and ultimately many have them favored as the stronger outfit in that regard.

But a weak mid laner is not the position you want to be lacking in this group, against the likes of Perkz and Xiaohu. The boon of at least a strong bot lane is good, but could very well be nullified again in a group that boasts the likes of Zven/Mithy and Uzi/Ming. Cuvee is notorious in the top lane, and would be a strong point against G2 and probably RNG, but in a tank meta that may not mean as much. Samsung will need to be the better defensive team, but also be able to react and reply in kind to the aggression of RNG to top the group. Even if first place isn’t secured for the Korean team, a second place finish is just as good, and highly likely.

For Samsung it’s about shoring up their weaker flanks and sticking to their own stylistic way of playing the game. A Bo1 format does not agree the most with a team that tends to be more defensive, as it does not allow for the adjustments in between games. But it’s not the biggest hurdle for the team. This is an experienced roster, and while they seem the ‘I’m you but stronger’ version of G2, they also have a strong win condition against the early game style of RNG. If they play their cards right, the top seed of the group is a big possibility, so long as they can prove to be the stronger mid-late game than G2 and be able to rebuke any of RNG’s aggression.

 

The X Factor: Cuvee and Ruler/CoreJJ

Cuvee may the most underrated top laner going into Worlds, with a strong solo performance. Can he show up in the Group of Death for Samsung? Courtesy of leaguepedia.

While not as hyped as Kim “Khan” Dong-ha is, nor say the Seung “Huni” Hoon Heo of Spring Split, Cuvee is still a terror in the top lane for Samsung. He’s a solid player and can make a great advantage for the team in a group that doesn’t boast the most star studded of top laners. A stronger Cuvee can draw pressure away from Crown and Ruler/CoreJJ, allowing the carries to get ahead, or at least make the opposing junglers dance to Samsung’s beat.

Interestingly enough, he leads all top laners currently at Worlds in solo kills (over Khan). That says something, and Jung “Impact” Eon-yeong may have to be careful of his meme “top die” being handed over to a new top laner. A top laner, particularly a tanky one, in the late game can be a scary thing, particularly for a team so adept at team fighting. Cuvee’s role may not be the most glamorous, but it’s imperative.

You can’t talk about Samsung without talking about the Ruler/CoreJJ bot lane. Ruler has had an amazing split in the Summer, and while Crown hasn’t looked as strong, Ruler and CoreJJ have stepped up in a lot of ways. With the highest damage percent out of any ADC from the LCK in the Summer, not only is Ruler doing work for his team, he’s going to need to in this group. This is a group with Zven and Uzi, who are both formidable ADCs not just in their laning phases, but in their abilities to continually dish out damage effectively and safely. With a strong side lane pressure, Crown is also opened up to bounce back and create some pressure of his own in the mid lane. Keeping ahead, or at least even, favors Samsung heavily into any of their known match ups.

 

Royal Never Give Up: The Little Tiger and the puppy

While under many names, the Royal Club/Royal Never Give Up organization has been a staple of the LPL region. Courtesy of Leaguepedia.

For fans that have been in the scene for awhile, Uzi, and the ‘Royal [insert whatever]’ organization are old names, dating back to the Season 3 Worlds. They’ve bounced back from a relatively irrelevant few years (being dropped down to the LSPL league for a second, before picking up a new roster in the LPL) into a monster in the LPL region, and are one of the few teams to consist of only Chinese players. International fans will recognize Uzi and possibly MLXG, but that shouldn’t distract from the mid lane Xiaohu, or the Little Tiger, who has become much of a talking piece for analysts when discussing RNG. With a 70% First Blood rate in the LPL, the highest in the league, they’re a team that puts their foot on the pedal from the first minute of the game.

RNG play a hard and fast game, with MLXG ganking often for his laners, often sacrificing his own farming abilities to do so, to get them ahead. And that makes sense, when you’ve got the likes of Letme, a carry top laner in his own right, Xiaohu, the MVP of the Summer Split, and the duo of Uzi and Ming. There’s a lot of raw talent on the roster, and MLXG is the tinder to ignite those fires. Or to not. He can be the wild card of the team, and whether he performs at his best or his worst often can be the factor that swings games.

If it’s not Uzi and Ming making plays and getting ahead in the bot lane, then MLXG can look to the mid, particularly against a weaker Crown on Samsung Galaxy, for Xiaohu. Or maybe focusing towards Letme against the likes of Expect might be best. MLXG and RNG enter the group stage like a football team. MLXG, the quarterback, has an array of options and weapons to choose from to get the team ahead. It all matters on making the right choices against the right team at the right time. If they can pull that off and close games off of early leads, RNG look poised to top the group. If they struggle with that, or worse, find themselves behind early, RNG are in a much shakier position.

 

The X Factor: Xiaohu and MLXG

Praised in one stroke for his unique jungling, criticized in the next for questionable decision making, MLXG is a key part to any of RNG’s games, for better or for worse.

The first kind of goes without saying, Xiaohu is the scariest carry currently on the RNG roster, and one of the best mid laners at the tournament. But, more interestingly, him performing well has two meanings in each match up. Against G2, he can nullify one of G2’s greatest weapons in Perkz, who has been a star for the European side. Against Samsung, he can cause so much pressure by taking advantage of a weaker Crown, possibly not just getting himself ahead, but opening up other lanes for MLXG to gank.

There’s a lot of RNG’s hopes being rested on the Little Tiger’s shoulders, but if he can pull it off, RNG look to be a titan in an extremely hard group. A first place in the toughest group in the group stage wouldn’t just be a confidence boost for the whole team, but a statement against future foes to take RNG seriously.

MLXG is the other key factor in RNG’s success, or in their failure. Known for getting his laners ahead, but equally for making some… interesting decisions for a jungler, RNG is going to need him to be as strong as possible. RNG bring a strong set of laners for MLXG to choose from, so he’s not stuck ganking for any particular lane to get a star ahead. Rather, each can stand on their own against their lane opponents, and it’ll be up to the decision making on who to get ahead in each game.

If it’s MLXG at his finest, this will be a scary opponent for G2 and Samsung to face up. If it isn’t, and early game miscalls allow the late game teams to stall out that early stage, it can mean the demise of RNG. Consistency may not be RNG’s strongest suite, but with the explosive gameplay and team-fighting, it may not have to be, and MLXG exemplifies that the strongest.

 

The overall story lines: A clash of styles and laners

 

The biggest feature of this group is the two contrasting ways of playing League of Legends. There’s the slower, methodical, late game focused approach that both G2 and Samsung are fond of. On the other side, you have the intense, in your face fiery style of RNG, looking to fight early and often. The question will be, which style is the stronger one come Worlds? Samsung look poised to deal with RNG’s aggression fairly well, having had to take down KT to find themselves at Worlds. G2, on the other hand, may not be as equipped for the fight-fight-fight style of the LPL. Or, possibly, the meta (noting that no patches will be dropped and applicable for the competitive scene) may shift to favor one style over the other. It’s hard to say, but it’s rare for a group to be so crystallized in a contrast of styles.

The other aspect, and this could be argued of every group some might say, is the clash of laners themselves. The three teams locked in for Group C bring some of the strongest players in each position in the tournament, at least individually. Whether it’s the mid lane battle of Perkz/Xiaohu/Crown, or the bot lane of Zven and Mithy/ Uzi and Ming/ Ruler and CoreJJ, sparks will fly in any of these lanes. Even the top lane is no slouch, with the likes of Cuvee and Letme duking it out, while Expect may bring some unexpected (hah) surprises to the tournament. The more defensive teams need to deflect much of RNG’s aggression, and RNG in turn need to make the aggression ‘stick’ to take an advantage in the group. The laning phase will surely be a sight to behold for Group C.

 

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Courtesy of LoL Esports.

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