GAM Levi locked in Nocturne jungle

Eight surprise champion picks that shaped Worlds’ group stage

The 2017 League of Legends World Championship continues into the knockout stage, yet there is so much to unpack regarding the group stage. The bottom two teams from each group have gone home defeated, and they will mentally replay every win and loss to make sense of it all. They will review their drafts, early game strategies, mid-game decisions and late-game execution.

Adaptation was a major theme of this year’s group stage. Each week, the teams who brought key innovations onto the stage defined the final standings. Pocket picks, surprise lock-ins and fulfilling match-up win conditions decided matches, which shaped teams’ chances to advance. Here are eight pivotal champion picks that shaped the first wave of 2017 Worlds.

GAM Levi Nocturne – Day 1 v. FNC

GAM Levi locked in Nocturne jungle at Worlds

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

After the first few matches included drafts that mostly went by the book, Gigabyte Marines decided to lock in Nocturne for Levi against Fnatic. This decision completely changed the tone of the 2017 Worlds stage. The surprise draft reminded audiences around the world why they fell in love with Gigabyte Marines at this year’s Mid-Season Invitational. Nocturne is such a feast or famine option that he is hardly ever played professionally. However, Gigabyte Marines set up Levi to reach level six in five minutes, and he carried them to a 24-minute victory. 

This game was significant for so many reasons. Firstly, it demonstrated that top teams from minor regions are completely capable of putting up a fight on the international stage. Other members of Group B cannot underestimate Gigabyte Marines. Secondly, this quick win gave Gigabyte Marines the confidence to continue bringing out “never before seen” drafts and strategies throughout the Group Stage. But, most importantly, the loss definitely shook Fnatic’s mentality for their matches in week one. Gigabyte Marines, and their successful Nocturne execution, set up Fnatic to start Worlds 0-3. 

G2 Expect Trundle – Day 3 v. FB

With Cho’Gath locked in for 1907 Fenerbahce’s Thaldrin, and Gnar and Shen banned away, G2 locked in the Trundle for Expect. This match was the first Trundle on the 2017 Worlds stage. With a little help from Perkz to secure First Blood, Expect pushed down first turret and helped Trick acquire Rift Herald. From there, he transitioned into split-pushing to win one-versus-one against Thaldrin.

While Expect was not the only major factor in G2’s day three victory, his pressure did result in G2’s first win after losing to Samsung Galaxy on day one. His Trundle game also set the precedent for Alphari, CuVee and Huni to gain wins with Troll King during group stage. Expect put Trundle on the board, forcing teams to consider him in future drafts, especially against super-tank top laners.

G2 Expect locked in Trundle top at Worlds

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

C9 Contractz Graves – Day 3 v. EDG

As one of the only junglers prioritizing high damage over tankiness and crowd control, Contractz surprised with a Graves lock-in on day three. Touted as a counter-pick to Jarvan IV, Graves still maintains fast camp clears and invasion pressure. The pick worked out similarly to Contractz’ Ezreal jungle. He farmed monsters rapidly, and he made sure to visit lanes to help poke out EDG’s laners.

More importantly, Cloud9 won their first game against China’s first seed. The same pick did not work out against EDG on day eight, but the first win basically prevented a tie-breaker match between the two teams for second seed in Group A. Even though no other players tried out Graves on stage, Contractz’ week one success with the pick turned out to be a saving grace for Cloud9’s advancement to quarterfinals.

LZ Khan Nasus – Day 4 v. FNC

What was not to love about this game? The top lane Nasus generated so much hype by itself, disregarding any memes about “dog champs.” Khan had already shown prominence on Lethality Jarvan IV, so everyone expected his Nasus to be nasty. Longzhu realized that Fnatic tends to abandon sOAZ in the top lane, so this champion would hard counter that choice. 

LZ Khan locked in Nasus at Worlds

Screenshot of LoL Esports broadcast

Khan did not disappoint. Longzhu destroyed Fnatic’s nexus in 20:52, the shortest match in the group stage. This victory solidified Longzhu at the top of Group B with a 3-0 record, and Fnatic at the bottom with an 0-3. Almost all of the drama of Group B’s week two would have been nonexistent without this stomp. The Nasus pick, in particular, reinforced the possibility of surprise picks on the international stage.

FNC Caps Malzahar – Day 5 v. IMT

Week two saw Fnatic on a momentous upswing. They won their second matches against Immortals and Gigabyte Marines, while Longzhu remained undefeated. The games played out to create a tie-breaker situation between Immortals and Fnatic, which is when Caps pulled out the first Malzahar of Worlds.

Malzahar is supposed to be a counter-pick to Ryze, which allowed Caps to neutralize Pobelter. The mid lane interactions allowed Fnatic’s other members to have the space necessary to gain advantages and push through neutral objectives. With this victory, Fnatic sent Immortals back to North America, and continued into their tie-breaker against Gigabyte Marines to finalize Group B’s standings.

MSF IgNar Thresh – Day 7 v. FW

MSF Ignar locked in Thresh at Worlds

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

This match-up against Flash Wolves was a breakout game for IgNar and Misfits. Their Thresh lock-in presented one of the first non-Ardent Censer supports at Worlds. It also proved that teams can opt for play-making champions in the bottom lane and find success. IgNar finished the game with a 0-0-10 scoreline, making the most of his roams and picks.

While Flash Wolves were not their main competition, Misfits started day seven with momentum. The unpredictability of IgNar’s champion pool allowed them to have flexible drafts, and to know that any member of their team is capable of carrying. Misfits cemented Flash Wolves’ fate in the group stage, since they fell 0-4 with this loss.

WE Mystic Caitlyn – Day 7 v. TSM

One of the most innovative strategies of the group stage, Mystic decided to race the Ardent Censer support build by drafting Caitlyn. Her combination of early poke damage, wave clear, and sieging allows Caitlyn to push in late-scaling AD carries such as Doublelift’s Twitch. Team WE executed the strategy perfectly, pushing through the game in just over 24 minutes. Mystic himself finished with a 10.0 KDA.

This game marked the turning point for TSM in Group D. WE pulled ahead to match Misfits 3-1, while TSM dropped below them at 2-2. This same strategy won WE their second match against Flash Wolves to finish at the top of the group. From a larger scope, this match also introduced another strategy to counter hyper-carries with enchanter supports. Caitlyn would go on to finish the group stage 4-0, including wins from EDG and Cloud9 on the final day.

FW MMD Renekton – Day 7 v. TSM

FW MMD locked in Renekton at Worlds

Screenshot of LoL Esports broadcast

Calling Renekton a “surprise pick” is a bit of a stretch. He is a staple lane bully champion for top laners. However, the 2017 Worlds meta has not seen him played much. Flash Wolves drafted Renekton for MMD to completely neutralize Hauntzer. Karsa and MMD killed Hauntzer twice within the first five minutes, which provided MMD with so much pressure that he zoned Hauntzer off of farm. MMD gained a 2,000 gold lead by 11 minutes, which transitioned into first turret, Rift Herald and complete dominance by the Flash Wolves.

The first seed LMS team had nothing to lose, seeing as they were already guaranteed to be eliminated. They took their only win off of TSM in this match, which forced the tie-breaker with Misfits to finish group stage. This single win, stemming from this single champion match-up, was the catalyst for Misfits to secure second seed in Group D. If TSM had won this game, then they would have graduated into quarterfinals instead of Misfits.

From the first day of group stage to the last, we have seen individual champion selections have huge impacts. Countering the meta, or countering specific team playstyles, these surprise performances influenced the standings. They allowed and denied entry into the knockout stage. Teams, players and the tournament itself are creating highlights, and even legacies to be remembered for World Championships to come.


Featured Image: LoL Esports Flickr

Other Images: LoL Esports FlickrLoL Esports broadcast

Team and Player Statistics: Game of Legends

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Edward Gaming: Pressure on China’s hometown heroes

Edward Gaming (EDG) struggles to find success at the 2017 League of Legends World Championship, rounding week one of the group stage with an 0-3 match record. Despite coming in as heavy favorites to advance to quarterfinals alongside defending champions SK telecom T1, China’s first seed cannot seem to find their footing. Let’s dive into EDG’s games and look at what they must do to claw out of Group A.

Game 1: Edward Gaming (EDG) vs ahq e-Sports Club (AHQ)

edward gaming

Credits: LoL Esports Photos

Edward Gaming controlled the tempo for the majority of a 54-minute brawl, ultimately crumbling to AHQ’s superior teamfighting. To start the game, EDG locked star mid-laner Lee “Scout” Ye-chan on a comfort pick in Lucian. EDG looked to dominate mid-lane and that advantage across the map. Scout executed, earning a staggering +30 CS differential at 15 minutes.

Despite this aggressive lead in the mid-lane, AHQ found multiple advantageous teamfight opportunities in the mid-game. An extended five on five fight at 20-minutes resulted in a quadra-kill for AHQ’s AD-carry Chun-An “AN” Chou. Taking these small victories, AHQ dragged the game into a plus fifty minute slug fest, ultimately overpowering the Chinese representatives.

What internal factors led to EDG’s loss in their first match of Worlds 2017? Crucially, EDG failed to capitalize on their Shen counter-pick for top-laner Yuhao “Mouse” Chen. As a team, EDG should have prioritized mid-game skirmishes and early Drake control using their Teleport advantage with Shen’s “Stand United” to out-rotate AHQ. Naturally, Cho’Gath stood to outscale Mouse‘s Shen in both teamfight effectiveness, objective control and raw tank stats. EDG had to recognize this weakness in their composition and close out the game early. However, because of Mouse‘s weak lane performance against the enemy Cho’Gath and EDG’s lack of proactive rotations, AHQ secured early objectives that paid dividends in the late-game.

Game 2: Edward Gaming (EDG) vs SK telecom t1 (SKT)

edward gaming

Credits: LoL Esports Photos

EDG had no time to lick their wounds before facing off against long-time rivals, the defending world champions, SK Telecom T1. With the force of an entire arena in Wuhan cheering on their hometown favorites, Edward Gaming stormed into game two with blood in their eyes. Led by Wuhan native, Kai “Clearlove7” Ming, EDG coordinated plays to shut down living legend, Sanghyeok “Faker” Lee. Unlike the day before, EDG did not relent. The Chinese squad continued to wreak havoc on multiple SKT members, ballooning their lead to over 9.1k gold at 25-minutes.

Then, at 29-minutes, SKT finds a single teamfight that swings the entire momentum of the game. In rapid succession, SKT’s support, Jaewan “Wolf” Lee and jungler Wangho “Peanut” Han layer double knock-ups onto EDG’s carries. Faker lands a picture-perfect “Command Shockwave” on four members of Edward Gaming, decimating the opposition and turning the game on its head. EDG are never able to regain control of the game.

One fight. One crystal initiation by SKT’s play-makers leveled Edward Gaming’s seemingly insurmountable lead. It is difficult to find many faults with EDG’s play in this particular game. After successfully neutralizing Faker‘s Orianna, EDG exposed several mid-game vulnerabilities in SKT’s playstyle. However, a single positioning mistake at the height of their gold lead cost EDG their second game. Still, we can find many positives for Edward Gaming. They successfully shut down Faker, whose ability to absorb and outplay enemy pressure is perhaps the best in the world. EDG then took that mid-lane pressure and earned leads across the board, securing three Mountain Drakes, Rift Herald and a Baron.

Game 3: Edward Gaming (EDG) vs Cloud 9 (C9)

edward gaming

Credits: LoL Esports Photos

Coming into Game 3, Edward Gaming looked like they had a chip on their shoulder. C9’s rookie jungler, Juan “Contractz” Garcia invaded Clearlove7‘s side of the jungle, stifling EDG’s ability to gain vision control and snowball lanes. Meanwhile, EDG’s top laner Mouse found himself suffocating under early pressure from C9’s top-laner Eonyoung “Impact” Jeong.

Feeling the need to pull his team from the trenches, Scout tried to pressure Nicolaj “Jensen” Jensen’s Syndra pick. However, without his team to back him up, Scout found himself on the receiving end of multiple three-man ganks. Edward Gaming cracked under the pressure to perform on their home turf as the North American representatives led them into their third consecutive loss at Worlds 2017.

Taking a look at this game, it is clear EDG is off-center. In an attempt to slow down Contractz‘s aggressive playstyle, EDG banned Ezreal. However, after Contractz locked in Graves, EDG failed to adapt their strategy. The result: Cloud 9 methodically dismantled Edward Gaming, executing clean initiations and trades to put the game away.

Looking at Week Two

edward gaming

Credit: LoL Esports Photos

Despite the odds, an 0-3 match record does not mean Edward Gaming is out of the running. In games one and two, EDG earned sizable leads and control through mid and jungle control. Their crutch was a failure to close out these games. In the days leading up to week two, EDG must work on fixing issues with their macro-play and teamfighting.

The road to quarterfinals will be exceedingly difficult, but EDG is no stranger to being behind. This roster secured China’s first seed by reverse-sweeping regional rivals Royal Never Give Up (RNG) 3-2 at the LPL Summer Finals. Most of EDG’s members are repeat Worlds competitors, veterans even. In times like these, leadership and composure on the world stage will define EDG’s legacy. Team captain, Clearlove7 will look to lead his team surging into week two.

Featured Image: LoL Esports Flickr

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Fnatic qualified for Group Stage from Play-in Stage

Fnatic’s possibilities for the rest of Worlds

The third seed from the EU LCS, Fnatic, has successfully qualified for the Group Stage of the 2017 League of Legends World Championship. By placing first in their play-in group and defeating Hong Kong Attitude in the play-in knockout, Fnatic enters into the main event. They join G2 and Misfits as Europe’s international representatives.

Play-In Stage Recap

Fnatic beat HKA in play-ins knockout

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Fnatic’s play-in stage was not perfect. They dropped a best-of-one to Young Generation, second seed from the GPL. Young Generation was also able to build a 2,500 gold lead in their first match-up, although Fnatic did ultimately win.

Against Kaos Latin Gamers, representatives of LAS, Fnatic handily won both games. The European squad was able to accrue near-10,000 gold leads twice in less than 26 minutes. Fnatic fans should be proud of these performances.

Moving on to face Hong Kong Attitude, Fnatic showed a bit of both worlds. In game one, HKA held the advantage for about 29 minutes. Fnatic turned things around by scoring a pick-off of Godkwai and turning it into a Baron. Then, in Fnatic fashion, they continued pressing through the next five minutes to close the game.

Whether due to HKA tilting or Fnatic adaptation, the next two games stayed favorable for Fnatic all the way through. While Broxah and Soaz remained on tanky disruptors throughout the series, Fnatic’s bottom lane showed some variation. Rekkles and Jesiz executed Xayah-Janna, Xayah-Karma, and Sivir-Rakan. Caps excelled over the series on Cassiopeia and Taliyah. This combination, Rekkles and Caps as scaling AD and AP carries, Broxah and Soaz on hefty initiators and Jesiz abusing Ardent Censer supports, seems to be Fnatic’s sweet spot.

Fnatic’s best bet is to continue drafting towards these compositions. Putting Soaz on Cho’Gath or carries, such as Rumble, Jarvan IV, etc. is not ideal. Broxah has historically performed well on Elise, but when Fnatic does not close the game in less than 40 minutes the pick becomes useless. Jesiz is in a similar boat, where he can perform on Braum, Thresh, and even Camille support, but the meta strongly favors enchanter supports who can abuse the strength of Ardent Censer.

Possibility #1: Group A

Group A consists of EDG, SKT, and AHQ

Image from RiftHerald.com

Assuming Cloud9, Fnatic, Fenerbahce, and Team WE qualify for the Group Stage, Fnatic has two widely varying paths. In one scenario, Fnatic is drafted into Group A with EDG, SKT and AHQ. If that happens, then Fnatic might as well consider their 2017 Worlds run over, because the competition in this group is fierce.

AHQ

AHQ is most likely a reasonable opponent for Fnatic, based on their perceived power level over HKA as the LMS’ second seed. The LMS squad has been to the World Championship on multiple occasions, and they have essentially maintained their entire roster from last year. Westdoor is acting as the mid lane substitute, with Chawy on the starting line-up.

The worrying match-up against AHQ would be top lane. This LMS squad is more likely to draft a winning match-up for Ziv, mixed with a high-tempo jungler for Mountain. For example, it would not be surprising to see a Camille-Kha’Zix or Renekton-Elise. The trade-off, though, would be for bottom lane match-ups, which would benefit Fnatic. AN is put on Ashe or Caitlyn more than Tristana, Xayah, or Kog’Maw.

SKT

SKT is another second seed team in Group A. The Korean team’s reputation speaks for itself, and Fnatic should fear this opponent. Faker may just be the perfect veteran mid laner to shut down young Caps, and the Bang-Wolf bottom lane duo unquestionably matches Rekkles and Jesiz.

The big deciding factor in this match-up would be top lane. Huni is such a wildcard. It is hard to tell if he will be able to stomp Soaz and solo carry, or become a liability. SKT will also bring two junglers, so if Peanut or Blank fails to stuff Broxah, then they have a back-up. Fnatic’s top and jungle will be put to the test, yet again.

EDG

EDG is at the head of the table for Group A as China’s first seed. This is almost certain to be a jungle-mid contest. Clearlove is one of the most touted junglers appearing on the Worlds stage and Scout throws some serious fast balls. Both of these players enjoy similar champion pools to Caps and Broxah, as well.

Mouse and iBoy could be EDG’s weak points. Mouse was left on a supreme island at last year’s World Championship, and EDG’s opponents punished them for it. Fnatic could try to give Soaz a winning match-up, such as Gnar or Jayce, to hinder that position. While iBoy is a hot rookie, he is untested on such a pivotal stage. He will rely heavily on Meiko’s leadership for success.

If Fnatic is placed in Group A, it may be the greatest challenge they have faced all year. SKT and EDG should be tougher than Misfits and G2, Fnatic’s greatest competition in Europe. Every member of the team will be tested, unlike the Play-In stage. Hopefully they will avoid this scenario.

Scenario #2: Group B

Group B consists of Longzhu, IMT, and GAM

Image from RiftHerald.com

Since G2 is in Group C and Misfits is in Group D, then Fnatic’s only other possibility is Group B. These match-ups would most likely be more favorable for Fnatic making it to the next stage. Immortals, Longzhu and Gigabyte Marines would be their opponents.

Gigabyte Marines

Everyone remembers the Gigabyte Marines from their performance at this year’s Mid-Season Invitational. Their primary weapons are their jungler, Levi, and mid laner, Optimus. Levi generally opts into carrying from the jungle. Lee Sin, Nidalee, Kha’Zix, and Graves are right in his wheelhouse. Do not be surprised to see him draft an Ezreal. Optimus sometimes pairs with an assassin, such as Fizz or Leblanc, but he can also pull out Syndra, Taliyah, etc.

Fnatic should be able to match up against this team, but remember their time with Young Generation, GPL’s second seed. If Fnatic’s players come into this match-up without respect for their opponents, the Marines will gladly stifle Broxah from the jungle. The EU LCS third seed should play around Rekkles and bottom lane to win these matches with ease, but there is a world where GAM blows them out of the water.

Immortals

North America’s second seed showed up this summer, taking TSM to four games in the finals. They rely heavily on the dynamic support staff of Xmithie and Olleh, who love to show up in every lane and enable Flame, Pobelter, and Cody Sun. In the current meta, Cody Sun is Immortals’ highest ceiling damage dealer. Pobelter and Flame are consistent laners who slowly build leads over their opponents, only to use their advantages in teamfights.

It is hard to say which team has the advantage between Fnatic and Immortals. The deciding factor will probably be in the support position, actually. Olleh is exceptional on play-making supports, such as Rakan, Alistar, and Thresh. He is more likely to leave the bottom lane and impact other areas earlier and more frequently. Jesiz needs to strap on his Boots of Mobility to stand a chance.

Longzhu

Korea’s first seed, and the most hyped team coming into Worlds, is Fnatic’s trade-off for facing IMT and GAM in Group B. Longzhu is one of the only teams in the tournament that legitimately outclasses Fnatic in every role. Khan, Bdd and Pray are more apt to dominate lane than Soaz, Caps or Rekkles. Gorilla outclasses Jesiz, and Cuzz is the glue that holds it all together. As they say, jungling is easy when you have all three winning lanes.

Fnatic’s strategy could involve preparing much more for GAM and IMT than Longzhu. All they need to do is finish the Group Stage in second place to move on to the next round. If Fnatic is to beat Longzhu, it would need to be in the hands of veterans Soaz and Rekkles. They would need to draft winning match-ups for Broxah and Caps, then hold their own against some of the top League of Legends players currently in the game.

From there, the rest is too speculative to really analyze. Discussing the quarterfinals and beyond would involve lots of assumptions that would probably be wrong. At this point, we know Fnatic is in the Group Stage, and we know that they will slot in either Group A or Group B. Many already viewed Fnatic as an international contender, but their stumbling in the EU LCS playoffs and the Worlds Play-in leaves some with doubt. If they are able to be in Group B with GAM, IMT, and Longzhu, then they could be set up to make a deep run into the entire tournament.

2017 World Championships groups

Image from LoLesports.com


Featured Image: LoL Esports Flickr

Other Images: LoL Esports Flickr, RiftHerald.com, LoLesports.com

Statistics: GamesofLegends.com

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Worlds Group A

Worlds 2017 group A : The Clash of Titans

Introduction

Every year, as the post-seasons of the multiple leagues around the world come to a close, many fans set their eyes on Worlds and the meeting of the best of the best in the international throw down. While maybe not the exciting affair for some, the group stage draw signals the coming of Worlds in the hearts of fans and is the nostalgic feeling of ‘Worlds is around the corner’ again. The group draw is this series of events that will drastically shape which teams are slated to go forward, who has the easy group, who gets the dark horse team and who gets placed into the dreaded Group of Death™. With that each group has its own story lines that emerge, and for group A, the title I’d give it has to be the Clash of Titans.

Group A drew not only EDward Gaming (EDG), finalists for the LPL, but also Worlds’ favorite and defending champions in SKT T1. As if a more storied and titanic clash could exist, the group, for me at least, avoids the term Group of Death™ because, well, AHQ is there. With the fourth team still to be determined, we can’t comment too much there, but this group is definitely a dance of two. Will it be the resurgent LPL region’s EDG that walks away in first, or the fan favorite in SKT that manages again, even with questions hanging over their head, to prove themselves as the best in the world? Or can AHQ, against all odds, pull off a miracle and make it out of the group? Maybe the fourth team will add some unexpected spice that upsets the perfect balance of the two titans facing off for the first and second seed.

EDG 

With some of the most stylish jerseys out of the LPL, EDward Gaming hope to cement themselves as a force to be reckoned with internationally. Courtesy of EDward Gaming Facebook.

EDG come into Group A as the finalists from the scrappy LPL region, a region known for aggression that can start as early as level one. After reverse sweeping Royal Never Give Up to keep the team from winning an LPL Finals, to cement themselves, at least as far as standings go, to be the best in China, EDG come into Worlds roaring with confidence. However, EDG come into the group in an odd position; they match up against their titanic opponents, SKT, which draws concern.

Questions surround EDG’s top lane, Chen “Mouse” Yu-Hao, and even Ming “Clearlove7” Kai, the on and off star jungler, abound. It’s the weaker side for the roster, that contains Lee “Scout” Ye-chan and Tian “meiko” Ye on the other half of the Rift. That being said, EDG’s draw in the group stage is a slight benefit, they face SKT, which for most would be a bad thing. But with SKT’s struggling top lane and jungler position too, EDG’s weaker sides may not be placed up against a stronger side. This means not only will EDG’s side not be exposed to a stronger lane match up, where the other team can focus and create a lead there, but also maybe EDG can manage to be the stronger side in the top half.

Their bot lane, with new kid on the block Hu “iBoy” Xianzhao, will be the true point of contest between the two titans. Bae “Bang” Jun-sik and Lee “Wolf” Jae-wan have not looked like the dominant force they once were, having been a key part in SKT’s slump mid split. That doesn’t mean that they’re not a formidable foe for a rookie ADC. EDG will have to prove themselves the stronger team even with the questions that surround them, but given their pedigree and history of strong performances, EDG look to be easy favorites for at least second place, if not first in the group.

 

The X Factor: iBoy and Scout

Rookie iBoy will have his skills and mettle tested severely against the veteran bot lane of Bang and Wolf. Can he come out ahead? Courtesy of Leaguepedia.

The two primary carries of EDG are the linchpin of the roster for me. Scout has to be performing at his top tier to dominate the group, and particularly to show up against old teammate Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok. If it’s Scout at his ceiling, he can be the carry that EDG needs to maybe secure that first place in the group. If he’s at his floor, EDG will find trouble against possibly even AHQ.

The other big factor is iBoy, the newcomer to the LPL scene. A rookie by all accounts, he comes into Worlds only having played a total of 22 games over his entire professional career. To be thrown into a Worlds roster, let alone one that has SKT and Bang in its group, is one large task for the rookie. However, iBoy’s stats aren’t worrisome, and with the veteran lane mate of Meiko by his side, this could be a real time for the young player to shine. On the other hand, not performing will be costly for the team overall, so the pressure on iBoy is pretty damn high to at least go toe to toe with Bang.

SKT 

Ahh, SKT. They barely need introduction for fans of League of Legends, but the once completely unstoppable juggernauts have had a slightly less than glamorous recent showing. The notable slump in performance, and the question marks not only in top lane of who to start between Seung “Huni” Hoon Heo and Ui “Untara” Jin-Park, were concerns that many analysts brought up. Not just that, but also their jungler position too is up in the air, with Han “Peanut” Wang-hoand and Kang “Blank” Sun-gu, being the two possibilities. For many on the outside looking in, this has put the organization in a bit of a tumultuous position.

SKT’s full roster will be tested as they go into Worlds. Courtesy of SKT T1’s Facebook.

Just as with EDG though, SKT lucked out slightly by placing in a group with similar question marks in the top side of the Rift. With the “Unkillable Demon King” of League in Faker playing on the team though, and the long standing relationship between Bang and Wolf in the bot lane, it’s hard to say SKT is weak, even through their struggling top and jungle positions. Untara looks to be the more stable top lane, and Blank slots in similarly, and that almost feels the stronger formation for SKT going into Worlds. SKT can win games off simply mid and bot lane, and a tank meta supports a more supportive top and jungler position, rather than the more carry-oriented play that one might expect out of Huni or Peanut.

SKT however is still not the guaranteed top squad. With the current draw, they should be able to squash struggling AHQ Esports Club, but will be faced against an equally formidable EDG. The more aggressive nature of LPL teams may be a challenge for the defending champions, but it’s difficult to say they’ll struggle. Sure, at Rift Rivals the LPL were the ultimate winners, but LCK is never a region to bat an eyelash at. And almost most importantly, this is still a team with Faker on it, and Bang and Wolf, who bring not only their experience, but synergy. It will depend on how the squads match up, if Faker can take on his once pupil, Scout and if synergy wins out over new kid and star iBoy in the bot lane and the veteran in Meiko.

 

The X Factor: Untara/Huni and Blank/Peanut

High risk, high reward, is what has always characterized both Huni and Peanut. But can SKT take the gamble at Worlds? Courtesy of SKT T1’s Facebook.

This may come off wrong, but I’m not worried about SKT’s bottom half of the map. Faker has rarely performed negatively, and the Bang and Wolf duo seem a lot more energized after their slump. It’s the top half that’s the tricky part for SKT, and ultimately something they’ll need to address if they plan to make any real statement at Worlds.

The Huni/Untara saga continues, as Huni, previously the star diamond in the rough player, has looked considerably disappointing in recent showings (like, recent for a while…) Untara, on the other hand, may not be as flashy as Huni in his hay day or the phenom in Kim “Khan” Dong-ha, but he gets the job done for SKT. If Huni can be assured to perform, he’s the obvious pick, as a strong top laner into a group with weaker top laners could be another weapon in the SKT arsenal. However, he’s a liability, and SKT may decide to go with Untara for the security in the top lane.

The next question mark is in the jungle. Peanut, the darling of the Rox Tigers that stormed onto the scene last year, is in doubt. He’s not the consistent jungler that SKT needs. Stats aren’t everything, but Blank, particularly in SKT’s playoff run, was the superior jungler in almost every category, having played six games to Peanut’s eight. That’s a decent sample size. With Blank’s solid performance, and the bigger question mark being in the top lane, SKT could very well leave Peanut out of the six man roster for Worlds in favor of a more diverse top lane option. Regardless, whoever fills in the jungle position for SKT will need to be able to get their carries in the position to succeed. 

 

AHQ

The LMS region has always been a dark horse region. Often times discounted, except when one remembers the miracle run of Tapai Assasins, or Flash Wolves’ constant ability to take down the tyrants of SKT, they tend to look to be the weakest region of the non-wild card regions. While expansion of LMS teams at Worlds has gone from two to three, a welcomed sign for the region, it’s not as bright a note given the current teams being fielded.

Can the weird… flying… unicorn… horse thing of AHQ carry the team to one of the biggest upsets of the year against the two titans in Group A? Courtesy of Leaguepedia.

Many pundits feel that AHQ is a fairly weak team, and particularly compared to Flash Wolves, is the easier opponent hailing from the LMS region. While an AHQ of yesterday, with a strong top lane in Chen “Ziv” Yi , might’ve posed a threat to the group of weak top side teams, it’s not as big a factor anymore. As the analysts noted, Ziv has not looked as strong as he has in the past. More importantly, the mid lane question mark for AHQ is whether to play weaker Liu “Westdoor” Shu-Wei who synergizes better with jungler Xue “Mountain” Zhao-Hong, or stronger mechanics but weaker synergy in Wong “Chawy” Xing. SKT and EDG are teams that play around their star mid laners, and to have a position of almost a lose-lose scenario of options to field in that vital role, it’s hard to see them coming out ahead.

While longtime Chou “AN” Chun-An and Kang “Albis” Chia-Wei in the bot lane might bring some stability to the roster, it’s difficult to say whether they’d be able to make any real threats against the likes of Bang/Wolf or even iBoy/Meiko. AHQ look like a team that, truthfully, doesn’t have a real edge in any position over their (confirmed) group opponents. While that doesn’t mean they can’t win, their lack of clear, concise team play doesn’t assure a “team play > mechanics” style of winning either. It’s hard to see the team making a real dent in the gargantuan teams of SKT or EDG here, but we’ve seen before that the LMS region can pull some real dark horse prowess on opponents who may not give them the credit they are due.

 

The X factor: Chawy/Westdoor and Ziv

Ziv is one of the old faces of the LMS, and it’ll be on his shoulders to try and create an advantage for his team to work off of. Courtesy of Leaguepedia.

Group A is a group of strong mid laners, and that’s something that cannot be said for AHQ. The rotating mid lane of Westdoor, who has the weaker mechanics but better jungle synergy, and Chawy, the newer, stronger, but less synergized mid laner, is the biggest hurdle for AHQ. They need to make the proper decision, either trusting Mountain and Westdoor’s ability to work together, or Chawy’s individual prowess, when facing up against some of the strongest mids at Worlds. 

Ziv is the rare situation in the group up until now: he’s a steady top laner for a team. Another long term member of the club, his performance has not be the most impressive, and it’s questionable on whether he would even be able to match up well into either Mouse or Huni/Untara. But if he can, if he can become the strong point of AHQ, he’s in the group of his life to upset. While the mid lane is looking to be a fiery display of strong skill, the top lane is almost unanimously questionable on each roster. A strong showing from the top lane could be just the trick that AHQ needs to be memorable additions to Group A. Without it, there isn’t much in the way of hope for any particular position on the AHQ roster to have any clear advantage against their confirmed rivals of EDG and SKT. 

 

Overall story lines to follow

The big story line here is the mid lane, with Scout facing up against his old organization SKT, and Faker, looking across the rift to a player he once helped improve. Scout has improved considerably with EDG, and while a kind of High Ceiling Low Floor (i.e. can either do really well or really… not… well,) may be enough in a Bo1 series against SKT, it’ll still be questionable on whether he can truly make a god bleed. Faker, on the other hand, looks to reassert SKT’s position to the World, coming in with a lot of questions hanging over their head. If SKT can make quick work of a team like EDG and look comfortable doing so, they’ll remind everyone of why they are still one of the favorites to reclaim their title. If they struggle, if EDG instead are the ones standing atop the battle in the mid lane, SKT’s position in Worlds will be called further into question. And for EDG, the curse of performing not as hot in international tournaments can be fully put to rest. 

AHQ, on the other hand, are on the outside looking in for the group. They’re not really slated to do overly well, and it’s questionable if they can even make a dent against the two teams already pulled, let alone a possible third seed team. Their relevancy at the world stage will be tested, and while not even a gambling person would have them out to make it out of groups, taking a few wins will be imperative to give some sense of dignity going home for the team.

Overall comments

I know it sounds kind of lame, but I have to agree with the analysts on the group from the group draw. This is definitely EDG and SKT’s group to lose. What order that’ll be depends on which team can shore up their leaky top side, or which team can make enough plays around the mid to bottom half to make up for it. That’ll decide who takes the first seed, and while many would be safe in saying SKT has that all but locked up, I’d caution against counting EDG out of that contest.

However, AHQ are a team that many still feel shouldn’t even necessarily be here. The LMS region, while still upset-able, are not necessarily that strong of a region in recent times. EDG historically face up well against AHQ, and SKT, not facing Flash Wolves, should be able to dismantle the LMS representatives fairly easily.

The third spot, as discussed by Jatt, has the potential (note: this is highly speculative so keep that in mind) to have either Fnatic or Cloud 9 in it. While both teams, particularly Cloud 9, seem slightly more assured in the top lane, it’s hard to hold the rest of the roster as showing much potential to upset for a second place slot. They can each bring damage to the records of both, and honestly could be the decider for the top seed teams, but their shots to make it out of groups are thoroughly suspicious. It’s just hard to imagine the two titans in EDG and SKT falling victim to a third place team from the West. But crazier things have happened. 

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Sink and swim for the LCK: Rift Rivals recap

With Rift Rivals completed, it may be time to examine the League Championship Korea’s surprising second place as each team continues their swim back to Korea.

Most already know that kt Rolster coach Lee ji-hoon had jokingly said that if “the LCK comes in second or third place, we’ll have to swim our way back to Korea, but that’ll never come to pass, so I hope the fans continue to watch comfortably,” tragically creating a bitterly ironic disposition as the LCK squad came in second place. Losing to none other than the LPL, jokes arose around LCK veterans who had spent time in China’s LPL giving birth to a new era of memes around players like Heo “Pawn” Won-seok, Cho “Mata” Se-hyeong and Kim “Deft” Hyuk-kyu.

As someone who mostly watches the LCK with some scattered NALCS throughout, watching the LCK lose at Rift Rivals was shocking. While kt Rolster proved that their team fighting was still on an LCK caliber of play, the other Korean squads are going to have to clean up their play on the swim home. This is all rather convenient as they will have to wash up on shore anyways after that 739-mile swim. Memes aside, the unexpected defeat suffered at the hands of LPL teams came in a best of five Relay match resulting in a 3-1.  

 

Game One: Samsung Galaxy v EDward Gaming

(LPL) EDG Victory 45:44

Here it is, a combo that is potentially stronger than the Galio and Jarvan IV ultimate synergy: Kalista and Rakan. Courtesy of Lolesports

Game one between SG and EDG started with a poor draft phase by SG and an even worse early defend of an invade, giving EDG a lead that they would not let go of. Draft phase left EDG with an incredibly strong engage composition with Kalista and Rakan, a combination that offsets Rakan’s lack of tankiness with the safety of Kalista’s ultimate. This combination is devastating, but even more so when the Kalista and Rakan combo is on a team leading in tempo. A tempo lead is exactly what EDG gathered in game one.

Brutalizing their opponents, the LPL’s EDG did not give up a kill until past the thirty-minute mark. This is especially impressive given the nature of their diving hard engage team composition. The double hard engage Kalista/Rakan combination allows for such a long duration of virtually unavoidable crowd control, that EDG was able to take each team fight without suffering casualties. This changed during a team fight at the forty minute mark, where a huge Orianna ultimate coming out of SG’s Crown was able to change the tides. However, this team fight proved to be a fluke as the power of the Kalista and Rakan engage was too much for SG to handle.

 

Game Two: SK Telecom T1 v Team WE

(LPL) Team WE Victory 31:55

WE miss the Galio and Jarvan IV ultimate combination, but they’ll have plenty more shots at it. Courtesy of Lolesports

Game two between SKT1 and WE once again began with the surrender of a crucial team fight combination by the LCK. This time around, SKT1 gave both Galio and Jarvan IV, giving up most team fights in the process. With play at this level revolving heavily around engage, SKT1, like their Korean counterparts SG, prioritized Ashe over all other engage tools. While Ashe is a strong pick, she performs much better when her AOE damage and slows can be combined with other AOE based champions. Champions that, with the exception of Cassiopeia, SKT1 failed to draft. In addition to not drafting for AOE damage, SKT1 picked carries whose only mobility comes from their summoner spells in the face of a Jarvan IV and Galio combination.

Regardless of the players behind the champions, SKT1 drafted a composition that required them to use their Achilles Heel as a battering ram. It would have been an amazing feat for the Korean squad to overtake the wombo combo styled composition that WE had drafted for. Even with improper execution of their team fights, WE was able to secure an early lead from the camp-the-Faker strategy that so many teams utilize against SKT1.

 

Game Three: kt Rolster v OMG

(LCK) kt Rolster victory 34:37

Kt shows that the LCK can draft a team comp and then put that comp to use. Courtesy of lolesports

With kt Rolster’s bottom lane giving up first blood to a gank so early on, you would have expected this game to go in much the same way as the games prior. But this time was different because kt Rolster drafted a team with enough AOE to capitalize on their engage. Ashe and Zyra already have devastating AOE CC and damage to pour into their opponents, but kt took this draft a step further by grabbing Jarvan IV and Zac to further disrupt their opponents alongside the high damage of the skillshot based Corki mid.

The frontline and CC of this composition gives Ashe, Corki and Zyra the time to drop their damage loads onto enemies who are not able to dodge out of the way, while the long range initiation of Ashe allows for easy follow up CC for Jarvan IV and Zac. Despite early laning hiccups, kt Rolster was able to finally prove that with a well-drafted composition, the LCK could stand toe to toe with the LPL.

 

Game Four: MVP v RNG

(LPL) RNG victory 55:14

MVP pulls off an amazing wombo combo using Rakan. Unfortunately for them, they lose this fight too. Courtesy of lolesports

The closest and longest of the entire finals had the LCK showing promising early game play-making that fell short despite some well-executed initiations by the likes of MVP Max. While draft phase looked good for MVP, as they drafted a hard engage composition into the poke composition of RNG, some crucial misplays by MVP or just genuinely good plays by RNG ultimately led to an LPL victory.

Every time these teams fought, there were heavy casualties resulting in a long drawn out game that was as close as it was tense. When MVP would secure Baron, RNG would take it off at least three members immediately, while the same would occur on the opposite side when RNG secured Elder Dragon. The game finally fell into RNG’s favor when they secured an uncontested Baron thanks to a Gragas ultimate that left MVP out of smite range. This baron buff then led to an open base that RNG would ultimately destroy through a TP back door. Unlucky.

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