Introducing Group A of Worlds play-in: Team WE, Gambit and Lyon Gaming

With the addition of a play-in stage to the 2017 League of Legends World Championship, audiences will see several new faces on the international stage. To start things off, 12 third seed and wildcard teams have been divided into four groups of three. Each group of three will play a double round robin, and the two with the best record will move to a second phase. First place of each group will play a random second place in phase two of the play-in. The winners of these best-of-fives qualify for the larger Group Stage with the other top teams.

The LPL’s Team WE, LCL’s Gambit and LLN’s Lyon Gaming were drawn into Group A of the play-in. These three teams come from regions with widely differing teams and metas. The clashing of these differences is one of the many reasons Worlds is always exciting to watch. Here are summaries of the three competitors.

Team WE (LPL Third Seed)

WE 957 will play in Group A

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Top: 957 Jungle: Condi Mid: Xiye Bot: Mystic Support: Ben

2017 Spring Split achievements: Tied 1st Group B Spring regular, 1st Spring playoffs, 3rd/4th MSI

2017 Summer Split achievements: Tied 1st Group A Summer regular, 4th Summer playoffs, Rift Rivals winners

Team WE are one of the more aggressive teams in China. Just look at some of the players’ pocket picks in the regular season Summer Split. Kled for 957. Rengar for Condi. Xiye’s most played champion was Leblanc, and he has not played Orianna since spring. Mystic and Ben’s highest pick rates are for Xayah and Rakan. These guys play fast and hard.

WE may be the LPL’s third seed, but this squad tied China’s first seed, Edward Gaming, in the 2017 regular seasons of Spring and Summer Split. WE had a winning record against Royal Never Give Up in spring, and against EDG in summer. They traded wins with SK Telecom T1 and Flash Wolves at Rift Rivals, and also finished the Mid-Season Invitational group stage ahead of G2, Flash Wolves, TSM and Gigabyte Marines.

WE Xiye will play in Group A

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Essentially a shoe-in for the group stage of Worlds, WE will look to exhibit dominance in the play-in. This is not the place to disrespect opponents. WE should view this first step as a mental warm-up for the rest of the tournament. They need to take down their opponents in the same way they would take down the best in the LPL.

WE knows it deserves a spot in the group stage. Now is their time to prove it. If they were somehow unable to push out of the play-in stage, it would be an unacceptable disappointment. Assuming WE finish first in their group, they will have to face a second seed from another play-in group to make it into the next stage. This would most likely be Gambit, Team One, Young Generation or 1907 Fenerbahce.

In the second phase of play-in, all of these teams would be comfortable on stage, and WE should show up in a best-of-five. Cheesy best-of-one wildcard strategies cannot get teams through this section of competition. WE can adapt to their opponent, shift draft advantages between their players, and ultimately succeed. Any of their players can carry in any given game, unlike many of the wildcard teams. WE needs to use that to their advantage.

Gambit (LCL First Seed)

Gambit will play in Group A

Image from EsportsRanks.com

Top: PvPStejos Jungle: Diamondprox Mid: Kira Bot: Blasting Support: Edward

2017 Spring Split achievements: 6th Spring regular

2017 Summer Split achievements: 1st Summer regular, 1st Summer playoffs

League of Legends fans who watched the 2016 World Championships will remember the LCL’s representative last year: Albus Nox Luna. The Russians surprised the world by pushing out of their group into the quarterfinals, finishing fifth-eighth. In the 2017 pre-season, their slot was acquired by M19, who went on to finish third-fourth in the 2017 Spring Split playoffs.

Between spring and summer, though, mid laner Kira and jungler PvPStejos (who moved to top lane) were signed to Gambit. The organization also brought on Blasting from Virtus.pro and Edward from Vega Squadron, rebuilding the roster around veteran jungler Diamondprox.

Kira and PvPStejos will play in Group A

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

This line-up performed much better during the Summer Split, following Gambit’s sixth place finish in the Spring Split. They finished the summer regular season with a 13-1 record, met M19 in the playoff finals, and edged them out 3-2 to auto-qualify to Worlds this year. Russia is truly sending her best team to the international stage.

The CIS representatives excel at getting an early lead, averaging 1,258 gold ahead at 15 minutes. This does not necessarily always turn into the first turret (57.1 percent) or dragon control (58 percent), but they keep their grip on Baron (85.7 percent control). This major objective will come up huge at Worlds, and Gambit should replicate this strategy as best they can.

Gambit will look to build off of ANX’s success last year, but they have the additional play-in stage to hurdle. Grouping with Team WE all but ensures Gambit’s second place seeding for phase two, so they will ultimately have to beat one of the top seeds from the play-in to advance. If any wildcard team is up for the challenge, it is Gambit.

Lyon Gaming (LLN First Seed)

Lyon WhiteLotus will play in Group A

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Top: Jirall Jungle: Oddie Mid: Seiya Bot: WhiteLotus Support: Genthix

2017 Spring Split achievements: 1st Spring regular, 1st Spring playoffs, 8th-9th MSI

2017 Summer Split achievements: 1st Summer regular, 1st Summer playoffs, 3rd Rift Rivals

Lyon Gaming has one of the most dominant regional histories in professional League of Legends. Their victory this summer marks eight splits won since 2013. These same five players have been on Lyon for the entirety of 2017. They have only dropped five games total within the LLN this whole year.

However, regional perfection does not necessarily translate to the big stage. At last year’s International Wildcard Qualifier, Lyon Gaming finished the first phase at the top of the standings with a 6-1 record. However, they were knocked out by Albus Nox Luna by losing 2-3 in phase two. In 2015, the LLN was not even represented at the International Wildcard Qualifier, because Lyon Gaming lost to Kaos Latin Gamers in the Latin America Cup grand final.

It is unfortunate that Lyon got drafted into Group A with, arguably, the most difficult first and second seed opponents. They will need to get creative in best-of-ones to take down Team WE and Gambit. The members of Lyon do seem to prioritize different champions than others in their group. Seiya frequently drafts Ahri, and WhiteLotus prefers Twitch to several other AD carries. These types of picks may allow Lyon to gain an edge if they catch WE and Gambit off guard.

Lyon Genthix will play in Group A

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Overall

Group A looks like a strong one. WE can take down any other team in the play-in phase. Gambit and Lyon would both be formidable opponents for first seeds in phase two. All three junglers in this group prefer to play carries, like Elise and Kayn over the current meta tanks, like Gragas and Sejuani. This batch of mid laners loves to mix up their mid lane champion selections. The supports are the only players with truly “normal” champion draft distributions.

Expect AD carries and top laners to be most targeted, as those players seem to have the most clear preferences in champion pools. WhiteLotus should not get Twitch. Jirall should not get Galio. Gambit and Lyon should ban Xayah from Mystic, while Lyon and WE should ban Varus from Blasting.

This group will most likely end up finishing in the expected order. WE should not drop many, if any, games. Gambit and Lyon will most likely take games off of each other, but the macro-play and Baron control from Gambit will most likely undo Lyon. Phase two will be the more interesting test for the Russian organization, especially considering ANX’s dream run last year. WE’s phase two should be much more straightforward. Assuming they enter the larger group stage, Team WE would draft into group B or group D. If all first seeds proceed from the play-in, then WE would auto-draft into group D.


Featured Image: LoL Esports Flickr

Other Images: LoL Esports Flickr, EsportsRanks.com

Names, dates, etc.: Leaguepedia

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MSI: SK Telecom T1 vs. Flash Wolves Preview

In the first round of the knockout stage of MSI, SK Telecom T1 is poised to take revenge upon the only team that has taken a win from them during groups. What may be the most competitive game in this tournament, SKT vs. Flash Wolves will be the game to tune into on May 19th at 11 am PST.

SK Telecom T1

 

Peanut and Huni share a moment while leaving the stage. Courtesy of Riot flickr

Coming into MSI as the most highly favored team in the history of League of Legends is SKT, three-time League of Legends World Champions.

 

SKT’s six-man roster starts with their top laner, Seung-Hoon  “Huni” Heo, a player who currently holds the highest CS per minute in the MSI.

Jumping out of the jungle, Wangho “Peanut” Han holds the most kills at 52 in groups. Known most for his Lee Sin, Peanut is known to be the most aggressive jungler in Korea, with the ability to get 15 kills in a single game.

No introduction is needed for Sanghyeok “Faker” Lee. Faker is simply the best.  

SKT’s bot lane, Junsik “Bang” Bae and Jaewan “Wolf” Lee, are looking better than ever. The two are typically found taking laners that complement each other with  Wolf picking champions that can bail out the immobile carries that Bang has frequently utilized to great success. Wolf has the second most assists throughout Groups, trailing Shou-Chieh “SwordArT” Hu, who also used one more game to have Wolf beat 93 to 90.

 

How SKT Wins

Peanut shares a lot in common with his opponent Karsa. Courtesy of Riot Flickr

SKT wins by having Peanut play Lee Sin and picking their bot lane comfort picks before the Flash Wolves take them out in the draft. With Bang’s adept performance on Twitch, aided greatly by the peeling supports Wolf is often seen on, expect the bot lane picks to come through in the first round of the draft phase. SKT is greatly favored in this matchup. Their chances of failure are minimal as long as they do not lose too much ground early game. SKT can win late game team fights with great ease given their opponents are not too far ahead.

Flash Wolves

The Flash Wolves have proven to be a mixed bag this tournament, showing that they have the skill to beat SKT while simultaneously dropping games to almost every team in the tournament. As the underdog team in the fourth versus first place match, their performance in this best of five will likely decide who takes first place at this year’s MSI. If they can beat SKT, they can beat anyone. Right? Maybe, but this is not guaranteed with the Flash Wolves. However, they are the strongest contender for taking down SKT alongside Team WE.

Playing top lane for the Wolves is Li-Hong “MMD” Yu, a player known for his aggression and carry style, but also able to play supportive tanks by the likes of Nautilus and Shen.

Tearing through the jungle for the Wolves, Hao-Xuan “Karsa” Hong, has the same champion pool and play style as Peanut. He also has 41 kills to his name during groups. He may have what it takes to deny Peanut through a well-executed draft.

Laning against God himself, Yi-Tang “Maple” Huang ties Peanut for the highest KDA throughout groups at 6.1.

Perhaps the Flash Wolves greatest strength lies in their bot lane, where Yu-Huang “Betty” Lu and SwordArT dominate the bottom half of the map. SwordArt is a veteran shot caller, playing supports that can influence more than just the bottom lane. Expect to see Lulu and Tahm Kench as high priority champions for both teams. Meanwhile, Betty has the most kills to his name out of all the ADCs at MSI, and he’s looking to continue this streak. Betty plays many ADC’s, but his Ashe is a staple for the Flash Wolves. Betty may have to branch into other ADC’s in order to take away Bang’s Twitch and secure a victory for the Wolves.

How Flash Wolves Win

They have done it once before, but can they do it again? To win, Flash Wolves need to stifle Huni in the draft much like they did in their only victory over SKT. Because banning out Faker is impossible, their bans must be directed to the top lane carries that Huni plays, and the Marksmen that Bang feels most comfortable on. The optimal top lane draft will have MMD on his signature Kled and Huni on a tank, allowing Flash Wolves to take the game from the top lane.

As for the Jungle, it goes without saying that Peanut’s Lee Sin must be denied in order for the Wolves to have a fighting chance. Taking Lee Sin on the side of the Flash Wolves will also

SwordArT is not the cool, calm, and collected shot caller you may be used to. Courtesy of Riot Flickr

greatly aid Karsa, as he is adept on the champion. In the middle lane, Maple’s utility orientated champion pool must be able to survive the likes of Faker’s assassins. If Maple can avoid giving a lead to Faker, he may be able to turn some mid game team fights into a victory for the Wolves with his excellent Weaver’s Walls and Realm Warps.

 

Taking a lead in the bottom lane is most important for the Flash Wolves. Giving SwordArT the opportunity to roam and snowball his team’s lead alongside Karsa, will be the win condition the Wolves need. However, the lanes go, if the Wolves do not start with leads, it is unlikely they will ever bounce back to take a lead.


Featured image courtesy of Riot Flickr

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Origen vs. Unicorns of Love Preview

Origen and Unicorns of Love have become household names in the EU LCS, maybe not for their tenure in the league like fan favourite Fnatic, but because of their strong performances and likeable brands. I mean, really, who wouldn’t like a team with xPeke at the helm or a friggin Unicorn? But there’s also a slightly more silent story building between these two teams: the frictions of old team mates. Power of Evil, Origen’s current mid laner, was just one of many the Unicorns who fled to greener pastures in the off season. Whether there’ll be any bad blood between the two remaining Unicorns, Hylissang and Vizicsacsi, support and top laner respectively, isn’t entirely clear. However, it’ll be a real test as to whether Power of Evil made the right move in the off season.

 

Origen

 

The Dane in the Bot Lane has a lot to carry on his smiling shoulders. Courtesy of lolesports.

The Dane in the Bot Lane has a lot to carry on his smiling shoulders. Courtesy of lolesports.

If Vitality are the CLG of the EU, then Origen are the TSM of EU: a team almost everyone had slated to dominant the league and then proceeded to fall flat on their face repeatedly, week after week. Origen doesn’t have all the excuses TSM did, however. They don’t have a bunch of players, all veteran players mind you, who have never played with each other thrown into one of the most competitive splits NA LCS has ever seen. Origen swapped out one member, xPeke, for what was arguably seen by all as an upgrade in young blood of Power of Evil (PoE.) But the team just seemed to fall apart from there. Issues with their coach have also meant that the team, arguably when they most needed it, are coachless. I have my own personal opinions on the matter, but I think that Origen, regardless of the results of the playoffs, need to address that issue. A coach that can craft better pick and bans, while letting the players focus on their game, is something in dire needs for the team.

But that is in the future, and we’re concerned with the present competition here. Origen still bring with them that absolutely insane run into World’s, from a Challenger Series squad to 3-4th in the world is nothing short of a herculean task. But it seems that like Icarus they’ve fallen just as hard. They still have all the pieces in place to be a successful team, and truthfully it comes down to whether Zven is able to carry the team on his back or not. Team comps that play around the star Dane in the bot lane will be what Origen need to consider. The other question that remains in the air is which Origen will show up the plate: the one that’s gone 4-0 in the last two weeks of the split, or the one who went only 7-7 in the other seven weeks. The question of the midlaner choice is another one that Origen fans will be paying attention to, while it is likely to be PoE, this might be a bit of a last straw for the German mid laner if the team isn’t able to get the results they need. Or the target may turn to other, failing members of the team.

 Only the Origen, master of all four regions, could stop Korea, but when the world needed them most, they vanished (and became really shity.) Courtesy of avatar.wikia and leaguepedia.

Only the Origen, master of all four regions, could stop Korea, but when the world needed them most, they vanished (and became really shity.) Courtesy of avatar.wikia and leaguepedia.

 

Unicorns of Love

The French counterpart from the Unicorns, Steelback has his equal share to carry going into this game. But will his impressive performance still be enough? Courtesy of gamingnews365.

The French counterpart from the Unicorns, Steelback has his equal share to carry going into this game. But will his impressive performance still be enough? Courtesy of gamingnews365.

The Unicorns of Love are the ones on the other side of the rift from fan favourite Origen, and are equally deserving of the title ‘fan favourite.’ The simple colour choices and mascot have won the team much of their initial, and probably remaining, fans. The Misfits of Love could be another apt name. The team is comprised much like a more successful Roccat or Elements: all the leftovers from other teams, with two remaining players who, in ways, were over looked for poach—I mean, drafting to other teams to fill the void that the European Exodus left. Fox from a failed SK, Steelback the ex-Fnatic and ex-NA ADC, and a swapping sample list of European junglers due to Diamondprox’s sudden expulsion from the league due to VISA issues. Still, they’re not a team to jot down as an easy opponent, as many teams learned, but it’s almost a question here of which team is worse rather than which is better.

Can the Unicorns gallop off to a mythical victory here? Courtesy of leaguepedia.

Can the Unicorns gallop off to a mythical victory here? Courtesy of leaguepedia.

The Unicorns are in a similar case to Origen, in that their strongest member has to be their ADC Steelback. Since returning back the Union he’s been putting up the stats that would make any fantasy player swoon: he’s rocking a 6.8 KDA, which, to put it relatively, is only 0.4 behind FORG1VEN and is a whole 1.4 above next in the league Hjarnan. This is further impressive given his team’s standings at 10-8. Still, the Unicorns are going to need to work around the French ADC to win, while Fox, their other carry potential, has the potential to also act as a carry depending on what kind of player he shows up as. As with Origen, I feel the real battle is not who will come out on top, but who won’t be on the bottom. Both teams look shaky and weak at best, and, barring a Playoff miracle, I don’t see them challenging either of the top teams in H2K and G2 esports.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Predictions: Origen win 3-2 over Unicorns of Love

Courtesy of lolesports.

Courtesy of lolesports.

I have to give it to Origen because they are, still, the stronger team. They look weak, and they’re sloppy as all hell, but I think they look better when they’re in form than Unicorns do. Still, I don’t think this’ll be an easy one for Origen, and I think a lot of it hinges on how well they’ve prepared their drafts. Without a coach to really give solid advice a best of five can get scary for a team. I think they need an early win in the series as a showing of confidence against the Unicorns. But it won’t be easy, and it really puts a lot of pressure on Zven to keep doing his thing and for the rest of his team to just not die (looking at you Soaz.) I think Unicorns have the potential to have break away games if Origen shows a weakness in form, something they should be able to exploit solidly with such a veteran lineup. Hence the two victories for the Unicorns. I just give it to Origen overall because, even with their pathetic showing, they’re still almost the same team that absolutely was a menace last year. Can Origen finally claim a European cup? I doubt it. But this would be the start they’d need to secure that, and maybe another showing at Worlds.