Samsung Galaxy and SK telecom T1 faced off in the 2016 Worlds finals

LCK innovation and flexibility could lead to a 2016 World finals rematch

The semifinals match-ups are set for the 2017 League of Legends World Championship. SK Telecom T1 (SKT) will take on Royal Never Give Up (RNG), while Samsung Galaxy (SSG) faces Team WE (WE). This stage of the tournament is all about China’s Pro League (LPL) challenging Champions Korea (LCK) in a rivalry as old as professional League of Legends.

Each of these four teams had its own fantastic quarterfinals. WE defeated Cloud9 (C9) 3-2 in a back-and-forth series. SSG skunked Longzhu Gaming (LZ) 3-0, knocking out the Worlds tournament favorite. RNG punished Fnatic’s errors in a 3-1 victory. SKT barely missed losing in a nail biter 3-2 win over Misfits.

Moving into the final four phase of Worlds, these players will be pushed to their limits. SKT has not faced RNG, nor has SSG played versus WE. The second and third seeds from the LPL are facing those of the LCK, seeking redemption for domestic shortcomings. With EDward Gaming, China’s first seed, and Longzhu Gaming, Korea’s first seed, eliminated from competition, Chinese fans have turned to RNG and WE, while Korean fans look to SKT and SSG.

Only two teams move on from here. RNG could be the roadblock which prevents SKT from making their fourth Worlds final. WE could finish in the top two, despite beginning their Worlds run in the play-in stage. SSG and SKT will look for a 2016 finals rematch, which is actually quite likely.

INNOVATION

SSG showed innovation in the quarterfinals

Image from GamesofLegends.com

SSG and WE are the two teams in the final four that have shown innovation during the World Championship. WE completely redefined the meta in Group D when they drafted Caitlyn and Jayce to create a high-pressure siege composition to combat the slow, scaling team-fight composition that everyone was drafting. SSG drafted niche picks, such as Kennen, Malzahar and Lissandra during their series against LZ.

Bold adaptations helped these two teams get this far. However, WE seem less interested in continuing to adapt. They returned to their Kog’Maw-Ardent Censer support comfort zone when facing C9, which is part of the reason their series was so close. Instead, C9’s innovations actually caught WE on the back foot through the first four games. WE even ended up banning Singed after game three.

WE did not innovate much in the quarterfinals

Image from GamesofLegends.com

On the other hand, SSG just started coming into their own against LZ. Since SSG only needed to study a single opponent, they were able to pinpoint potential problems with LZ, particularly during the draft phase. They took advantage of the fact that LZ prioritize Jarvan IV as a flex pick and roaming mid laners for Bdd. SSG picked or banned Taliyah, and then purposefully left her up in game three to pull out Lissandra as a counter.

If C9 were able to win out during the draft phase, and just failed to properly execute their win conditions, then SSG should be the perfect team to stop WE in their tracks. SSG should be able to pull out even more champion diversity, and then follow through after load-in. They will most likely target the Mystic-Ruler and Crown-Xiye match-ups. Taric was a crucial piece of C9’s puzzle in quarterfinals, as he was for CoreJJ. Shen proved important in the C9-WE series, but SSG pulled it off even better against LZ. 

The other crucial difference between WE and SSG is their quarterfinals gold differences at 15 minutes. WE averaged 1,200 gold behind C9, while SSG averaged just over 1,000 ahead of LZ. Keep in mind, WE were still able to take the series, mostly because of their strong scaling picks, such as Kog’Maw, Corki, Cho’Gath and Maokai. Beyond a certain period in the game, these picks overcome their early game gold deficits and come online. SSG will need to be sure they cut the games shorter.

Flexibility

RNG was inflexible during quarterfinals

Image from GamesofLegends.com

RNG is facing SKT on the other side of the semifinals bracket. Flexibility, or lack thereof, is the key contrast between these two squads. RNG’s players have played an average of 4.4 total champions during the World Championship so far. SKT’s players average 5.8. Faker and Wolf have played eight and seven different champions, while Xiaohu and Ming have played five and four. This openness to adaptation will be the main catalyst for SKT to make it through semifinals.

For the most part, RNG has relied on Uzi’s late-game team-fighting on Tristana, Kog’Maw and Twitch to carry them to victory. They draft Ardent Censer supports, zoning and roaming mid laners, Jarvan IV and Sejuani in the jungle and AP tanks in the top lane. Meanwhile, SKT leans on Huni to mostly split-push, although he has played Cho’Gath three times. Blank and Peanut exclusively draft Jarvan IV, Sejuani and Gragas. Faker has shown supportive, roaming, assassin and hyper-carry mid laners. Bang and Wolf have run early pressure and late-scaling bottom lanes. Wolf even played Braum and Tahm Kench against Misfits.

SKT are notoriously good at studying single opponents for best-of-five series. Misfits became a thorn in their side when they started drafting engage supports, Ivern jungle and Karma mid. These types of bold innovations forced SKT to become pliable. RNG are much less likely to bring these shake-ups to the table, which will give SKT much more confidence.

SKT were flexible during quarterfinals

Image from GamesofLegends.com

Targeting the support and top lane champion pool is probably the best way to go. Removing Letme’s fall-back champions and opening up an opportunity for Huni to have the upper hand could puncture RNG’s strategy. Banning out Janna, Lulu and Soraka could take away Uzi’s babysitter (Fnatic’s game three win involved Ming on Morgana). Both sets of junglers will have predictable preferences, as will the AD carries. Finally, Faker has proven that he can adapt and carry in almost any match-up, even if he is set behind early in the game. He can definitely take on Xiaohu, even if he drafts Syndra, Galio or Ryze.

The gold differential at 15 minutes is much closer between these two teams. RNG starts ahead by 371. SKT falls 218 behind. Their early game trends have been slightly different, though. SKT secured first blood in four of their five games versus Misfits, but only first turret in two of five. Meanwhile, RNG took first turret in three out of four games against Fnatic, but only one in four first bloods.

This series is most likely going to come down to late-game decision-making, regardless of the drafts and early games. RNG will be more prone to forcing fights once Uzi has several completed items. SKT will be open to engaging five-versus-five, but they may also implement one-four or one-three-one compositions in certain matches. Huni has pulled off some split-pushing wins with Jayce and Trundle. Faker has drafted Kassadin. The flexibility of their composition and strategy may be the way that SKT pulls through to the finals.

2016 Worlds Rematch

Samsung Galaxy and SK telecom T1 may rematch at the 2017 World finals

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

SSG’s innovation and SKT’s flexibility will most likely be the crucial factors that result in LCK wins over the LPL. The LCK has proven over the past several years that they are the dominant region. SKT and SSG have both proven so far that, though they have their faults, they come through in the clutch moments. The World Championship is an arduous tournament. While the Chinese organizations have the home field advantage, the Korean ethic has reigned supreme for some time.

These wins would result in a rematch of 2016’s World finals: SKT versus SSG. It would be the first time that two teams had a Worlds finals rematch, and the “script” could not have been written any better. These teams have tested their mettle against the best from North America, Europe, Taiwan and other regions. Now they have their Rift Rivals as their final boss before meeting again. The professional League of Legends landscape would come full circle, and history would be made. It will take innovation and flexibility to get there.


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Team and Player Statistics: Game of Legends

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Can Cloud 9 carry NA to semi-finals?

Quarterfinals start this weekend. Week two proved to be the same old story for North America. After a strong week one performance from all the North American teams, Cloud 9 was the lone survivor to make it out. Cloud 9 will have immense pressure as they are the only North American team left in the tournament.

China on the other hand impressed many in front of their hometown fans as both WE and RNG took first in their respective groups. WE are riding high as they finished the group stage 5-1 looking very strong.

How C9 Wins

Cloud 9 wins if Contractz can keep Condi from taking over the map. We saw in WE’s previous games that they know how to snowball their leads. Not only that, but they also know how to play from behind. Jensen will be vital in his team’s success as always. Cloud 9 will most likely look to camp the mid lane as they always do and try to snowball off Jensen’s lead.

Zachary “Sneaky” Scuderi and Andy “Smoothie” Ta will need to hold their own in the bot lane as well. Against EDG and SKT their laning phase didn’t look the best. They will need to be at their best this round. Last year against Samsung Galaxy, they were heavily exploited. They’ll be looking to redeem themselves this time around.

Matchup to Watch: Contractz vs Condi (jungle)

Photo by: Riot Games

WE and Cloud 9 have some of the more talented junglers in the tournament: Juan “Contractz” Garci and Xiang “Condi” Ren-Jie. Condi has been heralded as the best jungler by some from the group stage. Contractz came on with a strong showing in week one showing prowess on carry junglers such as Ezreal and Graves.

Junglers have played a large part of each of these teams’ strategies. Cloud 9 looks to setup mid laner Nicolaj “Jensen” Jensen, so Contractz will often look for multiple ganks there to get him snowballing.

Condi has shown the ability to exert his pressure in many areas of the map. Contractz will need to track him well if Cloud 9 stand a chance against these hometown heroes.

Adjustments

With this matchup being the last of all the quarterfinals matches, they’ll have the chance to see how the meta shifts for the tournament. Near the end of week two we saw Caitlyn as a huge counter to much of the farm fest bot lanes that started out. She can easily bully people in lane and go for the early tower with her range. It will be interesting to see how much teams decide to prioritize her moving forward. Cloud 9 picked up Caitlyn in their final match against AHQ in which they dominated.

With how well top laner Jung “Impact” Eon-yeong has been playing, I’d like to see him be put on a carry champion such as Rumble or even Trundle. We have yet to see Contractz pull out a Jarvan pick, which has been quite impactful. It raises the question of if he’s able to play it or just doesn’t want to.

Prediction

While Cloud 9 may be slight underdogs here, I think they can pull off a close 3-2 upset of this Chinese powerhouse and take North America to semi-finals.

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Cover photo by Riot Esports

 

Worlds’ OP five after week two

The Group Stage of the 2017 League of Legends World Championship has finished, and the quarterfinals are set. The second week was a roller-coaster, as many teams who struggled in week one made a come-back in week two. Groups B and D had massive shake-ups, while groups A and C had major upsets without affecting the standings.

Just like in the first week, we saw certain players shine. We saw new champions drafted, updated item builds, and adapted strategies. Other players faltered, whether on their own or as part of deeper team-wide issues. Recency bias will paint over their week one performances, and they will be remembered for how they fell short.

Rather than dwell on missed opportunities, it is important to lift up those players who executed. These are the five most fearsome from the second week of Group Stage.

Top: ssg Cuvee

SSG's Cuvee was the most OP top laner in week two of worlds

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Almost every top laner had major failures this week. In SKT’s loss to AHQ, Huni sacrificed four of their 12 deaths. Khan did not play all three games, and Rascal only played one (not really a failure, but it’s more difficult to judge against players who had 3-4 games). Cloud9’s Impact and TSM’s Hauntzer looked much less coordinated than last week.

However, Samsung’s CuVee actually looked strong in all three of his games. He averaged ahead in gold (+235), CS (+8), and XP (+237) at 15 minutes. SSG’s top laner was the only player with a lead in their game versus RNG. His Cho’Gath found 1907 Fenerbahce’s AD carry multiple times, and helped enable Samsung to deny G2 any neutral objectives.

The top lane pool in Group C (Letme, Expect and Thaldrin) is not the most intimidating, but members of Groups A, B and D all played inconsistently. WE’s 957 had strong showings, but he averaged behind in laning phase, despite having advantageous match-ups. One could also argue that he contributed less to their victories than CuVee did to Samsung’s.

Jungle: EDG Clearlove

EDG's Clearlove was the most OP jungler in week two of worlds

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Say what you will about week one EDG, but they played their hearts out this week. Clearlove got first blood in two of three games. He secured the Rift Herald, multiple dragons and first Baron in all three games. While he averaged behind in XP (-323) and CS (-12), Clearlove averaged ahead in gold (+280) at 15 minutes. His 6.0 day eight KDA was the highest in Group A.

EDG’s jungler is a big reason why they accrued over 3,000 gold leads by twenty minutes in all three games this week. Clearlove made sure to give advantages to his carries, particularly Scout and iBoy. His Jarvan IV ultimates were key to locking down Sneaky and AN’s Kog’Maws.

Maxlore did provide spectacular early game pressure for Misfits, but they lost crucial Barons in three of their four games this week. Mlxg was stifled in his Rek’Sai game against G2. WE’s Condi had great performances this week, and he may even be more worthy than Clearlove. Team WE’s lanes seemed less dependent on Condi’s early influence, because they drafted advantageous match-ups more often.

Mid: WE Xiye

WE's Xiye was the most OP mid laner in week two of worlds

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

It was difficult to choose the most OP mid laner this week. Arguments could be made for Bdd again, Xiaohu, Xiye, or even Perkz, Caps, Faker or Scout. However, WE’s Xiye seems like the best choice. Not only did he average more kills (4.0) and assists (5.7) per game than any other mid laner in his group, but keep in mind he is in Group D. He clearly out-performed Bjergsen, Maple and PowerOfEvil, which cannot necessarily be said about mids in any other group.

Part of the credit should certainly go to his jungler, Condi, but Xiye knew what to do with his leads once he had them. His Jayce was pivotal in WE’s siege composition versus TSM. Xiye used Corki to roam and dish damage against Flash Wolves. Finally, he had multiple solo kills on PowerOfEvil, helping dismantle Misfits’ lead.

LZ’s Bdd was really the only other mid laner as dominant. He continued to use roaming zone mages to spread his leads and out-roam his opponents. This is a valid strategy. However, it just does not feel as powerful as Xiye’s performance this week. Xiye played three different champions with slightly different play styles. The pressure was higher on Xiye to shut down main components of TSM, MSF and FW for their victories, while Longzhu’s group has those pressure points more on bottom lane and jungle.

ADC: LZ Pray

LZ's Pray was the most OP AD Carry in week two of worlds

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Mystic, iBoy, Bang, Uzi, Zven, Rekkles… so many great AD carries are at this championship. But in week two of the Group Stage, Longzhu’s PraY reigned supreme. He carried LZ to another 3-0 week on Kog’Maw and Varus. PraY’s 6.3 kills per game topped all players in Group B, and his 8.7 assists were highest among Group B’s AD carries. He also put up 991 damage per minute, 39.6 percent of LZ’s total.

PraY and GorillA made Immortals, Fnatic and Gigabyte Marines’ bottom lanes pale in comparison. While their early games have not necessarily been oppressive, their late-game fighting is clean. In all three of LZ’s games, PraY came up massive in teamfights just past 30 minutes and they closed. While last week’s wins seemed much more dependent on Khan and Bdd, this week PraY drove them home.

Bang and iBoy had high highs on day eight, but they both had duds, too. Bang finished the AHQ loss 0-1-0 over 37 minutes. IBoy finished the SKT loss 1-3-1 over 38 minutes, despite having a clear early lead. These losses dilute their gameplay in victory. Mystic had a similar situation in Group D, where his two Caitlyn games were extremely oppressive, yet he had two early laning deaths against Misfits from lack of respect. Uzi was outplayed by G2’s Zven in Group C, as well.

Support: SSG Corejj

SSG's CoreJJ was the most OP support in week two of worlds

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

As mentioned last week, the support role is currently difficult to judge between players. All of the supports at this year’s Worlds are exceptional. With the meta revolving around Ardent Censer and enchanter champions, Janna and Lulu have dominated the draft. Both have a 92% presence in the draft thus far. Since they focus almost exclusively on the success of their AD carries, if their teammates lose, then they lose.

That being said, Samsung’s CoreJJ had a fantastic week. Even in the loss to RNG, CoreJJ finished with a positive KDA. SSG’s marksman, Ruler, could not put up the carry performances he has shown without CoreJJ’s constant buffs. He came out of day six with a 28.0 overall KDA, averaging 0.3 deaths and 8.0 assists per game.

EDG’s Meiko and Misfits’ IgNar also stood out this week. The only factor preventing Meiko from being in the OP five was the bottom lane competition in his group.  Uzi-Ming, Zven-Mithy and Padden-Japone came out more consistently strong this week than Bang-Wolf, Sneaky-Smoothie and AN-Albis. While IgNar was ambitious to draft Blitzcrank, Taric and Thresh this week, he did not play as crisp as possible. The Blitzcrank ultimately lost in the late game to TSM.


Featured Image: LoL Esports Flickr

Other Images: LoL Esports Flickr

Team and Player Statistics: Game of Legends

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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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Mid Season Invitational Power Rankings

MSI will officially begin Wednesday as TSM, Flash Wolves, and Gigabyte Marines have earned their spots through the play-in stage. TSM looked shaky, needing a reverse sweep to take down Gigabyte Marines. It will definitely be interesting to see how the teams come out. Will G2 finally play well on the international stage? Can TSM bounce back from their poor performance? Can Gigabyte Marines make a Cinderella Run? Here are my power rankings of the teams heading into the Midseason Inviational.

1.SK Telecom T1 (Korea)

This should come to no surprise to fans and analysts. Korea as a region and SKT as a team have dominated the LoL scene for quite some time now. They’ll be looking to assert their dominance even more if they can go through MSI undefeated. SKT holds some of the best players in the world at each of their position.

Their most infamous has to be their mid laner, the GOAT, Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok. As long as Faker is on this team, you can bet on them being World contenders for awhile. Alongside Faker, has been his head coach since the beginning Kim kkOma Jung-gyun. Kkoma has been praised for being the best coach in League of Legends, having led SKT to all their World Championships. He’ll look to add a back to back MSI title to that list.

2. Flash Wolves (Taiwan)

Photo by: Riot Games

Flash Wolves may play in a top heavy region, but despite this, they’ve showed consistently time and time again that they cannot be underestimated. Coming off a successful IEM win at Katowice, Flash Wolves will look to surprise spectators and continue their reign as the “Korean Slayers”.

Flash Wolves play an aggressive style, often making plays in the early game with jungler  Hung “Karsa” Hau-Hsuan and support Hu “SwordArt” Shuo-Jie looking to make plays. Not only can they build big gold leads in the early game, they know how to properly finish games as well.

Flash Wolves came into the season sporting a new ADC in Lu “Betty” Yuhung who looks to get better and better every time we see him. Betty finished their series against SuperMassive with a monstrous KDA of 36, only dying once the whole series. Their longtime jungle/mid duo of Karsa and Huang “Maple” Yi-Tang have not shown any signs of slowing down. They had a phenomenal performance against SuperMassive, dominating their opponents. Flash Wolves have the best shot at upsetting SKT here at MSI.

3. G2 Esports (Europe)

Despite G2 having not played a game at MSI yet, they definitely showed a dominant run in playoffs en route to their third European championship. Everyone from G2 are ready to finally prove that they can perform well on the international stage. Maybe with the help of sports psychologist, Weldon Green, they can finally get that monkey off their back of choking internationally.

Mid laner Luka “PerkZ” Perković in particular will have lots of pressure as he’s become known for not playing well in international competitions. If he plays well, G2 can definitely make a decent MSI run. G2’s bot lane of Jesper “Zven” Svenningsen and Alfonso “Mithy” Aguirre Rodriguez will be one of G2’s power positions. With the meta shifting back to “carry style” ADC’s, G2’s bot lane can definitely have a major impact in games.

What’s worrying is how long their games tend to go. Against some of the best teams in the world G2 will need to have the ability to close out games or risk failing in international play once again

4. Team we (China)

Team WE is a name that’s been around professional LoL for some time now. Once a powerhouse in their region, they’ve returned to take the throne as the number one team in China. After years of mixing rosters, they finally found success dropping only a single game en route to their 3-0 sweep of Royal Never Give Up in the LPL finals. They don’t play the stereotypical play style of all aggressive early game teams we’ve seen in the past from China.

WE plays much more controlled and teamfight well in the mid/late game. Jungler Xiang “Condi” Ren-Jie is an absolute monster and will be essential in WE’s success. In the mid lane, Hanwei “xiye” Su, has a deep champion pool and has shown good performances on both control mages and assassins. He had the 2nd best KDA in the LPL for at 4.7.

China has since fallen off from being the heralded “2nd best region”, but WE will look to prove that they are still one of the best.

5. Team SoloMid (North America)

Photo By: Riot Games

TSM looked shaky in their play-in series vs. Vietnam’s Gigabyte Marines. It felt like they were heavily disrespecting their opponents going for questionable invades and teamfights almost expecting the other team not to be prepared. This caused them to go down 2-0 in the series, before reverse sweeping their way to victory.

That series had many North American fans breathing sighs of relief. TSM will be heavy underdogs now at this point of the tournament if they struggled that heavily against a wild card region.

Even in the reverse sweep, their last two wins were not clean by any means. Gigabyte Marines showed the capability to gain early leads off some poor play out of TSM. Gigabyte Marines nearly had the series in game four, before overstaying in TSM’s base which ultimately led to TSM’s victory.

In particular TSM’s adc, Jason “Wildturtle” Tran had an awful series, dying in a winning 2v2 and often getting caught out of position while only having a 52.9 kill participation percentage. He’ll need to step up big time if TSM wants to finish in the top four of the group stage.

6. Gigabyte Marines (Vietnam)

Although they are the wildcard representative of MSI, their play-in stage performance was amazing in terms of Wildcard performances in international tournaments. Gigabyte Marines gave North America’s TSM a run for their money, nearly taking the series. Maybe some nerves and lack of experience, forced a bad call to try to end the game that resulted in a throw, but nonetheless this team has impressed.

Đỗ “Levi” Duy Khánh has been an absolute monster this whole tournament. He’s currently 2nd in KDA and first in DMG% among junglers who have played at MSI so far. Gigabyte Marines rely heavily on him to setup plays in the early game to snowball leads. It will be interesting to see how he matches up against the likes of SKT’s Peanut or Flash Wolves’ Karsa.

One of their weak points will definitely be in top laner Phan “Stark” Công Minh. Stark showed some great performances on Gragas during their series against TSM, but was non existent if not on that particular champion. In game three, he was constantly solo killed by Hauntzer’s Gragas and never seemed to comeback from it throughout the series.

Despite losing a close series to TSM, the group stage will be best of 1. Don’t be surprised to find Gigabyte Marines apart of the top four once the group stages conclude at MSI.

Cover photo by: Riot Games

Tune in Wednesday for the opening ceremonies of MSI on May 10

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2017 MSI stage and crowd in Brazil

MSI Play-In Champion Power Picks

The first stage of the 2017 Mid-Season Invitational is complete. Two wildcard teams have moved on to enter the second stage where they will meet representatives from NA LCS and LMS. Last weekend was a joy to watch, as teams from around the globe came together to battle on the Rift. This weekend promises similar excitement.

Before heading into the match-ups, though, it is important to highlight key champions. These are champions who had high pick and ban rates. They have been contested throughout the tournament. As regions enter and exit the competition, some preferences are bound to change. However, the following choices have proven themselves to be fruitful, and will most likely remain power picks for the remainder of the contest.

Top

2017 MSI top lane power pick: Shen   Pick/Ban Rate (P/B): 58%   Win Rate (W%): 25%

Shen is valued for his ability to impact the map. Stand United allows the top laner to protect allies with a shield, or follow the channel with Shadow Dash to engage fights.

Split-pushing is a bit easier, since Stand United and Teleport allow Shen to enter a neighboring lane. Top laners generally build Tytanic Hydra, Spirit Visage and Guardian Angel on this champion.

Do not let the low tournament win rate fool you. Players such as Seung “Huni” Hoon Heo and Yau “MMD” Li-Hung have 100% win rates with the champion, and Ki “Expect” Dae-Han, Asım “fabFabulous” Cihat Karakaya, and Kevin “Hauntzer” Yarnell are 67% or higher (Spring 2017).

2017 MSI top lane power pick: Fizz   P/B: 79%  W%: 57%

AD tank Fizz has become a menace yet again. Trinity Force is essential to this playstyle. Top laners have built Sunfire Cape, Spirit Visage and Guardian Angel for tankiness. They may include Blade of the Ruined King or Wit’s End for attack speed and augmenting the bonus damage of Seastone Trident.

Fizz has also been used for split-pushing. Playful Trickster is a low-cooldown spell which allows for speedy roaming. Top laners have been choosing Ignite-Teleport as Summoner Spells for early laning and global pressure.

Gigabyte Marines flexed Fizz into the mid lane once already, and other teams will most likely be open to this idea. In the right hands, this champion is truly a nuisance, which is why he has been banned so often.

2017 MSI top lane power pick: Galio   P/B: 75%   W%: 86%

The newly reworked Colossus made his debut at MSI. So far, he has been oppressive. Galio’s combination of tankiness, utility, and damage are difficult to overcome.

Players are building Spirit Visage and Sunfire Cape to provide resistances and ambient damage. Knight’s Vow and Iceborn Gauntlet have been prominent items, too.

The semi-global pressure of Hero’s Entrance is perfect for top laners, especially playing around objectives. Shield of Durand and Justice Punch provide high-impact crowd control for Galio’s team. So far, Nautilus has been the only other top lane champion with a higher win rate than Galio (with more than one game played).

 Jungle

2017 MSI jungle power pick: Ivern  P/B: 79%   W%: 50%

Redemption, Locket of the Iron Solari and Athene’s Unholy Grail are only built by the jungler if they are playing Ivern. His shielding and healing are ridiculously powerful when combined with Triggerseed.

Teams excel when Ivern enables his laners to snowball and siege turrets with Daisy! His jungle clear is quicker than most. He is also able to donate his blue and red buffs more frequently to teammates.

Drafting Ivern allows teams to create protect-the-carry compositions. When paired with Lulu, Orianna, Karma or Shen, Ivern unlocks marksmen, assassins, and mages to play fast and loose.

2017 MSI jungle power pick: Lee Sin  P/B: 88%   W%: 53%

Lee Sin is League of Legends’ perennial jungle champion. Once truly overpowered junglers have been banned or picked, many players fall back to Lee Sin. His mobility and early pressure allows teams to push the pace and snowball quickly when played correctly.

This tournament has seen Lee Sin played 15 times: 6 games more than the next most played champion. He is a versatile pick that can mesh with almost anyone. None of the best junglers are afraid to pull him out to demonstrate their Flash-Dragon’s Rage mechanics.

All of the remaining junglers at MSI have at least 64% win rates on Lee Sin this Spring. Han “Peanut” Wang-ho has maintained a 100% win rate over 11 games.

2017 MSI jungle power pick: Graves   P/B: 88%   W%: 75%

Teams have been smart to frequently ban Graves. Junglers have won 6 out of 8 games with him at MSI. End of the Line provides insanely fast jungle clears. Quickdraw allows him to move through thin walls and gain bonus resistances. Collateral Damage nukes low health targets.

No participating jungler has less than a 73% win rate using Graves. Hung “Karsa” Hau-Hsuan has a 100% win rate and a 13.3 KDA over 5 games on the champion. Kang “Blank” Sun-gu sports 100% and 17.5 over 2 games.

Black Cleaver and Maw of Malmortius are featured items beyond Enchantment: Warrior. Players at MSI have even been building Blade of the Ruined King, which is arguably overpowered at the moment.

 

Mid

2017 MSI mid lane power pick: Syndra   P/B: 79%   W%: 50%

Koray “Naru” Bıçak and Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok have the lowest win rates on Syndra: 67%. All other mid laners at MSI sport 71% or higher.

Syndra has been a mainstay in the mid lane for a few splits at this point. Her combination of waveclear, crowd-control and reliable burst damage are hardly matched. She has the highest total number of bans for a reason.

The average damage per minute for Syndra players at MSI is 629. This is higher than any other mid lane champion with multiple games played. Expect her presence to remain on the high side moving forward.

2017 MSI mid lane power pick: LeBlanc   P/B: 71%   W%: 33%

LeBlanc’s strengths are similar to Syndra, except LeBlanc is more of an assassin. Distortion allows mid laners to quickly roam to other lanes or into the jungle. High level players can utilize Mimic to confuse and outplay opponents.

Hextech Gunblade and Void Staff are currently staples within LeBlanc’s build. When paired with Sorceror’s Shoes and Abyssal Scepter, LeBlanc’s burst is unsettling. One successful Ethereal Chains stun onto a squishy target is guaranteed death.

Văn “Optimus” Cường Trần lost his only LeBlanc game at MSI. Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg and Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok have yet to get the chance to play her this Spring. All 4 other mid laners have 60% or higher win rates.

2017 MSI mid lane power pick: Ahri   P/B: 50%   W%: 75%

Mobility is Ahri’s biggest strength in the current meta. Spirit Rush gives her three dashes to enter and leave fights as she pleases. Ahri’s item path is also one of the most flexible, as she can build into a teamfighting mage, an assassin, or some combination. MSI featured Morellonomicon, Zhonya’s Hourglass, Hextech Protobelt, Hextech Gunblade, Abyssal Scepter, and Luden’s Echo during the first stage.

Ahri has had the highest total plays during the tournament: 8. She also had the highest win rate of any mid lane champion with more than one game played. It would not be surprising to continue seeing her picked throughout the remainder of the tournament. However, Su “Xiye” Han-Wei lost his only Ahri game this Spring in the LPL.

Bot

2017 MSI bot lane power pick: Ashe   P/B: 88%   W%: 50%

Ever since Blade of the Ruined King rose to prominence, Ashe has remained pick or ban in most regions. Her global engage (Enchanted Crystal Arrow) and follow-up damage (Ranger’s Focus) potential is unrivaled in the AD Carry position.

Only Nguyen “Slay” Ngoc Hung has fewer than nine games on Ashe this Spring. All bot lanes in the tournament should be comfortable playing on this champion.

Items on Ashe are straightforward. Runaan’s Hurricane, Infinity Edge, Berserker’s Greaves, and Last Whisper generally round out the build. Landing ultimates is crucial for an Ashe to succeed. The entire team needs to be ready to pull the trigger after a well-placed Enchanted Crystal Arrow.

2017 MSI bot lane power pick: Caitlyn   P/B: 67%   W%: 40%

The non-utility marksman with the largest presence at MSI thus far is Caitlyn. While her Yordle Snap Traps provide small amounts of crowd control, Caitlyn’s primary goal is to rattle off as many auto-attacks as possible. Her passive, Headshot, can decimate entire teams once Runaan’s Hurricane is in play.

It’s unclear whether or not Caitlyn will remain such a high priority for the rest of the tournament. Her win rate so far has not justified her high pick rate. Many of the world’s top AD Carries seem partial to drafting marksmen with higher skill caps and higher risk-reward, such as Ezreal, Twitch or Lucian.

Only Jin “Mystic” Sung-jun has played Caitlyn more than 3 games this Spring. Lu “Betty” Yuhung, Bae “Bang” Jun-sik and Jason “WildTurtle” Tran have played her one game each.

2017 MSI bot lane power pick: Varus   P/B: 67%   W%: 43%

Varus has the lowest average damage per minute of the entire AD Carry class at MSI (392). He is played similarly to Ashe, except he trades lower engage pressure for higher poke damage. A well-placed Chain of Corruption can lock someone down long enough to eliminate them. Piercing Arrow gives bot lanes the ability to snipe low-health enemies.

Varus’ build path is virtually identical to Ashe’s, as well. Blade of the Ruined King, Runaan’s Hurricane, Infinity Edge, and Last Whisper are common. Some attack speed builds can include Guinsoo’s Rageblade.

Jesper “Zven” Svenningsen and Mystic have win rates 50% or lower with Varus. Betty has maintained a 100% win rate over sevengames played.

Support

2017 MSI support power pick: Lulu  P/B: 100%   W%: 53%

The only champion that is currently 100% pick or ban is Lulu. However, she only won just over half of the time. Lulu’s majorly impactful Wild Growth couple with the reliability of Help Pix!-Glitterlance-Thunderlord’s Decree poke makes her relevant at all stages of the game.

All support players at the tournament should be well-versed in Lulu’s gameplay. Her mechanics are rather straightforward, but proper timing of speed-ups, shields, slows and enlargments separates the best Lulu players from the majority.

2017 MSI support power pick: Zyra   P/B: 33%   W%: 50%

321 damage per minute is not bad for a support champion. That has been the average for Zyra at MSI so far. Brand is the only support to out-damage her.

Zyra seems to work for all support players at the tournament except Vincent “Biofrost” Wang, who only has a 20% win rate on the champion. Hu “SwordArt” Shuo-Jie has even maintained a 100% win rate with Zyra over 8 games.

Depending on the needs of a team, support players build full damage or more healing and shielding. MSI has seen Redemption, Locket of the Iron Solari, Liandry’s Torment and Rylai’s Crystal Scepter.

2017 MSI support power pick: Karma   P/B: 63%   W%: 50%

When Lulu is unavailable, Karma becomes the next best utility support. Her Mantra-Inspire shields and speeds up the entire team, which provides some the most potent engage and disengage a support champion can offer. Karma’s Mantra-Inner Flame offers strong poke in lane, which is why many players choose Thunderlord’s Decree as their keystone mastery.

All of the remaining support players have 60% or higher win rates with Karma. While it has not been as common this Spring, Karma can also flex into mid lane. Xiye, for example, has won 100% of LPL game using mid Karma (6 games).

 

While these may have been the most prominent picks in the first stage of MSI, plenty of champions were played. Unique picks such as Sona, Blitzcrank and Darius left their mark on the Rift. Tahm Kench was played in the top lane. Hopefully, there will be more variation as other teams enter the competition. Nonetheless, look to these last seven teams to show how high the ceilings are on these champions, and why they may currently be so popular internationally.

Champion Images: http://leagueoflegends.wikia.com/wiki/Category:Champion_squares

MSI Champion Statisticshttp://www.gamesoflegends.com/tournament/stats.php?id=MSI%20Play-In%202017

Featured Image: https://www.flickr.com/photos/lolesports/albums/72157683248434325/with/34384923145/

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