The West is the best (for now) and other lessons from the first week of Worlds
We’re now officially finished with the first week of the craziest League of Legends tournament ever.
The old sports cliche “you couldn’t write a script like this” may never better apply than at the League of Legends World Championship, which wrapped up play at Le Dock Pullman in Paris today. Next week the second half of a group stage that’s confounded fans, analysts, and the players alike will finally be resolved.
Yesterday's matches continued to muddle the picture as Chinese and Korean favorites fell just before the top seeds from North America and Europe also suffered defeats. It’s a tournament that looks wide open in a wide open meta, with pocket champion picks and creative team compositions and crazy game mechanics (Making the dragon a pet? That’s actually in this game?) conflated with a best-of-one group stage format and a slate of talented teams to produce results no one would ever have predicted.
Here are some of the winners and losers from the final day of action.
Origen is the best team who played today
The obvious sweethearts are Origen, who continued a hot start by dispatching their greatest challenger in Group D, KT Rolster. The match itself was one of the cleanest and best played games of the tournament, with the teams making plays back and forth before Origen pulled off a sneaky Baron that gave them an insurmountable lead.
Veteran mid laner Enrique “xPeke” Cedeño Martínez is playing as well as he ever has, making his competition look silly at times. Rookie AD carry Jesper “Niels” Svenningsen has played, to put simply, perfect, winning his lane matchups to become a late game force. In a meta with a heavy top lane focus, Paul “sOAZ” Boyer is often inexplicable, but his mechanics and creative champion selections have been a boon for the team.
So far Origen looks like the best team at the event of those who competed today. They seem to have a better grasp on the metagame and how to utilize the tools at their disposal to win matches, something many teams are struggling with day to day. They have a home crowd pulling them through emotional moments, something that can’t be understated. They’ve shown versatility in their ability to win games, which could make them dangerous should they advance to the quarterfinals.
Cloud9 is undefeated, but are they one dimensional?
The other undefeated Western team is quite surprisingly Cloud9. The Americans dispatched Fnatic yesterday in a mistake-filled match that ended with a highlight reel play from an unlikely source.
It was a game that in many ways showcased how the Americans have managed to continue winning through long odds. Those mistake-filled games are right in their wheelhouse; when they drag teams into fast paced bouts with lots of map movement and action, Cloud9’s indomitable leader Hai Lam and his brilliance at winning League of Legends really shines through.
In yesterday's game, they pulled out a heavy siege composition for the third-straight game and blitzed Fnatic’s towers for a good 20 minutes. Then they made one of their typically aggressive calls: going for Baron instead of another tower. This time it didn’t work out and Fnatic grabbed a lead. But it fell apart. Cloud9 continued to outmaneuver their foes and capitalize on their mistakes, leading to a fateful moment where An “Balls” Le quieted his doubters by scoring a pentakill to win the game.
It was an impressive win, to be sure, and a well deserved one in many ways. But is Cloud9 one-dimensional?
So far at Worlds, they’ve essentially played the same team composition in every game. Against AHQ eSports Club they pulled out Veigar in the mid lane and Tristana and pushed turrets starting with an early bottom lane rotation into mid lane, using Veigar’s Event Horizon to zone out foes as they bashed down towers. In games two and three, Invictus Gaming and Fnatic banned out Veigar, forcing Cloud9 to answer with Azir. Nicolaj “Incarnati0n” Jensen almost looked better as the Emperor of the Sands than with the Master of Evil, and Azir played the same role as Veiger: zoning power around towers, allowing Cloud9 to effectively siege. Flanking those two pairs were Morgana supports, top lane juggernaut Darius, and junglers Lee Sin or Elise, giving Cloud9 a dangerous front line to block a dive against their potent siege.
It’s a strategy that’s worked all three times Cloud9’s taken to the rift at the World Championships, but it’s also one that could fall apart when teams study them ahead of next week’s matches. What happens if Azir gets banned along with the Veigar? Or if Zachary “Sneaky” Scuderi can’t play his Tristana? When every team knows that early mid lane push is coming, will Cloud9 be able to pull it off?
Cloud9 support Daerek “LemonNation” Hart told the Daily Dot that the team wasn’t doing so hot in scrims until the week before the tournament began. Maybe that’s because they latched on to this strategy. Maybe something else clicked. But the question next week will certainly be if Cloud9 can adapt. Teams won’t let them play the same way in their second meetings, so the Americans must be ready to show off something else.
The real winners Sunday were the teams on the sidelines
Forget everything that happened in China over the past couple of months. Before the Summer season, EDward Gaming weren’t just kings of China, they were kings of the world. And so far at this tournament, they and Korean juggernauts SK Telecom T1 are sitting pretty.
The two most dangerous teams on the planet may be placed in a group together, but overall it’s a relatively easy slate of games compared to the insanity in the three other brackets. Neither team has had to reveal their big guns so far, but every other team in the tournament is fighting tooth and nail simply to survive.
Today’s games bode especially well for the two favorites. Fnatic, one of the teams that could potentially be dangerous, continued to flounder. Counter Logic Gaming stumbled. KT Rolster stumbled. LGD Gaming and Invictus Gaming, who both beat EDG during their regional playoffs? Please.
The only other unblemished teams so far are Cloud9 and Origen, but both of them show kinks. And both are forced to play their best League of Legends to advance.
When the group stage completes and the bracket stage begins, every other team will be scrambling for ammunition while SK Telecom T1 and EDward Gaming sit pretty with loaded guns.
LGD Gaming: The biggest collapse ever or the next Cinderella story?
This is likely the biggest collapse in the history of the World Championship.
It’s easy to point to another Gu “Imp” Seung-bin team, Samsung Galaxy Ozone in 2013, which failed to advance from their group despite entering the event as Korea’s talented juggernaut.
But that Samsung team actually posted a 5-4 record at the event, including the tie breaker they lost to Gambit Gaming. LGD Gaming will be lucky to come close to an even win percentage, much less a positive one. Granted, this year’s Chinese team doesn’t have a punching bag like Mineski to score two easy wins, but if LGD Gaming drop another match, there’s no way to come close to matching Samsung’s famous exit.
And the way LGD Gaming are playing, they won’t win another one.
This is a team in complete disarray, a group of players who have lost confidence in themselves and each other. Imp might be the best AD carry ever, and he’s played well at times in some of these games, but today he let a Darius smack him in the face despite playing the highly mobile Kalista. Mid laner Wei “GODV” Lian claims he’s the best mid laner in the world. But against KT Rolster he got bodied by Kim “Nagne” Sang-moon, who is notorious for his mediocrity. Then today GODV let Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg abuse him despite being offered the chance to hand-select a counter-pick against the exploitable Twisted Fate. Discussing jungler Zhu “TBQ” Yong-Quan’s play would likely require some kind of legal disclaimer.
It’s a sorry state of affairs for a team with the skill to actually win the entire World Championship.
The interesting thing is that their tournament isn’t completely sunk. If they can use the next few days to forget everything that’s happened in the past week and maybe since the release of the juggernaut patch, maybe we’ll see the team everyone was expecting to watch in Europe.
LGD Gaming’s chances at survival are surprisingly realistic, if you forget the last few days. Assuming they win all three of their games next week, putting them at 3-3, all it would take to score LGD Gaming a shot at advancing to the next round with a tie breaker is an Origen or Team SoloMid victory over KT Rolster. Or maybe Origen dropping all three games.
Considering everything that’s happened at this tournament so far, it’d almost be crazier if LGD Gaming didn’t return on a rampage just to keep everyone on their toes.
Huni needs to mature as a player
It’s often unfair to pick on a single player, but the play of Heo “Huni” Seung-hoon has stood out for Fnatic. The European rookie of the year endeared himself to fans with his lovable attitude and flare for making incredible, eye-popping plays. But as his second season in the LCS progressed, it seems like he’s become ruled by playmaking rather than letting the plays come to him. He looks like he’s trying to force brilliance instead of playing a winning game of League of Legends, and at times that’s costing his team.
On Sunday, Huni took Yasuo into the rift against Cloud9’s An “Balls” Le on Darius. It’s a terrible matchup on paper, but it seemed as if Huni and Fnatic believed their player could style on a hapless Le, who suffered criticism for his play heading into the tournament.
The pick backfired. While Huni managed to make a few flashy plays in the mid game, he fell behind early and was essentially a non factor in the overall match. Fnatic’s coach Luis “Deilor” Sevilla placed the blame for the poor draft and subsequent result on himself.That’s an admirable sentiment as a coach, but the pick is also on Huni’s shoulders, for having the hubris to believe he could make it work. Confidence is something you always want in a player, but you also need someone who is prudent enough to pick their battles, especially in League of Legends, where no one can carry every single game themselves.
Huni’s play against AHQ eSports Club also featured a little tilt. Taking a Darius blind pick allowed the Taiwanese team to counter with Gnar, a tough matchup, but Huni tried to go ham after some early mistakes and in some ways threw away any chance his teammates had to pick him up and save the game.
Huni needs to learn to temper his hubris with humility if he really wants to become the best top lane player in the world, as he opined after Fnatic opened their tournament with a victory over Invictus Gaming. Right now, the rookie of the year is playing like the weakest link on a team with designs on winning the world championship.
Counter Logic Gaming finally dropped the ball
Ever since the top American seed opened Worlds with a shaky victory over the Flash Wolves, fans have watched with bated breath waiting for the CLG dream to end.
On Sunday, KOO Tigers dealt a crushing blow to the American dream by decimating Counter Logic in the most one-sided match of the tournament so far. The Koreans racked up 24 kills, scoring 10 of them before the Americans even answered.
It wasn’t pretty, but it also was only a single game. Counter Logic is still a favorite to advance from the group, especially after Brazilian wild card team paiN Gaming dealt a crushing blow to Flash Wolves with an upset victory. Counter Logic may be doing just enough to advance out of what looks like the weakest group so far, but that’s all they’re doing.
Some numbers for your review
North America 6-3
The London Showdown
Play will resume on Thursday in Paris. Each of the four groups will play to conclusion on consecutive days, starting with Counter Logic's Group A on Thursday and concluding with exciting Group B of Fnatic and Cloud9 on Sunday.
After a ridiculous four days of League of Legends, teams will grab a quick breather to take stock and rejuvenate. No one expected this week’s results, and after three more days of preparation and adjustments, next week is sure to provide another unpredictable slate of games. Will the pre-tournament favorites like LGD and Invictus return to prominence and send the group standings into disarray and inevitable tie breakers? Or will this week’s top performers continue their dominance?
It’s anyone’s guess at the League of Legends World Championship this year.
Photo via Riot Games/Flickr