For a nation with so much promise heading into the League of Legends World Championship, China’s event so far has been a disaster. But they have at least one team who will compete in the later rounds of the tournament after EDward Gaming advanced from their group yesterday.
Their 4-2 group stage record, with two losses against Korean juggernauts SK Telecom T1, wasn’t what fans hoped to see from the team that won the Midseason Invitational (MSI) by beating that same Korean team in a best-of-five final. But it was enough to move on in the month long championship, and event that’s sometimes more a marathon than a sprint.
“It’s not a big problem to me as you have seen in the past like at MSI, our team is sometimes slow to start but our performance gets better and better as the tournament goes on,” Ji said.
But there are still a few obstacles the team must overcome to perform better in the later rounds.
Ji points to top laner Shek “AmazingJ” Wai-ho, who is in the lineup instead of Tong “Koro1” Yang due to an injury, as an issue, despite his strength on some of the popular meta champions. That’s easy to see when looking at the scorelines of SKT’s Jang “MaRin” Gyeong-hwan, who was superlative in the two games against EDG. But Koro1 is still practicing with the team, and could be unleashed in the later rounds, depending on the circumstances.
“Also since we arrived in Paris the condition of the team has not been so good, for example Pawn with his back,” he said.
That’s another similarity to MSI, where mid laner Heo “PawN” Won-seok also suffered through a physical ailment, an eye infection.
The team’s condition was reflected in their other results, as well. EDward Gaming fell behind Thailand’s Bangkok Titans by over 6k gold before pulling together and eking out a victory.
“We expected it to be quite a quick game and I think we put our players in a hurry to finish which lead to some mistakes and we fell behind on the gold,” Ji said about the match against BKT. “I’m happy that our players are able to adjust their mindset so quick to make sure they came back into the game.”
Against European side H2k Gaming, the team also fell behind early. That was in large part due to team compositions, with H2k Gaming opting for a pick composition to try and snowball a lead while EDward Gaming wanted to scale late. Ji says it’s “kind of a late game meta right now,” so his team often struggles to gain a lead early.
“I think BKT’s performance was really good when they faced us,” he said. “H2K are lacking a lot of communication in my opinion compared to us.”
Overall EDward Gaming did enough to advance. But their play yesterday might not be enough in the quarterfinals and beyond, when they face some of the teams playing well in other groups. As the second seed in their group, EDG will meet a top finisher like Flash Wolves, KT Rolster, or potentially Cloud9.
“We don’t really have any preference,” Ji said. “We think they are all around similar level of skill and we can beat them all.”
In many ways, that statement is a macrocosm of the even so far. Western teams like Origen and Cloud9 have impressed, at times outpacing their Asian counterparts, something no one expected before the event. Even H2k Gaming, who failed to win a game in four tries against SK Telecom T1 and EDward Gaming, acquitted themselves well.
A common refrain from players at the event is that the Western teams have a better understanding of the current metagame and innovations like double teleport and lane swaps.
But Ji thinks the home field advantage may have something to do with it, too. Even for teams from North America the environment in Europe is more comfortable, and the crowd certainly favors Western teams seen as underdogs against Asia’s best.
“We have to adjust to the jet lag, the food, the environment in general so sometimes that can be tough right at the start of the tournament,” Ji said.
But he also agrees that European teams have a better understanding of certain strategies and in particular lane swaps, which has given them an advantage at the event so far.
“This is not something we are used to playing against regularly,” he said. “Within the games we saw them use these strategies and we think that’s what makes them strong, they understand the meta quicker than some Eastern teams did.”
Now that the cat is out of the bag, though, the Asian teams are copying those strategies, breaking them down, and catching up.
“I feel like now that the teams from LPL, LCK and LMS understand it they can perform just as good as the Western teams,” Ji said. “I believe in the future these teams will find their own style and their own strategy in this meta and use that to win instead.”
That signature style and strategy for EDward Gaming in this current meta still seems missing. They haven’t seemed comfortable finding ways to force the team fights in which they excel. They need an answer for the top lane matchup, whether it’s hoping Koro1’s condition improves as the tourney progresses or simply AmazingJ getting more comfortable in his role. But perhaps EDward Gaming is saving some ammunition for later At MSI, coach Ji pulled a brilliant trump card in the final match of the tournament, famously countering Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok’s unbeaten LeBlanc.
But they won’t get a rematch with their Korean rivals without winning at least one more best-of-five first. Coach Ji will have another week to prepare his team for that matchup, and to hone their lineup for another potential meeting with SK Telecom T1.
Ji’s words echo what he told Chinese fans during MSI after early disappointment: Don’t worry, we’ll be fine. And despite China’s troubles so far at Worlds, perhaps there really isn’t anything to worry about with Ji at the helm for EDward Gaming.
Photo via Riot Games/Flickr