China's best hope advances after shaky group stage
Only one group at the League of Legends World Championships will end as most predicted, but the road to get there was much tougher than many thought.
EDward Gaming managed to clinch a spot in the quarterfinals when they eliminated European side H2k Gaming at Le Dock Pullman in Paris today. But it wasn’t a comfortable win for the reigning international champions, the victors at the Midseason Invitational in May.
H2k Gaming may have finished their group with four losses, but they can take some solace that they pushed quite possibly the best two teams in the tournament. Against EDward Gaming today, the Europeans built an early lead but failed to capitalize on it.
After a number of games where they struggled, including an odd match against Thailand’s Bangkok Titans where EDward Gaming needed to come back from a 6k gold deficit, the team pulled out the big guns: Kim “Deft” Hyuk-kyu on hyper carry Jinx with a team composition designed to support him.
EDward Gaming handed the tanky initiator Malphite to top laner Shek “AmazingJ” Wai-ho, who has struggled through the event—in part due to a lack of support but also due to his own misplays, giving him point-and-click initiation for a Deft flanked by two solid support champions, Heo “PawN” Won-seok on Lulu and Tian “Meiko” Ye on Tahm Kench.
H2k Gaming countered with a top-lane Fiora for their star player Andrei “Odoamne” Pascu, in theory enabling the split push, and Kalista for Petter “Hjarnan” Freyschuss. They backed the dangerous Kalista with his own two supporters: Ryu Sang-ook on Orianna in the mid lane and Raymond “kaSing” Tsang on Annie at support, a combination that enables a powerful teamfight area of effect combination.
The Chinese team made an odd move early, swapping Jinx and Kench away from Hjarnan and kaSing moments after they saw the pair enter the lane. That gave H2k Gaming an early advantage as Deft missed out on valuable farm and Odoamne’s Fiora pushed ahead.
But H2k Gaming failed to capitalize. Despite kaSing and jungler Jean-Victor “loulex” Burgevin on Elise camping the mid lane, they couldn’t score a kill on PawN. They didn’t take advantage of Fiora’s big farm lead over Malphite, failing to support his push. EDward Gaming slowly pulled even.
Meiko’s Tahm Kench proved incredibly effective. At one point, when it looked like kaSing had caught out Deft with a stun, he simply swallowed up his carry before Orianna’s shockwave could doom him. He also forced multiple advantageous fights with the ultimate, like this one just outside of Baron:
When the team fights began, EDward Gaming’s deadly composition came online. But H2k still had chances. With their deadly combination of area stun on Annie and Orianna’s shockwave, they had the ability to turn any fight, especially if they caught out Deft.
At one point, they thought they had Deft in EDward Gaming’s top jungle after landing some dangerous poke on Meiko. They pushed in to secure the kill, but kaSing missed a key Tibbers stun on Deft. That left them grouped in a tight chokepoint getting mowed down by rockets from Jinx.
The Chinese team cleaned up H2k Gaming, scored Baron, and soon won the game.
It was a disappointing finish to the Europeans’ run at Worlds. A win would have sent them into a tiebreaker against EDward Gaming, giving them the chance to move on. But instead, they came frustratingly close, a few small rotational midgame mistakes and small misses frittered away a strong early advantage. It was a similar story to their games against Korean titans SK Telecom T1.
For EDward Gaming, they got the job done, but it was hardly an encouraging day for a team that may be China’s last hope in the tournament. Luckily for them, they’ll have more time to prepare ahead of the quarterfinals.
“Our lane swap is actually pretty weak,” Meiko said in his post-game interview. “We’re trying to adapt to the new lane phase. For the later matches we’ll try and get better at the lane swap.”
The Chinese team took the MSI title over SK Telecom T1 in May, an incredible victory over the dominant Korean team, but they failed to even dent that squad in two meetings during the group stage at Worlds.
That’s not very encouraging for a team with designs on the Championship itself, especially considering that the SK Telecom T1 shot caller Jang “MaRin” Gyeong-hwan has abused AmazingJ in the top lane. With Tong “Koro1” Yang, who manned that position for them at MSI, sidelined due to injury, it seems like EDward Gaming may have no answer to the Koreans, especially in a top lane-focused metagame.
But they won’t have to find out for at least a little while. Next week the World Championships move to London for the quarterfinals. Those two losses for EDward Gaming, that surprisingly close match against Bangkok Titans, their botched lane swap against H2k Gaming, are all things of the past.
“It’s okay for us to lose in the group stage,” Meiko said. “We can find out our weaknesses and improve. I think we can beat [SKT] in the finals.”
Today EDward Gaming showed they certainly have weaknesses. They didn't play their best League of Legends. But the hallmark of truly great teams is that, even when they don't play their best, they still find a way to win.
Photo via Riot Games/Flickr