Flash Wolves up, North America down after another day at Worlds
Today the first group of the League of Legends World Championship played to completion, and it ended in a way no predicted.
The winners of Group A were not Counter Logic Gaming, the top seed out of North America, who many felt received a gift when they were drawn into what should have been an easier field. It wasn’t KOO Tigers, the third seed from Korea and the most dominant team in that league during the Spring season. Instead it was the Flash Wolves from Taiwan who took top honors, securing that spot by winning all three of their matches today.
That eliminated Counter Logic, an incredible disappointment for an American side with high hopes after winning the League Championship Series for the first time.
Today’s obvious winner went undefeated through three games today, including big victories over KOO Tigers and Counter Logic Gaming.
After a disappointing first week, the Flash Wolves returned more to what got them here: a focus on their mid lane and jungle synergy. Huang “Maple” Yi-tang absolutely carried the matches against both Counter Logic and KOO Tigers with amazing play on LeBlanc, and that opened up Hsiung “NL” Wen-an for some big Jinx games.
They also struggled against paiN Gaming, nearly losing a mistake-riddled affair that would have made the group extremely interesting had the match turned another way.
That showed two sides to Flash Wolves today. They are an extremely talented team with three world-class weapons: Maple, mechanically elite jungler Hung “Karsa” Hau-hsuan, and playmaking support Hu “SwordArt” Shuo-jie. Their role players also came up big. Top laner Chou “Steak” Lu-hsi, who also shot calls, was solid on Lulu and could affect the game in a more positive way than when they tried to push a less talented player into a carry role with the juggernauts in week one. NL absolutely shone, playing with a fire as if he has to prove he deserves the spot in the lineup after the team benched him for the opening game of the tournament, a loss to Counter Logic. But they also make plenty of mistakes, and that could be costly in the later rounds.
Depending on which Flash Wolves shows up next week, we might see them in the semifinals or even beyond. They’ve shown they have the firepower to beat anyone today.
The Brazilian side secured their second win of the tournament, making them not only the best international wild card team on paper but in the record books too. The interesting thing is that with a few more breaks going their way, or a few less mistakes in their late game shot calling, they may have advanced from the group.
Their match against Flash Wolves today was heartbreaking. They secured multiple Barons. Took down two inhibitors. Destroyed a nexus turret. But they failed to beat the Taiwanese team a second time.
If they had, and then followed that up with the same win over Counter Logic Gaming, paiN Gaming would be advancing right now with a 3-3 record and the tie-breaker over Flash Wolves. That’s how close we were to a Brazilian team advancing.
Of course, the win was against a Counter Logic team clearly distraught after being eliminated. The Americans’ heart wasn’t in the final match while paiN Gaming still had their pride as international wild cards on the line. But that can’t take anything away from their accomplishment. In past years, it was easy to argue the wild card didn’t deserve to take the stage with their competition, despite some of the upsets that may have occurred. This year, there’s no such sentiment. The boys from Brazil certainly deserved to play on the world stage.
The Flash Wolves AD carry isn’t one of their star players. Despite Hsiung “NL” Wen-an’s nickname, which stands for “never loses,” the team brought in Korean AD carry Ha “KKramer” Jong-hun as a mechanical upgrade, a bid to make Flash Wolves into a team with more carries than just their mid lane and jungler. The team worked KKramer into the lineup more and more as the season progressed.
At Worlds, they opened with the Korean player manning the bottom lane against Counter Logic. NL, a veteran who had teamed with Maple, SwordArt, and Steak dating back to their days on Gamania Bears in 2013, found himself riding the bench as the team opened its biggest tournament ever.
They worried that NL’s weaker mechanics might fall prey to American whizs Peter “Doublelift” Peng and Zaqueri “Aphromoo” Black. But the Flash Wolves lost anyway.
They returned NL to the lineup, and his better communication proved a boon. With NL manning the bottom lane, Flash Wolves has posted a 4-1 record at Worlds. Today he was superb with Jinx, racking up huge numbers by playing a solid game and even showing off some flashy plays with his Super Mega Death Rocket, securing numerous kills after Maple’s poke on LeBlanc left foes retreating and weak.
Then he topped it off with the pentakill that slayed Counter Logic Gaming, showing his team that they made the wrong decision to bench him on day one.
Counter Logic Gaming
This year was supposed to be different for Counter Logic Gaming. A coaching staff with a foundation in sports was supposed to bring them past the mental problems that often saw the team crumble when the pressure was highest. During the Summer season of the LCS, the team showed that it was working: They won on the biggest stage they’ve ever played, Madison Square Garden, to take their first LCS title.
Then they were drawn into what should have been the easiest group of the tournament, featuring a struggling Korean squad, KOO Tigers, the second place team from Taiwan, and an international wild card. Even if Counter Logic fumbled during the group stage, they could still likely advance in second place.
After week one, posting a 2-1 record, they were in control of their own destiny.
Then the thing that everyone’s been waiting for them to do since they entered the Summer Split playoffs happened: They choked.
Today was simply a terrible performance from Counter Logic, who lost all three games they played on the Rift. They opened today against KOO Tigers and played a reprise to their week one performance against the Koreans, an embarrassing and mistake-filled stomp. The vaunted Rush Hour bottom lane fed two early kills with some uncharacteristic play and the KOO Tigers pounced.
At that point, perhaps we should have expected Counter Logic's demise. The hallmark of previous playoff chokes by the team is winning until they lose, and then losing hard. Last week, with one match per day, the team could forget about any defeats. But today, that opening blowout against KOO Tigers may have weighed them down.
Against Flash Wolves they were impotent, and when the Flash Wolves continued their rampage against KOO Tigers, Counter Logic was eliminated. The match against paiN Gaming will be an embarrassing footnote in their international record, but was largely immaterial as the damage had already been done.
Losing to KOO Tigers and Flash Wolves could happen to any team at this event. But Counter Logic barely put up a fight. It was a disappointing way to end what could have been the start of a new era for CLG.
While this season Counter Logic showed that they can sometimes be a multi-carry team with Darshan “ZionSpartan” Upadhyaya in the top lane and Eugene “Pobelter” Park in the mid lane, ultimately it still all comes down to their powerful bottom lane duo, Peter “DoubleLift” Peng and Zaqueri “Aphromoo” Black. Domestically the pair were unrivalled, giving the team a constant advantage that often unlocked stronger performances from their other lanes thanks to shifting pressure towards the bottom half of the map.
DoubleLift received praise as one of the elite handful of AD carry players worldwide heading into the tournament. Aphromoo and his playmaking ability were admired by players and fans from around the world.
At Worlds, teams were afraid of them. The Flash Wolves swapped in a substitute player specifically because they were worried about Rush Hour’s impact. But teams shouldn’t have been so afraid.
The duo played poorly throughout the event, and today their performance ended some of the games before they even started.
Against KOO Tigers, the pair gave up the first two kills by misplaying a push on a tower, taking extra damage from turret hits before letting two melee characters wipe them out. It looked like they had zero knowledge of how Tahm Kench impacts a game, and KOO Tigers support Kang “GorillA” Beom-hyeon, who was famously left off of LoLesports’ top 20 players at the Worlds in favor of Aphromoo, abused them.
The loss against Flash Wolves was generally a team effort, though DoubleLift gave up first blood at around 17 minutes and Aphromoo was forced to waste his ultimate before a couple big team fights due to eating too much poke.
Aphromoo was often caught in no-man’s land throughout the event, his roaming failing to make plays and instead enabling enemy teams to take advantage of his absence. He placed 1.06 Ward Per Minute (WPM) during the event, a shockingly low number that's every support at the tournament's, save Bangkok Titans’ Sorawat “Moss” Boonphrom. That number more mimics what’s expected of a jungle player than a support, considering the next lowest number from a top team is SK Telecom T1’s Lee “Wolf” Jae-wan at 1.17. EDward Gaming’s Tian “Meiko” Ye leads the event with 1.52 WPM while KT Rolster’s Lee “Piccaboo” Jong-beom and Fnatic’s Bora “YellOwStaR” Kim, roaming playmakers in the vein of Aphromoo, placed 1.43 and 1.42 WPM respectively.
Now that actually isn’t too different from what Aphromoo did during the regular season, where he had a 0.99 WPM number, or the LCS playoffs, where he placed 1.09 WPM. But when teams like KOO Tigers are more expertly taking advantage of that vision gap, it shows on the bigger stages.
In some ways it’s unfair to pick on Rush Hour considering Counter Logic Gaming losing was definitely a team effort. ZionSpartan in the top lane didn’t carry in a carry meta. Pobelter looks like one of the weakest mid laners at the event in his Worlds debut. The squad’s team fighting was terrible today, especially in fights where they were retreating, something that’s actually hurt them at home at times. But the Rush Hour duo lane is still the core of the team, the stars, the biggest constant through years of Counter Logic Gaming's flirtations with success, and they didn’t step up when they were needed most.
For fans of the North American scene, the age-old meme certainly applies after today.
Team SoloMid still looked mired in a slump that’s haunted them since they won the Spring season. Their prospects of surviving Group D against the rising Origen and KT Rolster seem slim, and that’s discounting the possibility of an LGD Gaming resurgence.
Cloud9 is the biggest hope, but their 3-0 week may be the product of smoke and mirrors. If teams figure out the one strategy employed by the team last week, what does Cloud9 have to answer? For a team lacking firepower in the top lane, jungle, and support positions, that answer might be not much. Granted, they only need to sneak in a single victory to survive, but they face a tough field of competitors.
So rest in peace Counter Logic Gaming. With your demise, however expected, however poignant to your legacy of disappointment and broken hearts, America’s hopes crumble.