Group C : Who has the EDGe?
Of the four groups drawn for the World Championship, none seem as obvious as Group C when it comes to who advances to the quarterfinals. The one question that remains for this group is who finishes first? Titans of the rift SK Telecom T1 will once again clash for supremacy against Chinese rival, EDward Gaming. These are two teams that most analysts predicted would be the finalists for the Mid-Season Invitational and the stars did indeed align for the long awaited confrontation. With the help of the great migration that sent most of the best Korean players to China, the receiving region had to prove whether or not it had caught up with its Korean counterpart. The short answer for the moment is yes. The best of 5 went the distance as EDward Gaming had the last laugh with a 3-2 victory over the Korean giants.
Champions don't falter after a loss, they learn from it. Returning from their first loss at an international stage, under the captaincy of top laner Jang "MaRin" Gyeong-Hwan, SKT did just that as they displayed the most impressive and dominant split in the history of the LCK/OGN. With their 17-1 record in best of 3 sets over the course of their summer tenure, SK Telecom looked better than ever. Their decision making was already the blueprint as to how a team should play around objectives but this time around, it definitely reached new heights. Even what seemed to be their closest regional rival, KT Rolster were crushed by the usual suffocating playstyle of MaRin and his crew in the finals of the summer playoffs. The 3-0 victory secured a second berth at Worlds for the Korean organisation.
Following their crowning as champions at the Mid-Season Invitational, things weren't exactly steady in the EDward Gaming organisation. Their own captain Tong "Koro1" Yang wasn't covering the top lane. The LPL fans rather saw Shek "AmazingJ" Wai Ho receive some playing time and thus gather more experience as the top laner of a top-tier team. Even star mid laner Heo "PawN" Won-seok was absent from his station as LPL newcomer Kang "BaeMe" Yang-hyun took the stage instead. In the midst of this turmoil, EDward Gaming dropped best of 2 sets against bottom of the standings teams like Unlimited Potential and Team WE. Surprising enough, in a 32 minute loss against Unlimited Potential, they played with their MSI lineup. With no apparent statement as to how they fixed their issues, EDward Gaming started to play like their former selves when the quarterfinals of the Demacia Cup came around. They earned the cup by defeating Team WE 3-0, Invictus Gaming 3-1 and OMG 3-0 in the finals. After winning another important title, EDward Gaming finished the summer split with a trailblazing streak : nine straight 2-0's in the LPL. Oddly enough, they seemed to have another collapse in their semifinal face-off with LGD Gaming. Through the ups and downs, EDG persevered and, by all means, still managed to cap off another solid split. Thus, their roller coaster ride still clinched them the second seed of China. For the rest of the competition, the scary thing about this team is that they seemed to have once again found their groove, a groove that made them earn the MSI title.
A Date with Destiny
With how the groups were drawn, this assures that if EDG and SKT do indeed advance to the quarterfinals, we could get yet another grand final pitting these two teams together but with the stakes higher as ever this time around : the Summoner Cup. With the recent chaos shrouding the coaching staff of LGD Gaming, they are in fact the two favored teams to reach the finals, with all #faith aside.
How They Match Up
Although many predict the finals of the upcoming World Championship to be SKT versus a Chinese team (mostly EDG or LGD), the heavy favorite to take the tournament is still the Korean team. It's hard to argue when a team consistently displays stellar performances as MaRin and his squad have. Therefore, many try to solve the puzzle that is SK Telecom. How do you defeat such a titanic presence? At the root of any competition, to put it bluntly, you need to have better players. Unfortunately for the Korean unit, EDward Gaming is the epitome of a talented squad.
In a meta that will heavily favor carry top laners, Koro1 and MaRin will seemingly fit just fine. The question is whether or not they can master the new carries that, for the most part, occupy the rift's top lane nowadays : the juggernauts, Fiora or at least champions that synergize well with the new items such as Sterak's Gage. Sadly, we can't collect much information in that matter as Koro1 was at the hospital during the regional qualifiers which was played on the 5.16 patch. Instead, it was AmazingJ that displayed proficiency in the new meta which is still good news as we can expect him to play at Worlds even as a sub. As for MaRin, what we do know is that he gets a significant amount of gold each game. He will undoubtedly have the resources to carry but whether his champion pool is up to the task remains to be seen. If he does have issues adapting to the new meta, he can still somewhat fall back to his Malphite which can fend off the juggernauts and Fiora quite well or even his legendary Maokai can still find some use in peeling and reducing the enemy's damage also. A big part of MaRin's game is that he usually gets a lead in lane and he transitions the pressure he applies in top to the bottom part of the map with excellent timing on his teleports. That is still an aspect that the Korean top laner has yet to be outclassed which makes him a slightly better player overall than Koro1 or even AmazingJ.
Not too long ago, I would have vehemently declared Clearlove as the better jungler as he has shown a strong case throughout 2015 for being the best jungler in the world. As his opposition, Bengi has generally been known as a mechanically weak player but approaching the game in a very intelligent manner instead. However, Bengi has shown new life in his play with a dominant performance, especially in the LCK finals 3-0 victory over KT Rolster. His presence on the map was absurdly imposing and his mechanics were refined, dealing with the notorious intrusions of Score and Piccaboo just fine. As the match-up is a whole new story nowadays, I'll still lean towards Clearlove as the better player.
This is a tricky one to call. The storied rivalry between Faker and PawN is something to behold. With a 13-7 record in favor of PawN, EDG's mid laner still succeeded in attracting critics from analysts. Never listed as the best mid laner even in China with the likes of GodV, Rookie or even U, PawN truly plays to the best of his abilities when he faces Faker. Known for being the kryptonite to the superhuman that Faker is, PawN has put a stick onto the wheels of SK Telecom's mid laner more than any other player, eliminating him from tournaments 5 times already. When it comes to their actually playstyles and mechanics, Faker has been known as the best player in the world for more than 2 years now, since gracing the Summoner's Cup in Season 3. As for PawN, his success could sometimes be attributed to the teams that he has played for, instead of his own efforts drawing the attention of the spotlight. When he was a part of Season 4 champions, Samsung White, the MVP award went to Mata and most of the highlights featured Imp instead. When Samsung White and Samsung Blue dominated OGN, that could also be explained by the fall of SK Telecom 1K. Even as a part of EDward Gaming, Deft has been entitled as the true carry of this team, leaving PawN in the shadows once again. Fast forward to the upcoming 2015 World Championship, it's another opportunity for PawN to silence the doubters and prove that he not only has Faker's number, he has the ability to be better than him.
The most obvious mismatch is the bottom lane. The duo of Deft & meiko is simply better than Bang & Wolf. The bottom laners of SK Telecom has often been coded as the burden of the team, mostly due to Wolf. Wolf is prone for making mechanical mistakes. In their only loss of their dominating summer split against CJ Entus, Wolf notably headbutted MadLife's Braum into his own team, instead of Space's Kog'Maw. He's also known for getting caught out of position more often than his peers when he oversteps his fields of vision. In contrast, Bang has shown flashes of genius throughout his career. For what it's worth, he's also the reigning king of SoloQ in the Korean ladder, receiving gifts from KesPA for being the first player to gather 1400 LP. Strictly speaking of the bottom lane, the issue is whether or not as a unit, can Bang and Wolf mirror the impact that Deft and meiko will have. In what may very well be the deciding factor of EDG versus SKT, the answer is no. Although Deft makes positional mistakes, sometimes channeling his inner melee AD carry (Mordekaiser is here now, maybe that'll discard some worries?), he has still proven his immeasurable talent as a marksman. Also, meiko has complimented him quite well with his versatility as a support player.
Not only does this confrontation feature star-studded players, those players are very well coached. The minds behind their respective playstyles are equally worth of mention as themselves. Leading the Korean squad is coach Kim "kkOma" Jeong-gyun and his counterpart is EDG coach Ji "Aaron" Xing. In their duel at the Mid-Season Invitational grand finals, Aaron outdueled kkOma with a superb draft in the crucial game 5.
As for how they shape the identities of their teams, kkOma obviously favors objectives and rotations overall. They truly snowball off of MaRin's opportunistic teleports and that is only possible because of the excellent wards planted by Bengi and Wolf. Also, SK Telecom punish mistakes like no other. They will not only win the fight at dragon, they'll naturally take dragon and then take 2 towers and an inhibitor with it. Those occurences are the repercussions of diligently setting up the minion waves and the vision control necessary, it's rarely the result of being lucky. They prepare everything. Even when the opposing team puts them on the back foot, SKT still prevails in trading objectives. If they're weaker because they're behind and they consequently haven't reached their power spikes in time, they'll casually let the enemy team capture dragon but they will guarantee themselves at least some pressure on the other side of the map, whether it's securing deep vision or destroying a tower.
As the roadblocks that might prevent SK Telecom from securing the first slot in Group C, EDward Gaming is a team that is no slouch either at objective control. They might not secure objectives as well as their Korean counterpart, but it's still world class. Staying true to their Chinese roots as an organisation, EDG truly shines in team fights, something that has contrastingly plagued SKT. MaRin and his squad prefer skirmishes rather than all-out team fights, a big reason why CJ Entus are frequently able to make them have a run for their money. CJ Entus simply have better team fighting. With that being said, I even believe that Koro1 and his peers have better team fighting than CJ. That might be an arbitrary way of thinking in many perspectives but I still think it could very well be the key to dethrone SK Telecom.
So who has the edge? Well, you can't spell "edge" without "EDG". If EDward Gaming can strike first with persistent pressure from Clearlove and then force team fights that SK Telecom should shy away from, I believe that Koro1 and his squad takes it. The fact that they possess overall matching or superior talent compared to SKT's players is crucial. They also have comparable macro management thanks to their great coaches but ultimately winning team fights thanks to an overmatched bot lane will be key to EDG's success.
Of course, anything can happen. Yet, rationally these aspects are what come to mind. Also, not everybody will agree with my opinion but, if you want to express some input on the issue in the comments or personally by way of my social media, I would gladly discuss it with you.
I am Christopher "Wave" Phakjarung and, as always, I sincerely thank you for reading!