LeBron James vs. Kevin Durant. Sidney Crosby vs. Alex Ovechkin. Peyton Manning vs. Aaron Rodgers.
One of the most exciting things to watch in sports is superstar players going head-to-head to decide just who really is the better player. But in most team sports, it’s also a team contest—the superstars aren’t just competing head-to-head. Crosby and Ovechkin may not even hit the ice at the same time. Manning and Rodgers battle their team’s defenses, not each other.
League of Legends is unique among team games in that it allows us to see just that—one-on-one, head-to-head matchups during the laning phase.
The $2.2 million Riot World Championships begin this week in Taipei, and one thing that makes it so exciting is the opportunity to see the best players from every region in the world clash head-to-head.
This week, Group A and B will battle to decide which four teams advance to the bracket stage of the Championships.
Who is the best in their lane? Which dark horses can neutralize star players to steal their teams a win? Does China, or America, or Korea have the best marksmen? Is the European mid lane factory producing world-class players? These are the kind of questions that will be answered in the coming weeks, and we took a look at the stats and stories behind some of them.
1) NaMeI vs. Imp: Who is the best marksman in the world?
It’s a clash of titans: Samsung Galaxy White AD Carry Gu “imp” Seung-bin is good enough to make Chae “Piglet” Gwang-jin cry and cocky enough to laugh about it afterwards. Edward Gaming superstar Zhu “NaMei” Jia-Wen is hyped as the best player in China in the position China is famous for.
Gu, along with his bottom lane partner Cho “Mata” Se-hyoung, are a cornerstone of Samsung White and love to play an aggressive style where they quickly establish dominance over their lane, forcing their opposition into disadvantageous positions. The duo enter this tournament looking to avenge their team’s poor performance during the Season Three World Championship last year.
Zhu breaks the mold of the Chinese AD Carry stereotype—he keeps the tiger caged. Sometimes. He and his support, Feng “FZZF” Zhuo-Jun, follow common Chinese ADC thinking that everything is worth contesting—including individual minions during the lane phase. Where he differs from many of his Chinese counterparts is that he won’t display questionable aggression. Following victories in both LPL Spring and Summer, Edward Gaming is considered one of the top teams to potentially sweep Korean hegemony aside, and exceptional performances from their duo lane will be necessary if they’re to meet that expectation.
2) Bjergsen vs. Corn—Can Corn derail the Bjergsen hype train?
Team SoloMid regained their North American crown thanks in part to Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg. The European import had a rocky regular season, but proved he’s become the premiere mid laner in America, growing as both a player and leader. If Team SoloMid has any chance of success on the World stage, they’ll need Bjerg to keep up that superstar form. His first real test comes against StarHorn Royal Club mid laner Lei “corn” Wen.
Lei has a small champion pool but can step up in a big way if he gets a comfort champion such as Orianna or Fizz. When he’s on one of those, he completely changes his style from passive to extremely aggressive. An aggressive Lei can beat Bjerg, but SoloMid could also opt to ban him out. Still, Bjerg is their star player—letting him do what he does best may be the better option.
If TSM is able to get Lei out of his comfort zone, the lane matchup flips into Bjerg’s favor. Bjerg needs to be a major cog in the SoloMid victory train, and his play against Lei will determine just how far they can go.
3) Winds vs. inSec
One of the most famous League of Legends players on the planet, Star Horn Royal Club’s jungler Choi “inSec” In-seok, even has his own move named after him—the “Insec” kick, a mechanically intense Lee Sin trick he popularized.
Following his move to Star Horn from Korea’s KT Rolster Bullets, Choi now often eschews Lee Sin for other champions, particularly Rengar and Jarvan IV, but has maintained many of his tendencies. Choi is a jungler that spends a significant amount of time creating pressure on the enemy team. Unfortunately, this high-risk-high-reward style frequently gets him killed if the opposition sniffs out his moves through superior vision control. One team that can force that turnaround is Taiwan’s Taipei Assassins, and their jungler Chen “Winds” Peng Nien.
This will be the second World Championship for Chen after he played in the Season Three tournament with the Gamania Bears. Since joining the Taipei Assassins, he has been a revelation. Widely considered one of the few jungle carries that still exist, Winds brings a very well-rounded skillset to the table. He’s strong throughout the game, whether it be creating early chaos on a champion like Lee Sin, or turning into a carry on Kha’Zix during the later portions of the game.
Will Choi and his insane mechanics shut down Chen’s carry potential?
4) DanDy vs. ClearLove—Can anyone stop the world’s best jungler?
The best team in China, Edward Gaming, will run head-first into the best jungler on the planet when they face Samsung Galaxy White’s “Choi” DanDy” In-kyu.
The matchup between Samsung Galaxy White and Edward Gaming is a contrast in styles. Samsung White feasts on early aggression and seizing control of the tempo of a game. Once they do that, they force their opponents into bad situations. On the other hand, Edward Gaming prefer a slower early game, but pull games back through superior teamfighting and objective control in the midgame.
The only black sheep for Edward Gaming is their jungler, Ming “ClearLove” Kai. In many ways, he is the team’s builder. While the Edward Gaming lanes are willing to play passively, they rely on Ming’s jungling to build a bridge through the rough waters of the early game by countering any sort of pressure that the opposing jungler tries to apply. Once Edward Gaming’s lanes have powered up, Ming’s presence remains ubiquitous, and he is able to consistently be a part of the crucial teamfighting that is Edward Gaming’s hallmark. That tendency is reflected in his 77 percent kill participation—the highest in the LPL.
But opposing Ming and Edward Gaming is White’s wicked weapon, Choi “DanDy” In-kyu. Choi, also known as the Korean Prince of Thieves thanks to his penchant for stealing Dragons and Barons, has an eerie ability to properly read the map and cause pain for his opposition. Choi is the catalyst that starts the unstoppable Samsung Galaxy White machine. It’s clear that the key to beating White is to shut him down, and while teams know this, few can do it.
Will Ming, who makes a living staving off early aggression, finally find the answer?
5) CandyPanda/nRated vs. WildTurtle/Lustboy
SK Gaming wins through superior objective control and team fighting, but they still need a carry. Adrian “CandyPanda” Wubbelman is supposed to be that weapon, a veteran player sometimes flirting with the star label. During the regular season, though, he was quiet. Wubbelman rarely lost his lane, but rarely took a lead himself.
Against Team SoloMid, where his top and mid laners will almost surely be outclassed by SoloMid’s ridiculous laning talent, SK Gaming will need the Wubbelman that stepped up and carried during the playoffs.
A player in a similar position is Jason “WildTurtle” Tran, the unpredictable SoloMid menace whose “wild” epithet fits him much better than “Turtle.” Tran has a penchant for pulling off ridiculously unsafe but insanely effective aggression, but this season he’s struggled in lane, even with new support Ham “Lustboy” Jang-sik at his side. Tran posted the worst CS difference against his lane opponent of any marksman in the LCS.
If SK Gaming leaves the laning phase behind in every lane, they may never be able to execute their superior map movements. For SoloMid, reigning in Tran’s aggression will be one of the keys to a successful world tournament.
In a battle between America and Europe, which lane will come out on top?
There are plenty of other exciting battles in Group A and B. StarHorn Royal Club marksman “UZI” is a young and fiery player who made a huge splash at last year’s world tournament. But his opposing laners will be hard pressed to shut him down.
SK Gaming’s Simon “Fredy122” Payne has made a living on the top lane island, largely playing solo using his pocket pick Aatrox to farm up huge numbers against his lane foes. He’ll be up against Team SoloMid’s rock Marcus “Dyrus” Hill.
Dennis “Svenskeren” Johnsen, jungler for SK Gaming, often receives recognition as one of Europe’s top jungling talents. He will get the chance to validate that praise against players like Choi and Chen.
Even more exciting? The matchups in Group C and D, where the number one team from each of Europe, America, and Korea over the past year will battle on the biggest stage. The Riot World Championships are finally here.