The most-watched esports event of the year is already living up to expectations.
The second day of group play has now concluded at Riot’s World Championship. More than one million concurrent viewers have watched on Twitch alone, and they’ve had good reason to. The results have been wild and the groups unpredictable. Only Group C has gone largely as expected; every other group has been thrown into chaos after only two days of play.
Will that stay the same as the tournament progresses? That remains to be seen. But here’s who’s trending up—and who’s trending down.
Counter Logic Gaming
The reigning North American LCS champions got off to a questionable start in their quest for World Championship glory, narrowly defeating Flash Wolves in a game that threw into question CLG’s self-professed confidence in being able to go all the way this year.
While their opposition on Friday wasn’t quite on the level of a team they would likely face in a finals series, CLG’s victory over Pain Gaming did help to assuage the fears of concerned fans. The American side played a much smoother game than against Flash Wolves, keyed by the typically strong laning of bottom lane duo Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng and Zaqueri “Aphromoo” Black.
Peng and Black both gained an advantage in their own lane and smoothly rotated towards the middle of the map, where Eugene “Pobelter” Park capitalized on the advantage he himself had built up with the help of his roaming teammates. That sort of synergy and fluid map movement is exactly what CLG will need to go further than the group stage.
The team CLG felled on the first day of competition, Flash Wolves, were able to nicely recover and contribute to what was a day filled with upsets. The Taiwanese side fell behind Korean opponent KOO Tigers early in their game, but were clearly undaunted.
The Wolves were allowed to assemble a strong poke composition including Hsiung “NL” Wen-An’s favored Varus pick. Combined with clean play from Huang “Maple” Yi-Tang’s Gangplank and Hung “Karsa” Hau-Hsuan, the Wolves were able to bully the Tigers around the map after picking up a key baron buff.
The Tigers were never able to recover from the dramatic mid-game swing, with Song “Smeb” Kyung-ho notably struggling on what is normally a comfortable Gnar pick. A late flanking attempt by Song was quickly flattened by Flash Wolves, and the nexus fell not long after.
The biggest upset of the day belonged to a European team. Enrique “xPeke” Cedeño Martínez’s Origen squad faced down the reigning champions of the powerful Chinese region and managed to walk away as victors.
The match between Origen and LGD Gaming was hotly contested. LGD’s AD carry Gu “Imp” Seung-bin made early strides towards a potential victory by collecting several kills for himself, but a huge quadra kill from Cedeño Martínez in a decisive fight triggered by an aggressive Origen push up the middle lane turned the match in Origen’s favor.
The game ended in dramatic fashion, with Origen top-laner Paul “sOAZ” Boyer hammering down the LGD Gaming nexus as the Chinese champions fought for the baron buff. It was likely a futile attempt by LGD at extending the game regardless of the outcome, but the decision to go for baron while Boyer pushed ahead resulted in a much earlier victory for Origen and left fans wondering just how far off the script this year’s World Championship might go.
Considered one of the support position power picks heading into the tournament, Braum got off to a very rough start through the event’s first 11 games. Picked eight times, teams fielding Braum put together a grand total of zero wins.
Zaqueri “Aphromoo” Black did manage to bring a bit of honor back to the brawny support champion with CLG’s win to close out day two, but even then the victory went to a team who were heavily favored to defeat their opponents, Pain Gaming. For Braum to go 0-9 at that point would have required another shocking upset.
It’s hard to say the exact reason for Braum’s struggles. Is it all down to luck, a circumstance that could see his win-rate balance back out as the tournament progresses? Or has something shifted in the bottom lane preventing Braum from asserting himself as has been the case? We’ll learn the answer over the coming weeks.
While Origen was bringing much joy to fans of the European LCS, H2K was putting one more foot into the grave. The team faced a monumental challenge in their group draw, which set them against Mid-Season Invitational finalists SK Telecom T1 of Korea and China’s Edward Gaming.
Any thoughts of H2K producing an upset and moving through the group were dashed by the end of day two. Just as H2K mid-laner Ryu Sang-wook’s rematch with old SK Telecom T1 rival Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok was underwhelming, so too was H2K’s overall effort versus Edward Gaming on Friday.
This is a team that appears to be outmatched across the board, and there doesn’t appear to be much they can do to reverse course. Their sole consolation is that they will now be given a few days to regroup and try to bring a new gameplan to next week’s group stage conclusion.
Beyond the upsets, the biggest theme from Friday’s slate of games was the constant level-one team fights being waged between the competing sides. Many fans love these early battles because they are dramatic, chaotic, and get the game started quickly. But that very chaos is likely to leave many coaches checking their blood pressure.
It wouldn’t be a surprise if the reins are pulled back and these fights become a bit less common as the tournament moves forward. But given the unpredictable nature of the action we’ve seen thus far, it may be that no sequence in the game better represents this year’s World Championship than two teams with nary a point of experience throwing themselves at one another.