5 things we learned from the first day of Worlds

The pre-event bluster is now over

The pre-event bluster is now over. All the talk, predictions, and hype built for the Riot World Championships is now over: we’re in the games now.

After weeks and months of talk, and predictions, and hype, and bluster, the games finally went live. The best players in the world clashed on the Summoner’s Rift in Taiwan today.

Some of the matches confirmed things we already knew. Samsung Galaxy White is ridiculously good. Group B will be close all the way through. Some things we didn’t know.

Every day we’ll learn more about the international level of play during one of the few chances in the year to see the best teams from each region clash on the big stage.

1) Team SoloMid needs more from their bottom lane

Team SoloMid’s bottom lane is supposed to be talented. Mechanical monster Jason “WildTurtle” Tran pulls off insane plays and puts up huge kill totals. Import Korean support Ham “LustBoy” Jung-sik is a former star from the toughest region in the world. But the two were decimated by Star Horn Royal Club today, and it cost SoloMid a chance at winning the game.

Technically, this isn’t something we learned today—Tran has struggled laning all season long. Tran’s CS differential against his lane opponent was dead last in the NA LCS at the 10, 15, and 20 minutes during the regular season. It even got worse after SoloMid replaced Nicolas “Gleeb” Haddad with Ham, despite the Korean maining Nami, a dominant laning champion.

Considering his weak laning in his local region, it’s hardly a surprise that Jian “Uzi” Zi-Hao obliterated Tran in lane. The superstar marksman of Star Horn Royal Club took Tristana into a matchup against Tran’s Corki and Ham’s Nami, usually a losing prospect, and scored a ridiculous 25 CS lead by the 10 minute mark. Once jungler Choi “inSec” In-seok got involved the bottom lane became snowball city for Royal Club.

The key to a Team SoloMid victory is getting Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg going, but Royal Club shut him down with an indirect strategy. They let Bjerg have Zed—his best champion, and banned against him in almost every game. They let Bjerg essentially free-farm in the middle lane against Lei “corn” Wen’s Zilean, amassing a huge CS total early in the game. But Bjerg never became a factor as Choi helped snowball Jiang “Cola” Nan in the top lane and Jian destroyed SoloMid’s bottom pair.

SoloMid needs better play from their bottom lane. They are not a team that wins games through superior rotations in the mid and late game. They don’t outthink opponents. They win when their mechanically skilled laners make plays and carry those advantages later into the match.

2)  Imp’s aggression will be White’s undoing

It was billed as a battle to decide the best marksman in the world. The Chinese prodigy Zhu “NaMei” Jia-wen of Edward Gaming, cool under pressure, always making the right decision. The aggressive and sadistic Gu “imp” Seung-bin, the unpredictable and arrogant cowboy of Samsung Galaxy White. The match itself might have been a preview of the World final.

But Gu and his lane partner Cho “Mata” Se-hyoung destroyed their lane against Zhu and Feng “Fzzf” Zhuo-Jun, scoring two kills in the two-on-two matchup.

But White did show one weakness—Gu’s patented aggression. Before the tournament he said he’d reign in the overconfidence that sometimes get him in trouble, but at the 34 minute mark his tendencies reared their ugly head. Jumping into the team fight as Tristana, he extended past Heo “PawN” Won-seok’s life-saving Zilean ultimate into the enemy team, eating crowd control as they killed him and won a team fight.

That’s the kind of mistake that loses games. While it didn’t cost White this time, it might in a closer series later on in the tournament.

3) SK Gaming needs their coach and jungler

SK Gaming’s troubles continued today as they surrendered their match against Team SoloMid at the 23 minute mark, only managing to score a single kill.

The team’s had a rough road to Worlds. First their coach Nicolaj “incarnati0n” Jensen was banned from the event. Then jungler Dennis “Svenskeren” Johnsen, the team’s star player, if you can call any of the teamwork-oriented SK team stars, was suspended three games for using a racist nickname on the Taiwan server.

In the match against Team SoloMid, both were missed. The team blew picks and bans, something that often needs a coach’s input, and SK Gaming’s replacement jungler looked lost on the World stage.

The team allowed SoloMid to pick four comfort picks for their talented players—Alistar, Lee Sin, Nami, and Tristana—and left the perfect mid laner on the board to complement a composition filled with knockups, Yasuo.

Then, in the game itself, SoloMid ganked freely as jungler substitute Berk “Gilius” Demir haplessly roamed the map. Demir had little impact on the game and no impact keeping his laners safe, a necessity for an SK Gaming team that excels in the mid and late game if they can survive that long.

SK Gaming looked like a team capable of surviving the group stage coming out of the European League Championship Series playoffs. But as they stand today, they might not even win a game.

Still, SK Gaming has recovered from horrible losses before. Midway through the LCS season they surrendered just before the 21 minute mark against Alliance in one of the most one-sided games of the year, but they managed to recover quickly in their next match together. Right now though, things aren’t looking good for the Europeans.

4) Ahq Greentea, the tournament’s first breakout player?

One of the great things about Worlds is watching players break out on the global stage. It’s the one chance players from China and SEA and other smaller regions have to proffer their play to a wide audience.

One such player today was ahq e-Sports Club support Sa “GreenTea” Sha-Ching. His play on Thresh against Dark Passage carried that match, overshadowing even the play of his mid lane teammate Liu “Westdoor” Shu-Wei. Liu is world renowned for his play Fizz play, and made Dark Passage pay for letting the champion through to him. But it was Sa who made the most of the world stage, carrying multiple team fights with well-timed and well-placed Thresh hooks. Sa has a reputation as the top Thresh man in the SEA region, but has had few chances to show his skills to a wider audience.

Even against Samsung Galaxy White, where an ill-fated early invade doomed ahq in a record two minutes, Sa stood out. His Blitzcrank may have tipped off White to his team’s early game shenanigans, but he was a terror on the champion despite the Koreans wrecking his team across the map.

It’s only one solid day of play, Sa was an unknown before today, and that’s true no longer.

5)  Winds looks like the best jungler outside Korea

The jungle proved more important than any lane in day one play at Worlds. Players like Choi “DanDy” In-kyu and Choi “InSec” In-seok wrecked in games against Edward Gaming and Team SoloMid. Even Team SoloMid dominated SK Gaming in large part due to Maurice “Amazing” Stückenschneider’s contributions over SK Gaming’s ineffectual jungle replacement.

Taipei Assassins nearly beat Star Horn Royal Club thanks to the jungle play of Chen “Winds” Peng-Nien. One of the few “carry” players left in the jungle, Chen lived up to that billing today.

The jungle told the story of Worlds day one. Every team with the more active and successful jungler won their match save one—Taipei Assassins. He carried the early game for his team, posting a ridiculous triple kill with some amazing mechanical plays on Lee Sin to hand his team a huge advantage. He’d score them another kill with a great flank to pick off the Chinese mid laner, relieving pressure from a dangerous siege.

Taipei Assassins would eventually throw away an 8000 gold advantage, but they built it thanks to Chen before losing it as a team. People knew to watch for Chen entering the World tournament, but there was some debate about how good he really is. If he keeps up the level of play he showed today, Taipei Assassins will likely see themselves into the knockout round.

The show is just beginning. There’s still a month left in Worlds, and there more days for Groups A and B in Taiwan. Group A already looks set: Samsung Galaxy White is clearly dominant, and Edward Gaming seems sure to follow right behind them. But Group B is anyone’s game—Star Horn Royal Club may have struck the first blow with two wins today, but Team SoloMid and Taipei Assassins both showed they have what it takes to win the group if they can fix some of their problems.

All in all, it was a solid start to Worlds.

Screengrab via Riot Games/YouTube