The third day of the Riot World Championships is over, and with it goes much of the drama in the first two groups at the biggest League of Legends tournament ever.
We now know who will advance to the playoff rounds. Samsung Galaxy White and Edward Gaming were never truly in danger of falling out, two of the best teams in the tournament placed in a group with one of the worst. But Team SoloMid’s convincing victory against Taipei Assassins put them through a group many thought they might struggle in before the tournament.
All that’s left to decide is the seedings. Samsung White and Star Horn Royal Club, both currently undefeated, stand as favorites to advance at the top of their groups, but both Edward Gaming and Team SoloMid have a chance to go through if they can win two matches against the group leaders—one regular match and one tie breaker.
Today we learned who will advance from Groups A and B and not much else, though there are a couple lessons.
1) InSec’s Rengar needs to be banned
All the talk surrounding Royal Club centers around their bottom lane and especially Jian “Uzi” Zi-Hao. Jian has decimated all comers, picking whatever champion he wants and winning unfavorable lanes in convincing fashion. Supposedly Gu “Imp” Seung-bin told Jian “Uzi” Zi-Hao that the Chinese superstar is the best ADC in the world, and he’s playing like it.
But who set up all those kills that got Jian rolling? Choi “inSec” In-seok.
He came in like a wrecking ball today against SK Gaming—and not the Miley Cyrus version. Choi secured the first two kills for his team, rushing into bottom lane and then mid lane to get his carries going. It’s ridiculous how fast he can change a match early by rushing a lane with his high damage. He can’t be tamed.
In two games on the champion, against SK Gaming and Team SoloMid, Choi put up a 8/4/17 KDA line. In both Rengar games, Choi was successful with his first two ganks. He got the ball rolling in two lanes in both matches, allowing Royal Club to build up a comfortable lead quickly.
Royal Club realizes the carry potential behind Choi’s champion of choice, considering how they’ve set up their team compositions around it. In one game, they paired Rengar with Orianna, making him a literal wrecking ball as he delivered Orianna’s deadly ultimate. In another, Zilean and his speed boost turned Rengar into an unstoppable hunter.
Of course, Choi has had two Rengar bans leveled against him this tournament, and it didn’t seem to hurt him much. He went 4/3/7 against SK Gaming on his signature champion, Lee Sin, and ended at 4/1/9 against TPA with Kha’Zix.
But the Rengar, which Western teams have little experience dealing with, still looks the most dangerous. The predator needs to be removed from the equation when Team SoloMid play Royal Club tomorrow, or they’re going to have a rough time.
People seem to forget that Choi is a superstar in his own right, a mechanical monster feared around the globe for his Lee Sin play. If he continues the way it’s gone so far at Worlds, his Rengar might become just as legendary.
2) Team SoloMid is great, or Taipei Assassins isn’t as good as we thought
It’s hard to get a read on Group B. Taipei Assassins entered as a dark horse and put on a good show against Royal Club in their first match, but they suffered two losses against Team SoloMid in games that were not particularly close. But does that mean Team SoloMid is great, or Taipei Assassins were just masquerading as a contender in Group B?
The answer is probably somewhere in the middle. Team SoloMid simply outskilled Taipei Assassins in both games, earning early leads thanks to outplays like the 13-minute ace with kills in all three lanes in the first game, or Soren “Bjergsen” Bjerg’s solo kill in today’s match.
Team SoloMid looked good closing out those two games, executing two different team compositions to perfection. In the first match, they used their poke composition to siege the Assassin’s base while using superb vision control and their disengage abilities to stop any kind of counter. In game two, with those options banned out by the Assassins, SoloMid pivoted into a protect-the-ADC-style lineup, and Jason “WildTurtle” Tran had a field day with a double-digit kill Tristana. That kind of execution is something you wouldn’t expect from the SoloMid that started the summer season. But in some ways it was the same old TSM—winning matches thanks to outskilling weaker opponents in the laning phase.
Tomorrow, SoloMid will again face Star Horn Royal Club, and we’ll get a better gauge on just how good their brand of League of Legends has become. Can SoloMid win a game against a team who will likely win one or two lanes against them?
3) SK Gaming needs more from Jesiz
Perhaps it’s a little unfair to level criticism against a player on a team that’s faced so much adversity heading into this event. In fact, the circumstances affect Jesse “Jesiz” Le more than any other player on the team—playing with a new jungler, when jungle and mid lane synergy is so important, is tough. Plus, SK Gaming’s missing coach, Nicolaj “incarnati0n” Jensen, worked directly with Le due to Jensen’s mid lane background.
But the fact is Le’s performance was simply poor and not up the level he established for himself during his two seasons in the League Championship Series.
In his five games with SK Gaming, Le put up a 10/22/19 KDA line. Of course, no one on the 1-4 SK Gaming has a great KDA. More damning, Le posted less gold than his top laner in every single game of the tournament so far. To put that in context, that only happened in 85 out of 556 games in the LCS this year, or 15.29 percent of games. For SK Gaming, that number was even lower—five games out of 38, or 13.15 percent of the time. Le managed to equal that total in just three days. Top laner Simon “Fredy112” Payne is the only shining light for SK Gaming at this tournament, but that doesn’t excuse Le’s performance. Even in losing games, with questionable jungle support, Le should be doing less to lose the game, if not making a positive effort to make a difference.
SK Gaming is a team that simply needs to survive the early game to win matches, using their tactical prowess to outmaneuver opponents in the late games. In the LCS, Le was usually safe and solid, but on the World stage, he gave up early kills in multiple games, putting his team in a hole. Against Taipei Assassins, in SK Gaming’s only win of the tournament so far, Le let Chen “Morning” Kuan-Ting, hardly a world beater himself, manhandle him.
The 17-year-old still potentially has a long career ahead of him, and room to grow. It’s tough for any player to succeed with the circumstances thrust on SK Gaming, much less an inexperienced one, but the team needs more from their mid laner to survive on the World stage. Le might still be the man to give them that in the future, but his play in Taiwan leaves a lot to be desired.
4) Riot’s World Championships format might still need work
For all Riot Games’ immaculate presentation—setting the stage for Worlds like no organizer has ever done for an esports tournament—all the hype leading into the event couldn’t save it from the games themselves.
This week was a lackluster opening to what’s supposed to be the culmination of a year’s worth of League of Legends competition. Most of the matches so far were boring, with little drama and few implications for the overall group standings. A number of factors conspired to cull the excitement from what should be a storied tournament.
For one, Group A simply had an unlucky group draw. Riot’s seeding system ended up placing two of the top three teams in the first two pools with two of the worst teams in the bottom pools, creating a scenario where 10 of 12 matches were essentially meaningless romps and the only real takeaway from the group is that Edward Gaming didn’t stomp the bottom teams as hard as they should have.
Group B should have been exciting. Team SoloMid, Star Horn Royal Club, and SK Gaming all looked like potential group winners entering the tournament, with Taipei Assassins as a dark horse spoiler. But SK Gaming’s situation at Worlds—losing their coach and then their jungler for three games—zapped much of the drama from the results, once it became clear their problems really had hurt them.
The World Championships is supposed to be a World tournament. Part of the beauty of it is that underdog teams and regions get to try their hands at the indestructible Koreans. We’ve seen surprises happen, like when Taipei Assassins won the Season 2 championship, or Royal Club’s run to second place last year.
But it takes away from the pageantry when many teams are essentially pushovers. While you might be able to make the argument that LMQ doesn’t belong in the server with Samsung Galaxy White, you have to agree they at least have a chance of taking a game in a best-of-five series. With Dark Passage, the argument becomes about whether they’ll even score a kill.
Imagine the level of play if the fourth place finishers from the four biggest regions—SK Telecom T1 K, Curse Gaming, ROCCAT, and LGD Gaming—were playing in Taiwan instead of a team like Dark Passage, who couldn’t qualify through the European Challenger scene.
Of course, removing the wildcards, an important incentive for smaller but growing regions, could have a negative impact on those scenes, and it wouldn’t be a World tournament without teams from every corner of the globe. But the event could benefit from perhaps an additional “wild card” stage before the actual group stage, where teams like Dark Passage and Kabum! Esports could compete against those fourth place teams who barely missed out on Worlds for spots in the group stage.
In the end, there’s no perfect format, and what happened this week was largely down to bad luck, but it really is too bad. All eyes are on Taiwan for Worlds. It’s the perfect time to grow a League of Legends audience larger than the passionate players of the game. But tuning in to one-sided romps that teams barely take seriously isn’t the best way to sell the esports product.
Luckily, this is only a temporary problem: Group C and Group B should provide plenty of intense games, and the knockout round should be out of this world. But after such a great lead into the event, it’s too bad the games couldn’t keep the momentum going.
Worlds is off to a slow start, though Sunday has a few matches worth watching. Team SoloMid will try to tie the group against Star Horn Royal Club, but they also need a win against a full-strength SK Gaming lineup. Edward Gaming still has a shot to win their group, but they need to beat Samsung Galaxy White twice to do it.
Image via Riot Games