The Darkest Horse: paiN Gaming
It was October of 2012. Nobody knew who these guys were. Nobody thought these guys were good. And everyone thought their region was the weakest. On the 13th of that month, Taipei Assassins won the Season 2 World Championship, taking home the Summoner's Cup and cementing their place as one of the best League of Legends teams the world has ever seen.
Fast forward 3 years. A lone team from the Southern Hemisphere books their tickets to the Season 5 World Championship. They aren't TPA, and they most certainly won't win the Cup. But this Brazilian team, one that is the subject of thousands of memes and jokes, isn't going down without a fight, and they are ready to prove to the world how strong they really are. These guys are paiN Gaming.
The Road to Worlds
Flashback a month or so. INTZ e-Sports lands in the US, and they begin their bootcamp. Days later, reports and rumors of their strength spread about how this little known Brazilian team was able to battle and defeat some of the best teams in North America. And people began to wonder, who are these guys, and where did they come from?
Then comes the CBLoL Finals. In all 3 games, INTZ showed immaculate proactive and aggressive play, constantly looking for dives and masterfully controlling objectives. The way they played the map was crisp, and it was clear that they knew what their win conditions were and what they should do at what times. Watching this final, it isn't hard to imagine how such an aggressive team could have come out on top versus NA teams. So this brings us to the question, how was this powerhouse, who perhaps could have been one of the top 6 in NALCS, stopped?
The Super Stars
Mylon and Kami. One is a top lane carry, and as the meta slowly shifted, Mylon thrived. The other is, well, a man in the mid lane that some would consider the Faker of Brazil, Kami. In Japanese, his name literally means god, and it's not just for show. He displayed an incredible understanding of the game, such as knowing when to use major cooldowns, when he was about to get ganked, and how to win a teamfight single-handedly. These two managed to pull paiN out of incredibly high pressured situations, even as INTZ knocked on their base or was on the verge of getting 5 Dragons.
Half of the highlights in this game are from Mylon and Kami being complete monsters, making play after play after play. At 5:55, we see paiN pulling off a 4v5 defense at the nexus towers against 5 dragons and baron, thanks to excellent decision making and the power of their two carries. At 7:00, Mylon baits INTZ into a beautiful shockwave by Kami, and later on Kami 1v2s the enemy carries during a walk to defend his exposed nexus against a soon to be 5 dragons Gnar. If you aren't impressed by this, well, you must be REALLY hard to impress.
This particular game shows the full potential of the carries of paiN, whether it be the near perfect skillshot dodging of Kami or the fact that Mylon probably pulled of more TP flanks than those done throughout the entirety of NALCS. And now, with the teams playing on 5.18, we'll be seeing Mylon in a meta built for carry top laners, and don't forget this guy has god behind his back. Literally.
Know Your Foe
One might look at this series and say, "It's a shame INTZ didn't go, they look like the much better team in terms of play making and map play." That's what I first thought. But then how did paiN win? Simple; they knew their opponents' weaknesses.
INTZ's cross map rotations were incredible and defied expectations, but each time they made a move, paiN was always there to counter and to capitalize off of INTZ's overaggression. One might put the blame on an inability to effectively deduce information from vision control (as the control itself was quite good from both teams), but this doesn't account for the fact that paiN was able to respond to every single one of the cross map plays that INTZ were trying to execute. This implies that paiN was able to read all of INTZ's moves and that they had a high enough level of coordination and understanding of the game to allocate the appropriate resources to respond to each threat.
At 0:46, we see paiN responding to a 5 man dive coming from the opposing team, with Kami and SirT coming just in time to stop it along with what would have been a free Tier 2 tower. Now, you might say that it was a bad dive by INTZ because the opposite side of the map was completely dark and that they did not dive with knowledge of the locations of the enemy jungler and mid laner, but notice how paiN responded only 1-2 seconds after the dive began happening. Kami himself began rotating the moment Alistar showed to flank, and that SirT's Gragas had already made it halfway to the tower by the time the dive started.
2:30 depicts a paiN with decisive shotcalling. Recognizing that they have full control over Baron Nashor, paiN immediately starts it. Despite INTZ's attempts to stall the baron attempt until their full team makes it to the fight, paiN makes all of the right decisions in the fight, first by focusing the baron, and then, recognizing beforehand that the tanks of INTZ are out of position and that they have Mega Gnar to zone out the enemy carries, they immediately turn all attention to the Alistar and Shen, taking down the former and burning the flash of the latter.
Despite the amount of objective control in this game and the number of towers INTZ took, paiN was still able to win due to their ability to repeatedly find fights and punishing almost unnoticeable moments of mispositioning from INTZ.
Continuing the Streak, and Looking Forward
paiN would once again go undefeated, this time at the International Wildcard Tournament, where they would lock in their seed to the World Championships. Yes, it is true that they were against much weaker competition. However, it was at this tournament where paiN's macro play truly shined, controlling objectives and rotating around the map in ways reminiscent of how INTZ played in the CBLoL finals just weeks before. It was at this tournament where paiN showed that they could learn from their mistakes along with the strengths of their opponents, and that they were much more diverse in strategy than just Mylon and Kami carrying teamfights.
With their convincing 3-0 sweep against Kaos Latin Gamers, paiN would punch their tickets to the 2015 Worlds Championship. As the dies of fate were rolled, they were placed in Group A, the group considered by many as the weakest one of the four, and thus, the one where paiN had the best chance of getting out of.
Head to Head in the Group of Life
Koo Tigers vs paiN Gaming
Both teams have shown some great shotcalling. Just one problem for paiN. The Koo Tigers have used theirs against some of the best in the World, while paiN has only played against some of the lower echelons of competitive League of Legends. Koo has the coordination to easily dismantle a good deal of paiN's strengths, which includes teamfighting, finding picks, and Mylon's splitpush.
While much weaker teams might collapse under Mylon's pressure, the best are completely out of the question. Smeb is arguably one of the top 5 top laners in the world, and some may say he is the best at Worlds this year. This is not a guy who will succumb to Mylon's skills as a player, and with the rise of carry tops, this is a matchup that could snowball out of control in favor of Smeb and, consequently, the Koo Tigers.
While it could be said that SirT has somewhat better pathing that Hojin and that he brings a bit more to his team, we have to remember that this is Patch 5.18, a patch with a nerfed Cinderhulk and a returning Warrior, a meta that Hojin thrived in compared to the one where tank junglers ruled. I haven't watched SirT play on pre-Cinderhulk, but either way the experience with playing against strong teams goes in favor of Hojin.
The way paiN wins is mid; it's a complete mismatch in favor of Kami. Kuro did have a strong showing in the LCK Playoffs, particularly in the set against KT, however, historically, he has not been the strongest of players. With skirmishing being a huge driving factor in this meta, Kuro's inability to pull off the same amount of impact as Kami in a teamfight might be the key to Koo's defeat, however it is unlikely. I fully expect Koo to 2-0 paiN.
Counter Logic Gaming vs paiN Gaming
At the time of this article, CLG has said that Xmithie will not be able to play at Worlds, and with the way things are progressing, it seems unlikely that he will. His pathing was not the best, however he played a key role in CLG's victories by setting up good picks and providing a great deal of disruption in teamfights. Without his voice in the team, it is unclear how CLG will operate, especially with HuHi, the mid laner subbing in for Xmithie.
With the meta transitioning back towards Warrior, we will at least be able to see a much more carry style coming from HuHi, especially since he is a mid player. One would assume that he is much more mechanically adept, and thus will be able to outplay his opponents and set up good picks that way. However, without Xmithie, CLG will likely not have the same decisiveness as before, which is a major blow to their teamplay.
The key matchups will be ZionSpartan vs Mylon, as both are sizing up to be major threats in this carry top lane meta. Both showed extreme amounts of aggression in their respective finals and each had their fair share of solokills. It is unclear who will win in this head to head, as no NALCS top laner comes to mind that shares the same playstyle as Zion and Mylon. Of course, level of competition in the respective regions favors Zion, however I would not count Mylon out. Both share extremely similar strengths and weaknesses (I would even argue that their strengths and weaknesses are the same: overaggression), so it will all depend on how well SirT and HuHi play around their tops. Obviously, paiN will have the edge in top and jungle synergy, especially with what they showed at the CBLoL finals, so it is likely that we will see a neutralized Zion and a rampant Mylon. And with the impact that carry tops have at this tournament, paiN might just take the game.
Bot lane is a bit of a mismatch. Most experts would say that Doublelift and Aphromoo completely outclass pain's bot lane, and I myself would say that to, being unimpressed by how brTT played overall, laning-wise and teamfight-wise. A well-drafted kite composition with Doublelift as the main damage dealer might be enough to give CLG an easy victory over paiN, especially in a laneswap situation where Mylon is left choked out of resources to carry with.
My prediction is CLG 1-1 paiN Gaming, thought it really depends on how well each team adapts to the other's playstyle, as that could be what makes or breaks the other team.
Flash Wolves vs paiN Gaming
Steak is to be served, cooked up, well-done. The main weakness in the Flash Wolves is the fact that they do not have a carry top, and on top of that, he isn't considered very good. With that, who is going to stop Mylon?
I have not watched much of LMS, though I do know that the pinnacles of the Flash Wolves' success are Maple and Karsa, their star mid laner and god tier jungler. From what I have seen, Flash Wolves rely heavily on skirmishing, with Steak playing a low econ top laner to provide utility. With the nerfs to Maokai, the fact that Lulu will probably be permabanned, that leaves him with a more niche pick with Malphite or picking up a Juggernaut. Unless he overperforms, it is likely that he will be completely outclassed in terms of impact by Mylon, if he has an impact at all.
This puts the burden on NL, Karsa and Maple to really carry the teamfights. However, paiN showed strong and consistent teamfighting throughout their winstreak from CBLoL to the Wildcard Tournament, and with the weak link of Steak, the odds favor paiN to win.
Now, Flash Wolves still have a good chance, and that's with Karsa. Like I've said before, the rise of Warrior changes everything, and with an extraordinarily capable jungler like Karsa, paiN might just be put on the backfoot enough for Flash Wolves to snowball the game early before things get out of hand. Still, if we look back at the CBLoL finals where INTZ was driving the pace of the game and controlling the map, paiN still managed to claw their way back into victories, and that could still happen against a team like the Flash Wolves, who aren't at the highest caliber in terms of consistency.
That being said, I expect paiN to go 2-0 against the Flash Wolves, as in all of the situations described, paiN still has ways to claw their way to a victory. Take my analysis with a bit of a grain of salt, as I am very unfamiliar with the Flash Wolves, only watching their series against HKE in the LMS Regional Finals and what I saw from them during IEM.
I think this will be the year, the first World Championship where a Wildcard team doesn't get last place in the group and the first year that a Wildcard team makes it out of groups. In my opinion, paiN Gaming will take second place in the group, and probably through a tiebreaker due to the relative closeness in terms of strength of the bottom 3 teams in the group. No, I am not Brazilian, nor am I fan of CBLoL. But I most certainly am a person impressed with how far Brazil has progressed since the advent of that glorious Kabum! vs Alliance game, and a person with a hope that Brazil will finally get the respect it deserves. Of course, only time will tell, but until then, #PAINWIN
(please don't fail me I want my Championship Riven)