The Thorin Treatment: 5 Popular Worlds Theories That Don't Really Work
With the Season 6 World Championship only a week away from commencing, the cycle of previews and analysis has begun, seeing many of the world's foremost experts on competitive League of Legends crafting their models for how the tournament will play out, what the meta-game might look like and what the hierarchy of teams should be. Despite the near indisputable level of intelligence and expertise which is on display in such analytical work, here are five theories or prevailing lines of reasoning have reared their heads that don't really work.
1. G2 failed at the Mid Season Invitational, so they might be suspect on an international level
The theory goes that one cannot really put too much stock into G2's domestic success, in contrast to the best teams from the other major regions, due to the team's failure at the Mid Season Invitational, where they shockingly won failed to progress to the play-off bracket and thus cost Europe a pool one seed at Worlds.
The primary problem with this line of reasoning is that this G2 is not the G2 who played at said international event. Only two of the five members of this G2 line-up remain from the one which competed against the world's best. Even a single player change can drastically alter the success and effectiveness of a team, as TSM fans should be only too aware. Changing three players, the majority of the line-up, leaves G2 barely resembling the team who won LCS Spring and went to the MSI.
With the two remaining members being Trick and PerkZ, the best players and a deadly combo from the Spring split, it is understandable that their continued presence could lead some to imagine this G2 is similar to the one from Spring, but the dynamic of the team and its win conditions are no longer the same. Trick remains a vital piece, arguably the most important in terms of overall impact on their chances of victory, but PerkZ has not been the same monster he was in the Spring. Despite his under-performance, only kicking into god-mode for select games in the play-offs, G2 still earned the best regular season record.
The additions of Zven and mithy brought the best botlane in Europe, arguably the West, to G2 and their team has been reformulated accordingly, with Zven as the best carry on the team right now. Emperor was far from the elite ADC that Zven has shown himself to be and Hybrid was good, but not one of the best Support players in the world, as mithy can legitimately lay caim to being. This is not a team that wins solely due to their monster Jungler and Mid laner killing everyone.
While everyone remembers the "G2 vacation" narrative, which quickly span out of control into a meme to poke fun at PerkZ and G2, few seem to recall the back-story which emerged surrounding that official excuse. It was later discovered that part of the reason for G2's problematic approach to practice stemmed from their working to acquire Zven and mithy, the very botlane they now field, from Origen. Now that those players are in G2, it is hardly reasonable to assume a similar scenario will occur during the World Championship, so the initial conditions for the MSI failure are not present at all.
G2 managed to go 34:10 over the Summer split and play-offs, achieving a spectacular 77.27% win-rate. They didn't lose a single overall set in the Summer split and nobody in the play-offs could push them to a fifth game. Perhaps G2 will underperform and underwhelm at Worlds, but if they do it won't be in line with this played out narrative which no longer fits in any respect.
2. kurO's weakness is where other teams can exploit the ROX Tigers
While it's certainly the case that the modern thinking that laning isn't as devastatingly important anymore is often misinterpreted to mean that laning barely matters, which it certainly does and for what should be obvious reasons when considered, it certainly carries some weight and is apparent, as seen in the success of teams like CLG this year. Even so, when looking for weaknesses in the ROX Tigers, the best team in the world and thus the defacto favourites for the Worlds title, many tunnel right in on kurO - a familiar and justified target of criticism.
kurO was once upon a time a much shakier player and at times a liability, yet the then GE Tigers still found domestic success in spite of such play, going on a stellar run through LCK Spring 2015 and reaching the final. At Worlds, the much maligned Mid showed a far better aggregate performance and since then has not been close to the same kind of liability he once was.
Stastistically, he is not a top Mid laner in Korea, so when people look at players like PerkZ, Bjergsen and xiaohu, they see an obvious advantage the opposing team has against the Tigers. What's bizarre about this thinking, when applied to how Tigers have played as a collective unit, though, is that Tigers have had three very strong LCK splits while playing without an elite Mid laner and reached the final of Worlds under those conditions. If anything, having a small disadvantage in the Mid lane is the normal state of business for Tigers and yet they are dominant.
As such, having a dangerous Mid laner bearing down on kurO is not some scary prospect for the Tigers and is far from something they have not dealt with before. These guys have gone up against the likes of Faker, Coco and Crown on a regular basis and been able to deal with any laning disadvantage for kurO. The situation has also improved in this respect for Tigers since the line-up which went to the final of the last Worlds, as the inclusion of peanut has meant kurO gets more attention than ever and thus is safe-guarded further.
Not only can Tigers as a team work around any direct disadvantage kurO has, but so can the player himself. From Worlds last year onwards, kurO has made a career off being able to survive against better players without losing the game for his team or putting them at too large a deficit. ROX might lose at the World Championship, but it won't be simply because the opposing team has a better or more dangerous Mid laner.
3. SKT aren't such favourites since they lost in the LCK play-offs
I think people are hedging their bets too much by putting forward three or four names as favourites for the tournament, where the ability to win does not make one a favourite and thus there should be a division between those strongly favoured - as favourites - and those who are dangerous and have a shot - who should rightly be labelled something like "dark horses". With that said, it's baffling to me how many are overlooking SKT or easily dismissing them as a favourite to take the title.
As far as I can tell, the usual fallacious logic of "if they were the best team they they'd have won their play-off series" is being applied. SK Telecom were the second best team in the rankings over the split, but in the past they had twice before failed to finish first in the regular portion of the split and yet went on to win the play-offs and be hailed as the best team in the world.
Along with their strong regular season record, SKT's loss in the play-offs, to a KT who were also one of the elite teams, was in very close and dramatic fashion, going up 2:0 and losing in a reverse sweep. Had they conclusively been dealt with by KT, then this would be a different discussion, but SKT barely lost to KT. Add in the match-up factor that one of SKT's few weaknesses has been at the Jungle position, where KT arguably have the best player in the world and the most cerebral at his position.
The Blank and Bengi problem has been something SKT has dealt with before. Blank had his issues in the Spring, yet SKT still managed to win the IEM X World Championship and the Mid Season Invitational, notable big international competitions, with him in the line-up. With the exception of Season 4, Bengi has fallen out of favour and yet been successfully worked back into the line-up again and again. SKT are a team who not only know how to play around their Jungler, but get a surprising amount of effective play out of players who seem to be slumping or poorly fitting.
A final, and yet quite significant, reason that stands in SKT's favour as potential world champions is that SKT have always been an intimidating match-up for the ROX Tigers. Twice the two teams, albeit with changes at the Jungle position, have met in LCK finals and SKT have come out victorious, despite Tigers coming in as the higher ranked team and automatic finalists. ROX took their first ever LCK title this split, but they did not do so beating SKT and exorcising those demons, with KT doing that work for them.
As such, if the two teams play in the bracket at Worlds, SKT still very much remain an unanswered question for the Tigers and arguably the only team in the world who can intimidate them or rattle them. SKT might not be first in the list of favourites, but the reasoning given as to why they won't win has been flimsy thus-far.
4. RNG looked terrible in the LPL final and this holds some bearing on their chances at Worlds
Royal Never Give Up (RNG) reached the final of LPL as the reigning champions and with Uzi hoping to take down his first LPL title and the organisation's second. Instead, they were absolutely humiliated by EDG and seemed to never get the engine started in that match, seemingly ready to mentally concede as soon as they got behind. Certainly, this was a terrible black mark on the team's recent form, but the amount of attention and focus placed upon it seems quite unreasonable.
RNG did reach the final of said LPL in a competitive region, one traditionally known to produce strong teams and packed with more talent than any other region one might choose to name. It's not as if none of those teams saw the weaknesses of RNG and made no attempt to exploit them, they did and yet simply could not, EDG excluded.
Part of the difficulty of judging the strength of teams headed into the LoL World Championship is that teams have competed for most of the year on different patches, with their last matches sometimes more than a month previously, and as such the notion of form doesn't really work the same way as it does in league play where one is judging based on what took place a week or two ago. Form might suggest what a team can get out of its players, but I have always found contrasting the styles and strengths in a specific team match-up to be the superior guide to how a game may play out on the international level.
In that sense, RNG pose a lot of danger for the vast majority of the Worlds field, thanks in large part to their roster. RNG has one of the most skilled, explosive and dangerous groups of players in this World Championship, with practically no obvious weakness on an individual level. They may not have gotten it together in the LPL final, but if this team meshes at Worlds then almost nothing is impossible for them, such is the level of talent they are working with.
They will also not be playing against Chinese teams, at least until the bracket stage. As such, it is not as simple as imagining strong teams from other regions will handle them. The RNG which underwhelmed at IEM did not have Uzi in their ranks and their ADC at the time was an obvious liability. As ridiculous as it may seem to invoke the "Uzi Worlds buff" which saw him over-perform at two straight World Championships - or more reasonably perform to his peak potential - it is a very different scenario for players to see Uzi and to actually play against him. LPL teams have a long tradition of facing monster ADC talents and thus have learned to play around and against them. The such cannot be said for all the top teams from the other regions.
It would be unduly optimistic to call RNG a favourite for the tournament, especially in light of the definitions I outlined earlier, but they clearly stand as both a dangerous dark horse and arguably the team capable of the most variance in their results in the whole event.
5. Samsung Galaxy are scary due to their Korean regional run
The reasoning goes that Samsung's impressive run through the gauntlet of the Korean regional, eventually knocking off SKT slayers KT Rolster, make them a really dangerous team in the upcoming Worlds and especially for Western teams. While some have made the point that it's unreasonable to contrast them with the NaJin White Shield team of 2014, who had a sick run through the guantlet but ultimately underwhelmed at Worlds, on the basis of their guantlet run, I think there is a degree to which the comparison should be made, but differently than to most.
NaJin White Shield was actually more impressive in their gauntlet run than SSG was, sweeping the OGN champions KT A and handling SKT. For their part, SSG only beat KT Rolster 3:2. The same KT they had lost to in a sweep in the LCK play-offs not long before. NaJin White Shield had lost in the quarter-final of the previous OGN split in close 2:3 fashion. Yes, they had been beaten up in NLB, but by their sister team Sword, who knew them better than anyone, and when the competition mattered the least.
Samsung's gauntlet run showed signs of real promise, but their loss to overwhelming loss to KT in the play-offs compounds the problems Samsung had during the season. They finished in fourth place, but went only 2:10 in games against the top three teams (ROX, SKT and KT). Samsung showed an impressive consistency this split and have had some shocking upsets over elite teams in this core's history, but they have also shown consistency in not beating the favourites, hence why those upsets were so surprising.
Crown may yet prove to be formiddable for non-Korean Mid laners and Cuvee and Ambition both shown some occasionally ridiculous games, but Samsung's form in the gauntlet shows little to suggest that will be the SSG who arrives in the USA for Worlds or that Samsung are a team capable of taking the title. When one considers the likelihood they would be exciting their group in second, the very elite teams they do not typically beat would be the ones standing in their way in the quarter-final. Samsung are good, but the only teams who should be scared of them are the mid tier at Worlds.
Photo credit: yong woo 'kenzi' kim