Three up, three down: The best and worst from the first weekend of Worlds
The first phase of the League of Legends World Championship group stages were filled with their share of drama. Some surprising teams and players rose while others faltered. And after four grueling days of games, four teams booked their ticket into the final eight. That’s not to say that the victors were always impressive, nor were the losers always so underwhelming.
So whose stock rose and fell from groups A and B? Here are three best and three worst performances of the first weekend.
Simon “fredy122” Payne: SK Gaming qualified for Worlds with its coach and its jungler. By the time the games started, it had neither. Effectively kneecapped by an unexpected technicality and a PR calamity, Europe’s number two seed were expected to do little more than rattle the cage and bow out quietly.
And for the most part, that’s what happened. However, one flower did bloom in the landfill that was SK’s championship campaign. Payne played four different champions across six games and, while not always flashy, was instrumental in what success they found. Aside from an ill-fated stint on Swain, the Brit’s ability to impose his will on world-class teams ensured that SK put up a fight every game, even if it only earned them two wins in the end.
Sa “GreenTea” Sang-Ching: Phase One’s games were a panoply of disappointment for the underdogs, from Taipei Assassins dismal showing to AHQ’s heartbreaking finish. However, Taiwanese fans can at least hang their hats on some marvelous individual performances from the hometown heroes. Topping that list: AHQ’s Sa “GreenTea” Sang.
Despite going winless on solo-queue nightmare Blitzcrank, his efforts on Thresh and Leona shone at critical moments. A hook on Edward Gaming’s superstar Namei effectively sealed a tie-breaking rematch (and nearly destroyed Joe Miller’s voice) while beautiful Rocket Grabs in an already-lost contest yielded one of the most entertaining highlight reels to date. Regardless of his team's placement, Sa proved once and for all his haircut isn’t his only world-class asset.
Samsung Galaxy White: In an interview prior to the World Championships, Christopher “MonteCristo” Mykles declared that the “Korean Hype Train” had officially become the “Korean Dominance Reality.” This new catch phrase might not be the easiest on the tongue, but Samsung Galaxy White’s bullet train through group A shows just how accurate it may be.
Flawless in drafts, execution, and teamfights, White moved from strength to strength, even against China’s finest. Choi “Dandy” In played as advertised, Cho “Mata” Se finished with a mind-melting KDA of 46 on Janna, and Gu “Imp” Seung logged the first pentakill of the proceedings on playmaker Vayne. Gu's overconfidence occasionally caused problems, but referring to arguably the best marksmen in the world as “overconfident” is a hollow criticism at best.
As the playoffs gear up, White looks the part of a World finalist. Strong play across the map and consistent playmaking leave only one question to be asked: Can you really say that a team at the top of the world is “up”?
Zhu “Namei” Jia-Wen: Entering the contest, the analyst desk debated hotly over powerhouse showdown between Seung and his Chinese “equal”, Zhu “Namei” Jia. As the games began, that question was quickly put to rest, though not in Zhu's favor.
The Chinese marksmen could generously be described as “”underwhelming” in seven group stage games. His “hard carry” style was of little effect when not given room to farm, leading to the fourth best KDA ratio of all marksmen in Phase One. Furthermore, two key deaths effectively sent Edward Gaming to the brink of elimination against AHQ on the final day of games.
Was it nerves or perhaps the rumored health problems that led to this performance? It’s hard to say, but winless on his signature champion, and meek at best against Samsung White, Zhu will need to pick up the pace in a big way if Edward Gaming are to make a run at the title.
Team Solomid: The hometown crowd could do little to will GPL contenders into the round of 8, but their disappointment pales in comparison to TSM’s dubious result. The North American champions entered the contest in a comparatively easy group, devoid of Korean powerhouses to assail, and were poised to make something special happen on the final day of matches.
Given the chance to force a tie-breaker and potentially avoid Samsung White in the playoffs, TSM tripped at the final hurdle. An unnecessarily greedy and reckless play against SK saw they're entire team get wiped out—just as victory was in reach. Baffling fans and analysts alike, the blunder was more than just a momentary lapse of judgment: It placed the often strategically shaky kings of three-letter chants squarely in the cross-hairs of a team with few weaknesses and something to prove.
Pairing this meltdown with some truly juvenile social media activity, TSM has done itself no favors as it works to prove that it belongs among the elite. A victory against the weaker head of the Samsung hydra would be the stuff of legends, but safe money rests with the more predictable outcome: an early trip home.
Taipei Assassins: Season 2 world champions Taipei Assassins took the world by storm when they usurped Azubu Frost for the crown. Several roster changes later, the team and their fanbase have not lost passion as they went on to finish atop the Garena Premier League this season.
Unfortunately for their legacy, the days of catching teams off-guard may be behind them. A near win against Chinese terror Starhorn Royal Club fell flat, with the team doing virtually nothing for 20 minutes. This inability to close out games continued to plague them until their shot at a playoff spot evaporated before their eyes. Even team-leader and former world champ Cheng “Bebe” Bo would kamikaze multiple times under the pressure, showing just how much the competition has grown around TPA.
For what it’s worth, the TPA office will always have the accoutrements from that Cinderella season. Unfortunately for current and future members, the odds of a repeat seem to grow slimmer with each passing year.
Moving into Phase Two, the competition heats up, the games get closer, and the playoff field continues to take shape. If Phase One proved anything, it’s that even the most “predictable” matches aren’t always so once the teams hit the Rift, and that one mistake can mean the difference between the playoffs and a plane ticket home.