It’s rare to see superstars go head-to-head in any sport. At Riot’s League of Legends World Championships, we were treated to a few of them locking horns throughout Groups A & B in Taipei. But now it’s Group C & D’s turn in Singapore.
Group C’s status as the “Group of Death,” where every team has an excellent shot at advancing, places extra pressure on the superstars to come up big in key moments. While Group C’s teams are beating up on each other, a brawl over Western bragging rights between Europe’s Alliance and North America’s Cloud9 in Group D promises to highlight that group’s explosive potential.
Which Western captain comes out on top? Does Fnatic’s bottom lane continue its dominance? Are Group C’s Samsung Blue and NaJin White Shield going to continue the thunderous domination started by Samsung White this past week? Here are the lane matchups we can’t wait to see when games start tomorrow.
1) Hai vs Froggen: Clash of the captains
North America’s Cloud9 had enjoyed primacy over the region for almost a year before Team SoloMid beat them in the North American Regional Finals earlier this month. A major reason for their fall was poor play from their captain Hai “Hai” Lam. He will look to bounce back from that series, and the meta has continued to shift in his favor since Cloud9’s defeat.
Hai has found the most success on middle lane assassins, such as Zed or Yasuo, due to his penchant to roam around the map and jumpstart his other lanes. On top of that, he is a major pillar for vision control on Cloud9. Their primary competition, Alliance and NaJin White Shield, both prefer a slower pace. They’re willing to wait for the moment where they can inflict the most damage through securing an objective, such as Baron Nashor, or launching a flank attack. One of the biggest counters to that is solid vision, and that is where Hai will have to be huge for his team throughout this tournament.
Opposing him is Alliance’s team captain, Henrik “Froggen” Hansen. He’s considered the most consistent force in the middle lane in Europe, but provides an interesting foil for Hai. Where Hai loves assassins, Henrik defaults to ability-power based mages such as Xerath and Twisted Fate.
Henrik plays a safer style which is heavily based on his superb ability to gather gold through killing minions. One of the downsides of that style is that enemies constantly know his location, allowing them to initiate unbalanced engagements with his teammates. Thanks to the range that champions such as Xerath or Twisted Fate have through several of their abilities, Hansen can still assist his team even if he is on another part of the map. It’s imperative that Henrik play his style throughout the group, or Alliance will be in for a tough weekend.
2) Cool vs dade: Irresistible force meets immovable object
Samsung Galaxy Blue has one of the most decorated players in League of Legends history in mid laner, Bae “dade” Uh-Jin. He’s won multiple OGN Championships as well as Tournament Most Valuable Player awards in Korea, and was a key component in Blue’s surge into the number one seed from Korea during the past eight months.
Back in the Season Three World Championship, one of the main criticisms of Bae was his small champion pool. That isn’t a problem in 2014. He has a mixture of mages and assassins in his arsenal, and he is the most terrifying Yasuo player in the tournament. When the two Samsung squads met during Champions Summer 2014, White felt they had to ban Yasuo, fearing Bae’s proficiency on the champion. And that’s despite the fact their middle laner, Heo “PawN” Won-seok, is respected as a strong Yasuo player himself.
Matching up against him is OMG’s Yu “Coo1” Jia-Jun. Yu’s claim to fame for most Western audiences comes from the Season Three World Championship where he was one of the few players to match SK Telecom T1 K’s Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok.
OMG’s takes advantage of their superb teamfighting prowess by playing with an exceptionally aggressive style. Yu is a Swiss Army knife for his team. Whatever they need in a particular composition or scenario, they look to Yu to handle it. Given that OMG is facing a group with as much variety as any, the Swiss Army knife must step up and provide whatever is necessary in order for OMG to move on.
3) Balls vs Save: Best in the West vs the best
Cloud9’s top laner, An “Balls” Le, is among the best in the West, even considering a mediocre LCS Summer Split. An has a solid understanding of the map pressure game and loves to play bruisers that can push side lanes and then flank the opposition for a devastating teamfight win. Unfortunately, the last time that An faced Korean competition out of the top lane, SK Telecom T1 K’s Jung “Impact” Eon-yeong at All-Stars, he was thoroughly dominated. He cannot allow that to happen again.
The problem for An is that his adversary in this matchup, NaJin White Shield’s Baek “Save” Young-jin, is the best top laner in the tournament. On top of that, An’s most played champion, Shyvana, is a champion that Baek dominates at. There’s even a move named after him— “Pulling A Save.”
Realistically, this is Baek’s matchup to lose, but should Cloud9 devise a way to negate Baek’s influence, and give An an advantage, they will have taken a major step toward knocking off the Korean powerhouse.
4) Meteos vs Watch: Will the real watch please stand up
There are two different versions of NaJin White Shield’s jungler, Cho “watch” Jae-geol. In one, he is a tremendous playmaker, and is an integral part of the team’s success. That Cho was on display throughout White Shield’s run through the Korean Regional Qualifier.
The other Cho has a much smaller effect on the game. He maintains a presence on Summoner’s Rift, but the playmaking only appears is small bursts, if at all. If this Cho appears during the tournament, NaJin White Shield’s primacy in Group D will be under heavy threat, particularly should Cho get pressured by Cloud9’s William “Meteos” Hartman coming out of the jungle.
Hartman has been a rock for the team since they joined the LCS in 2013. He has worn many hats for the squad, from fight initiator to Johnny-on-the-spot savior when a teammate is in peril. Hartman has to take advantage of Cho’s mistakes. If Cho is able to settle in and become the playmaking monstrosity of the Regional Qualifier, Cloud9 is sunk.
5) Rekkles/YellOwStaR vs San/DaDa7: Strength vs weakness
The bedrock of European no. 2 seed Fnatic’s resurgence throughout the final month of the 2014 LCS Summer Split was the play of their bottom lane duo, AD carry Martin “Rekkles” Larsson and support Bora “YellOwStaR” Kim. The duo was able to go even, if not outright win, on a consistent basis which freed Bora to roam and assist other lanes.
Kim has excellent map awareness, and would regularly show up to save a teammate that was in a sticky situation. Once the other lanes had been propped up, the members of Fnatic were able to come together and dominate their opposition.
Opposing the Fnatic duo are AD carry Guo “San” Jun-Liang and support Fang “DaDa7” Hong-Ri, the weakest of OMG’s three lanes. Guo is a solid, if unspectacular, AD carry, but the problem is Fang. He’s had multiple catastrophes throughout his most recent tenure with the team, and shows a penchant for “facechecking,” or using a player’s champion to scout a brush that could hold invisible enemies, as opposed to a ward, or a skillshot. Should catastrophe strike when OMG matches up against Fnatic, that could well be the tipping point needed for the European side to escape Group C and make it into the brackets.