Group Stage Predictions
A: Flash Wolves (LMS1), Afreeca Freecs (LCK2), Phong V? Buffalo (VCS1), G2 Esports (EULCS3)
B: Royal Never Give Up (LPL1), Gen.G (LCK3), Team Vitality (EULCS2), Cloud9 (NALCS3)
C: KT Rolster (LCK1), MAD Team (LMS2), Team Liquid (NALCS1), Edward Gaming (LPL3)
D: Fnatic (EULCS1), 100 Thieves (NALCS2), Invictus Gaming (LPL2), G-Rex (LMS3)
Note: Bolded are the teams I consider to be most likely to get out of their group, but anything could happen. C in particular has every team bolded, since after KT I don’t think anyone is an immediate write-off for the second seed. I’m leaning towards MAD taking it, however.
Time really does fly, huh. It feels like just yesterday we were watching EU’s upstart Misfits take SKT to five games, Chinese teams being strategically dismantled one step away from glory, and Samsung Galaxy decimating their competition to take it all for Korea in the end.
Season 8 has come and almost gone already; Worlds being one last spectacular finale for a competitive year credited with renewing individuals’ viewing and playing interests alike. All the investment - from professionals, teams, staff, Riot, viewers, fans alike - has come down to this moment, this Wednesday, this... League of Legends World Championship 2018.
Will Gauntlet buffs persist through international tournaments again? (Gen.G and C9)
Or will MSI have proven that China is indeed on top? (RNG and IG)
Or maybe we’ll all just get excited about KT quietly enough to the point where destiny doesn’t notice this time around.
As I believe my group picks are fairly similar to everyone else’s general consensus - all 3 Korean teams, RNG, IG making it out - the only gamble that I feel the need to elucidate on is that I have MAD Team coming out in second place from their group.
My leaning towards MAD here is actually an additional collateral effect from G-Rex’s pleasantly surprising Play-Ins form, as well as EDG’s inconsistencies in the same stage. In their defense, however, World Elite didn’t look completely infallible in their own Play-Ins stage last year - but ended up riding the waves of victory all the way to the main tournament’s Semi-Final.
I also can’t, in good conscience, count out Team Liquid - NA’s biggest chance here is entirely on the former perpetually 4th place wonders. Team Liquid’s match-up versus KT Rolster will be of particular interest to myself and presumably many other analysts, thanks largely to how intelligent the pathing and play-styles of Xmithie and Score are. I don’t expect an explosive early game in terms of kills, but on a cerebral level watching these two match wits will be a show in and of itself.
Anyway, without further ado, here are my Players to Watch in the Worlds 2018 Group Stage!
Group A Players to Watch
FW SwordArt | AFS Kiin | PVB ??? | G2 Hjarnan
Moojin came into this season replacing Flash Wolves’ all star playmaker jungler Karsa, who had left for greener pastures in the LPL after a disappointing performance for the LMS’ undisputed top team last Worlds. People were predicting that FW would be broken entirely, given that they’d lost a major contributor to their signature style that made them so impressive to begin with. However, the relatively inexperienced replacement jungler really came into his own and FW look almost as good as they did at their peak. As well as this, respected midlaner Maple is still with the team, ready to square up against Korean and EU mids on the best of days - but it’s the resurgence and return to form for once top-5-support-in-the-world SwordArt that a large amount of the new Flash Wolves’ success can be attributed to. Despite only securing a 3rd-4th place finish at MSI, FW near-dominated the early parts of the Group Stages, SwordArt’s proficiency on Braum and Rakan leading his team there - now, with Alistar in the meta again, all eyes will be on the FW support this group stage.
Speaking of having big shoes to fill, at least Karsa wasn’t a World Champion and MVP of the tournament he won - but with Marin’s departure from Afreeca Freecs, everyone assumed that the pickup of another veteran was the course of action to take, and that it would be another season of mid-to-lower end of the leaderboard finishes for AFs.
How wrong we were. Kiin is almost a rookie, barring his tragically short series of appearances with Ever8 Winners, and when he was announced LCK fans were underwhelmed, to say the very least. Yes, he was a promising talent, certainly - but how could he replace Marin?
With a series of fantastic performances across deadly carry tops - Gangplank and Camille spring to mind - and more than competent tank play, of course. In fact, his addition to the team apparently allowed the rest of the roster to develop, as well - the team now spearheaded by an all-star toplaner of a new generation took 2nd in Spring and finished high enough in Summer to qualify off of points.
I would be lying if I said that I watched as nearly as much of the Vietnamese League as I do the other major regions. And yet, with Gigabyte Marines’ stellar past performances securing a spot for their region, we find ourselves with an almost-underdog (underbuffalo?) team surrounded by mystery this group stage. Their series to qualify for worlds - versus Adonis - concluded with a very interesting Jayce/Leblanc backdoor, so I’d say let’s keep an eye on sololaners Zeros and Naul. I don’t see them getting out of groups, but their shot-calling seems decisive enough and I think we’ll be in for a pleasant surprise or two with this Bo1 format.
It wouldn’t be a far cry to state that G2 Esports struggled in their first game of Worlds 2018. A thorough dismantling by Turkey’s SuperMassive really put things into perspective for the Fallen Kings of Europe; in fact, it seemed like a wakeup call, and bar some questionable performances from Perkz the whole team seems revitalised and ready to make a statement for themselves this Worlds. Many criticised Hjarnan this season - some rightfully so, especially since, yet again, there were huge shoes to fill - but he was the one carrying them through Play-Ins and to this stage of the tournament. Whether on his now near-signature Jhin, or on his newly-refined Kai’sa and Tristana, Hjarnan has proven he isn’t just there to draw a Heimerdinger ban in draft. His positioning and willingness to contribute to damage output will be imperative for G2 to surprise the two teams that many see as getting out of a relatively stacked Group A.
Group B Players to Watch
RNG Uzi | Gen.G Ruler | VIT Kikis | C9 Licorice
I think that it would be an insult to LPL fans and RNG’s dynasty if I didn’t have the posterboy of the entire Chinese League scene as my player to watch from his team - but, at the end of the day, there is a reason Uzi is as popular as he is. The star AD carry has been the undisputed king of his role since Season 3; however, he has yet to claim the ultimate trophy - a World Championship. Constantly finding himself on teams that flounder at the final hurdle, the iconic silver medallist is at last in pole position to claim a championship of his own. A recent MSI victory over KingZone DragonX added further wind behind the sails of the RNG ship, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Uzi as the one steering it, given his prowess in both laning and teamfights.
Rumours are that Gen.G’s alternate jungler Haru has been absolutely tearing it up in scrims versus every other Worlds team they’ve faced - but as these are only rumours, and we don’t know if Haru will play over Ambition, I will instead select Ruler as the player to watch given how dominant the World Champion botlaner was in the Gauntlet leading up to Worlds.
Gen.G will have a difficult time playing around Ruler at this stage, however, thanks largely to Uzi’s habit of gaining such massive leads of his counterparts and the fact that RNG largely play around bot. Whether the previously shaky Cuvee can maintain his near-flawless gauntlet form will be a major question as to whether or not Gen.G can truly capitalise on RNG’s tendency to give up the top side of the map entirely - though LetMe is no slouch, either.
Kikis joined Vitality midway through the Summer Split - immediately gelling with an aggressive, upstart team that looked out-of-sorts post their impressive debut in Spring. Vitality’s resurgence can be credited to his intelligently calculated aggression backing up the more primal instinct level of bloodthirst we’ve seen out of Jiizuke and Atilla in particular, and it’s this additional dimension he brings to the table that makes Vitality such an unpredictable team. You can expect the potential for huge upsets in the Bo1s of the Group Stage, and for Kikis to be a driving part of that as the longterm EU LCS jungler makes his Worlds debut alongside 3 rookies and fellow veteran Cabochard.
Cloud9’s path to Worlds was tumultuous, to say the very least - but Licorice’s steady performance was something consistent to contrast the constant stream of questions the team faced on their way here. Star players were being benched left and right by the organisation, but the promising rookie’s position in the starting roster was never up for question - and he has proven that this trust wasn’t misplaced. He has found success on carries, such as the newly top-tier Urgot and post-rework Aatrox, tanks like Poppy, or random new pocket flex picks along the lines of Hecarim, and has managed to shine on an all-star NA roster. I expect him to match up decently against the other tops in the group, but given how stacked the other teams’ rosters are, this will be a trial by fire for the rookie. Whether he’s in too deep or not will be answered at the end of the group stages - and maybe, just maybe we’ll be able to say Licorice (and Cabochard) were of similar calibre to established toplane gods Cuvee and LetMe... if only for a moment.
Group C Players to Watch
KT Deft | MAD Breeze | TL Doublelift | EDG iBoy
Note: I initially wanted to list KT UCal and other members of MAD, but it seemed more fitting somehow to go for the purely AD-carry centric group.
“I will not get excited about KT,” the age old adage coming out in droves even as the final game of the series to claim victory over Griffin in the LCK Summer Split was about to conclude and finally add another trophy (the last was in 2014, from KT Arrows) to the iconic esports organisation’s League of Legends collection. And yet, whilst we are probably not allowed to get excited for KT Rolster as a team again here at Worlds, we certainly can be about the players. And Deft, occasionally viewed as a choker, has shown he is finally comfortable being the lynchpin to his team’s successes - whether on Kai’sa, Sivir, Xayah, or a signature Jinx, the former SSB/EDG botlaner truly shines alongside superstar support Mata.
Heralded as the best AD Carry in the West for countless years now, Doublelift yet again enters the Worlds stage on a team that looks to have all the pieces success requires... on paper. Team Liquid looked head and shoulders above any other NALCS team, and yet their dismal performance at MSI resulted in NA as a region losing a tier 1 seed for the Worlds group draw. After one particularly poor game at MSI - the first, in fact - TL Olleh even stepped down for a game. However, Doublelift doesn’t look to have lost any faith in his lane partner, putting on dominating performances to secure CS leads and lane pressure for Team Liquid’s bottom side of the map. If Doublelift can avoid using Relentless Pursuit (Lucian E) into a Viktor and getting oneshot again, perhaps he can finally escape his international tournament curse and escape groups... and, hopefully, meeting Uzi or Ruler along the way. Meanwhile, Deft seems to be more than adequate competition - not to mention iBoy and Breeze.
Breeze isn’t quite the household name compared to the other botlaners in this group; in fact, MAD in general doesn’t leap out of the screen at you like the other giants put into this equation. And yet, as mentioned before, underdog potential is a real thing - but given the aforementioned facts that Flash Wolves have always performed decently internationally, and that G-Rex looked even better than EDG in Play-Ins, one has to question whether or not the LMS second seed is going to be a step above China’s third seed or even NA’s first. Regardless, his pocket Ezreal looks like something MAD can rely on to play safely while they go aggressive elsewhere on the map, and his Varus and Kai’sa are definitely potent enough to present real teamfight threats to the other teams in this group.
iBoy made some... questionable plays at times in the Play-Ins. However, I must admit that, as a spectator, it is refreshing to see such a fearless AD carry not hesitate to pull the trigger and fully commit to a fight - guns blazing, literally in the case of his Lucian back in the LPL. His ability to take over a game alongside Meiko, even when his jungler would rather dedicate resources elsewhere, absolutely cannot be underestimated, and his mechanics can give any of the other superstars in this group a run for their money. All the time spent training versus Uzi will hopefully pay off for EDG’s relatively young AD carry, as he seeks to match lanes with some of the biggest names in LoL right now.
GROUP D Players to Watch
FNC Caps | 100T Ssumday | IG Rookie | GRX Candy
For the only group with zero Korean teams in it, it’s ironic that the only non-Korean player to watch that I have listed is FNC’s prodigy in the middle lane Caps.
By far and away the best midlaner in Europe this split, Fnatic’s answer to Febiven’s departure looked promising last year but absolutely out of this world (region?) this one. His LeBlanc, Irelia, Ryze, and Corki all look bannable at present - not to mention his ability to play Akali, Malzahar, and Cassiopeia depending on what the team needs. His champion ocean and tendency to get insane 1v1 outplays that lead into him completely snowballing over the game - does anyone remember the pocket Yasuo pick? - truly means that FNC’s opponents in this group will be having to focus the majority of their attention towards attempting to hinder the new King of Europe.
As the only toplaner I’m choosing to pay particular attention to in this group - and the only player here that isn’t a midlaner - Ssumday has captured the hearts of NALCS fans and analysts alike. A pleasure to watch on carries especially, his Gangplank and Aatrox are must-bans. Even so, you can’t discount his in-your-face play-style with Ornn, Shen, and Cho’gath - Jax and Darius even making appearances as splitpush/frontline options to drag a mess of a 100T team over the finish line at times. He draws so much pressure top and allows his team so much room to breathe that it wouldn’t be a surprise to see everyone’s favourite NALCS toplaner this split camped hard by the enemy junglers.
But it’s okay. Ssumday has proven time and time again that he can handle it.
Rookie comes into this tournament looking like the best midlaner in the world - one of the few remnants of the original Korean exodus still on the very same team he joined way back in preseason 2015. Ironically, despite not playing versus talents such as Bdd, Ucal, and Faker, it seems like the former OGN champion has only gotten better. And with an all star lineup surrounding him - above average Chinese players and two incredibly storied Korean toplaners - the fact that he is performing so out-of-his-mind across so many champions is just the icing on the cake for this IG lineup. Caps had better watch his back - and Ryu dies once every ten seconds to Faker (via replays of the infamous 2013 Zed play), but I fear that there is a real possibility that he is going to die once every minute to Rookie.
Candy is a Korean import to a region typically seen as a step below the LCK and LPL - and yet, in Play-Ins, he demonstrated a display of skill in the midlane as of yet unfounded in the region (outside of Maple). His movements in lane have been praised by analysts across the board; he knows how to pressure his leads and his Syndra play in particular was awe-inspiring. However, wildcard midlaners - wildcard TEAMS, even - aren’t terribly competitive compared to the level of competition the LMS’ third seed is about to face, and we will all be witness to whether or not G-Rex’s hopes can be kept afloat by this rising star in the midlane.
Regardless of what happens, this World Championship is sure to entertain, with star players and strong storylines across the board.
Ps. remember to do your Pick ‘em.
Images Via LoL Esports' Flickr