Here we are. The most important match in Japan’s League of Legends history so far, and just another notch in China’s belt. The winner of this series qualifies for the main stage of the League of Legends World Championship 2018.
For a team that, in the past, choked in the Worlds Qualifier and had a weaker part of their region represent them more than once, hopes weren’t high for the LJL seed coming into this, in part thanks to how the past teams had looked utterly disjointed on the League of Legends World Championship 2018 stage. That ends now - a renaissance for Detonation FocusMe was the highlight of their Play-Ins group; franchise players Ceros and Yutapon (who is sadly no longer playing Ryze top) really showed that they were here to win and redeem their region as a whole.
Defeating the favourites for the second seed in Brazil’s KaBuM!, and narrowly missing out on a victory over Cloud9, DFM’s macro was confident and we could see clear logic behind most of their moves. A major question mark for most analysts comes in draft, wherein the team frequently shows too much of their hand too often, and bringing out the Soraka/Vayne lane during Group Stages additionally revealed an ace I’d assume was more comfortable up their sleeve.
Speaking of major question marks, Edward Gaming were the favourites of this entire stage of the World Championship, and arguably still are - despite a very poor showing versus LAN’s Infinity Esports during their second day of games.
As an organisation who, at one point (MSI 2015), looked like the best in the world, and then established dominance over their region in playoffs in the years following that, to be known as an international choker is rather disappointing.
But, even when the roster is a shadow of its former self, EDG have managed to show they deserve all of that criticism - except this time it’s not Fnatic 3-0ing them, and they’re not the 1st seed of China. After barely scraping through the gauntlet (admittedly with some solid form), arriving in Play-Ins to fanfare heralding them as the best team outside of group stages, China’s now-3rd seed did drop a game to the LAN wildcard. Most thought SuperMassive’s not-quite-an-upset victory over G2 would be the biggest surprise of group stages, but EDG find a way to let down analysts and fans once again. (Not to discredit INF; their team fighting was near-immaculate, nor EDG fans, who are used to being let down at crucial moments).
Let’s take a look at who we have favoured coming into this crucial series for the first third seed of four (try reading that back to yourself...) coming into the knockout stages of the 2018 League of Legends World Championship Play-Ins.
(favourites in bold)
Edward Gaming vs Detonation FocusMe
Ray vs Evi
Haro/Clearlove vs Steal
Scout vs Ceros
iBoy vs Yutapon
Meiko vs viviD
Note - I do not expect DFM to use their substitute botlaner Pink Bean as Yutapon is such an essential component to this team’s success
Ray vs Evi
The prodigal son of Cloud 9, perpetually in Impact’s shadow for their joint tenure in the renowned North American organisation, was expected to have a breakout 2018 following the immense growth he demonstrated last season. Sadly, however, Ray seems like the same hit-or-miss lovable toplaner as always - one day he will carry the team on his back, the next he will be dead weight and borderline invisible. This wouldn’t be as much of an issue if he wasn’t constantly drafted damage toplaners and expected to succeed in the splitpush - see EDG’s already infamous second game versus INF, where Ray was put on Fiora but never managed to secure a window of opportunity with which to splitpush or even buy his team time from being hard engaged on.
For DFM, and for fans of potential upsets in general, a highlight of Day 1’s games was Evi’s proficiency on Urgot - those ultimate missiles may as well have been jungler-seeking. He completely shut C9’s jungler Blaber out of the game for the first 30 or so minutes, until the rookie elected to purchase a Quicksilver Sash to varying degrees of success. Without the guaranteed 4v5 and AoE fear, DFM’s teamfights were quickly turned back on them and the game slipped out of their hands. However, whilst he didn’t make quite a bold statement as C9’s top Licorice, one has to praise Evi for being partially responsible for his team to be in such a winning position to begin with - intelligent roams coupled with his understanding of his champion really showed that Japan’s toplaner cannot be disrespected even if his laning phase is occasionally suboptimal.
Despite this, when Ray shines, he shines. The LPL’s toplane talent is considerably more skilled than the likes he is going to be matching up to here - or in most regional Leagues, honestly - and if EDG play the same disciplined, yet merciless. style they demonstrated in their previous game versus Oceanic’s Dire Wolves we could see the former C9 prodigy smash his way through this best of five in a dominating fashion, on Darius, Urgot, Aatrox, or something else entirely.
Or he could fumble, flounder around, and not do anything on a splitpush champion like his once-respected Fiora. You never really know what you’re going to get with Ray. At least with Evi you’re guaranteed a fearsome Urgot that EDG would be wise to ban away.
Haro/Clearlove vs Steal
I could wax poetic about Clearlove for about as long as he’s been playing competitively - upwards of six years now - but I think we’ll all find that general consensus is that he is now a shadow of his former self. Occasionally, he shows flashes of brilliance that signify a return to form, but he’s not head and shoulders above the rest of the competition like he used to be. That’s good news for DFM, but also good news for Haro, as when EDG play a seemingly inconsequential match they are likely to field Clearlove in order to scout and set their newer jungler up for success.
In fact, in the gauntlet on their way here, it was the trifecta of Haro, Scout, and iBoy that really set the EDG roster up for success. Clearlove brings his knowledge and veteran status to the team, reeling in the rookies when they get too overaggressive and undisciplined, but Haro’s devil-may-care playstyle fits so well with this team that games are frequently decided at the 15 to 20 minute mark when he is in peak form. The last game versus DW demonstrated EDG’s younger jungler’s proficiency - doubling the enemy jungler’s minion kills at 8 minutes and maintaining complete control of the middle and bottom lanes and snowballing a very early victory.
Speaking of junglers that simply do not seem to care, I absolutely adore just watching Steal swagger into the Baron pit and secure his team objective after objective. The Korean DFM jungler is often slept on, but is consistently proactive - looking for plays every time one presents itself and frequently reaping the rewards. However, it’s this playstyle that also results in him and the rest of his team wielding a double-edged sword every so often; after all, how many times have you got to be on the back foot in order to be renowned for your signature comebacks via Baron steals?
A combination of experience and higher highs truly makes me give EDG’s junglers the edge - after all, Haro is no Blaber - but if a team underestimates Steal’s tenacity in getting himself into that Baron pit they may find themselves with a game-deciding objective snatched away in an instant.
Scout vs Ceros
Faker’s almost-forgettable former shadow versus the poster boy of the LJL. A matchup that sounds competitive on paper; and yet, if you had mentioned it last week, I’m sure no one would’ve even considered the possibility that it might be a close matchup.
And yet, both of them are showing varying degrees of play - wildly propelling their teams to victories one game, and then being exposed and punished for overaggressions the next in Scout’s case and doing little more than waveclear for forty minutes in Ceros’.
Ceros’ ability to place faith in his teammates to carry is something you have to admire - his Karma fulfilling a supportive/waveclear role spectacularly - but there is a big questionmark as to whether or not you can truly trust in Yutapon to carry when versus someone as feared as iBoy. This isn’t to say that Ceros is unable to carry himself; a notable Zoe player, his Sleepy Trouble Bubbles are sure to keep the now-humbled EDG on their toes. His preference for Ziggs also suggests that poke, or at least kite-back-and-disengage, compositions are in the minds of DFM, but I doubt EDG will allow such a playstyle, or even draft, without constant pressure and punishment to disallow the team from even getting close to where they want to be in terms of agency.
Scout flourishes on control mages, but his true strength lies in assassins and midlane bruisers - whether it’s the must-ban Akali and Irelia, or his signature Yasuo, Faker’s previous protégé is truly a force to be reckoned with - especially since he can adapt to either of his junglers’ playstyles so effectively.
iBoy/Meiko vs Yutapon/viviD
Sure, Scout was in the shadow of Faker during his entire tenure with SKT, but iBoy is doomed to always be in Uzi’s shadow even if he finds opportunities to shine in a region renowned for being stacked with AD carries.
That hasn’t stopped him from trying yet, however. Outclassing domestic LPL AD carries like Smlz and LoKen on his way for the third seed, iBoy looked like a particularly redeeming factor for an EDG lineup bereft after the reverse Korean exodus that left the esteemed Chinese organisation without midlaner Pawn or superstar botlaner Deft. He has shown immense growth over the past year especially, but still finds himself lapsing into bad habits at times - such as when diving into an enemy team solo as Kai’sa when his success is his team’s primary win condition.
Enter Meiko. Deft’s former partner has truly come into his own over the past two years without his alpaca-esque first love, and dominating engages with Alistar, Rakan, and Thresh show that Meiko is the individual to target with the most bans, for fear of your team being completely steamrolled.
Conversely, should Meiko find himself relegated to Tahm Kench duty - as he has in the past - whilst his map rotations may be spectacular, there is a possibility that viviD picks up Soraka again and completely shuts out EDG’s support from lanephase alone. A pocket pick that perhaps would have been better suited to reveal in the later stages of the tournament (ie, in a few days’ time), DFM have shown they can prepare the unorthodox in order to hopefully perplex their opponents as they strive towards a victory.
Speaking of being perplexed, many were left confused by Yutapon’s Vayne pick - especially when the champion cannot take advantage of her 1v1 and splitpush potential until the 30 minute mark when games have typically been decided around the 20-25 minute mark. If you are going to draft around Yutapon’s Vayne, make sure you have tools with which you can give him time to get to an appropriate point from which he can carry - he has shown he can in the LJL, and very nearly has during this tournament, too.
The issue with drafting for late game versus Chinese teams - especially ones with superstar botlanes - is that you are likely to get overrun by early aggression before you can do anything. As such, I expect Yutapon to play something with much more pressure and freedom of agency in the early game - such as Varus - if he is looking to survive lane phase, even with a very much in-form viviD at his side.
EDG 3-0 DFM
On one side, we have a team that has played Bo5s versus JDG and RW, who both had competitive performances versus IG and RNG. On the other, we have a team that’s gone against... Pentagram? I expect to see a lot more preparation for, and well-thought out dismantling of, wildcard teams and their potentially surprising strategies in a Bo5 environment.
Players to Watch
iBoy / Steal
Scout’s mother may be in the audience and only watching him, but iBoy is who the EDG fans are counting on with his trademark aggression and (presumable) shutting out of Japan’s own superstar AD carry. On the other hand, because EDG will likely stomp every lane (which they have done in this tournament even when drafting for late - see their first game with INF), there’s a good chance Steal will have the opportunity to make another Baron play.
Photographs courtesy of LoL Esports’ Flickr.