To say that Afreeca Freecs‘ performance has been a disappointment so far wouldn’t be a far stretch – and I’m not just speaking on behalf of everyone’s Pick ’ems. The almost-star studded roster qualified for Worlds this year off of championship points; a second-place finish in Spring accompanied by a later third-place berth in Summer cemented their appearance at this most prestigious of events. Thanks largely to support Park “TusiN” Jong-ik’s impressive performances on playmaking engage champions in Spring – a fearsome Alistar, Rakan, and Thresh player in his own right – and up-and-coming superstar in the making (and player to watch) Kim “Kiin” Gi-in, even the less-established members of this lineup had a considerable amount of well-deserved hype behind them. If Afreeca showed up, they could challenge for the title – and yet they haven’t. From shortcomings in draft, to inconsistencies in the jungle position, the Freecs have yet to surprise the other teams in their group – instead only surprising LCK fans and viewers.
Initially looking like the strongest team of the group by far, Taiwan’s Flash Wolves had a surprising defeat at the hands of G2 Esports. Their signature teamfight-centric composition looked set to claim victory on paper, as long as they could get to the stage of the game from which midlane staple Huang “Maple” Yi-Tang and stalwart botlaner Lu “Betty” Yu-Hung could carry. And yet it was clever usage of a splitpush composition – and an overcommit for Baron Nashor – that ultimately spelled doom for the Flash Wolves as they lost the remainder of their base due to disrespecting a Camille’s splitpush potential. Regardless, perhaps a defeat that was an upset of such magnitude has lit a fire under the already ferocious Flash Wolves, and I expect a more disciplined and decisive performance out of Group A’s favourite to advance if they are to claim the coveted first seed.
Looking out-of-sorts at times at points of their journey through the Play-Ins stage, European superteam G2 Esports were placed in a scenario where they were treated as the antithesis of Afreeca – not particularly awful by any means, but certainly not expected to win many (if any, given rumours and past evidence of Vietnam’s strengths) games – and yet here we are. Europe’s former Kings find themselves tied for first in their group as we progress to the second half of this round robin, pleasantly surprising fans and analysts alike – and they didn’t even need to rely on Petter “Hjarnan” Freyschuss’ signature Heimerdinger to topple the surging Flash Wolves. In fact, given their apparent strength in Bo1 scenarios (and other teams’ weaknesses), it wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that G2 are in a good position to secure the first seed for themselves… provided Marcin “Jankos” Jankowski can play at a better level than he did versus PVB, and Martin “Wunder” Hansen can maintain the insane level of form he has demonstrated so far.
We had heard rumours surrounding Vietnam’s Phong V? Buffalo as soon as the group draw went through – and yet everyone’s favourite for 4th place in their group’s Pick ’em have certainly made a name for themselves throughout the first round robin. Aggressive, teamfight-centric compositions show their confidence in their abilities to play as a unit, but there’s only so much a draft centered around Rakan and Galio can do for a team without further follow-up. Support Nguy?n “Palette” Hai Trung’s Rakan in particular was solid for someone so renowned for playing ranged supports domestically, and PVB have shown that whilst they might be underdogs, they can certainly upset. I hope G2 have learned from their mistakes, because given how close this group is right now, another PVB win could spell doom for one of the other teams here.
All of these teams have a play-style that is usually more hectic and chaotic than the other teams in their leagues, so expectations were that any of them could over-perform (or choke) and surprise in a best-of-1 format. Any of these teams could really make a statement here – but unfortunately for the teams of Group A, with chaos comes inconsistency and whilst it’s clear as to which Afreeca Freecs we’ve seen so far… the other teams aren’t so clear-cut. Even AFs themselves could make a resurgence and stake a claim for a quarterfinals berth, depending on which face of the team we see tomorrow – and it’s very obvious as to which one we’ll need to see tomorrow if they are to escape from this group.