I think that it’s safe to say that these were the most exciting, upset-rife, and overall chaotic group-stages we have ever had in a World Championship.
Pleasant surprises accompanied bitter disappointment - many a heart aches for Vitality - and we’re left with the eight most formidable teams in the world right now. Four matches over two days; eight teams enter and four continue on with their eyes still firmly set on the Summoner’s Cup. But who will be the one to claim the prize, or even be part of the ones to proceed through this part of the tournament? Best-of-1 surprises be damned, because Best-of-5 is a different scenario entirely. Here we go!
KT Rolster vs Invictus Gaming 80/20
The only Korean team to not have a disappointing start - or finish - to their World Championship this year, it’s certainly fitting that after franchise player Score finally wins a title (LCK Summer 2018) with the organisation he has spent the majority of his LoL career on, KT have come in looking like frontrunners to take it all - or, at least, make an appearance in the finals. Also fitting is the fact that one of the few players remaining in China from the original Korean exodus at the end of 2014, Rookie, is going to be matching up against the organisation that he pretty much started his career with - and led to a title in the LCK (then OGN) Summer of 2014. Historical significance aside, the contrast in play-styles between these two teams is something to pay close attention to - KT’s slow, methodical play to slowly strangle out leads versus IG’s tendency to take over a game and thrive in chaos are pretty much the epitomes of their respective leagues. KT’s resilience under pressure and no-nonsense attitude towards early shenanigans is why they have the edge here, though a Rookie 1v9 would be the most appropriate and beautiful thing we could ever hope to witness.
Player(s) to Watch: Smeb & Rookie
Whether we see a rematch of the Korean toplane kings (from the Season 5 World Championship Grand Final!), or Smeb getting to show how he matches up against the new generation of Korean-in-China talent, we are in for an explosive toplane matchup. Despite this, we seriously can’t disregard the possibility of Rookie taking over the game and 1v9ing - after all, last time these two players met in Korea, Smeb was considered a bottom tier player (he later had a complete renaissance when joining the Tigers). In fact, all of KT’s roster, barring new talent Ucal, was playing against Rookie during his time in Korea - and now is his chance to show them how much he has grown. A blind pick LeBlanc here, an Irelia ban there, and the hope that we don’t see the most mechanically talented midlaner since Faker himself shoehorned onto Galio or Malzahar duty will certainly follow us into this match.
Prediction: KT 3-0 IG
Royal Never Give Up vs G2 Esports 70/30
Even when taking into consideration the fact that EU is my home region, and the particular affection I have for this incarnation of G2 Esports (Wadid <3), it should still not be a surprise that I consider them to be heavy underdogs coming into this matchup. Actually, I had them coming in as underdogs in their Regional Qualifier match versus FC Schalke 04, and I also slept on them in group stages - expecting a dignified, yet also quick exit from the Worlds stage when faced down with a very scary Afreeca / Flash Wolves and enigma that is Phong-Vu Buffalo.
I’m pretty sure I should stop counting G2 out now, considering they’ve made it all the way to the quarterfinals off of the back of one surprising performance after another - and yet I still fear that this could be the end of the 2018 World Championship journey for this team, now that they’re facing down tournament favourites Royal Never Give Up. However, it’s important to note that Flash Wolves looked very good against RNG in the group stages of MSI this year - and yet they were knocked out of quarterfinals contention by this G2 roster.
Still, RNG have had a golden year - winning MSI, Asia Games, and both LPL splits - and China looks to finally wrangle away a World Championship title from the grips of Korea thanks to this star-studded line up. Favourites to win, a quarterfinals exit is not something this team - and their literal legions of fans - are going to be content with.
Player(s) to Watch: Hjarnan & Uzi
Hjarnan, Hjarnan, Hjarnan. How many carry performances does one man have to put out before he stops receiving most of the blame for G2’s losses? Even when without his signature Heimerdinger, Europe’s second-favourite Swedish marksman has received Forgiven’s blessing and put out more than adequate performances on the likes of Jhin and Kai’sa. Unfortunately, “more than adequate” doesn’t cut it against the singular best AD carry in the world (and soon-to-be Nike athlete) Uzi. RNG (and the LPL)’s franchise player put on some dominating performances - both in and outside of lane - and it wouldn’t be surprising to see a 20-30 CS lead at the 15 minute mark for China’s superstar in the botlane. Even if Heimerdinger does get through for G2, expect RNG’s notably experienced coach Heart to have a non-Mordekaiser counterpick prepared.
Prediction: RNG 3-1 G2
Afreeca Freecs vs Cloud9 60/40
Up next, we have two teams that had been held to vastly different expectations coming into this tournament - Afreeca Freecs were expected to look a great deal more comfortable when securing their first seed, and Cloud9’s chances to escape a group with tournament favourites Royal Never Give Up and the previous World Champions Gen.G were not stellar - and yet, here we are. C9 come in with a very much in-form Licorice, Svenskeren, and Zeyzal, alongside a consistent Jensen and Sneaky - unshaken by their initial loss to RNG in the group stage, this lineup proceeded to cleanly rise through the standings and comfortably slot into the second seed, largely off of the All-Star-candidate-worthy performances of rookie toplaner Licorice. Afreeca had a similarly dismal beginning to their tournament, but looked like an entirely different team in the second round robin - going from 4th place all the way to 1st before some fans had even managed to wake up and watch the games. Kramer in particular looked phenomenal in the teamfights that led to Afreeca securing their spot in the quarterfinals, and if he can maintain that level of play for the remainder of the tournament, we have a definite title contender in the form of Korea’s 2nd seed.
Player(s) to watch: Licorice & Kramer
For those up-to-date with League of Legends esports personalities’ Twitter accounts, there was a debate after C9’s quarterfinals qualification as to just who discovered C9’s rising talent in the toplane, Licorice. Whilst a clear answer wasn’t established, it’s no wonder that everyone is trying to lay claim to North America’s most promising rookie this year - he solokilled LetMe in their first game versus RNG and almost carried the game. Consistently performing somewhere between above average and outstanding, Licorice’s Worlds performances have been unprecedented so far - and we will see if Kiin, considered by many to be the best toplaner in Korea right now, can stop him in his tracks. Hecarim is C9’s go-to counter for Aatrox, but will Reapered dare to disrespect Kiin enough to give him such an impactful champion? We’ll find out soon enough, and all eyes will be on Licorice to see if he can rise to the occasion - pocket counterpick or not. On the other side of the equation (and map), we have Kramer - as aforementioned, his performances in the botlane for Afreeca this tournament have been nothing short of spectacular. Whether facilitating Tusin’s roams in lane, or simply outputting insane amounts of damage through clever positioning in teamfights, Afreeca’s oft-substituted AD carry is reminding everyone why he was the one they chose to keep on the starting roster this time around. Botlane is especially interesting here because the radical difference in performance between the two teams’ marksman and support was the main reason for C9’s initial loss against RNG - and we’ll see if Kramer can take over a game (or three) like Uzi did.
Prediction: AFs 3-1 C9
Fnatic vs EDward Gaming 70/30
FNC are in prime form, systematically dismantling LPL second seed IG two games in a row to clinch the first seed of Group D - and their next opponents in their road to the final are the LPL’s third seed, EDG. Domestically, EDG look considerably less formidable than IG - though that was already fairly evident from their respective roads towards qualifying for the World Championship in the first place. Broxah, Caps, and Rekkles all put on strong carry performances yesterday, but it’s the constant support of Soaz/Bwipo and Hylissang that truly allows the individuals on this roster to shine. Fortunately for LPL enthusiasts, it’s not all doom and gloom for EDG, as their botlane in particular has a tendency to take over games in the blink of an eye - I expect a ban on iBoy’s Xayah, or in the very least for FNC to secure Rakan for themselves here, or else they may quickly find the road to Incheon is a rougher one than expected.
Player(s) to watch: Caps & Scout
Caps has heavily outclassed his opponents (both domestically and internationally) in the latter parts of this season, but seemingly hit a brick wall with a similarly-tenacious Rookie. Scout’s highs are not nearly as high as Rookie’s, and his lows are certainly more frequently occuring - it will surely be a spectacle to see whether FNC’s up-and-coming (or, I suppose, already here yet still growing) Danish midlaner can completely rend asunder the enemy team by exposing his counterpart yet again, or if the man that spent the formative years of his career in Faker’s shadow can take down “Baby Faker.” Expect Irelia and Akali bans in the very least, though both players are also relatively proficient with the Lissandra counterpick should either get through. Whether on Ryze, Cassiopeia, Syndra, or something else entirely, this midlane matchup is guaranteed to be explosive.
Prediction: FNC 3-0 EDG
Regardless of who comes out on top this worlds, all of these teams earned their place here and we are surely in for the show of a lifetime. Enjoy the games and remember to do your Pick ‘Em!
Images Via: LoL Esports' Flickr