BY KIEN LAM
Worlds. Thanksgiving. Christmas. One after another to end the year — they are all special occasions where you gather to be disappointed by people who are dear to you. With the conclusion of an exciting Play-in Stage, we now enter the Group Stage, which manages to surprise us every single year. All of the perennial titans have made it back to this stage, but only one of them will fly like a Phoenix (heh) and claim the Summoner’s Cup. Here’s 10 thoughts going into Groups!
1. What to expect from NA
First of all, nothing. Expectations are for people who like to be hurt. Second of all, that’s all of us since we still tune into Worlds every year, so what you should expect from NA and what you can expect are maybe aligned for the first time in a while. Team Liquid should make it out of Groups, and anything short of that is a massive failure. Beyond that, though, just kind of depends on the draw. I don’t think, for example, that there’s that much shame to KT losing to IG in the Quarterfinals last year — they may have been the two best teams at Worlds and they just unfortunately got matched early. As for C9 and Clutch? I think we should have pretty high expectations for C9, but it’s not like it would be bad for them to not make it out of their group. You’d hope they don’t get trounced, but at the end of the day, this is the first year for this iteration of C9. And meme as we will about them always making it out of Groups, it honestly hasn’t ever been easy for them. I think they’re a very good team and they still have some upside, but Group A is going to be extremely difficult. In particular, though, I’m excited to see if Svenskeren can continue his success from the Summer Split against some of the best junglers in the world. He’s had some poor showings at Worlds in the past, but if he can turn up here, that can lay all of those demons to rest. As for Clutch? I think it’s pretty obvious that they should win Worlds or it’s a complete bust.
2. Korean redemption?
When you think of the NFL, you think of the New England Patriots as winning all of the time, right? But did you know they didn’t win a single Superbowl between 2005 and 2015? If you’re my age, that’s kind of crazy to think about. When I look at SKT, there’s a part of me that think it’s about time they go win another one. There’s a part of me that thinks Korea is in a slump. And maybe they are! But in the grand scheme of things, if they go on to win, say, the next three Worlds, would you be surprised? I wouldn’t. And if they did, would you look at 2018 as a slump or as an aberration? That’s one of the reasons this Worlds is so interesting to me when I look at which teams are favored to win and which ones are not. For six years, Korea built an aura of invincibility, and then it all came crashing down. It took three international tournament shortcomings for us to tear down that veil. But there is a universe where a few years from now people will look back on us and call us dumb for counting Korea out. If you are a fan of Korean League of Legends, surely, there is a part of you that is still proud. And there is a part of you that wants to shut the rest of the world up. There is a part of you that wants to wake everyone up to a Korean Worlds again.
3. Group Anime
This group features a dragon, some clouds, a griffin, and a samurai, which means this group could be the hit anime of the fall season. After winning MSI, G2 followed it up by smashing their way through the LEC Summer Split (only FNC ever really stood a chance against them). By most accounts, they’re the favorite heading into Worlds, but it’s not without any reservation because they’re also famous for being inconsistent (Claps or Craps). Joining them in this group is a Cloud9 team that somehow always makes it out of the Group Stage (the real subplot is the script writers’ bias). From the LCK, it’s a much-hyped Griffin team that just parted ways with their coach (in part for failing to win the LCK), and from the LMS it’s HKA who passed the Play-in Stage without breaking much of a sweat. Griffin and C9 both come into this with a challenger mentality as both teams finished runner-up in their respective regional Finals last month, and it’s likely that coming out ahead in that head-to-head will be the difference in making it to Quarters or not. I expect G2 to win this group even if they stumble here or there, and I expect HKA to have the coolest logo. Keep an eye on the jungle position, as you have the MVPs of both the LCS and the LEC in Svenskeren and Jankos, and then you have Tarzan who has been touted as the best jungler in the world since last year. Basically, if your team is knocked out here, blame the jungler.
4. The easiest group ever?
Before I talk about this group, I want to draw your attention to the fact that Doinb’s dog looks like it runs on lithium batteries. It is halfway between being the cutest thing in the world and being a resurrected taxidermy, which means, of course, that we must protect it. Doinb is the anchor for an FunPlus Phoenix squad that is sure to turn some heads at this Worlds — the LPL is famous for their aggressive and sometimes unorthodox plays, and Doinb is one of the major catalysts for that. You can expect him to roam from his lane as early as the first minion (he may even try to roam over to his teammates during pick/ban). As the LPL #1 seed, FPX is the overwhelming favorite to take this group, and they’re also one of the contenders to win the entire thing. The rest of the group, though, is full of unproven entities, which means all of them are feeling like they lucked out. A group that’s up for grabs is always going to be a lot more interesting than a balanced group with two clear favorites. Levi’s return to GAM proved fruitful as they conquered the VCS Summer Split, and surely a lot of eyes will be on this team to see if they can recapture any of the magic that propelled them to international recognition in 2017. Or, better yet, can they take that next leap and be a major force now? CTBC J Team joins them as the #1 seed from the LMS, which means this group has the most regional champions out of the four, so what they’ll lack in outsider perception of the strength can be made up for with their pride as champions. Splyce rounds out the group as a hopeful from a strong LEC region — I’d say they’re as likely to escape this group as both GAM and JT, so they will serve as a good measuring stick for the relative strength for the regions. If the other teams struggle with SPY, then that bodes well for EU’s monster duo in FNC and G2.
5. One last run for the LMS
The LMS has struggled mightily on the international stage the last couple of years, including a dismal 3-16 combined group stage record at last year’s Worlds. With the Flash Wolves finally falling and the imminent end to the LMS as we know it on the slate, it’s one last chance for the league to make a splash. If you believe in beginnings and endings — if you are a sucker for narrative — then you should root for an LMS Worlds victory here. It would close out a long chapter in the League of Legends history books — one that began with a World Championship all the way back in 2012. None of the teams representing them have much to lose at this point. There aren’t any lofty expectations. They’re not the “Korean killers” anymore. The Korean teams aren’t even the final boss these days. They don’t have Karsa or Maple or SwordArT or any of their wolves. They have no fangs. They have nothing. Which means Worlds represents everything to them — there is only gain, and I hope they make this last dance their biggest haul yet.
6. C for Clutch
I think it’s pretty unfortunate that championship hopefuls like SK telecom T1, Fnatic, and Royal Never Give Up all had to end up in the same group as Clutch Gaming. Sometimes that’s just how the draw shakes up, but you could make a pretty strong case that those three teams are among the Top 5 teams at this tournament. In any other draw, you might see all three of them make it to the Semifinals, even. However, while it’s unfortunate for them, it’s extremely fortunate that we get to watch high level games with massive stakes for them from the get-go. A lot of times you’ll see teams start sluggish in the Group Stage as they try to find their form for the knock-out round, but doing that here could be disastrous for these three and Clutch. RNG and FNC mirrored each other in rebounding from weaker spring showings to make it to their respective Summer Finals, and both still harbor title aspirations after bitter endings last year. SKT, of course, didn’t even make it to Worlds last year, but they’re still considered the champion’s champion, and expectations are higher for them than anyone else at Worlds. Look towards bot lane in this group, where, including Clutch (for real this time), each of these rosters harbors a lot of confidence.
I think the initial reaction from a lot of Liquid fans upon seeing Damwon being drawn into their group was that it was unlucky. But at the end of the day, this is a completely unproven 3-seed from a region that has not won anything in about two years now (though NA hasn’t won anything ever). They are a rookie team with some extremely strong looking players, yes, but they also struggled down the stretch in the LCK Summer Split. If Team Liquid, as the greatest team in NA history and the MSI runner-up, can’t take care of them, then there’s no hope for them down the line anyway. IG is scary because people think of their MSI Group Stage or their 2018 Worlds run, but they’ve fumbled their way through the entire LPL Summer Split and look to be a shell of their height, in which we perhaps prematurely started to compare them to some of the greats in history. This is a group that should be ripe for picking for Team Liquid, and anything short of a first place finish will be a massive disappointment. That said, IG could, theoretically, revert back to their dominant form, and rookie Korean teams have made deep runs in the past. AHQ will be a major underdog here, but perhaps veteran top laner Ziv can lead the way. As you can see, though, it’s Team Liquid’s group to lose.
8. Return of the King
Since he started his career, Faker has only missed Worlds twice, and because his team has always made it to the Finals, that also means he’s only missed the Worlds Finals twice, which means he’s won over 10 games every single time he has been to Worlds. That’s good for a 75% all-time win rate at Worlds, which is a collection of the best teams in the world. And the two times he missed the event were when it was held in Korea, so technically he’s been physically in the area every single time. Even when he misses, he’s there. Incredible. SKT was knocked out in a close five-game set against the eventual MSI champion G2 back in May, but because the Finals was so lopsided, I think a lot of people are mistakenly claiming that anything short of winning Finals would be a failure for G2. SKT is just one of a handful of teams that should be able to contest them in a Best-of-5, and although they’re in one of the hardest groups in Worlds history, I think expectations from most fans will still be sky high for them. What I’m excited for is that Faker has a sort of mystical element to him when he plays. You expect him to create magic on the Rift in a way that defies what you’ve come to expect as realistic. Worlds feels a lot more like Worlds when he’s here, and it’s been three years since he last won it all — there is nothing more frightening than a hungry god.
This paragraph is only here so that I don’t get flamed for being biased. I will fill it up with a lot of fluff to trick the skimmers into thinking I am saying nice things about EU… Actually I will say in all honesty that if I made a Power Ranking before Worlds, I would have put G2 at 1st. My philosophy on these things simply is that your eye tests can only do so much when you’re trying to compare teams across regions, so that means if a team wins MSI and then wins their regional Summer Split, they’re automatically the favorite going into Worlds for me. G2 was by no means dominant at MSI, but when they performed well, they definitely proved they could beat anybody in the world (except IG :smug:). G2 also happens to be one of the most fun teams to watch in the world because of both their willingness and their ability to perform on unique champions. I think they’re the most difficult team to prepare for when it comes to pick and ban especially because they have deep pockets across every role, and even then they’re happy to flex their players into any number of positions. They also adapt well to changes in the meta, which is extremely important at Worlds where being too slow to change can mean you’re out before you even know what hit you. It’s been a long time since I’ve had this much fun watching a team, and I’m excited to see Worlds-caliber teams push them to their limit.
10. Final thoughts
Worlds means it’s time for the usual crazy discourse such as “Is Xmithie good?” and “Is China leaking scrims?” but not all of it has to be negative! This event should be a celebration of the best that League of Legends has to offer. Even though I’ve been TFT and only TFT the last couple of months, I still managed to clock over 200 games of Solo Queue this year, and I’m sure many of you have played much more than that. Or perhaps you’ve played less, or perhaps you’ve played mostly ARAMs or TFT as well. The point is these players stand at the pinnacle of League of Legends as we know it, so even if they’re only the 16th best team in the World, that’s still pretty damn good! So I hope we take the time to celebrate their accomplishments as much as we choose to be critical of their play. I’m not saying you have to pacify yourselves, but at the end of the day you’re only going to be able to say a single thing at a time, and maybe it would benefit you and everyone around you to be positive here or there. So if you could just put aside your NA and EU memes for a second, I hope we can all gather to focus on the real enemy, which is Ivern jungle. May it never see the light of day again. Amen.