The 2017 League of Legends World Championship main event is upon us. After a week of qualifiers in Wuhan, the top four teams have advanced to finalize the field of 16 that will play in the group stage next week. While three of the No. 1 seeds in the play-in round made it safely into the next round (Team WE, Cloud9, Fnatic), the Turkish champion, 1907 Fenerbahçe, upset No. 1-seed Hong Kong Attitude before besting Brazil's representative Team oNe to be the lone club from a non-power region to survive.
With the play-ins over and the four groups now ready to take to Summoner's Rift, let's take a look at the winners, losers and top storylines awaiting us as we get closer to a team lifting the Summoner's Cup from the Bird's Nest in Beijing next month.
EDward Gaming (China)
SK Telecom T1 (South Korea)
AHQ Esports (Taiwan)
Cloud9 (North America)
First reaction: Cloud9 is not as dead as it might appear. If it had been slotted into Group C, the only other group it could have gone to, things wouldn't have looked pretty. Instead, C9 got a group with tough opponents but avenues for advancing. After HKA's disappointing performance in the play-in stage, AHQ, a team at the same level or possibly even weaker than the already-eliminated LMS team, could be the easiest opponent of all teams remaining in the final 16. If we expect SKT to be SKT and advance with flying colors like it usually does, it would mean it will most likely come down to a duel with China's champion EDward Gaming and C9 to see who makes it to the bracket stage.
While EDG should be favored coming in, don't count out the NA third seed. Both C9 and EDG rely on their mid lane aces to lead them to victory, and although Lee "Scout" Ye-chan is a star in his own right, Nicolaj "Jensen" Jensen shouldn't be outmuscled. Another factor will be in the top lane, where supposed top lane starter Chen "Mouse" Yu-Hao is a fine utility/tank player, but could be easily abused by veteran and former world champion Jung "Impact" Eon-yeong in lane and tilt the scales over to C9. Not to mention, EDG's starting AD carry, Hu "iBoy" Xianzhao, will be the greenest player at the event, only becoming a starter in the middle of the summer season, and the pressure will be on him to perform. Qualifying through the play-ins might be a blessing in disguise for C9, as its rookie, Juan "Contractz" Garcia, gained valuable experience through the qualifying round and got himself settled on stage before the main event begins.
Group A's most interesting storyline: The Clappening Part II (?)
Last year at Worlds, Jensen announced he would clap the game's greatest player Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok in the group stages. Faker proceeded to destroy Jensen instead, and while C9 would eventually get out of the group and lose in the quarterfinals, SKT T1 went on to its second straight world title and third overall. Jensen is improved from last year, and all eyes will be on him if he can change anything with a year's worth of experience and practice under his belt. Also, Scout, the former protégé of Faker, will have his first chance to test himself against the man he trained under when his pro career first began.
My initial predictions for Group A
AHQ is done. Sorry, Taiwanese fans.
Jensen won't get "clapped" like he did last year by Faker, but SKT will still move out of the group without giving up a defeat to anyone.
EDG and C9 will play in a tiebreaker to move onto the quarterfinals. I'll get back to you in a few days on who I think will advance.
Where lots of people will be looking at this group as one of the most exciting, by the end of the two-week group stage it'll be looked upon as the most boring, with everyone wondering why anyone doubted SKT like every time it makes it to Worlds.
Longzhu Gaming (South Korea)
Immortals (North America)
Gigabyte Marines (Vietnam)
First reaction: Welcome to the most exciting group of 2017 Worlds! Longzhu, Immortals, and the Marines are three of the most proactive teams in the laning phase, and Fnatic, who has shown deficiencies in that area, will need to improve fast if it wants to advance. Longzhu is the clear favorite to make it out in the first spot, but from there it's a crapshoot who comes in second. Immortals hasn't played a game since it blew a 10k gold lead in the NA LCS final to TSM in Boston a month ago, and it'll be interesting to see how the team rebounds from such a gut punch of a loss. Former Immortals and now Fnatic coach Dylan Falco will get a chance to one-up his old team in the group, and two of League's all-time great top laners, Lee "Flame" Ho-Jong and Paul "sOAZ" Boyer, will get to meet when IMT and FNC clash.
The Marines, who will be looked at as the team drawing dead in the group, will have confidence going in. Fnatic went .500 against Marines' little brother, Young Generation, in the play-ins, and as an evolved, much stronger version of YG, the Gigabyte Marines should be looking to pick up where its Vietnam kin left off. Further, as the group stage is still best-of-one, GAM's wild, devil-may-care style of play has all the makings of a team that could upset anyone in the group, including the South Korea champion Longzhu.
Expect a lot of fights, kills and fireworks in this group. It's going to be a fun one.
Group B's most interesting storyline: Khan takes on all comers
In a group with sOAZ and Flame, the undisputed top laner coming in is no other than Longzhu's ace, Kim "Khan" Dong-ha. The most talked about player from any team coming into worlds, the carry-oriented top laner will have all eyes on him as the group stage kicks off with worthy opponents sizing him up in lane. SOAZ and Flame have been two of the best top laners for the last five years, and Khan, who only recently had a breakthrough as a player after years of mediocrity, has an opportunity at Worlds to put his name right alongside his peers in the group as one of the all-time greats at the position if he can keep up his performance from the summer domestic season. The fourth top laner in the group, Marines' Trần "Archie" Minh Nhựt, the team's captain and former starting support, is no slouch, either, having played professionally since 2012.
My initial predictions for Group B
Longzhu will drop a game. It'll still get out of the group 5-1, but like the ROX Tigers last year, it will at least lose one game before tearing up the bracket stage.
Khan's Jayce will be banned every single game he plays in the group stages ...
... And Khan, on some other champion, will get a Pentakill in one of LZ's games.
Gigabyte Marines won't go 0-6 in the group. It'll at least take one game, possibly two or more, depending on its form coming into the tournament.
G2 Esports (Europe)
Samsung Galaxy (South Korea)
Royal Never Give Up (China)
1907 Fenerbahçe (Turkey)
First reaction: What could've been the deadliest group in Worlds history got a bit softer with the landing spot of FB into it. That's not to say FB isn't a good team -- it is, as proved by its advancement from the play-in stage -- but this is a whole different beast than what came before for the Turkish champion. G2, Samsung, and Royal are three of the top 10 teams at the event, and FB showed glaring weaknesses in its best-of-five decider match with oNe that will be sliced open by the better teams in this group. Substitute jungler Lee "Crash" Dong-woo did well in the play-ins, but how is he going to fare when he's matched up with last year's runner-up in Samsung or the ultra-aggressive RNG? FB is going from splashing around in the local pool to being thrown into the Pacific ocean without anyone there to save it.
Group C's most interesting storyline: Rock, Paper, Scissors?
This is the same type of group that RNG and SSG were in last year at Worlds. There, though, the LCS champion was TSM instead of G2, and the "gimme" win was rookie team Splyce instead of FB playing with a sub jungler and coming from a non-power region. In that group, RNG, SSG, and TSM played to the final games to see who would make it out, and it was the Chinese and South Korean clubs who made it out in 2016. In 2017, G2 will hope to not fall into the same holes that cut TSM's tournament short last season and continue its momentum on the international stage following a finals appearance at the Mid-Season Invitational earlier this year. For FB, even a single victory out of this group would be considered a massive step forward for the Turkish region and its champion.
My initial predictions for Group C
RNG will beat G2, SSG will beat RNG, and G2 will beat SSG in the first week, giving us a perfect setup to the second week of group play with all three teams having a chance to advance.
FB will go 0-3 in the first week, but like Splyce last year, will play spoiler and take a game off one of the leading trio in one of its final games to shake up the group.
The commentators will mention how Kang "Ambition" Chan-yong recently got married at least three times during the group stage.
Park "Ruler" Jae-hyuk will get a Pentakill on Twitch.
Flash Wolves (Taiwan)
Team SoloMid (North America)
Team WE (China)
First reaction: This group got much more interesting with the inclusion of Team WE. The Chinese powerhouse comes in as a favorite to make it to the quarterfinals, even though it had some hiccups in its qualifying run through the play-ins. Flash Wolves, the four-straight champion of Taiwan, will need to perform for the good of its region, HKA already eliminated and AHQ in a group where it's hard to see how it advances. Taiwan was given a lot of respect last year at Worlds and that all fell away when FW failed to make it into the quarterfinals, and a mediocre MSI from the king of Taiwan didn't make the perception of the LMS any better. TSM, like FW, will also be searching for redemption, as it bombed out of Worlds last year in the "Group of Death" with a soft second-week performance.
Group D's most interesting storyline: Who actually is the best in Team D?
A week ago before the play-ins, the simple answer would have been Team WE. And though the team didn't drop a game in the opening round, WE did have issues in the early game and needed some heroics from its jungler Xiang "Condi" Ren-Jiev to keep its spotless record. At MSI, WE, TSM, and FW all played against each other, with TSM and WE splitting its two games, FW edging TSM 2-1, and WE sweeping FW 2-0. Those games for TSM were without starting AD carry Yiliang "Doublelift" Peng, though, so even those results can't be looked at too much. Misfits, the only non-MSI team in the group, wants to garner some respect in this group, and I think it has a chance to not only take a game or two, but possibly get out of Group D with some elevated performances from its key players.
My initial predictions for Group D
Barney "Alphari" Morris will establish himself as a world-class top laner.
One of these teams will try a 50/50 Baron against Condi, get it stolen, and then promptly lose two minutes later.
Misfits will at least win two games in this group.
Team SoloMid will get out of Group D as the top team.