WUHAN, China -- As the first week of the League of Legends World Championship Group Stage closed, the heat of the city grew heavier. Still, waves of fans marched toward the stadium, beset by scalpers and the sun.
Without LPL team EDward Gaming, and in the wake of its 0-3 scoreline, scalpers were in greater force, and the stadium marginally quieter. But on the final day of Week 1, ample reason remained for raucous cheering.
Both Chinese teams won their final games against Flash Wolves and G2 Esports, respectively. As Misfits Gaming and 1907 Fenerbahce Esports acquired unexpected advantages, fans whipped out extra leaflets of paper and drew signs with black pen ink including "Hans sama > Doublelift" and "Hans sama is the cutest." During his interview with the LPL hostess, Candice, Steven "Hans sama" Liv's shyness and undisguised excitement after a victory over Team SoloMid made him an immediate crowd favorite.
But none of that matched the roar that ended the day when Royal Never Give Up's Jian "Uzi" Zihao flanked G2 Esports at Baron. RNG became the first League of Legends Pro League team to end Week 1 undefeated since 2014's Star Horn Royal Club. The failures of EDward Gaming vanished from the previous day, and two LPL teams finished the week at least tied for first in their groups.
Misfits manage the three-way tie
The ability to use Shen and Leblanc effectively compensates for any scaling deficiency perceived for Leblanc. A Shen ultimate comboed with an assassin diving into a fight makes it nearly impossible to burst through the shield, ensuring safety for the Leblanc without heavy crowd control, and protection when the ult finishes channeling.
Misfits used this combination in later fights throughout the game to eliminate Yiliang "Doublelift" Peng's Kog'Maw. Barney "Alphari" Morris managed to keep pressure on the bottom side of the map to set up for good Baron contests, and Tristan "PowerOfEvil" Schrage wove into fights. At around 40 minutes and 30 seconds, Misfits set up a play by using Alphari to push out the wave on bottom side and PowerOfEvil to push top.
This set up for a collapse mid at the time of Baron spawn two minutes later and kept Kevin "Hauntzer" Yarnell locked in bottom river to answer the push, limiting the locations he could flank and ensuring Misfits' control of top side. TSM had no recourse to respond to the slow push on top pressuring its base turret.
But the later map play didn't account for how well Nubar "Maxlore" Sarafian played the map early on. With a start bot, Maxlore said that he had time for a full clear because there wasn't an opportunity for him to make a play top with Renekton pressuring Shen. But on return to the match, he dove bottom to get Misfits an advantage in the Xayah and Janna lane.
"Playing around bot is just better," Maxlore explained. "Everything is about the AD carry and getting Ardent, then using that mid."
Team SoloMid have a history of playing around top on red side games, and with the strong Renekton matchup, it had more reasons for the jungle to look for options on that side.
"Against Flash Wolves," Maxlore said, "we were afraid to make mistakes, and we just don't want to give into pressure."
The win by Misfits set up a crucial four-way tie in Group D. It put Team SoloMid in a precarious situation for the next week. With Cloud9 and Immortals both 2-1 in their groups against struggling Fnatic, EDward Gaming, ahq e-Sports and GIGABYTE Marines, North America's first seed may be its most vulnerable.
Regardless of G2's 1-2 record or Fnatic finishing Week 1 0-3, EU LCS teams have still performed better in than their disappointing 8-1 finish in 2016. What's more, Misfits have the opportunity to sneak past TSM first in the group and repeat a European semifinal appearance at the World Championship for the third consecutive year. It's almost enough to make a tradition.
With or without Ambition
When Samsung Galaxy made its surge through the qualifier, Kang "Ambition" Chanyong was a significant factor. In Samsung's near loss to 1907 Fenerbahce Esports, Ambition sat on the bench in favor of Kang "Haru" Minseung. While Haru had an aggressive early game, the situation worsened for Samsung throughout the mid game.
Lee "Crown" Minho got collapsed upon multiple times by members of 1907 Fenerbahce Esports with side lanes pushing in their favor. When Ambition plays, he often heads mid to help Crown reinforce mid before every back with vision or assistance in pushing the wave to allow Crown a favorable opportunity to itemize or roam.
Haru didn't have this same impact.
Additionally, Crown seemed lost after he left mid. Long known for his side laning Viktor, Crown seemed intent side-laning with Syndra -- even against the likes of Ekko, a strong counter and split-pushing champion. As a result, Samsung lost top side control and couldn't contest river vision against 1907 Fenerbahce Esports' tank line. Members of LongZhu have said that Ambition is key to its communication, and that moment shone through.
"Yesterday, we lost in the early game," Gwak "Bdd" Boseong said after the match, "so we wanted to play for early game today."
Samsung's established skill is in top side wave control and keeping vision on Baron. With Ambition, its early game often lacks crisp picks and snowball, which may be why Haru makes it into the jungle rotation, as he seems more comfortable on the likes of Ezreal. Yet, when he makes the roster, Samsung's calling card collapses. The choices the team makes may fundamentally impact Samsung's ability to escape first in its group or even not get out entirely going into Week 2.
Royal Never Give Up's unorthodox approach to a 3-0 week
The crowd couldn't contain its excitement well before the final match of the day, and outbursts of cheers for RNG irreverently interrupted the Chinese broadcast interview with Crown. But as soon as Royal Never Give Up locked in its composition against G2 Esports in the final match of the day, another member of the press asked me who I thought would win the match. G2 Esports seemed like the logical answer.
Not only had Royal Never Give Up drafted losing side lane matchups and a losing jungler, but its compositions didn't scale particularly well for teamfighting if G2 chose to itemize properly. Just buying Ninja Tabis could have a major impact on the Jayce and Twitch combination as the game progressed.
Yet pick style champions like Jayce and Twitch have historically proved effective against G2's occasionally awkward positioning. Royal Never Give Up further capitalized on this by picking up three early sweepers on Liu "Mlxg" Shiyu, Li "xiaohu" Yuanhao and Shi "Ming" Senming.
Ming had emphasized to me the importance of denying vision of the enemy team from Royal's perspective on the first day, but it came out very clearly against G2. Royal went for kill-favored trades over pressuring nearly felled turrets so that, as the game progressed, its champions could force G2 off waves and ensure continued vision control. That allowed Uzi to find easy flank opportunities on Twitch and limit G2's ability to look for dragons or Barons.
Of course, the local crowd cared very little about the details.
I sat in the press room watching the game on delay on my personal laptop, but I could hear the crowd scream when a fight went favorably for Royal from through the walls. I could hear it again on the monitors set up in the press room, and then finally see the teamfight unfold in front of me.
Saturday's mass of fans waiting to give EDward Gaming encouragement at the end of an 0-3 week clutched at the plastic dividers in jubilant expectation to close the week. At least for today, when two LPL teams ended at the top of their groups (WE tied with TSM and Misfits), EDward Gaming's transgression was forgotten.
The 5-4 scoreline LPL achieved became a 5-1.
"We expect Samsung at least to make a comeback in Week 2," Mlxg said after the match.
Royal don't see a first seed as a sure thing. The fates of a 3-0 team can easily turn into a 3-3 as the second week mounts, especially with 1907 Fenerbahce Esports showing an upside.
Yet Royal Never Give Up, an all-Chinese team in China, overcame an LCK team and the first seed of the EU LCS to 3-0 its first week at the World Championship. The same Royal organization that was part of the early wave of Korean player imports and found success in a final appearance at the close of 2014 has an opportunity to repeat its fortune, but with an all-Chinese roster and Uzi still as the centerpiece.
That's more than enough to end the week on.