SEOUL, South Korea -- Urgot. Aatrox. Urgot. Aatrox. Urgot. Aatrox. If one was banned, the other usually followed.
The two top lane champions were both drafted in the opening game of the 2018 League of Legends World Championship group stage on Wednesday, then banned in the second, and reappeared in the third. When both Urgot and Aatrox were left open post-ban, blue side selected one and red side selected the other.
In Game 3, Phong Vũ Buffalo top laner Phạm "Zeros" Minh Lộc locked in Urgot first and then as predicted, Flash Wolves Su "Hanabi" Chia-Hsiang picked Urgot. A minute-and-a-half into the contest, Hanabi leashed for his jungler, Kim "Moojin" Moo-jin, setting himself behind in a matchup that teams would typically want to snowball. Zeros is also the side-lane carry of Phong Vũ Buffalo, the focal point of some of the team's more creative lane swaps and assignments. Zeros had earned a lot of attention from whispers of scrim results, rightfully designating him as a primary carry for the Vietnamese team.
On Thursday, the second day of groups, Zeros would later have a standout performance in a Phong Vũ Buffalo's victory over G2 Esports. This day, however, he and his team were contained and it started with that jungle leash from Hanabi. The leash set Moojin ahead, and the Flash Wolves' jungler was able to affect the rest of the map.
"I think our jungler is always headed to bot so it's better for me to help him get ahead," Hanabi said. "Aatrox doesn't do too badly if I'm safe."
Unlike the majority of other teams at worlds like Royal Never Give Up bot laner Jian "Uzi" Zi-Hao, Gen.G's Park "Ruler" Jae-hyuk, or Edward Gaming's Hu "iBoy" Xian-Zhao, the teams of Group A are primarily known for playing around their top laners. The aforementioned Zeros is a pivot point for Phong Vũ Buffalo's aggressive playstyle. Kim "Kiin" Gi-in had a breakout year as the Afreeca Freecs' dominating carry, with explosive top lane performances, especially in the summer playoffs, and was chosen as South Korea's top lane representative at the 2018 Asian Games. Martin "Wunder" Hansen has had his own standout season as the top lane carry that helped earn G2 Esports Europe's third seed at worlds.
By contrast, Flash Wolves' starting top laner in the first two days of groups, Hanabi, didn't even play in the team's 3-0 sweep of MAD Team in the 2018 LMS Summer Split finals. Although Hanabi is known as more of a carry player than Yu "MMD" Li-Hong, he's still not a focal point in the same way as his Group A counterparts: Zeros, Kiin, and Wunder.
Flash Wolves is the lone exception in its group. The team plays more around bot laner Lu "Betty" Yu-Hung and support Hu "SwordArt" Shuo-Chieh. SwordArt's bot side vision control is some of the strongest in the world of any support. Despite not being a heavily top-focused team, the Flash Wolves found own footing in Group A, playing to its strengths and now sits on top of the group because of it. For his part, Hanabi appears to know his role, as shown by his performance against Zeros. Even while set behind, he performed well enough while Moojin gained team advantages in other lanes.
"He played very well today," Zeros said of Hanabi after the loss to Flash Wolves, "And played with the right strategy for his team."
Against the Afreeca Freecs, the Flash Wolves again adjusted its playstyle accordingly, playing more around Moojin gaining jungle advantages and focusing more on Hanabi on the top side of the map with a more aggressive Lee Sin pick.
"I picked Lee Sin because Lee Sin has a good early game and my teammates picked champions that didn't have a good early laning phase," Moojin said. "We were aware that Afreeca Freecs like to play early-game skirmishes and that's one of the reasons why I picked Lee Sin."
A Shen support pick for SwordArt also allowed the Flash Wolves to have more global priority once SwordArt reached Level 6. According to Moojin, this is why they targeted top side a lot more against the Freecs, especially with Kiin on Akali, a more carry-oriented champion.
The prevailing narrative in the west around the Flash Wolves is that whenever the team is expected to perform well, it performs poorly and vice versa. This year, after only two games, the team has already shown a strong understanding its own strengths, weaknesses, and an ability to adjust and adapt to opponents in draft, boding well for the remaining worlds competition.