Tuesday, January 16, 2018

EU LCS Spring 2018 Predictions and Preseason Bets

Europe is looking to be absolutely chaotic but I'll throw my stick in the pile so I have my predictions in writing somewhere.

I'll go worst to first but I want to say that I feel theres a massive gap between the top 5 (maybe 6) and bottom 5 (maybe 4) teams. The bottom teams appear to have no solid identity, direction, and likely missed the boat on a lot of the free agents they might have wanted or some other managerial shortcoming.

C Tier Teams:

10) H2k
Roster: SmittyJ, Santorin, Caedrel, Sheriff, Sprattel, Veteran (Coach)
Odds to win split (via the sports books): 50 to 1

H2 what... the hell is this? For an organization with as much success as H2k as had this roster is not exactly exciting or hopeful. Maybe the savvy, underachieving veterans can guide the young carries to success or maybe they'll get stomped and the new kids will have to put the old ones on their back. Not an easy ask for a couple of kids who are effectively rookies. There isn't a single elite player, hell there isn't a single above average player on this team besides maybe Santorin and it would take multiple people VASTLY overperforming expectation to have even a remote shot at playoffs (Sprattel and Caedrel are the most likely). I'm not buying this squad and the books aren't either. They look like they were thrown together at the last minute and that's a bad formula especially if you don't have elite talent to carry you.

9) Unicorns of Love
Roster: WhiteKnight, Kold (Trashy), Exileh, Samux, Totoro, Sheepy (Coach)
Odds to win split (via the sports books): 12 to 1

I have no idea what the books are thinking at 12 to 1 other than the fact that people love this team for their novelty. Trashy, now known as Kold, as by far the best player on this team and while I thought he was quite good last split he wasn't even a top 3 jungler to me so he's not quite on the level of a Maxlore type where he can carry a team alone. Totoro was one of the most two-faced players in Korea, Exileh may have been the worst professional mid laner in the combined major regions, and Samux is average at best when compared to the ADCs from this region. WhiteKnight has been hyped over and over and over and we finally get to see him so if this team is going to overperform this ranking he'll be the reason. I'm just not buying this team. They have a fair amount of upside if you consider that Exileh can't possibly perform much worse than he has so far in his career but I think that's the optimistic side of things. This ranking could change if they find a new mid laner but it's been long enough that I'm going to stay bullish on this call and say they're bottom two. You can't be a good team in any region with a mid lane this weak and his outer lanes aren't good enough to pick up that slack unless WhiteKnight is some kind of god. Trashy can't do this all himself. 

8) Team Vitality
Roster: Cabochard, Gilius, Jiizuke, Minitroupax, Jactroll, YamatoCannon (Coach)
Odds to win split (via the sports books): 20 to 1

Maybe Vitality knows something everyone else does in these carry players but I'm not going to bet on that. Typically Yamato's teams do really well in their first split or two and then fall off. He's like the Peter Laviolette of League of Legends; his players seem to burn out and stop playing for him or other teams figure out his systems within a set time but until they do they're excellent. I like Cabo and Gilius as players (and swag lord trash talkers) but I just don't see it with this lineup. Gilius seems crazy confident but he literally always is. Unless this team is another iteration of the YamatoCannon first split special I don't see them making playoffs. 

7) Giants Gaming
Roster: Ruin, Djoko, Betsy, Steelback, Targamas
Odds to win split (via the sports books): 40 to 1

As with some of these other bottom teams I'm not completely well versed on every single player but this team doesn't really pop off the page and a lot of their signings happened VERY late in the process. This Giants organization perplexes me. All last year they preached that they wanted to maintain a full Spanish lineup and then they went back on it, and now they're without a single Spanish speaker. It's not really a knock on the team directly but teams with shakey management that players can't trust tend to get the slimmest pickings in free agency because nobody wants to play for you and while it means less in esports it still means something. Combine that with the fact that I'm just not a big fan of the known quantities on this roster (Betsy, Djoko, and Steelback) and I can't give them any better than this BUT seeing as they have three veterans and two of them are average to above average in Betsy and Steelback I'll give this team 7th.

--------------------------

B Tier Teams:

6) Roccat Gaming
Roster: Profit, Memento, Blanc, HeaQ, Norskeren
Odds to win split (via the sports books): 20 to 1

I'm going to put Roccat here but I'll admit this is more of a gut feeling and maybe a stupid one. I think the bottom of Europe is pretty terrible overall (Roccat included) but of these bottom teams, Roccat have the most upside and I'm going to buy into that however unreasonable it may be. The question here is communication and synergy. Korean solo lanes and Scandanavian jungle and bot lane. Profit didn't look particularly great on NIP last split which makes me skeptical but this was a premier Korean solo queue player that spent a split with the legendary SK Telecom organization. I'm giving some weight to the "it can't be worse" argument here but he's been in Europe for twice as long now as he did at the start of Summer. Blanc has some brief LCK starting experience on Jin Air, a point to which you don't get without being promising as a talent. He is a fellow Korean solo queue star that Profit can perhaps guide in the adjustment to Europe and in in-game communication.  Norskeren was a sought after support prospect for a lot of teams and was maybe the most intriguing prospect besides Upset in free agency. The upside is there and I'm going to bet maybe they meet at least SOME of that after a rough start to push for playoffs.

-----------------------

A Tier Teams:

5) Splyce Gaming:
Roster: Odoamne, Xerxe, Nisqy, Kobbe, Kasing, Peter Dun (Coach)
Odds to win the split (via the sports books): 9 to 1

Three solid players in Odoamne, Nisqy, and Kobbe, a seemingly crestfallen veteran looking to reignite the spark, and... just an average jungler guy is sadly better than half of the EU LCS right now. Nisqy gets a lot of respect from other European mids which means something and one of the constants is that people think he's got so much more potential than he's gotten to show. If Nisqy can step up to the next level and Kasing can recapture at least some of his former glory (remember when he was the best support in EU?), this team could go somewhere but I think they're just a solid bet to make playoffs and not much more. Splyce have a high enough floor for me to put them a cut above the bottom 5 but I also think their ceiling isn't quite as high as Roccat and MAYBE Giants as well.

4) Misfits Gaming
Roster: Alphari, Maxlore, Sencux, Hans Sama, Mikyx, Daku (Coach)
Odds to win the split (via the sports books): 9 to 2 (4.5:1)

I'm not in alignment with the books here but they're probably relying on bettors looking at Misfits' run at Worlds. I still think this is a solid team. They weren't winning based on tremendous lanes, they were winning with great game planning, a good read on the metagame, and Maxlore performing like a world class jungler. The question I have with this squad is whether or not their downgraded (in my opinion) replacements will matter if Misfits team based play directed by Maxlore can prevail. I was never a huge fan of PowerofEvil but Sencux is a downgrade to me and unless Sprattel finally performs like the solo queue superstar everyone hypes him up to be Sheriff is going to struggle as well. I'm betting the teamwork and synergy aspect won't prevail but this is still a collection of solid players that are, overall, a cut above the bottom tier of Europe's pool. Add a top tier jungler and I think they're a playoff team AT WORST but I'm not sure they have the same upside that betting markets seem to be giving them.

3) FC Schalke 04
Roster: Vizicsacsi, Pridestalker, Nukeduck, Upset, Vander, Krepo (Coach)
Odds to win the split (via the sports books): 6 to 1

A solid roster with a good mix of veterans and prospects that will benefit from the rest of the region being extraordinarily weak. I'm putting them at 3rd under the assumption that Upset and Pridestalker are just replacement level. The two of them have a TON of upside and if they can meet the hype they're getting this team could take the split down. If the perfect storm happens and Nukeduck can recapture some of his previous greatness (not that he's been particularly bad), then the sky is the limit for this team and I could see them becoming the new team to beat in Europe come the end of the year.

2) G2 E-sports
Roster: Wunder, Jankos, Perkz, Hjarnan, Wadid, Grabbz (Coach)
Odds to win the split (via the sports books): 4 to 1

I think people are going to be down on G2 because they've only returned one player but that player is the best player in Europe (Perkz) and the four new players are all top tier (for Europe). There's a chance this team has synergy issues but they have the players and their roster makes sense. I could be wrong by having them a tier below Fnatic but I want to see a split from them before I put them there.

-------------------------------------------------------

S Tier Teams: 

1) Fnatic
Roster: sOAZ, Broxah, Caps, Rekkles, Hylissang, Dylan Falco (Coach)
Odds to win the split (via teh sports books): 7 to 4 (1.75:1)

Fnatic have continuity, three or maybe four of the individual strongest players in the entire league in Rekless, Caps, and sOAZ (and Hylissang with Mithy gone). Stylistically the replacements fit and compliment the strengths and weaknesses perfectly and the rest of the region has weakened while they have strengthened. To me Fnatic are in a tier of their own. To me the only teams that could take them down are G2 and FC Schalke from day one and anybody else would have to vastly overachieve my personal expectations. 


Preseason Bets and Predictions:

Value Bet to Win the Split: Roccat Gaming at 20 to 1 (alternate: FC Schalke 04 at 6 to 1)

This bet is meant to get the most bang for your buck. A team that isn't likely to win but is perhaps the most likely of the unlikely choices to do so. I think this Roccat roster has a surprising amount of upside. It's not unreasonable to think the Korean solo laners could come in and just run wild on people. Historically these two haven't done that but the level of competition isn't exactly through the roof here. Norskeren and Memento are really promising prospects that a lot of teams were trying to acquire and HeaQ was surprisingly good last season. Not very likely but If I had to pick a big underdog it'd be Roccat. Schalke is the alternate pick because I think their infrastructure spending, overall quality of players, and clear team identity could lead to them overcoming heavy favorites Fnatic.

Spring Split MVP: Caps (Fnatic)

To me Fnatic are a cut above the rest of the league this split partially because of the known quantities but if you look at the strengths of the next few strongest teams it all flows through the mid lane. I'm not super high on Nukeduck but he could return to form with a good roster around him and become an absolute monster like he did years ago but I'm moreso referring to Perkz. If Fnatic is going to win this split G2 is going to be the primary competition and Caps is going to have to outperform Perkz. He's young, he's shown promising talent, and just needs to grow into being a professional player and make more mature decisions in game to reach his full level and he's close. I think he arrives this season.

Biggest Disappointment: Unicorns of Love

12 to 1? Seriously? Has anybody even looked at this team because I doubt they have. The public loves UoL. They're goofy, play weird stuff, and sometimes win and people like that but they're never really that good and that was when they at least had good players. This is a bad team with a single good player, MAYBE two if a prospect in WhiteKnight erupts onto the scene. I don't see this team even making playoffs, in fact I have them as one of the worst two teams in the league. STAY AWAY!

Friday, November 3, 2017

Worlds 2017 - Semifinal Takeaways and Grand Finals Prediction

Samsung defeat World Elite 3 - 1

       Both semifinals were, to me, really close matchups that were no more than 60-40 matchups even if you felt strongly about one team or the other but ultimately the stronger teams took the longer series. Samsung's player quality and new-found strategic depth really put World Elite in a bind in the drafts and more or less gave Samsung all the leverage making it their series to lose. World Elite showed their curveball earlier in the series and didn't really have any other mixups to throw meaning Samsung had them "figured out." Now those of you that are new to this need to understand that once a Korean team figures you out you're not winning that series. As a matter of fact the only best of five series that Korean teams have lost at Worlds were to teams that they couldn't figure out or that had enough different strategies to really throw them for a loop and World Elite just didn't have that despite having very high player quality and team play.

SK Telecom defeat Royal Never Give Up 3 - 2

       What a series! An absolute slugfest between two excellent teams that weren't afraid to try some new things. This series didn't have the clear difference in strategic depth between the teams like Samsung vs World Elite but it did both teams showed some different looks and played some of their best League of the season which is about all you can ask. Frankly this series was so close that the only difference was that just a matter of one team making more unebelievable plays than the other. The point being that both teams played an extremely high level and when titans clash sometimes the only difference isn't who played worse but who played slightly better.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Finals Predictions

        A rematch of last year was certainly in the cards over the course of the season but I doubt anybody thought it would actually happen. Samsung looked to have fallen behind KT, Longzhu, SKT, and even Afreeca by the end of LCK Summer and had to navigate what looked to be a challenging group and SKT got completely walloped by Longzhu in the LCK Summer Finals which seemingly sat them firmly in the tier below Longzhu but, once again, we arrive at an all-Korean final. No hometown Chinese representative or no Longzhu was not something a lot of people anticipated but now we get to see a rematch of last years' incredible grand final.
     
       Samsung have impressed me. Going into this tournament I had them as the 4th best team in the world despite defeating KT and firmly behind Longzhu and SK Telecom and while I thought they had larger deficiencies than the other Korean juggernauts and even a couple of the Chinese squads as well as TSM they were still one of the best teams on the planet and perhaps I forgot about that. I thought they were, relatively speaking, predictable and easy to attack after an ENTIRE YEAR without showing any kind of strategic diversity or willingness to even try but they've certainly shown that a old dog can, in fact, learn new tricks. Maybe it was the best slow roll of all time, maybe they were sandbagging, or maybe it was just desparation but Samsung are legit and playing out of their minds right now.

       SK Telecom were pushed to the brink by a feisty and creative Misfits squad and just played an absolute slobberknocker against RNG but guess what guys? They're still here. In another final, with another roster, with the best coach and player in the history of the game. Teams have had literally years to throw their absolute best research, resources, and play against this team and STILL they rise to the top. They battle through adversity, pull wins out of their hats, and while you could definitely say they're weaker than previous iterations (which I feel they are) they're a gritty, veteran team that seemingly clutch it out when the pressure is on AS THE NORM. Heavy lies the crown and SK Telecom are still wearing it.

       In all sincerity I don't know who I want to win or who I think will win this series but here's my thoughts. My brain is telling me that Samsung are playing at a higher level right now after completely demolishing Longzhu and handling a World Elite team that was playing their best League of their careers. They've shown a new level of aggression that was previously lacking, a level of execution on a strategy that seemed so out of their realm of possibilities after more than a calendar year of data, and more than anything else supreme confidence. My heart, on the other hand, finds it so damn difficult to bet against SK Telecom. Has it been as completely dominant as previous SKT teams? Absolutely not but I do think that the rest of the world played at a significantly higher level this year and similar to how I felt that TSM were the strongest Western team in history going into this tournament (not relatively, actual strength of the team) despite having a worse domestic record than previous season for similar reasons I think SKT have persisted despite all the adversity. Simply put, it's too easy to say "SKT look worse than they previously have" because it's out of context. They have shown more weaknesses than any SKT lineup I can think of but as all great Korean teams do, they adapt and use information better than anyone. Samsung made massive adjustments that most thought were not possible to the level they showed so why can't SKT do the same thing?

       Streaking vs struggling. Exposed weaknesses vs new-found strengths. The pressure of seemingly endless perfection vs pure revenge. Every narrative and bit of strategic analysis would lead one to sensibly come to Samsung finally dethroning the kings of League of Legends as a reasonable conclusion but I just can't do it. Hall of Fame and two-time Super Bowl winning coach Tony Dungy once said "I think winners win. And guys who won all the way through high school and college, the best players at every level, they have a way of making things happen and winning games."  As cliche as it may sound I feel this series comes down to one player: Faker.

       He's the best of all time for many reasons but perhaps the most important is that he shines brightest when the pressure is highest. He thrives in it. The famous Zed outplay in Game 5 against KT Bullets in Champions Summer 2013, Season 3 World Finals vs Royal Club where he almost single handedly won a best of 5 with his Ahri and Gragas play, Riven destroying Nagne's Cassiopeia in Champions Summer Finals vs KT Rolster, Ryze against Crown last year in the 2016 World Finals, and even Galio against RNG last week in the semifinals at the 2017 World Championships. I've omitted countless more but the list goes on and on. I'm usually the guy that doesn't put a lot of weight on "being clutch" but the fact of the matter is that the true greats in any sport perform their best when it matters most and I think Faker is the ulimate tiebreaker in League of Legends. I don't see his reign ending this year.

Prediction: SK Telecom defeat Samsung 3 - 2

     
       Regardless of the result of the final this has been the best World Championship tournament in League of Legends history in my opinion. I hope we get to see one epic series to send it off!

Friday, October 27, 2017

Worlds 2017 - Quarterfinal Takeaways and Semifinal Predictions

       What an incredible series of games! Unbelievable! I'm trying to think of a quarterfinals collection that was as strong top to bottom as this one was in terms of gameplay, drama, and excitement and I don't think there is one. All four series were excellent in their own ways. Before I share my predictions for semifinals let's take a closer look at what, exactly, made these matches as entertaining as they were.

Samsung defeat Longzhu Gaming  3 - 0

       You know I could imagine a world where Samsung won this series but I don't think anybody thought it would go down in such decisive fashion. Was it nerves for the rookies on Longzhu? Veteran savvy on Samsung? Team continuity? I don't think it was any of these things. Korea has a history of being better prepared for 'best of' series' than anyone else so perhaps we were all a bit misguided in imagining, despite the poor stylistic matchup and domestic match history, that Samsung was "no match," as I put it, for Longzhu Gaming. Samsung showed up and had an excellent game plan to prey on Longzhu's tendencies combined with some major adjustments in their own play.
       In all three games they ran a variant of what I've dubbed "Tristana compositions." The idea is you pack a ton of CC, usually single target, burst down the first target you see and Tristana gets to reset. For those that haven't played League or haven't recently, at higher levels, once a frontline "breaks" it's tough to win a fight and a champion like Tristana, who gets resets on her mobility spell, can effectively end the entire fight on one kill. So in "Tristana comps" there's no close fights where its two for three and everyone is battered and unable to take something afterwards. It's effectively over after that first kill happens. Samsung combined Malzahar and a CC suite of Rakan, Sejuani, and others, including Kennen, to severely punish Longzhu's use of bruisers and backline divers like Jax and Jarvan both in lane and in team fights.


SK Telecom defeat Misfits 3 - 2

       So SKT came out and utterly stomped Misfits in game one and I think we all thought the same thing. "There's the SKT we know and love! Misfits coming back down to earth." And then they punched back with a fiesty victory in game two and we all thought the same thing again. "Beginners luck, it's their SuperBowl." Then they took another win in a slugfest in game three. Wait Misfits was UP TWO TO ONE AGAINST SKT!?! Eventually SKT came roaring back but it definitely wasn't a clean game four. Guess what folks, this Misfits team is just good. I was completely wrong about them. I had them pegged as one of the bottom three in the group stage. Maxlore has been playing at an unbelievable level this entire tournament and their teamplay is a joy to watch. They throw punches, they have different weapons in their arsenal, had great preparation and almost did the seemingly impossible. What's not to love about Misfits? They've got moxie! SKT still pulls rabbits out of hats to win games way too often but they're going to have to fix their early game problems to take on RNG,


Royal Never Give Up defeat Fnatic 3 - 1

       The fairy tale came to an end for Fnatic but this was a hell of a series. The intensity level was through the roof and both teams played really well. To me this was simply a case of RNG having the better players and deeper strategic diversity. Is Soaz the best Western player of all time? He sure as hell shows up at worlds every time even if he has his moments during the rest of the season. He threw the team on his back for their game win in this series and certainly tried to in all of the losses as well. Absorbing ganks, winning two vs ones, creating map pressure, nailing massive ultimates. What more can you ask? Soaz actually deserved MVP of this series even though he was on the losing team like Lebron in the NBA finals a few years back.


World Elite defeat Cloud 9 3 - 2

       What an absolute slugfest. This was a VERY CLOSE series that delivered on what everyone imagined would be the closesst AND THEN SOME. Unlike the other NA teams, Cloud 9 has nothing to be ashamed of here. They left it all out on The Rift showing a potent blend of champion selections, set plays, and team compositions. This was either teams game but sometimes two great teams meet and one happens to make one or two greater plays. By no means does that mean Cloud 9 played poorly. This was one of the best series for the entire calendar year both in excitement level and variety from game to game.

SEMIFINAL PREDICTIONS

SK Telecom vs Royal Never Give Up

       I actually don't know who's going to take this game but I sure hope it delivers on what I'm lowkey hoping is the best series in the tournament. Most people would consider SKT the "best team in the world that's left" since Longzhu is out and I'm not going to sit here and deny that but I will say that in the form they just displayed against Misfits and the form that Samsung and RNG showed over their opponents, the general weaknesses this SKT lineup has shown over this season I want to say, loud and clear, that this SKT lineup is NOT EVEN CLOSE to the previous two or even three iterations. RNG are playing like a team possessed. Uzi is tired of being the bridesmaid and the hometown crowd are going to be nuts and SKT doesn't look as good as they usually do and... and... I just can't bring myself to vote against SKT.
       Right? This is finally the scenario where there's "finally a worthy opponent that can beat them!" But in almost every situation besides summer finals, which you could argue didn't matter because they had clinched on circuit points anyway, SKT have always silenced the critics. They are the New England Patriots. They figure it out, adapt better than any team in history, and put their information to use more effectively than anybody. It's been an entire tournament and they've shown next to nothing in terms of strategic diversity while everyone else is putting it all out on the table.There is just no way they don't have an optimal gameplan cooked up with a week or preparation and many weeks of scrims and on stage observations. I want to believe RNG can destroy the Death Star and if any non-Korean team is going to do it on this stage it's them, but I just can't even with the weaknesses this lineup has shown.

PREDICTION: SK Telecom win 3 - 2

World Elite vs Samsung

       I wanted to see these two matchup since the beginning of the tournament and I'm amped that we get to! All year long these teams played the same exact long-game style with similar players, similar positios, and similar struggles as well as triumphs. This is more or less an insanely high level mirror match. Hell, even both teams have stepped out of their comfort zone and thrived doing so as recently as last week playing very high tempo to near perfection against some of the strongest teams in the world as if they had it in their pocket all year long.
       In all sincerity this is the best the China has looked since Season 3 and maybe even their best of all time as a region (finally!), and before this tournament started I had one of them having reasonable odds to make finals but I just think back to the same thing about SKT. Korean preparation. Also Samsung just wiped the floor with the best team on the planet playing a style they're not good at... That means something and that something to me is a victory leading to an all-Korean final again.

PREDICTION: Samsung win 3 - 2


       These two semifinals should be close, intriguing, and ridiculously intense matchups. Realize that when I make these predictions it's with a closer look than just 3 - 2. These will be slugfests, battles of attrition, total war. Everyone is going to leave everything out there and, just like quarters, the final score will be the difference in number of incredible plays vs other incredible plays and who has more and at the right time. You're not going to see bad League here.

Here's hoping the best Worlds I've ever watched continues to deliver because the stage is certainly set to do just that!

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Worlds 2017 - Post Group Stage Takeaways and Bracket Stage Predictions

      So I'm going to open by saying that I think this years group stage was probably the best we've ever had. It didn't have any Kabum level upsets or Albus Nox Luna level of Cindarella story but it did have four very interesting groups for a change, a dark horse advancing, and an incredibly high level of play from top to bottom which, to me anyway, says that this was the overall best group stage we've ever had. Before my predictions for the bracket stage I thought I'd go over some of my thoughts and observations from the group stage.

Group A

       So SKT managed to 5 - 1 the group and get the first seed but they did not look good doing so. They had three improbable comebacks but to me that speaks to their problems as a team as we move forward into the bracket stage of the tournament. SKT easily could have ended up 3 - 3 or worse so we hope to see the expected strength to adapt in a series prove valuable for them as we move further into the tournament. As I predicted, this SKT lineup is substantially weaker than the previous two seasons iterations.
       The rest of this group was kind of odd. AHQ and EDG looked like they slept through week one but came into week two ready to play and, in EDG's case, with some excellent adjustments to their week one follies. I had EDG pinned as a much stronger team and expected more like the week two performance we saw. I loved that Cloud 9 stuck to what they knew for the most part but when showed a strong concept (WE's early game Caitlyn pick) were not afraid to adapt within hours to take what information was given to them. There's something about the team that doesn't look a strategic gift horse in the mouth that I respect a lot. Belichek and the Patriots do it to other NFL teams all the time. They don't play with an ego, they don't "stick to the script" or to "their system," they say "Well that's obvious let's just do that" and that's exactly what Cloud 9 did in week two. I'd rather see a team do that in a format where you play the second round robin in a single day than the opposite which is just to stick to what you practiced.
       TANGENT: Ok so I'll get this out now because it pertains to TSM and Immortals and it'll save me from typing it out two more times but I can't stand the "playing percentages" approach that TSM, Immortals, and even SKT, Samsung, and G2 in this tournament take. I'm sure they'll win 60+% of their games just playing safe and scaling but if you're truly better than another team don't even give them the chance to snowball a game on you. I understand that the metagame is the metagame for a reason and all but especially when the metagame is as homogenous as it's been at this tournament I feel you can't afford to just say "we'll teamfight better" because it takes a much more minor mistake in that to lose a game on the spot than it does to mess up an early game. I'm not saying bad openings can't be catastrophic as well but I can't stand the passivity that these afformentioned teams showed up with. It's not like playing up-tempo isn't in their arsenal (ok well for Samsung it's not...). There's no excuses for that to me. I can respect sticking to a plan to an extent but in a best of two round robin group stage you have to look at what's in front of you and not deny it. Adapt. Play for each individual game and stop playing so vanilla. Have specific game plans for each game. Plan like you plan for an LCS week. You don't have the same game plan vs two different teams and I'm not entirely sure why NA teams inparticular think it's ok to approach it this way. Six games is not enough of a sample size to play the percentages or for optimal win chance. For lack of better terms, just ball out on people and stop playing to not lose and start playing to win.

Group B

       Longzhu is going to win this tournament I think. They're just dominant in every facet of the game. I don't think any team in this tournament is equipped to beat them. If I had to pick someone it'd be SKT but I just don't think they have the versatility right now. Fnatic with the "reverse sweep" to come back from an 0 - 3 start in week one was historic and, frankly, unbelievable. I couldn't believe what I was seeing. It was the perfect sequence of events. I loved that Gigabyte Marines showed up with their MSI style and not the "oh we're just meta people now" that they showed during their summer split. They're a good example of grabbing the game by the balls and playing to win each game and not lose. Immortals severely disappointed me. I had such high hopes for them to show up with their strong up-tempo style and completely punish the metagame of this tournament but they just got absorbed into the amoeba of double hyper carry two core scaling comps that everybody was playing. Just so sad...

Group C

       RNG showed up to play. As I wrote in my previous predictions, I thought that of the Chinese teams in this tournament they had the best chance to make a deep run and perhaps make it to finals even though I feel World Elite are a stronger team. Well RNG are every bit as fiery and dominant in game as they are personalities off the rift. They're a fun team to watch and I hope they continue to be. Samsung is just so boring... And that's coming from someone that loves excellent defense and disciplined play but man oh man is this team just lacking any kind of balls whatsoever. They got out of this group because they just have stronger players and are exceptionally good at what they do but I have a feeling they're just going to get completely run over if they don't make adjustments. G2 had a respectable showing but, as I thought, just didn't quite do enough to advance past the likes of RNG and Samsung. Fenerbahce had a couple of good games despite running a sub which surpised me and is perhaps an indication that this team could make an appearance again next year.

Group D

       Well nobody saw that coming... Yea I'm talking to you guy that had Misfits advancing in your bracket because you're a homer... Nah I'm just salty, mad respect. I expressed my frustrations with TSM earlier but I'll quickly digress for a second here. This wasn't a draft problem or an individual problem or a coaching problem. Their Jayce pick was fine. Each player had moments of underperforming. They lost as a team. Period. It's a damn shame too because I'd take TSM in a best of five over Misfits like 95 times out of 100. That being said I think this has more to do with the ideological approach of split best of two round robin that I discussed in my tangent earlier. 
       Misfits look good. In no universe did I think I'd be saying that but they're playing with confidence, solid game plans, and they're playing without regret. They know who they are and they're going to go down trying to do what they do. And the reason that's different than TSM and Immortals "just doing what they do" is because Misfits are both adapting to the tournament, mixing in their own comfort and personal touch, and just playing out of their minds. To me this is damn near the level of Cindarella story that ANX was last year. EU was a weaker region, Misfits has no truly elite players. At least ANX had Kira. What a pleasant surprise and I couldn't be happier to have been wrong. They deserve to move on.

BRACKET STAGE PREDICTIONS

Longzhu Gaming vs Samsung Galaxy
   
       You know by now that I think Longzhu wins this tournament so this is just a matter of how many games, if any, can Samsung take off of Longzhu. To me the answer is zero and that's not because I think Samsung is a bad team but Samsung is a predictable team and this happens to just be a complete nightmare matchup for them. This is the League of Legends equivalent of the football team that can't run block facing the best running game in the league. You can't stop them. That being said I didn't expect Samsung to beat KT either and it was a similar type of matchup. This team made finals last year and they're a world class squad that will, no doubt, make adjustments. I think Samsung takes one game here unless Bizarro Longzhu shows up and gets absorbed into the metagame amoeba like TSM and Immortals did. 

Prediction:  Longzhu wins 3 - 1


SK Telecom T1 vs Misfits Gaming

       This is normally a situation where I'd stick to my pre-tournament read on a team because it's usually more accurate than six games but this is one that we have to consider what Misfits have showed us. They aren't afraid of anyone. They have good plans, are executing well, and have a playstyle counter to what SKT has shown to fall weakness to. With that in mind I think this match ends up sort of like Misfits vs World Elite from week two where they can jump out to an early lead but just struggle to close against the highest level of defensive teams.Also worth noting is that SKT uses information better than any team in the history of League. They always have a great gameplan and with time to prepare are extremely tough to beat and for that reason I don't see Misfits taking a game here even if they get close in game one.

Prediction:   SKT wins 3 - 0


Royal Never Give Up vs Fnatic

       I think this match has the potential to go five if Fnatic show their week two form again. It is, however, a stylistic mismatch since RNG should, presumably, be able to jump out to a lead on this Fnatic squad but if you think about these teams they both play bot lane centric, both have weaker top laners and both have aggressive junglers that like to make things happen early. I'm going to give the edge to RNG simply due to player quality but I'm looking forward to watching Uzi vs Rekkles.

Prediction:    Royal Never Give Up wins 3 - 1


World Elite vs Cloud 9

       I'm looking forward to this one more than any of the other quarterfinals because I think Cloud 9 has roughly a 40% chance to win the series. World Elite showed at least one of their aces with the early game Caitlyn rotation strategy and Cloud 9 immediately adapted it. If you look at overall body of work Cloud 9 have shown a bit more stylistic versatility as World Elite had shown absolutely nothing ALL YEAR to make you think they could be that clean at executing an early game strategy like that (I know it's not that hard but still). It's probably what caught TSM so off guard. They probably didn't prepare for WE who so stubbornly stick to their late game scaling team fighting style to have an early game centric strategy prepared. I think C9 are at a disadvantage in player quality and team fighting quality but a stylistic advantage. The question will be how drastic are those gaps. I think patch 7.18 allows teams that aren't great at late game team fighting to be functional at it just due to the nature of itemization and champion picks right now so I think Cloud 9 can hang late and has more versatility and unpredictability otherwise. I'm betting Cloud 9 have something VERY SPICY cooked up for this series and I think they force five games but ultimately fall short to just better players. I hope I'm wrong. GO NA!!

Prediction:   World Elite wins 3 - 2


I'll be back with semi's predictions when the time comes but I hope everyone enjoys this round!

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Worlds 2017 - Group Stage Predictions

     It's finally time for the "real" action to start at Worlds 2017 in China! I'm going to run down each team in that made it to groups, their strengths and weaknesses, and my predictions for who will escape groups and why.

Group A - EDward Gaming (CN1), SK Telecom T1 (KR2), AHQ E-sports (TW2), Cloud 9 (NA3)


EDward Gaming (China #1 seed)

Members: Mouse, Clearlove, Scout, iBoy, Meiko, Audi (sub)

Strengths:

  • Disciplined and patient
  • Excellent late game team fighting
  • Veteran experience


Weaknesses:


  • Slow play was not punished domestically
  • Mouse had a weak showing in the few games he played before leaving last years Worlds
  • Can be a little too one dimensional


Strongest Players:

  • Clearlove (world class) - I know he's struggled in the past at Worlds but Clearlove will be here for a 5th time. He's a rock and for once the meta actually favors him and he hasn't been patched out. Look out!
  • Meiko (world class) - Meiko has Worlds experience as well and has completely dominated the competition in his role domestically. One of the strongest support players in this tournament.
  • Scout (world class) - One of the top 3 mid laners in China. Sat behind Faker and Easyhoon very much like Aaron Rodgers did behind Favre.
Overall Breakdown:
     EDG have done well at Worlds in the past but have never quite delivered on their expected level which leads most to believe they've been a disappointment. They drew Rox Tigers (arguably the strongest team at the tourney, if not the second strongest) as their quarterfinal matchup which really inhibited their ability to advance in the tournament. I think homefield means something but not as much as people think. Ultimately as strong as this team is I feel they're actually the weakest of the three LPL squads here this year. Their domestic stats are dominant but I just don't think they have the versatility to be considered a true favorite to take this tournament down. They're a little bit too one dimensional for my taste and I think that will be their downfall.

vs The Competition:
  • vs SKT: SKT and EDG are actually both good at the same thing. Being patient, punishing mistakes, and playing proactive defense. However I feel SKT have shown slightly more flexibility ocassionally preparing excellent early game scripts which I think will serve them well in a split best of two group stage. The ability to use both junglers will be a strength as well. This is a rough matchup for EDG because SKT just do what they do but better and can also sometimes take early games by storm. They also just have better players in every position in my opinion.   SKT 2 - 0
  • vs AHQ: I'm very down on AHQ heading into this tournament. I'm not buying the "LMS teams always show up at Worlds" narrative and from what I've seen of them domestically (limited) and international events this year they just look like they've taken a step back as a region or at least haven't kept up with NA and China. AHQ does have the ability to steal games with their crafty 1-3-1 style and Ziv just being a complete monster which could be a way to abuse Mouse who hasn't shown well internationally. I don't think it's enough to keep this from a 2-0 as EDG will be prepared but this isn't as cut and dry a 2-0 as the SKT one.    EDG 2 - 0
  • vs Cloud 9: This one I actually think is tough to call. When Cloud 9 was rolling over everybody for that couple of weeks early in the summer they were doing so with creative early game scripts and playing excellent, up-tempo League of Legends to close games out before it mattered. Since then they've fallen back to "farm and let Jensen carry" which I think, contrary to popular belief, opens them up to more coin flip games in this current meta. If the up-tempo Cloud 9 shows up it's a stylistic counter to the way EDG likes to play and as good as their defense is they haven't had to face that kind of speed + skill combination domestically. For what it's worth Cloud 9 aren't slouces late either as they played well with that style as well.  1 - 1 but Cloud 9 takes the tiebreaker.


Total Record: 3 - 3, lose tiebreaker to Cloud 9


SK Telecom T1 (Korea #2 Seed)

Members: Huni, Peanut, Faker, Bang, Wolf, Blank (sub jungle), Untara (not attending due to 6 player limit)

Strengths:

  • Perhaps the best defensive team at this tournament. They're seemingly never out of any game.
  • Disciplined
  • Exceptional macro
  • Massive champion pools and team composition versatility
  • Insanely strong individual players
  • Veteran experience (multiple multi-time world champions)


Weaknesses:


  • Have shown a lot of arrogance in drafts and it's lost them games
  • Seemingly don't WANT to play fast even though they're capable. Early game can be exploited.


Strongest Players:

  • Faker (world class) - He's the Wayne Gretzsky of League of Legends. The GOAT. A phenom capable of pretty much anything. Don't really need to say anything more except that he's back to "Faker is wrecking everyone" form this year while everyone was kind of down on him last year.
  • Bang (world class) - People might disagree and say Pray but I think Bang is probably still the best ADC at this tournament. The proof is in the pudding. Super consistent, plays everything. Other than Deft (sadly not attending Worlds) is probably the best in the world at the position.
  • Wolf (world class) - Could say either Wolf or Gorilla but they're the two best supports in the world (maybe Mata...) and, to me at least, it's not close at least within this tournament.
  • Peanut (world class) - Had a bit of an up and down season but let's not forget just how much of a house Peanut was all of last year. He's still young, has big stage experience, and a TON of time to prepare.
  • Huni and Blank - Are both incredible and versatile players as well just not quite on the same level as the rest in my opinion. 
Overall Breakdown:
     First and foremost while I think SKT is probably the second best team in the world this iteration has more flaws than last years. The rotating, adaptive roster of Untara/Huni and Blank/Peanut I think did just as much harm as it did good but in theory should be strong once out of groups. They've shown a TON of arrogance in drafts which I think is something they better not do on this level. SKT got away with no wave clear team compositions way too often this year. The other thing to keep in mind is that everything is relative. So SKT's weaknesses are when compared to teams like KT, Longzhu, and Samsung who are, in my opinion the four best teams in the world. So when I say "SKT has a weak early game" it's relative to KT and Longzhu who are the best early game teams on the planet. Honestly SKT is probably the third best! I think they've had time to prepare, it's a good patch for them, and while this metagame is sure to provide some upsets or "close games" SKT are just such a disciplined and excellent macro team in game that it's going to take a ridiculous performance to oust this team. Are they the tournament favorites? To me they're the second favorite only to Longzhu but I'm not going to argue with you if you think they deserve it. The experience, results, and strength of this roster are more than enough to justify it.

vs The Competition:
  • vs EDG: As mentioned above, EDG and SKT USUALLY play the same style but SKT just has better players and do it better. Hopefully these are close, apocalyptic team fight kind of games but I'd be hard pressed not to give SKT the 2 - 0. Maybe Scout plays out of his mind against his old mentor or maybe a coin flip team fight or maybe an arrogant draft can give EDG a game but I think I'm safe saying 2 - 0. I think this SKT lineup is more likely to drop a game in groups than last years though that still isn't likely to me.  SKT 2 - 0
  • vs AHQ: To me AHQ just can't hang with SKT on any level and unlike their matchup with EDG where you can imagine a scenario where Ziv just feasts on Mouse and they steal a game that way this team just isn't remotely close to the level of SKT and they have Huni to match Ziv in the top lane. It would take a colossal performance by AHQ to win one of these.   SKT 2 - 0
  • vs Cloud 9: If up-tempo Cloud 9 show up they might be able to take a game but again I think the quality of players is just too strong and SKT is too good at defense to fall for that kind of thing unless it's a team on the same quality level as they are like KT or Longzhu. Cloud 9's strongest player also, unfortunately, has to face Faker which is just another factor working against them.  SKT 2 - 0
Total Record: 6 - 0, but this is a slightly softer 6 - 0 than last years prediction

AHQ e-Sports (Taiwan #2 Seed)
Members: Ziv, Mountain, Chawy, AN, Albis, Westdoor (sub)

Strengths:

  • Excellent 1-3-1 split push roster.
  • Consistently get their super star player Ziv ahead with creative game plans.
  • Experience


Weaknesses:


  • Lack versatility. While more versatile than previous lineups they're still predictable
  • Weaker region (sorry LMS but I'm really not believing)


Strongest Players:

  • Ziv (world class): The guy is just a house. He gets a lot of resources and help but he almost always delivers.
  • Mountain: Knows where his bread is buttered (Ziv) and plans accordingly.
Overall Breakdown:
     I'm not buying the LMS being a strong region this year. I was the guy touting them as a sleeper the last two years. That they were solid and would surprise a lot of people and, sure enough, they did. After seeing them internationally and watching the playoffs the play has taken a slight dip downward. To me it seems the region has stayed the same but everyone else has gotten better. I'm not saying they're a bad region but I think people are getting sucked into the "LMS always shows up" narrative that's being pushed. I'm not seeing it this year and AHQ, you could argue, isn't even the second best team in LMS this year. They have some tools to work with so I won't completely rule them out of taking a game or two but I think even with a pseudo-homefield advantage this squad doesn't have what it takes to make it out of groups.

vs The Competition:
  • vs EDG: To me, if AHQ are going to steal a game this is the most likely opponent they'll do it against. Mouse has struggled mightily in his limited experience at Worlds last year and, while better, hasn't been a dominant force like Ziv has since. This is the matchup, this is the game steal if it's going to happen. That being said I don't think it's likely. EDG 2 - 0
  • vs SKT: AHQ just doesn't have the players or the tools to deal with SKT in any capacity and it would take not only a massive draft error (which are few and far between on this patch) AND bad play to overcome this one.  SKT  2 - 0
  • vs Cloud 9: Similar logic to the EDG matchup in that maybe they can punish Impact/Ray with Ziv? These might be slugfests and closer games but I think Cloud 9 is just a stronger team. Cloud 9 2 - 0.
Total Record: 0 - 6, Sorry AHQ fans (I kinda hope I'm wrong)


Cloud 9 (North America, wild card play in seed)
Members: Impact, Contractz, Jensen, Sneaky, Smoothie, Ray (sub top)

Strengths:

  • Ability to play both up-tempo and more defensive scaling style
  • Have the champion pools and roster versatility to potentially play a strong 1-3-1 which could be a massive advantage this tournament
  • Play to their strengths and don't pretend they're something they aren't.
  • Strong mid and late game team fighting and macro play
  • Ocassionally exceptional performances from their weaker players


Weaknesses:


  • Will sometimes slump as a team. 
  • Often rely too much on Jensen to win games.
  • Seemingly don't WANT to play fast even though they're capable. Early game can be exploited.


Strongest Players:

  • Jensen (world class) - He's an excellent player and gets to cut his teeth against another excellent, world class mid laner in Bjergsen very often. I think he's going to have vengeance on his mind after getting embarassed by Faker. Should have a strong showing if his team can manage to do decently.
  • Smoothie - Rock solid support player that excels at any and all styles. Excellent domestically, time to see if he can show up internationally.
Overall Breakdown:
     I think Cloud 9 are a strong team with some decent strengths and very few pronounced weaknesses. That being said their strengths are potentially tournament altering. The current meta game revolves a lot around traditional 2-core compositions which are typically two tanks, two hyper carries, and a support or off tank. The way to beat that strategy is to either not team fight it and split push or to increase the tempo of the game to the point where the enemy doesn't get to their major items in time to be rolled over. Cloud 9 have shown the ability to play all three of these styles to a solid level and while they're not particularly dominant at one I think they're very well positioned to take games off of teams most people would consider strong than they are (like EDG). Then again this team has also slumped for seemingly no reason and maybe Impact doesn't get his "playoff buff" and just gets rolled. Cloud 9 are also aided by NA being, in my opinion, the second strongest region in the world now with a noticable uptick in the level of competition domestically that will hopefully transfer to the international stage.

It's a shaky foundation but could end up being a decent looking house that could get by for a little while... now that the bad analogies are over onto the matchups.

vs The Competition:
  • vs EDG: I outlined it in the EDG segment but I think Cloud 9 matchup favorably against EDG even if their player quality overall isn't as strong. Now maybe it's enough of a gap in player quality that EDG just rolls them over but I doubt that in the current state of the game. I think this is a hard fought set of games for these two squads and it will come down to whether or not EDG can adapt and adjust to play defense (or pivot to offense?) vs the multi-faceted Cloud 9 team.  Cloud 9 1 - 1 and then win the tiebreaker to advance.
  • vs SKT: Not as likely of an upset but perhaps the Impact vs his old team and Jensen wanting vengenace combined with a poor draft or early game by SKT could be the perfect storm to take a game. I doubt it but who knows.   SKT 2 - 0
  • vs AHQ:  AHQ aren't that much worse than Cloud 9 that it will be a stomping but I do think Cloud 9 are enough better and significantly more versatile to take this. Cloud 9  2 - 0.
Total Record: 3 - 3, win the tiebreaker vs EDG to advance

GROUP A RESULTS
SKT 6 - 0
Cloud 9   4 - 3
EDG  3 - 4
AHQ  0 - 6

The Cloud 9 / EDG could easily go the other way but I do think Cloud 9 drew a favorable matchup in EDG to escape groups with a 2 seed for Quarters. This is like 55-45 to me.
_____________________________________________________
Group B - Longzhu Gaming (KR1), Immortals (NA2), Gigabyte Marines (GPL1), Fnatic (EU3)Longzhu Gaming (Korea #1 Seed)

Members: Khan, Cuzz, Bdd, Pray, Gorilla, Rascal (sub top)

Strengths:

  • The best or second best up-tempo team in the world
  • Extremely versatile
  • Perfect blend of hungry new comers and grisled veterans
  • Absolutely unforgiving. They punish mistakes better than anybody right now
  • Exceptional invididual players. Pound for pound probably the best roster at the tournament based on recent performance.
  • Red hot! 


Weaknesses:


  • Red hot! (yes this is a strength and a weakness, it's been a long time since LCK finals)
  • Maybe the rookies don't show up?
  • ... I mean that's about it.


Strongest Players:

  • All of them... you could make a reasonable argument for each and every player on Longzhu being the best in their position in the world currently. 
Overall Breakdown:
     Longzhu Gaming are the perfect storm. This is what every organization in every single sport seeks to replicate. Premium prospects that work out (Khan, Cuzz, and BDD), a free agent that didn't work with another team that just needed a fresh start on a good team (BDD), and savvy, excellent veterans to show them how it's done and be the stability while the young guns adjust (Pray and Gorilla). The stability squad of Pray and Gorilla even showed a lot of new life perhaps invigorated by the new guys as both are playing at an extremely high level right now. If you couldn't tell already I think Longzhu are the best team in the world and, to me at least, the favorites to win Worlds in 2017. They remind me A LOT of Season 4 Samsung White. They have a swagger, a confidence, the chops, and they're able to attack the meta in the way it needs to be attacked while also being able to play the meta at as well as the best teams in the world. They're the full package. The real deal. The only way they don't take this is the rookies choking or SKT having an obscenely good performance (which could happen).

vs The Competition:
  • vs Immortals: For my money the two best early game and up-tempo teams in the tournament. That will make these games really interesting and I think Immortals might surprise a lot of people with their ability to go shot for shot with Longzhu's blazing pace. Call me crazy but I actually think Immortals can take a game off the worlds best and that statement is coming from soneone that was an Immortals non-believer ALL SEASON. I was just not buying them at all but again I think the combination of NA improving, the stylistic matchup, and maybe some rookie nerves vs not make it a not too farfetched possibility.   1 - 1
  • vs Gigabyte Marines: If the Marines from MSI show up with their zaney early games and balls-to-the-wall Moscow 5 style then these games will be entertaining 2 - 0s but GAM have changed a lot since then and I just don't see it.  Longzhu 2 - 0
  • vs Fnatic: Fnatic is an excellent team but I'm just staring at these individual player matchups coupled with the insane pace that Longzhu can play at and I just don't think Fnatic can hang. It's a shame because I do think they're a good team this is just a rough group for them stylistically.   Longzhu 2 - 0


Total Record: 5 - 1, could easily be a 6 - 0 but I'm sensing an game loss here even though I think they're the best team in the tournament.
Immortals (North America #2 Seed)

Members: Flame, Xmithie, Pobelter, Cody Sun, Olleh, Anda (sub)

Strengths:

  • Exceptional early game scripts and up-tempo play
  • Great non-carry players help them control pace and macro game
  • Can still play a long game well.


Weaknesses:


  • Cody Sun has overperformed domestically against some good competition but I'm not sure if he's ready to face down Pray/Gorilla and Rekkless/Jesiz
  • Xmithie has been the best western jungler for 3/4ths of the year but has struggled internationally before. 
  • Some, but not much international experience.


Strongest Players:

  • Xmithie (world class) - Never in a million years did I think I'd utter those words but the fact is that he's just been excellent. Smart pathing, mastery of the meta champs and ocassionally a new one here and there. Great shot calling and veteran leadership.
  • Olleh (world class) - Olleh could have been the NA LCS MVP for the summer and I wouldn't had been upset about it. Top tier on the meta picks and bring his own tools like his pocket pick Morgana to the table as well. Combined with Xmithie to form a dominant early game rotation and map controlling duo.

Overall Breakdown:
     I was a non-believer all year. You can ask anybody I was talking to. "Ehh I just can't buy in to them." "Yea but I don't think they could hang outside of NA."  "Jeez they're still doing well..."  All were statements I uttered at some point this year about Immortals. Yes they lost finals to TSM in somewhat underwhelming fashion in games 3 and 4 but the first two games were compelling. They're a solid team playing in what I consider the second best region unless China finally delivers. What more can we ask besides a title? That being said I know they're not a favorite to win the tournament or anything but they're extremely good at a style that attacks the meta game in just the right way and, in my opinion, are maybe the third best team in the world at that up-tempo style only after Longzhu and KT Rolster. It's predictable but nobody has really been able to stop them except for the very best of the best or themselves and their backup plan isn't too shabby either. Don't sleep on Immortals...

vs The Competition:
  • vs Longzhu: Yes I'm crazy but the logic is there for a potential upset here. I'm betting this will be Longzhu's only loss of the tournament until Finals unless they face SKT beforehand. 1 - 1
  • vs Gigabyte Marines: Immortals style and ability should allow them to just stomp all over this new look GAM team. Unless they show up playing like they did at MSI and NOT how they played this summer under new leadership then I can't see them keeping up.  Immortals 2 - 0
  • vs Fnatic: Just a bad matchup for Fnatic for the same reasons that Longzhu is. The player quality gap is a little closer however and while I could see Longzhu punting a game, I could also see Fnatic stalling out a game. This one isn't logic it's just a gut feeling that one of these will be the game they don't convert on their uptempo play. It will also illustrate that this group is closer than it will end up looking in terms of quality of team and player.  Immortals 1 - 1


Total Record: 4 - 2 and advancing

Fnatic (Europe, Wild Card play in seed)

Members: sOAZ, Broxah, Caps, Rekkles, Jesiz, Special (sub)

Strengths:

  • Disciplined and patient
  • Excellent late game team fighting
  • Veteran experience


Weaknesses:


  • Slow play was not punished domestically
  • Ocassional "blow up" games where they just got completely destroyed in one of the solo lanes
  • Couple of new comers to worlds in Broxah and Caps


Strongest Players:

  • Rekkles (world class) - He's the Western Deft. Seemingly never loses lane or farm advantage. Isn't quite the dominator to shut others out but is an absolute master of high economy play. Excellent damage numbers. Delivers with the resources provided. Has the pocket pick Kennen that nobody seems to know how to deal with.
Overall Breakdown:
     Fnatic are a good team. The problem they face is that while they were able to show consistency and discipline domestically, at least for the most part, I don't see that translating to a higher level of play. They also happened to draw a rough group for them from a stylistic standpoint. They're a great long game team and they drew into a group with Longzhu and Immortals, two of the best up-tempo teams in the world that are also decent at playing the long game and have higher overall player quality to boot. Keep in mind that if the Gigabyte Marines show up in MSI form and not the slowed down, civilized form I'm assuming they'll show up to Worlds as, then I could see them getting outpaced by them and potentially 1-5 or 0-6'ing.

vs The Competition:
  • vs Longzhu: Bad matchup stylistically, better players in every position by a long shot (except maybe at ADC)... yea I don't see it.  Longzhu 2 - 0
  • vs Immortals: I have Immortals taking a game off Longzhu but I think Fnatic are close enough in quality and a good enough defensive team to also get themselves up to take a game off Immortals. While they're good at playing fast they're not near flawless like Longzhu is so I can see Immortals impressing and then dropping a game. I know the order might be backwards but it's just a gut feeling.  1 - 1
  • vs Gigabyte Marines: The new look Gigabyte Marines play a closer to the meta style and Fnatic is just better than them at it and the GAM early game hasn't been great since either so I think Fnatic has the edge with both player quality and being better at the style.  Fnatic 2 - 0
Total Record: 3 - 3
Gigabyte Marines (Southeast Asia #1 Seed)

Members: Archie, Levi, Optimus, NoWay, Sya, Nevan (sub)

Strengths:

  • Well to be honest I don't really know
  • Potentially their unpredictability


Weaknesses:

  • Are trying to be something they are not
  • Not quite good enough at anything to perform on this level
  • Only one split with new ADC and Top laner



Strongest Players:

  • Levi - Strong showings internationally, versatile, great in up-tempo and dueling scenarios
  • Optimus - Strong mechanical player with deep champion pool and a number of interesting counter picks.
Overall Breakdown:
     Gigabyte Marines are NOT THE TEAM YOU SAW AT THE MID SEASON INVITATIONAL! It's really important for people to understand this. After MSI, top laner Stark and ADC Slay left the team and they have since really changed the way they play (at least in the handful of games I've watched and from what I've read from more knowledgable people than myself on the GPL). What made GAM exciting and, in my opinion, good was their complete disregard for the structured style you see most teams play these days for a more solo queue feeling, skirmish focused style that they abused and snowballed leads from at MSI. While a lot of people say this might be the best GPL team ever assembled (it's effectively a super team) I just think that if they try to play straight up against international competition they're going to fail. That being said if they can conjure up some of that "chaos style" (MEME ALERT) then maybe they can take some games off Fnatic but I don't see it happening vs Immortals or Longzhu. Teams will be prepared for the nonsense this time as well which is also something working against them if they choose to go back to that.

vs The Competition:
  • vs Longzhu: ....  Longzhu 2 - 0
  • vs Immortals:  I'd like this as an interesting matchup if they play like they did at MSI but I don't think they will. Immortals 2 -0
  • vs Fnatic: Again I'd like them here if they're playing that crazy style they did at MSI but I don't think they will. That could really REALLY punish Fnatic's style.   Fnatic 2 - 0

Total Record: 0 - 6, I hope I'm wrong and the MSI bat-shit crazy Moscow 5 from Season 2 clone shows up!
GROUP B RESULTS
Longzhu  5 - 1
Immortals  4 - 2
Fnatic  3 - 3
Gigabyte Marines 0 - 6

_____________________________________________________


Group C - G2 E-Sports (EU1), Samsung Galaxy (KR3), Royal Never Give Up (CN2), 1907 Fenerbahce (TR)

G2 E-Sports (Europe #1 Seed)

Members: Expect, Trick, Perkz, Zven, Mithy, Hoang (sub)

Strengths:

  • Exceptional late game team with strong 2-core fundamentals
  • Good defensively
  • Experienced internationally


Weaknesses:

  • One dimensional
  • Perkz can be exploited for overaggression



Strongest Players:

  • Zven (world class) - Similar to Rekkles. Excellent high economy carry that delivers when provided the resources. Plays everything well. Slightly stronger bully than Rekkles for comparison.
  • Mithy (world class) - Does it all. Rock solid. Experienced.
  • Trick - Streaky. When he's playing at the top of his game he's one of the worlds best but other times can be lukewarm
  • Perkz - Streak as well. Overaggression can be punished but can also result in games being blown wide open with big plays.
Overall Breakdown:
     G2 are a strange beast. They're very disciplined most of the time. They play very controlled with good vision and their drafts are typically great to accentuate their strengths but every once in awhile they get cocky and their overaggression can be punished. Perkz is the catalyst on this team and what I mean by that isn't that he's what makes them go but he's the one that can either help to steam roll a game or to throw it. He's a feast or famine player at his core. All in all G2 are a strong line up with a lot of international experience. They're one dimensional in the way that Samsung is. Exceptional at that one thing but lacking otherwise. I don't think they were challenged that much domestically besides Fnatic and the upstart Misfits squad that seemed to care when everyone else was coasting to the finish line. I tend to look at regional strength as something that manages the ceiling of a team more than it does the floor. After all what else can G2 do besides whoop their region for more or less the past two years?

vs The Competition:
  • vs Samsung: This Samsung team doesn't look as dominant as the one people will remember from finals last year but they're still a top 4 team in the world. Their weaknesses aren't something that G2 is well equipped to punish.  Samsung 2 - 0
  • vs RNG: RNG are a weird squad. Like C9 they're capable of playing faster but often don't and choose to put games into the hands of their reliable carries. Similar teams here but I think RNG have a stronger jungler and carries which is important in a 2-core focused metagame especially when the other team hasn't shown much ability to really obliterate early games. RNG also has the upside of sometimes being able to do that but RNG are also a little sloppier than WE and EDG are so I'm willing to cede a game because I respect how strong G2's lineup is. 1 - 1
  • vs Fenerbahce: I want to believe in an upset. For the past 3 years I've called the wildcard upset almost exactly right (although I definitely didn't call them making it out of groups, cheers ANX). I think this Fenerbahce lineup is quite good but unfortunately had to go to a sub after some visa issues. Crash and Frozen are extremely good players. There's a chance they can get something going and steal a game in this group and I think if that happens it would be against G2 likely off of a mistake by Perkz but I don't think it's likely. Unfortunate too because they're quite good for a wildcard team and people will not appreciate them in the same breath as Pain, Kabum, and ANX but they're every bit as good.   G2  2 - 0

Total Record: 3 - 3
Samsung Galaxy (Korea #3 Seed)

Members: CuVee, Ambition, Crown, Ruler, CoreJJ, Haru (sub jungle)

Strengths:

  • Exceptional late game team fighting and macro. One of the best in the world.
  • Perhaps the best pairing of carries in the world besides Faker + Bang with Crown + Ruler
  • Finals placement last year gives them experience on the biggest stage possible
  • Two excellent junglers with noticably different styles.


Weaknesses:

  • Tend to struggle in the early game against premium up-tempo teams
  • Predictable drafts
  • Inconsistent at ending games early that should be ended early.
Strongest Players:

  • Crown (world class) - Crown is one of the truly elite players at any position in the world. There are people that believe he's better than Faker is. 
  • Ruler (world class) - Ruler is criminally underrated as a carry. Unlike the high economy carries like Rekkles, Zven, Mystic, and others, he's incredibly efficient even on limited resources. 
  • CuVee (world class) - At one point, similar to Smeb, CuVee was kind of a joke but he's steadily improved year after year. You could argue that his improved performance from an already excellent Season 6 is the reason Samsung was in contention to come to worlds and thusly at this tournament.
  • Ambition (world class) - Streaky but when he's on is one of the handful atop the world at the position. Grisled, savvy veteran.
Overall Breakdown:
     Firstly I'll state that I was kinda bummed at Samsung making worlds. For my money, despite their inconsistencies KT Rolster were the third best squad on the planet and their upside was the highest. While I think Samsung is the fourth best team in the world, I don't think they can match Longzhu and SKT while KT, on most days, can. I also think Samsung are a lot more vulnerable to an upset from a good up-tempo team. Despite my reservations this is still an extremely good team with top of the world talent at every position and an identity. They know who they are and they're very good at being that.

vs The Competition:
 
  • vs RNG: This should be a slugfest. Both teams are great mid and late game team fighting teams and RNG has shown enough ability to play faster, albeit not very cleanly, that they could pressure Samsung. I expect these games to be some of the most competitive in the group stage and I look forward to them. 1 - 1
  • vs G2: I feel like G2 and Samsung are exact clones of each other but in different regions. Strong in the same places, play the same style, etc. But ultimately Samsung just has better players. I don't think the gap is that big and because these teams aren't that dynamic in terms of different styles you're going to see two squads clashing in apocalyptic team fights and I expect the games to be close. Reasonable chance this is a split but I'm going to bet on Samsung's strength of competition and stronger players and G2's inability to punish their weaknesses. Samsung 2 - 0
  • vs Fenerbahce: Maybe Frozen and Crash have it out for their old squad and there's a tremendous upset but I doubt it. The other players on FB1907 just aren't strong enough to match and like G2 unless they show us a new dimension I don't see the early game chops to punish Samsung for their disciplined style. Again though in this crazy team fight meta there's a lot of near 50/50's so anythings possible when neither team is adjusting from that style.  Samsung 2 - 0

Total Record: 5 - 1
Royal Never Give Up (China #2 Seed)

Members: LetMe, MLXG, Xiaohu, Uzi, Ming, Y1han (sub)

Strengths:

  • Creative early game scripts
  • Exceptional carries maybe the third best pairing in the world with Xiaohu + Uzi
  • Possibly the best jungler in the tournament in MLXG
  • Strong at all phases of the game, excellent at some
  • Uzi willing to play off meta ADC's and often successful


Weaknesses:

  • Capable of a lot but often aim for a little
  • USUALLY predictable drafts
  • Can get a little too hyped and sloppy sometimes



Strongest Players:

  • Uzi (world class) - You know the name, you know the plays. The guy still has it. His chops and game sense are unbelievable and his understanding of his own power level is second to none. The best bully ADC in the world and one could make an argument that he's the best in the world at the position period. 
  • Xiaohu (world class) - One of the best in the world at the position. Plays everything, all styles and is excellent at all of them. Likes to completely dominate games and intimidate.
  • MLXG (world class) - Arguably the best jungler in this tournament. Definitely the best in his region. Intelligent, aggressive, and a consistent playmaker.
Overall Breakdown:
     This RNG squad is so intimidating to play against but somehow managed to drop their finals to an EDG team that I personally felt was slightly weaker than them. I'd say they're the "most Chinese" in a League of Legends sense of the LPL representatives in that they play to dominate and sometimes lack the discipline. Think of the old school Chinese teams like OMG that have insanely good players just ballin' out on people and hone down the And1 mixtape level styles just a tad and they're right in that sweet spot. A full Chinese line up playing at home with a history of making it far in worlds but never quite finishing. RNG are going to be hungry. RNG are one of the teams that I think have the potential to catch fire and just rampage through the more disciplined squad like a bull in a ... china shop. No really though this squad embraces the personality of their best three players and if they get hot and LetMe and just manage his matchups then look out this is a team that could upset some of the favorites. I'll mention it later but if I had to pick a dark horse to upset the Koreans it'd be Royal Never Give Up.

vs The Competition:
  • vs Samsung: As I mentioned above this ought to be a slugfest and I'm looking forward to it. 1 - 1
  • vs G2: It's possible RNG commit a big error and drop a game but I just think they do what G2 does better and have more explosive players. That being said I think G2 takes a game. RNG 1 - 1
  • vs Fenerbahce: I just don't see it here. It's good that FB1907 have their strongest players in 2 of the 3 spots to help nullify the advantages a little but ultimately RNG just have more elite talent, synergy, and experience.  RNG 2 - 0 

Total Record: 4 - 2, there's a chance this is another one of those 3-3 tiebreakers and if they get into one with G2 I think RNG wins it
1907 Fenerbahce (Turkey, Wildcard Play-in seed)

Members: Thaldrin, Crash, Frozen, Padden, Japone, Waena (sub), Move (absent, visa issue)

Strengths:

  • Crash and Frozen are world class players that opted to play in a wild card region


Weaknesses:





  • Crash is a sub that just stepped in and while he's an elite player the synergy might not be there in time
  • Outside of the two Korean players this Turkish squad just isn't on the same individual talent level as the competition at this tournament.
Strongest Players:

  • Frozen (world class) - At one time Frozen was one of the best mid laners in the LCK. Maybe we'll get to see Lux!
  • Crash - I hesitate to call him world class because there's a reason he didn't get signed anywhere but Crash was an absolute monster last year in LCK and while he sort of trailed off he was hard carrying earlier in the year and was a highly touted prospect coming into the pro scene. He could be looking to step in and make a name for himself.
Overall Breakdown:
     An unfortunate visa issue resulting in a substitution. I'm not saying this team was going to take games but it's still unfortunate. Crash is a hell of a player but they're just too weak at bot and top (although Thaldren is pretty good) to hang with the elite talent in this tournament. Couple that with the new player and I just don't see FB1907 pulling it together.

vs The Competition:
  • vs Samsung: Samsung 2 - 0
  • vs G2: G2 2 - 0
  • vs RNG: RNG 2 - 0

Total Record: 0 - 6, a poor result for an otherwise good lineup that had to suffer a substitution.


GROUP C RESULTS
Samsung 5 - 1
Royal Never Give Up 4 - 2
G2  3 - 3
Fenerbahce 0 - 6

If this goes to a tiebreak between RNG and G2 I think RNG takes it.
___________________________________________________

Group D - Flash Wolves (TW1), Misfits (EU3), Team Solo Mid (NA1), Team World Elite (CN3)

Team Solo Mid (North America, #1 Seed)

Members: Hauntzer, Svenskeren, Bjergsen, Doublelift, Biofrost, MrRallez (sub)

Strengths:
  • Exceptional late game team fighting and macro
  • Great defensive team, able to absorb punches and break even on objective trades until late game
  • Able to play up-tempo to a satisfactory but not excellent level
  • Experienced
  • Strong in every position
  • No truly definitive weakness


Weaknesses:
  • Bjergsen is an elite, world class player, Doublelift is as well, but they're not quite on the level of the best of the best players in this specific tournament so strong individual players but no more than one truly elite player.
  • Svenskeren ocassionally will have "blow up" games 
  • Sometimes draft "too conservatively"
Strongest Players:

  • Bjergsen (world class) - Bjergsen has done everything you could possibly want him to do domestically and has improved with each and every international performance over his career. He's in position to breakout into one of the truly elite players at this tournament.
  • Doublelift - Savvy, well-rounded veteran that isn't quite on the level of the top shelf ADCs but is substantially better than most of the rest.
  • Biofrost - In a much improved pool of supports in NA performed very well and had good international showings.
Overall Breakdown:
     So as many of you know I'm the resident TSM hater. I've called their shortcomings every single year with remarkable accuracy in the face of their fans giving me a lot of lip service. With that out of the way I'm going to go ahead and say it. Besides the top 4 Korean teams I think TSM is the best team in the world as of right now. That would make them the 5th best team in the world. They have no glaring weaknesses, still dominated a region that was significantly improved from top to bottom, and have shown great versatility both stylistically and compositionally. TSM are a great team and they're all reaching peak performance levels at just the right time. In a meta game where not a lot of advantages can be gained through the draft and late game team fighting is the normal you need to be able to do two things well. Late game team fight and defending vs up-tempo (or playing up-tempo yourself). TSM is exceptionally at two of these and above average at actually playing up-tempo as well. They have all the tools, good enough players to get the job done, and I think will actually surprise a lot of people.

vs The Competition:
  • vs Flash Wolves: TSM have the tools to tame Maple and Karsa and as HKA coach Nelson said if you can manage those two then Flash Wolves is dead in the water.  TSM 2 - 0
  • vs World Elite: This matchup I'm looking forward to. World Elite are extremely disciplined and so is TSM and with similar styles and similar levels of individual skill I can see this turning into a slugfest. 1 - 1
  • vs Misfits: Misfits just lack the international experience and overall teamplay that TSM bring. The individual skill level is also rather large, albeit not as much is it seems. TSM have the tools to manage Misfits and their gimmicks.  TSM 2 - 0
Total Record: 5 - 1


Flash Wolves (Taiwan #1 seed)

Members: MMD, Karsa, Maple, Betty, SwordArt, Cyo (sub)

Strengths:

  • Experience with multiple worlds and international appearances.
  • One of, if not the strongest mid + jungle pairings on the planet

Weaknesses:
  • Predictable
  • Not as disciplined as previous iterations
  • Inability to win games that aren't controlled by Karsa and Maple
Strongest Players:

  • Karsa (world class) - One of the best junglers in the world. So good that people know what to expect and he comes up with creative solutions to "next level" his opponents and create opportunities to open games up
  • Maple (world class) - Excellent, veteran mid laner capable of a wide variety of picks including an excellent Aurelion Sol which can be a wild card.
  • SwordArt - Solid as a rock, stable veteran that's had flashes of brilliance on the world stage before but isn't truly as dominant as the best at the position.
Overall Breakdown:
     The narrative would tell you that the LMS teams always "show up" or "clutch it out" but as I mentioned earlier about AHQ, I'm just not buying it this year. This team looks pretty awful at their international appearances this year. Rife with errors, lack of creativity, and generally predictable patterns, the Flash Wolves and the LMS as a whole seem to have lost a step on their former selves. If Flash Wolves are still the best team in their region and they still looked this bad I'm not even sure a pseudo homefield advantage can help them. I'm putting them slightly above where I have Misfits and the wild card squads and probably better than Gigabyte Marines as well but I think Fnatic, C9, G2, and all the Chinese teams are stronger this year. That said this is a veteran squad and have, as the narrative would suggest, "clutched" it out at Worlds before so that's not outside the realm of possibility. Flash Wolves are a team that I've generally had a good read on in years past, predicting with accuracy that people had underestimated them at the past two World Championships but this year something seems off.

vs The Competition:
  • vs World Elite: World Elite do everything Flash Wolves does but better and the Condi + Xiye combination is as good, if not better so that advantage could be nullified.  World Elite 2 - 0
  • vs TSM: Same as World Elite. TSM can actually match their strength and dominate the rest. TSM 2 - 0
  • vs Misfits: Misfits have similar level of players in outer lanes but could get rolled by that Karsa + Maple combo. I'm thinking they execute better against a significantly lower class of team.  Flash Wolves 2 - 0
Total Record:  2 - 4


Team World Elite (China #3 Seed)

Members: 957, Condi, Xiye, Mystic, Zero, Ben (sub support)

Strengths:
  • Extremely disciplined
  • Methodical, by the book.
  • Exceptional late game team fighting 
  • Excellent carry and jungle play
  • Great defensive team

Weaknesses:
  • Predictable
  • Have a tendency to play "too conservatively" and get too far behind against elite teams
  • One dimensional
Strongest Players:
  • Condi (world class) - One of the best junglers in the world. Gets to cut his teeth against a bunch of elite junglers domestically and is capable of blowing games wide open while almost never losing on his risks
  • Xiye (world class) - Rock solid, high economy carry capable of playing assassins, split pushers, and control mages. Delivers on the resources supplied to him
  • Mystic (world class) - Has had experience playing against most of the worlds best ADC's during his time in the LPL and Korea and has improved steadily over the course of his career. Exceptional high economy carry that fits the style of WE perfectly.
Overall Breakdown:
     I think if I were power ranking right now I'd have World Elite as the best Chinese team in this tournament. That doesn't mean I think they have the best chances of winning the whole tournament but I do think they're remarkably disciplined, play to their win conditions, and completely embrace their identity. They're  the specialists. Their play reminds me a lot of the old Samsung Blue in Season 4 where they would just grind out this long, attrition battle games over and over and over like the river that carves a canyon. That style can actually be very beneficial if you're as good at it (and only if you're good at it) as World Elite are in a split Bo2 group stage. I love the way this team plays and I think they have what it takes to make a run to the top 4 if they get the right matchup in quarterfinals.

vs The Competition:
  • vs Flash Wolves: Let the blending begin... WE 2 - 0
  • vs TSM: Similar teams with similar strengths in an absolute slugfest.  1 - 1
  • vs Misfits: Misfits are just gonna get crushed by the blender here. World Elite will let them beat themselves.  WE 2 - 0
Total Record: 5 - 1, lose tiebreaker to TSM to get a 2 seed in quarterfinals


Misfits (Europe #2 seed)

Members: Alphari, Maxlore, PowerofEvil, Hans Sama, IgNar, Hiiva (sub)

Strengths:
  • Exotic, unpredictable style at times
  • Weird picks that 


Weaknesses:
  • No true standout players from a skill perspective
  • VERY inconsistent
  • Best play isn't really all that great compared to the level at this tournament
Strongest Players:

  • Nobody inparticular. It's more a team dynamic / stylistic edge they seek.
Overall Breakdown:
     Honestly I don't think Misfits belong here. I really don't think any European team besides G2 and Fnatic belong at Worlds. The drop off from those two to the rest of the pack is just massive. Europe took a big hit in terms of overall league level of play this year and while they have some veteran players with Worlds experience I just don't see this team being good enough at any one thing to really make a dent. They're going to have to cheese or catch people off guard with pocket picks like Illaoi, Kayle, etc. I'm considering Misfits in the same ballpark as the wildcard teams for all intents and purposes.

vs The Competition:
  • vs Flash Wolves: Maybe Flash Wolves gets sloppy and snowballed on after both of these teams are eliminated. Should probably still be a 2 - 0 just on quality of team. Flash Wolves 2 - 0
  • vs World Elite: Misfits just aren't ready for this level yet. WE 2 - 0
  • vs TSM:  Same as above, just not in the same ballpark. TSM 2 - 0
Total Record: 0 - 6. Maybe they steal a game in "garbage time" after FW and Misfits have been eliminated.

GROUP D RESULTS
Team Solo Mid  5 - 1 
World Elite  5 - 1 
Flash Wolves 2 - 4
Misfits  0 - 6

TSM and World Elite slug it out in a tiebreak match that I have TSM taking. To me this group looked exciting but when you think about it is extremely top heavy like Group A

____________________________________________________

Prop Bets!
Dark Horse - Royal Never Give Up
Tournament MVP - BDD

Biggest Disappointment - Flash Wolves 
Biggest Suprise - World Elite, TSM to people that aren't high on them like me
World Champion - Longzhu Gaming
Number of Champions Selected - 71

Surprise Champion - Singed
Out of nowhere priority meta champion - Ryze

     And that's all I've got about the group stage. I'll be back afterwards and hopefully active on Twitter during so I hope to see you and join in the conversation. If you have any other ideas for prop bets let me know!

ENJOY THE TOURNAMENT!!