With the League of Legends World Championship 2016 quickly approaching, it’s time to break down what to expect from each of the groups during the first stage of the tournament.
Group A is a great way to recap the events of Riot’s previous international Tournament, the Mid-Season Invitational. There, Counter Logic Gaming from North America was the tournament's surprise overachiever, while Europe’s G2 were the tournament’s biggest underachieving team. With these two teams facing off again, alongside one of the strongest ever International Wildcard teams in Albus Nox Luna, and the LCK’s number one seed ROX Tigers, Group A is going to have no shortage of interesting matches. But, before we get to the winners and losers of the group, let’s take a closer look at the teams themselves:
ROX Tigers: The ROX Tigers are having a moment. After a Runner-up finish in the 2015 World Championships and three straight LCK splits finishing in the top three without winning a title, the ROX Tigers will finally enter the 2016 World Championship as Korea’s number 1 seed after defeating KT Rolster in the 2016 LCK Summer Finals. It’s a position they are unaccustomed to, but not unprepared for. In fact, this is the best the team has ever looked.
Their best weapon coming into the tournament can be found in their top laner Song “Smeb” Kyung-ho, who was, not only, far and away the best top laner Korea during the summer split, but also likely the best top laner in the world. His 4.7 KDA across ROX Tigers 40 game Summer Split led all top laners in the world who had played a similar number of games. While the rest of the top laners at Worlds are strong, Smeb is in a class all his own.
The ROX Tigers locked their number 1 seed after a grueling 3-2 win in the 2016 LCK Summer Finals against a strong - but non-worlds qualified - KT Rolster. While a close series may not sound like definitive proof of a roster’s quality, in this case it provides an answer to the question of whether or not ROX Tigers could win a close series.
It isn’t that the ROX Tigers have been bad in series play, it’s just that they have never been able to lock down a victory when they needed it most, in a high pressure championship environment. But, with an LCK Championship under their belt, and another year of experience, the ROX Tigers are in a fantastic spot to take another shot at the World Championship.
G2: Since entering via the Challenger Series before the Spring Split of 2016, G2 has absolutely dominated the EU LCS, getting first place in both the Spring and Summer Splits. But this success hasn’t translated to the international stage. The team finished a disappointing 5th place at MSI, which resulted in their placement in this group despite winning a premier region.
After MSI however, the roster was overhauled, bringing in a new AD Carry, Support and (eventually) top laner. This resulted in an entirely different G2 that look highly motivated to prove they can perform well outside of the European LCS.
The team’s most potent combination lies in the coordinated play between Jungler Kang-yoon “Trick” Kim and AD Carry Jesper “Zven” Svenningsen. The two were tied for the highest KDA - of any player with more than 20 games played - during the EU Summer Split at 6.8, putting them .6 ahead of their closest competition. This kind of dominant play, alongside the meta changes that have made lane swaps a thing of the past, means that G2 is going to be capable of taking over games from both the bottom lane and the jungle. What remains to be seen of this roster is whether or not they can shot call efficiently in the late game, a skill they never really needed to develop to succeed in the EULCS.
Counter Logic Gaming: The Mid-Season Invitational’s biggest overachievers struggled to find a groove in the North American LCS Summer Split that followed. After a crisis of individual play plagued them early in the split, CLG then faced a daunting new meta that eliminated the lane swaps that had allowed Trevor “Stixxay” Hayes to run rampant over the late game.
All said, CLG may be the team coming into the 2016 World Championships on the biggest down note - losing an ultimately meaningless third place match to Immortals. But, CLG has proven before that they are one of the world’s best tournament teams. At MSI, they showed an incredible ability to prepare specific strategies best suited for beating each particular opponent. But they’ll have to do even better at Worlds in order to escape from this very difficult group.
The most important piece in CLG’s innovative puzzle is going to be their support Zaqueri “Aphromoo” Black. During MSI, Aphromoo showed off his ability to play a huge number of support champions. In particular, his ability to play range supports - a total departure from the meta at the time. He even went on to play Sona - a pick he said he hadn’t even practiced - in the final two games of the Semi-Final against the Flash Wolves. If CLG are going to advance from this group stage, they will have to take significant advantage of this creativity and make leverage Aphromoo’s ability to pick up champions quickly.
Albus Nox Luna: Over the last three World Championships the International Wildcard teams have struggled to find relevance in their group stage. Often these teams came in with region specific strategies that didn’t play out on League of Legend’s biggest stage. This year however, the teams look a little different. They are poised and international parity in league looks better than it’s ever been. Enter: Albus Nox Luna. The Russian team, who won both the regular season and the playoffs of the LCL Summer Split, is coming into this Tournament as one of the most “conventional” - meaning similar to the larger regions - IWC teams we have ever seen. While this seems like a step in the right direction, it remains to be seen if they can succeed within such a difficult group.
Albus Nox Luna’s chief standout during the International WildCard Tournament was Dmitri “Smurf” Ivanov in the top lane. While an above average top laner will be a huge asset to Albus Nox Luna, it would be going to far to say he will have an easy time in lane, after all, his group does have a top-three top laner from North America and the top laners from the best teams in both the EULCS and the LCK. With that in mind, the biggest X-factor for Nox Luna is going to be the performance of their AD carry Vladislav “aMiracle” Scherbyna, whose playstyle is probably closest to that of CLG’s Stixxay. He tends to play a fairly safe style that revolves around strong positioning for team fights which allows him to stay safe while maximizing damage. It’s a difficult style to pull off, but Nox Luna should look to push games late, then structure their teamfights around allowing aMiracle to play to his strengths it could be the perfect formula for a least a couple of upsets.
Matchup to watch: CLG vs G2
This is going to be the battle for second place. For G2, the two games against CLG are also going to represent a way of proving to the world that they are to be taken seriously and that MSI was a fluke. When the two teams met back in May, CLG beat G2 twice, with the longest game lasting just over 30 minutes and the other lasting only 23. Neither game was particularly close. But these are two very different teams now.
The biggest differences between them are going to come in their style of play. For G2 this style is going to be combat-heavy, focusing on teamfights and aggression, while CLG is likely to focus on their strong macro play and map movement. While each style has its advantages, the meta as a whole has shifted to favor G2’s style a little more. With lane swaps being effectively taken out of the game, CLG loses one of its most well developed strategies. This emphasis on standard lanes alone should make the bottom lane matchup the most contentious of the series.
The big wildcard of the series is going to be Aphromoo. While it probably won’t be ranged supports again, it seems likely that Aphromoo and CLG would have something up their sleeve to surprise their most important competition in the group stage. Just how out of the box and effective this surprises are could be the determining factor as to which team moves on from the group.
The winner of this group is going to be the ROX Tigers, and it probably won’t be close. The real draw of this group is going to be in seeing just how close EU’s best Worlds representative and NA’s weakest can get to the top level of LCK talent, and to each other. In the end though, I think G2 walks away from this group in second and moves on to the knockout stage, with CLG coming in third, and Albus Nox Luna finishing fourth.
The Group Stage of Riot’s League of Legends 2016 World Championship will start on September 29th at 6:30 p.m. PST with the first match between G2 and CLG.