Group C of the League of Legends World Championships is all about teams that have something to prove. The most obvious example comes in the form of China’s Edward Gaming. After coming into the last two World Championships as one of the most talked about teams, they have never managed to make it to the Semifinals. The other three teams are each in unique positions to prove the place of their region in international competition. For H2K and ahq, it’s a chance to show the strength of their respective regions, while for INTZ it’s the best chance a Wildcard has ever had to get out of the group stage.
Let’s take a closer look at the teams to get an idea of how this might go for each of them:
Edward Gaming: It’s almost like a pre-Worlds tradition at this point to call EDG a title contender. In 2014, EDG’s Worlds run was cut short by a 3-2 loss to fellow Chinese team - and eventual tournament runner-up - Star Horn Royal Club in the quarterfinals. A year later their tournament ended at the same stage, this time thanks to a 3-0 sweep at the hands of Fnatic.
All that being said, it’s impossible to ignore just how good they have looked in the last several months. After a first place finish in the Summer Split, EDG beat two of the top four LPL teams, including a 3-0 sweep against fellow LPL World Championship representatives Royal Never Give Up.
The orchestrator of so much of EDG’s success over the last several years has been jungler Ming “ClearLove” Kai. During the LPL Summer Playoffs, he averaged almost 10 assists per game, not only the most assists by any jungler in the LPL, but the highest by any jungler in the world during playoffs. Considered by many as one of the world’s best junglers, ClearLove has never quite been able to cement this legacy on the biggest stage. But now, with jungle pressure and objective control at an all-time premium, the 2016 World Championships should provide ClearLove the perfect opportunity to make his mark.
H2K: It’s always tough to say how H2K is going to do coming into a competition. They play a slow and deliberate style. In fact, they played the second slowest games of the EU LCS playoffs and had far and away the fewest average deaths per team. This style puts its focus on map movement and specific win conditions, and while it may sound simple, it’s not easy to pull off. The key to making this style work is not falling too far behind in the early game, which is why H2K in the past - such as in the EU LCS playoffs against Splyce - have been susceptible to high-impact early game junglers.
The one true wildcard in all of this for H2K is AD Carry Konstantinos “FORG1VEN” Tzortziou. Perhaps the most controversial Western player of all time, FORG1VEN is also one of the most exciting to watch. While FORG1VEN has gone through patches of playing poorly, more often than not he is one of Europe's top AD Carries and frequently shows flashes of brilliance.
Nowhere can this brilliance be seen more clearly than in his impact on H2K since returning to their roster in late July. Of the 17 games they have played since, they have won 13, marking a significantly higher win rate than the 50 percent H2K had with substitute AD Carry Aleš “Freeze” Kněžínek. If FORG1VEN manages to play to the level he has over the last three months, he will add a whole new, and unpredictable, layer to H2K’s otherwise careful play. If however, he struggles to find his place in the games, then this World Championships could be a short one for H2K.
ahq e-Sports: ahq e-Sports hasn’t changed much in the last three years. After failing to make it out of the group stages at the 2014 World Championships, ahq added three new players and hasn’t made a roster move since. When they returned to Worlds the next year, they were rewarded with a trip to the quarterfinals, where they were quickly sent home by a 3-0 from fellow Group C team Edward Gaming. This level of roster loyalty is incredibly rare in esports, and has led to an ahq team that feels a little trapped out of time and often struggles to keep up with the pace and precision of the modern game.
The best player on the ahq roster is likely top laner Chen “Ziv” Yi, who looked fantastic in the LMS regional qualifiers. However, if ahq is to succeed in this group it is going to come down to the performance of midlaner Liu “westdoor” Shu-Wei. Westdoor has been ahq’s midlaner since March of 2013 and has frequently been one of the more popular international midlaners in the game thanks to his play on perennial crowd pleasers Twisted Fate and Fizz - no matter the meta.
But, westdoor has often struggled with particular metas in the past, needing the game to fit his champion pool rather than the other way around. That being said, with global presence being as important as it is right now, and the popularization of the midlane teleport, if there was ever a meta that was perfect to westdoor to take over games, this would be it.
INTZ eSports: International Wild Card teams are always working from behind, struggling to keep up with the larger teams’ map movements, and, often, dominant laning phases. But one glance at this year’s International Wildcard tournament tells you that things are changing. In this case, four teams looked legitimately competitive, which meant qualifying for Worlds was no easy feat. INTZ eSports played a strong tournament after a shaky start, losing only four games, two of which to previous World Championship participant Dark Passage.
One of the struggles that International Wild Card teams have faced in the past is the ability to get a foothold early in games to give them a chance late. That is to say, having one lane that goes at least even - or wins - that can help in team fights or objective control late in the game. In the case of INTZ, their best chance comes in the form of toplaner Felipe “Yang” Zhao, who dominated top lane throughout the International Wild Card tournament, earning the tournament's highest KDA at 9.6, almost a full two points ahead of the next closest person.
The strength of Yang also comes as a stroke of luck for INTZ, as they were picked into a group that doesn’t feature the tournament’s best toplaners. Because of that, it isn’t so hard to imagine Yang going even in lane and coming out strong in team fights to help INTZ secure at least a couple of upsets.
Matchup to watch: ahq eSports vs H2K
These games are going to be a competition of contrasting styles. For ahq, the game plan should be to aggress and try to win lanes, and use the early gold lead to team fight. H2K on the other hand are going to play lanes slow and try to keep them even, then use their tightly-controlled map movements to slowly break down ahq’s objectives.
There isn’t a way around the fact that the World’s meta is going to support H2K’s style just a little more than ahq’s. But, the nature of a group stage - a small number of one-off games - means that surprise and aggression are always rewarded, something ahq should look to take full advantage of. For that reason alone, this should be a great two games, with some hyper aggressive plays. And if that’s not enough, then at least watch for the westdoor Twisted Fate. It may not always work, but it’s always fun.
Edward Gaming is going to win this group, and it wouldn’t be too shocking to see them go undefeated. However, the other three places are basically up for grabs. I think H2K is the team most likely to take second with ahq in third, but if there was ever a group for an International Wildcard team to advance from, it’s probably this one.