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Worlds 2016 preview: Group D

TSM has one of the toughest groups in the tournament.

Riot Games

Group D is this tournament’s Group of Death. In other words, no one in the group is safe from elimination. Team SoloMid is likely the best team North America has ever fielded, while Samsung Galaxy and Splyce are their region’s two hottest teams. All this is rounded out by a Royal Never Give Up team that always seems on the brink of breaking through as one of the world’s best, but still hasn’t quite put all the pieces together.

The teams:

Samsung Galaxy: Two years ago at 2014 Worlds, Samsung Galaxy White played an incredible tournament, won the championship, then promptly parted ways, each player heading off to China to play in the LPL. The following season Samsung Galaxy was a punch line, finishing 8th in the LCK’s Spring Split and 7th in the Summer. But after minor tweaks to the roster over the past year, Samsung turned into a formidable team that still looked a split or two away from putting everything together.

However, after losing to KT Rolster in the 2016 LCK Summer Split playoffs, Samsung made another roster change, this time placing Sungjin “CoreJJ” Lee into their starting lineup in the support role. This change going into Korea’s Regional Qualifier made all the difference, with Samsung coming in looking like a completely different team, dominating the tournament and beating favorite KT Rolster 3-2 to qualify for worlds.

Throughout the Regional Qualifier, Samsung played an incredible tournament, with their top laner, mid laner and AD Carry coming out of the tournament with the most kills per game at their respective positions. But the key link between all three came from the jungle, with Chanyong “Ambition” Kang consistently getting his entire team ahead and helping them steamroll their competition.

During the Regional Qualifiers, Ambition had the best KDA of any jungler by almost a full point, as well as the second best of any player - second only to his teammate CoreJJ. This kind of support lent towards laners like Minho “Crown” Lee and Jaehyeok “Ruler” Park will help push Samsung into early leads that they can use to take over games.

Team SoloMid: The last three years at international competitions for North America have not been particularly optimistic. But this year is different for a couple of reasons. The first is CLG’s performance at the Mid-Season Invitational. Suddenly, it seemed like the NA LCS could compete alongside the best teams in the world. The second reason, building directly off the first, is the strength of Team SoloMid.

The complete dominance of TSM in the 2016 NA LCS Summer Split - including over the internationally successful CLG - is difficult to oversell. Over the course of the 18 best of threes played in the split, TSM lost one. But it wasn’t just their record: they also seemed to be playing on a level NA hadn’t previously seen. Every aspect of their game was faster and smoother than any other team in the region. Right down to the smallest details, such as switching targets in a fight or stopping Baron to start a team fight, everything appears to be an immediate and perfectly coordinated decision.

At the heart of this coordination is midlaner Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg. Once the up and coming midlaner who was full of mechanical talent, Bjergsen has matured his game - particularly over the course of Season 6 - and become the kind of leader that can put his team in a place to win big games. And that’s exactly what he will need to do on the Worlds stage.

Royal Never Give Up: Coming into the 2016 World Championships Royal Never Give Up are an endless series of contradictions. On the one hand, they may have the world’s most talented roster on paper. Between former world champions Se-Hyong “Mata” Cho and Hyeongseok “Looper” Jang and two-time runner up Zihao “Uzi” Jian, the team should be in a perfect place to win.

But they don’t seem able to succeed. In fact, in the LPL Summer Finals they lost to EDG in three games, and never looked like they had a chance at winning. Similarly, at the Mid-Season Invitational -- admittedly before the signing of Uzi -- RNG lost in the Semi-Finals after a strong group stage, finishing 3rd-4th out of only five major region teams.

The primary responsibility for turning this roster’s pure talent into actual wins is likely going to fall on the shoulders of support player Mata. During his time in Korea playing with Samsung White he filled a similar role, helping a talented group of players learn coordination and grow as players which -- along with his shot calling -- took them straight to a championship. But that was a roster that, for the most part, had spent the better part of two years together, building and perfecting a specific style of game control. RNG on the other hand have only been together for about a year, and have yet to develop a cohesive team identity.

If the team is able to pull together over the two week group stage, it’s likely that they will push straight through to the Finals with little opposition, but if they carry over their form from the LPL Summer Split Playoffs, it’s going to be a very short tournament for Royal Never Give Up.

Splyce: It’s an incredibly difficult feat to get into the LCS and qualify for Worlds in the same season. But somehow with Splyce, it felt almost inevitable. Though they had some close series against both Unicorns of Love and H2K, Splyce remained calm and collected and entered game five of both of those series with a smart and effective game plan. These kinds of situations really speak to the quality of the team that Splyce has put together. The team themselves has a high degree of coordination, and their pick/ban phases put together by Jakob “YamatoCannon” Mebdi were significantly better than most of their European competition.

The center of this coordination comes from Splyce’s jungler Jonas “Trashy” Andersen. While Splyce isn’t necessarily a great laning team -- in fact, it’s their biggest weakness -- Trashy excels as an early game jungler, helping to push his team into an early lead and putting himself into a position to help win the game. Just looking at his stats during their run through the EU Regional Qualifier makes Trashy’s place on Splyce clear. He had the highest KDA, most kills and most assists of any jungler, while also participating in 60% of First Bloods in their games. All of these things make for a jungler built to take over games, which is something Splyce is going to need if they are going to get out of this particularly difficult group.

Matchup to Watch TSM vs SSG:

First of all, there isn’t a bad matchup in this group. Seriously. Each and every match here is going to be a must watch so long as all of these teams come to play. That being said, I’m going with TSM vs SSG here because I think the teams mirror each other in interesting ways, and both sets of players dominated their roles the last time they played.

The most contentious of these roles is likely to be mid lane with Bjergsen - North America’s best mid laner - facing off against Crown - a player quickly rising through the ranks of Korean mid laners. Both players have a strong and highly aggressive style that should lead to fireworks early on, as well as swing the momentum of each game as a whole.

Perhaps the most interesting story behind this matchup though, particularly from a North American perspective, is how exactly TSM will stack up against such a strong opponent when both are entering the tournament at the height of their play.

Predictions

This is an absolute crap shoot, but here goes. I think Team SoloMid are going to top this group, with Samsung Galaxy close behind. Royal Never Give Up and Splyce will bring up the back half of the group. While the list I have here is seed order, I can’t stress enough just how close these teams look going into Worlds so it’s possible that this group could go in just about any direction.

The Group Stage of Riot’s League of Legends 2016 World Championship will start on September 29th at 6:30 p.m. PST.