The first day of the 2019 League of Legends World Championship Group Stage did not disappoint. Starting the main event of the tournament with a highly rated match-up between European representatives Fnatic and the Korean juggernaut SKT T1, fans were clearly hooked in on the fun from start to finish. With that said, let’s dive into action from the first six games of Worlds 2019.
SKT reintroduces themselves to the world, top Fnatic to start Worlds 2019
The tournament started off with a bang, featuring a match in the dreaded “Group of Death”. SKT T1 missed last year’s Worlds and lost in the finals the year prior. This year, they are looking to reclaim their throne and usher in another SKT dynasty. With a roster stacked with elite Korean talent, SKT has never been this scary, even in their back to back championship seasons in 2015 and 2016. On the other hand, Fnatic languished underneath the shadow of G2 for the entire year, who went on to win MSI just a few months ago.
Each group stage game for both teams are extremely important, given the level of the teams in this group. With that said, Fnatic made a statement with their Garen-Yuumi draft: we are not afraid of SKT. The Koreans answered with a Kayle pick. They flexed it to bot for Park “Teddy” Jin-seong to counter Martin “Rekkles” Larson’s Garen. If you haven’t been up to date with the latest picks, Garen-Yuumi bot lane is extremely obnoxious. Garen’s natural tankiness, combined with Yuumi’s move speed steroids and heals, makes this duo difficult to deal with. However, one downside is that it lacks the sustained dps traditional marksmen provide. That’s where the Kayle comes in. Later on in the game, the Kayle becomes an unstoppable auto-attack machine that shreds entire teams to pieces.
At the start of the game, SKT use their stronger level 1 comp to invade Fnatic’s jungle. They succeeded in getting a pick on Yuumi, giving first blood gold to Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok. While not yet a fatal blow, Faker getting a gold lead is always bad news for any opposing team. As the game went on, Faker relentlessly and repeatedly rocket jumped into Fnatic. He and the rest of his team walked the thin line of aggression and inting perfectly for the entire game.
Fnatic tried to fight back each time SKT made a play but were simply outplayed by their opponents. However, despite SKT’s control over the map, Fnatic managed to stay close. Despite being down 5 kills at 27 minutes, the gold was dead even. Unfortunately, that didn’t last long. Around the 30 minute mark, Faker and SKT won a teamfight in the jungle near Baron, nearly wiping Fnatic. Jungler Mads Broxah” Brock-Pedersen survived but was unable to prevent SKT from getting the Baron.
Fnatic’s composition relied on Garen scaling into the late game, creating space for mid laner Tim “Nemesis” Lipovšek’s Ryze and top laner Gabriël “Bwipo” Rau’s Gangplank. However, SKT’s brilliant Kayle counter-pick denied them their late-game win condition. SKT ended the game; unable to kill both Faker and Teddy after a desperation move by Fnatic in the mid lane.
Player of the Game: Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok
RNG takes care of business, dispatches Clutch Gaming in easy win
This is probably the least hyped RNG had ever been coming to Worlds. Since 2013, RNG had always been one of the “contenders” for taking home the Summoner’s Cup but were unable to deliver each time. They were the first team to attend the finals twice, losing to Faker’s SKT in 2013 and then losing again to Samsung White in 2014. After winning MSI 2018, RNG dropped in the quarterfinals of Worlds 2018 despite being touted as the favorite to win it all. Their domestic rivals Invictus Gaming eventually went on to win Worlds. After that, RNG was written off by analysts as a team that is never good enough to win when it matters most.
On the other hand, Clutch Gaming is the whipping boy of the Group of Death. Nobody expects them to get out of this group. However, CG’s star top laner Heo “Huni” Seung-hoon feeds off of his doubters. He relishes being the underdog and always performs well when the odds are stacked against him.
With both teams playing different styles, I expected a favorable draft going to each team. With CG’s top side heavy game, they opted to pick a jungler mobile enough to allow Huni to play as loose as he wants. On the other hand, RNG wants to funnel as much gold as they can to their legendary ADC Jian “Uzi” Zi-Hao.
Clutch Gaming knew they are outmatched by a mile. For most teams, they’d pick a safe duo for their bot lane to prevent Uzi from snowballing. However, Clutch Gaming is not like most teams. They will not shy away from the moment. CG will not simply ball up and take a beating. They will challenge you face to face and force you to take action which in my opinion, made this an interesting match-up despite the skill difference.
Mid laner Tanner “Damonte” Damonte made a clever bait to draw first blood on opposing mid laner Li “Xiaohu” Yuan-Hao. Despite being a first-timer at Worlds, he matched up pretty well against Xiaohu. However, the same cannot be said for Clutch Gaming’s bot lane. Uzi and his support Shi “Ming” Sen-Ming clobbered Clutch’s bot lane duo and continuously accrued an organic gold lead throughout the game. CG tried to respond with cross map plays but RNG’s new top laner Xie “Langx” Zhen-Ying stood his ground and repelled Clutch’s attempts.
In the mid game team fights, RNG played around Huni’s Gnar bar perfectly. They never gave him an opening to engage and over time, Clutch Gaming grew increasingly desperate. Realizing they are getting slowly outscaled, Clutch Gaming repeatedly used Nam “Lira” Tae-yoo’s Nocturne to start a fight. Despite getting a few kills, they never managed to get anything meaningful and conceded the Baron to RNG at 27 minutes. From there, RNG played slowly before finally finishing Clutch Gaming off in 31 minutes.
Player of the Game: Jian “Uzi” Zi-Hao
Invictus Gaming remind the world they are the defending champions, blast AHQ
Invictus Gaming might just be the most coinflip championship team in the League history. On their best days, nobody even comes close to their star power. However, they sometimes drop games to the most unlikely upsets. With that said, IG is still a frightening team to go up against. With arguably the best solo lane duo in Kang “TheShy” Seung-lok and Song “Rookie” Eui-jin, they can go toe-to-toe with literally any team in the world. However, most fans would agree that IG’s worst enemies are themselves. After a dominant group stage run in this year’s MSI, they suddenly lost in a stunning upset against Team Liquid. This time, expect them to be out for blood to start their championship run anew.
On the flip side, pretty much everyone wrote off ahq e-Sports Club out of this group. With the LMS in steady decline, ahq remained one of the top teams in the region. Coming to this year’s Worlds, be wary of teams written off like ahq because they have nothing to lose.
Invictus Gaming picked up where they left off from last year’s Worlds, picking dominant skirmishers against ahq’s team fight oriented composition. Everyone knows IG wants to get down and dirty. They will not hesitate to pull the trigger if they see any sort of opening. A poke comp like this is usually countered by hard engage compositions and ahq drafted accordingly.
As one would expect, Invictus Gaming’s inconsistency led to an early game deficit against ahq. Also, their disrespectful aggression is something most teams have already adjusted to and they were punished for it, especially in the early game. However, IG stood their ground and stopped the bleeding at pre-20 minutes, exploiting gaps in the ahq execution. Similar to RNG, Invictus Gaming played well around ahq’s top laner Chen “Ziv” Yi’s Gnar bar, never letting ahq take a favorable team fight. After a Baron take that ahq tried to contest, Invictus Gaming steamrolled to a quick sub-30 minute victory.
Player of the Game: Song “Rookie” Eui-jin
Team Liquid with a statement win against Damwon Gaming
Nobody is expecting North America to succeed. This year’s top 20 players lists don’t even have a single North American player. However, this is a breath of fresh air for NA’s first seed Team Liquid. No longer in the spotlight, they can now play the game the way they want to. A team full of veterans never needed validation from others, anyway. They will play their game and just hope it works. Maybe this time, it can finally work.
For the other team, they’re coming into the tournament extremely hyped. Damwon Gaming‘s players are all over social media, garnering praise for their mastery of the game. They will have a lot to prove to the fans after all this hype. For a young team like Damwon, that could be disastrous.
Team Liquid simply didn’t give a shit. Yeah, I said that. Twitch and Youtube chat immediately flared up after Team Liquid seemed to botch their picks and bans. Galio support? Aatrox top? These were considered great picks… in Worlds 2018. TL had a game plan coming into this game: let’s just play our game.
Meanwhile, Damwon Gaming had an opportunity to slam Team Liquid back to reality. TL shouldn’t be able to win a game with a troll draft, can they? Perplexing as it may seem, Damwon took this as a chance to flex their muscles and try to brute force a win through sheer talent and superior team fighting.
Showmaker might be the next Faker, but TL’s mid laner Nicolaj “Jensen” Jensen wasn’t going to have any of that. From start to finish, he continuously pressured Showmaker under his turret and the Korean mid laner was almost a non-factor for the entire game. Through Jensen’s mid lane priority, Team Liquid were able to secure objectives throughout the map because they had the inside track each time.
Team Liquid’s brilliant game wasn’t just in the 5v5’s though. Early on, TL jungler Jake “Xmithie” Puchero consistently tracked and out-rotated his counterpart. His pathing allowed all three of Liquid’s lanes to push up and be aggressive. When the mid game team fights broke out, it was Team Liquid that came in guns blazing.
However, this game’s biggest story was Jung “Impact” Eon-yeong. He completely dismantled Damwon’s star Jang “Nuguri” Ha-gwon. Nuguri, known for his love for Kleptomancy, disrespected Impact by taking Cull as his starting item. Nuguri probably thought he can outplay Impact in lane with raw skill alone. Impact quickly proved him wrong, chunking his hp in the side lanes all game long. His solo kill on Nuguri led to a team fight win and a Baron, which prompted Damwon to contest the second Baron or lose the game inevitably. Team Liquid then aced them and marched to their nexus unopposed, completing the upset.
Player of the Game: Jung “Impact” Eon-yeong
Group of Life, FPX? Think again, says J Team
Everyone wanted to be in this group. LPL’s #1 seed FunPlus Phoenix definitely won the draw by getting both an LMS team and a VCS team. Moreover, the last slot in the group went to Splyce, who came in from the Play-Ins. This is definitely a golden opportunity for FPX. Their mid laner Kim “Doinb” Tae-sang waited so long for a chance to prove himself to the world and he got the best chance anyone could ask for. Every game for FPX will be theirs to lose.
Meanwhile, J Team finally emerged from the shadow of the Flash Wolves. Technically, they are the same franchise that won Worlds in 2012. However, almost everything in the entire organization shaken up since then. Mid laner Chu “FoFo” Chun-Lan has taken it upon himself to prove that the LMS region is still relevant in 2019.
Doinb and FPX in general are known for unconventional picks and they clearly played that card right off the bat. FPX drafted an all-tank plus Kai’sa comp centered around Doinb’s Sion wreaking havoc and ADC Lin “LWX” WeiXiang kiting from the backline. While it works perfect in theory and into FPX’s play style… we’ll get to that later. For J Team, they drafted a 1-3-1 comp that can also fight front to back 5v5s with ease. Win condition for both teams: whichever team protects their carries longer wins.
FPX played a wonderful early game, playing through their strengths and not overreaching after each play. However, a fundamental problem for FPX started to rear its head in the first major fight of the game. Isolated from the rest of the players, LWX tried to 1v1 J Team’s ADC Chen “Lilv” Chin-Han. He lost after getting rooted and unable to cast his ult. So close, he probably thought to himself.
Unfortunately, that was just the beginning of a facepalm-worthy performance from the hyped ADC. He continuously cast his ult to the front line on every team fight. FoFo then promptly deleted him each time. Meanwhile, his counterpart Lilv avoided death consistently. Each fight, he pumped out so much damage and simply shredded FPX’s tanks to bits.
The last straw came at the 2nd baron, which FPX started so they can use their engage tools to turn on J Team. None of that happened as LWX ulted outside the pit trying to catch FoFo. That meant no one was left to damage Baron and J Team slaughtered the Chinese team to the delight of the crowd.
Player of the Game: Chen “Lilv” Chin-Han
That’s it for upsets today, Splyce wins against GAM
GAM Esports is back at Worlds. With star jungler Đỗ “Levi” Duy Khánh back, fans are eagerly waiting for the bag of tricks they brought this year. For Splyce, every match against GAM and J Team are important, with the three teams predicted to be a toss-up. However, J Team made the group suddenly interesting after the previous game. Both teams will try to build on that this game.
Every person in the building knew what GAM was going to do: play around Levi’s aggression and snowball the game before macro even matters. Splyce drafted accordingly and picked safe side lanes and a strong mid-jungle duo. Meanwhile, GAM picked a rather disjointed draft with three assassins. Well, that’s just GAM being GAM, after all. Execution wise, as long as Splyce don’t let Levi get too far ahead, this is going to be an easy win for them.
If the draft didn’t send any red flags for you, the early game from GAM should. Not only did they not play according to their win conditions, it seemed like they didn’t play towards anything at all. Marek “Humanoid” Brázda’s Leblanc made pick after pick, preventing GAM from ever leaving their side of the map.
One thing GAM needed to allow Levi to carry was lane priority. Without it, Levi was unable to invade or make any sort of impact on the game at all. Nobody 1v1’d him to prevent him from getting a gold lead, which for a Kha’zix is crucial because, without items, he’s just a nuisance instead of a threat. By the time he got a kill, Splyce just had too much control of the map. They played slow and methodical League of Legends and they cruised to an easy 1-0.
Player of the Game: Marek “Humanoid” Brázda