LoL 2017 World Championships: Group stage, Week 1

Jess Carruthers Roar Guru

By Jess Carruthers, Jess Carruthers is a Roar Guru

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    Enter the big boys. This week, we hit the first round robin of the League of Legends 2017 World Championship group stage.

    For a lot of fans this is the real beginning of Worlds. Starting from Thursday teams including SK Telecom T1, Edward Gaming, G2 Esports and Team SoloMid will be taking to the stage and the Rift and striving to proceed to the final knockout rounds.

    The group stage will run this weekend and next. On Thursday there will be an opening ceremony at 6pm AEDT followed by six games, and on Friday through to Sunday the games will start at 6pm. This week will be a full round robin for each of the four groups.

    It’s hard to rate these teams against each other at this stage – although the Worlds Pick’Em will be available for you to try right up until the opening ceremony – so for this first round let’s take a look at who will be involved this weekend.

    Group A
    Pool 1: Edward Gaming (EDG) from the LPL
    Pool 2: ahq e-Sports Club (AHQ) from the LMS
    Pool 2: SK Telecom T1 (SKT) from the LCK
    Pool 3: Cloud9 (C9) from the NA LCS

    With both SKT and EDG, this group is pretty heavily stacked in favour of the Korean and Chinese teams. While all four of the teams have pretty extensive experience at Worlds and other international competitions, these are the hot favourites to make it to the next stage.

    EDG is the top-seeded Chinese team and will be hometown heroes coming into this event. 2017 marks EDG’s fourth consecutive world championship appearance, and they have never failed to make it out of groups. There has been some analyst debate as to whether or not this team is the actual best team from China this year, but they are an intimidating start to the group nonetheless.

    AHQ are the second-seeded LMS team and are also on their fourth consecutive trip to Worlds. This group should be giving them a little cause for concern – in both 2014 and 2016 they were also in the same group as EDG, and both times EDG came second in the group and blocked a third-place AHQ from proceeding to the knockout stage. There is a bright spot, though: in 2015, AHQ were the second place spoiler to C9 after a tiebreak match.

    SKT is the team that needs no introduction. They have won all three world championships that they have attended – in 2013, 2015 and 2016 – and they will not want to break their stride. It’s worth noting that they are coming into this tournament as a second seed instead of first after losing the LCK final to Longzhu Gaming 1-3. That does not make this team any less intimidating – with their prestige and players, this team is probably favourite to take top seed in Group A.

    C9, the NA LCS’s third-seed team, have just come out of a week of play-ins, where they convincingly won a spot in the main event without dropping a single game. Although this is their fifth straight year at Worlds, they have not yet seen great success, and with two of the strongest teams in the tournament, plus a team that has spoilt them before, this year will be a particular challenge.

    Group B
    Pool 1: Longzhu Gaming (LZ) from the LCK
    Pool 2: GIGABYTE Marines (GAM) from the GPL
    Pool 2: Immortals (IMT) from the NA LCS
    Pool 3: Fnatic (FNC) from the EU LCS

    If there is a group of life at this tournament, it could definitely be Group B. While it has the top seed from Korea, the other three teams all have a real chance of breaking out to the knockout stage.

    LZ, who I have touched on already, beat SKT in the LCK grand final to attend Worlds as the first seed from Korea. This team rebranded from Incredible Miracle last year, and have been around since 2012 in that form, though with poor results. This is their first trip to Worlds, and coming as the first seed from the strongest region means there will be a lot of eyes on them, and pretty high expectations.

    GAM, the top seed from the GPL, secured their region’s attendance at Worlds through their breakout performance at MSI. Their impressive performance there won them a lot of fans worldwide, and they’ve been absolutely dominant in their region this year after rebranding and rebuilding last offseason. I know I’m not the only one super excited to watch this team, and especially in this group.

    IMT are the second seed from the NA LCS and are making their first appearance at Worlds. After a disappointing first year in 2016, the team spent a split rebuilding, only to come roaring through summer and finally securing a spot at Worlds. Though the team is new to this tournament, the veteran players have a few appearances between them. With the range of experiences on the team and the lack of practice at best-of-one games, it will be interesting to see how the team performs.

    FNC join the tournament as the third seed from the EU LCS and, like C9, have just finished fighting their way through the play-in tournament. Their record was not quite as convincing, but they still only dropped the one game to make it to this spot. FNC won the very first world championship way back in Season 1 and are now attending for the fifth time. Although this team is not as dominant as it was back in 2011, they are still one of the biggest names in League.

    Group C
    Pool 1: G2 Esports (G2) from the EU LCS
    Pool 2: Royal Never Give Up (RNG) from the LPL
    Pool 2: Samsung Galaxy (SSG) from the LCK
    Pool 3: 1907 Fenerbahçhe Esport (FB) from the TCL

    Group C is probably the closest thing to a group of death this year. Although FB are probably not going to be able to hold their own here, the other three teams are all very strong representatives from their regions and will make their opponents work hard for any wins.

    G2 are the first seed from the EU LCS and have been regionally dominant since they made it into the LCS in 2016. Although they have somewhat of a reputation for choking internationally, this is largely a hangover from last year; at both IEM and MSI, G2 made it through to the final matches. This group will really put them to the test, and if they can make it out, it should help them shake their poor reputation once and for all.

    RNG are the second-placed team from the LPL, and although the organisation has played at Worlds a number of times, this will only be the second appearance for this particular team. The Pool 2 teams in this group may be giving some folks a bit of deja vu, and with good reason – RNG and SSG were in the same group last year too. Although they both proceeded to the knockout stage, RNG were not able to pick up any games off SSG last year; they will be looking for revenge over the next two weeks.

    SSG are representing the LCK as their number three seed and are no strangers to the Worlds stage. In fact, this organisation took both first and third/fourth in the 2014 world championship, and they came second last year. I’ve already spoken about the rivalry between SSG and RNG, but I really do think these two teams could have some of the hardest-fought games in the group stage – without a doubt this is an organisation with a history and a lot of knowledge, and they are one to watch.

    FB, the number one seed from the TCL, are the only emerging region team to proceed to the group stage of this year’s world campionship. Like FNC and C9, FB fought through the play-in stage, taking an upset first place in their group from Hong Kong Attitude. They were going to have a tough time in just about any group they placed in, but this one is particularly rough – all of their opponents are potential semifinalists or better. I don’t want to understate FB’s ability though; while I don’t see them making it past groups, they could really spoil the tournament for one of their opponents.

    Group D
    Pool 1: Flash Wolves (FW) from the LMS
    Pool 2: Misfits Gaming (MSF) from the EU LCS
    Pool 2: Team SoloMid (TSM) from the NA LCS
    Pool 3: Team WE (WE) from the LPL

    Our final group is an interesting one with a set of teams whose ability to perform is being variously argued as top-notch and trash tier. I’m very interested to see how this one will shake out.

    FW are the top seed from the LMS and will be a familiar name to anyone who has followed international league in the past. This is their third consecutive Worlds, although their performances in the past have been fairly average. Each year that this team has been talked about as a real contender, but they’ve only made it out of the group stage once, in 2015. Still, those who follow the LMS closer than I seem to feel that this could be their year, especially with this group; our questions will begin to be answered over the weekend.

    MSF are the second seed from the EU LCS, and are quite new as an organisation. This is not only their first Worlds but their first international tournament full stop, although a good number of the team members have been around the scene for several years. This team could go either way, especially in this group. If they are as strong as their fans think, they definitely could grab the second seed, but if not, they may well struggle to stay out of fourth.

    TSM are the first seed from the NA LCS, and are attending Worlds after becoming undeniably the strongest and most consistent team in their league. The team is the only team globally to have appeared at every single world championship to date, though their roster has of course changed over time. There are a lot of hopes and expectations on TSM’s shoulders; they’ve managed to be in a group with neither the Korean or Chinese top team, which means that this could be their year.

    WE, despite being the third-placed Chinese team, are here to spoil the dreams of their groupmates. Having had to go through the play-in stage, they are a late addition to the group and bump up the group difficulty significantly. They’ve attended Worlds once, way back in season two, but they’ve played a lot of other international tournaments in the meantime. This year they have of course shown weaknesses in parts of their game, but this Pool 3 team is still going to be aiming for the top seed moving into the knockouts.

    My Pick’Em is in, my diary is filled and I am excited to start seeing some of the highest quality League of 2017. Who are you going to be cheering for?

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