Worlds week 1 was all about the magic of groups: heartbreak, anguish and despair for EU, delight and hope for North America, and sheer elation for the Wildcards. We saw the best in the world fall spectacularly on Day 4, while the most underestimated teams shocked and silenced their detractors. Many are already calling this Worlds the best yet, and if week 2 is anything like week 1, it may very well be.
In week 2 the outcome of each group will be settled in turn, one per day, starting with Group A on Thursday. Let’s check out the situation in each of the four Worlds groups and look forward to the biggest match from each, and see what if anything European teams can do to reach the Knockout Stages.
ROX Tigers 2–1
Albus NoX Luna 2–1
Counter Logic Gaming 2–1
G2 Esports 0–3
No group exemplifies Europe’s Worlds 2016 slump more than Group A, as Europe’s #1 seed and big hope for this year’s tournament languish at the bottom of the table, having dropped all three of their opening games. An opening loss to CLG started the downward spiral, a thrown game vs ROX Tigers compounded it, and Albus NoX Luna may have put the final nail in G2’s coffin. It’s hard to maintain faith that G2 Esports will overcome their mental blockers for week 2, so we look to the other teams vying to make it to the Knockout Stages.
The biggest match of week 2 for Group A is undoubtedly the heralded rematch between ROX Tigers and CLG. The North American team decimated ROX Tigers on Day 4, as Korea’s #1 seed will rue their blunders going all the way back to the draft phase, crucially allowing CLG’s mid-laner Huhi to play his signature champion. Aurelion Sol had been disabled for the first three days of Worlds competition due to a bug, but was re-enabled on Day 4 after a workaround was discovered.
It’s hard to know if it was ignorance or disrespect that led to ROX leaving the Star Forger open and available for Huhi, but that’s exactly what they did and the often-criticised mid laner made them pay for it regardless. He silenced his critics and, along with Aphromoo, dominated each and every member of the ROX Tigers from level 1. That’s no exaggeration either, as it did in fact begin at level 1 when Huhi roamed bottom for an easy kill.
There’s almost no chance that Huhi will be allowed to pick Aurelion Sol in the team’s second meeting, but that doesn’t mean ROX Tigers are safe. ROX have struggled consistently in the early game in all three of their group-stage games so far, and should have lost to G2 had the European team not given away a careless Baron to allow Tigers back into the game. If ROX do not fix their early-game problems, CLG’s ability to exploit their opponents’ mistakes and rise to the occasion could see them take the first spot in this group, which nobody would have expected going into the tournament.
If G2 Esports want to make it out of this group, they must win all of their remaining games, starting with the opening match of the day against the ROX Tigers. Losing that game would see them eliminated from the tournament, an embarrassment for a team of their quality and for Europe as a region.
SK Telecom T1 2–1
Flash Wolves 1–2
I May 1–2
While Group B features no European teams, it does feature some of the tournament's most inconsistent performances. If Group D is the Group of Death, Group B is the Group of Questionable Deaths. And yet, despite all that, this group is becoming very interesting indeed. Anyone who watched the C9 vs Flash Wolves game will know that both teams have looked severely uncoordinated at various points, which makes the group's outcome all the more difficult to predict.
Flash Wolves exemplify such erratic qualities. The LMS’ #1 seed opened the group with losses to I May and C9, and they were games they should have won. Flash Wolves dominated the early game in both matches, as Maple and Karsa showed their ability both individually and as a mid-jungle duo, Unfortunately for the Flash Wolves, however, they lacked a coherent macro game and let two teams that are arguably worse than them steal away victory.
And then, as if a magical tome fell from the heavens into the lap of Flash Wolves’ support SwordArt and proclaimed “Thou Shall Play Alistar, And Thine Team Shall Learn To Macro”, they dominated SK Telecom T1, whom many were already proclaiming to be the winners elect of Worlds 2016. Rarely have we seen Faker, the unkillable demon king, sent back to the fountain so often. It was a slaughter, resulting in a rematch between these teams that promises to be one to behold.
The FW-SKT match raised more questions than it gave answers, though hopefully those questions will be answered when the teams face off on Friday. Will Maple be allowed to pick Aurelion Sol again? If week 1 proved anything it’s that Korean teams either didn’t respect this pick or just didn’t know how to play against it. In many ways Aurelion Sol in 2016 is reminiscent of Aatrox in 2013 where Asian teams did not consider it a viable pick until they were getting wrecked by it.
Flash Wolves could conceivably go 3-0 in week 2, as could SKT. Despite C9 picking up two wins in week 1, they don’t look capable of beating SKT or Flash Wolves, provided both are playing to their full capabilities. I May stand out as the worst team in this group and should not expect to pick up any more wins unless they are handed to them on a silver platter, like in their game against Flash Wolves, and even still they may not be able to take it.
SKT have a big decision to make coming into Sunday: do they stick with Blank? He was serviceable against I May, but that wasn't exactly a tall task. Against Flash Wolves, however, he turned in a dismal Olaf performance. SKT do have two-time world champion Bengi available to them and he was instrumental in bodying Jensen in the only game he played for the reigning champions. Swapping him for Blank was understandable; Bengi will not be around forever and SKT must build a team for the future. However, as demonstrated in both the regular season and the LCK playoffs, Blank does not look like he’s on the same level as his teammates. Should they stick with him and put him up against Karsa again, it could be a similar disaster for SKT.
Thankfully for European fans there are no EU teams in Group B, so we can watch these games safe from the spectre of disappointment!
Edward Gaming 2–1
ahq e-Sports Club 2–1
INTZ e-Sports 1–2
H2K appear to be Europe’s only remaining hope right now. Europe’s #2 seed came agonisingly close to beating AHQ in their opening game of the tournament, before pulling a “Flash Wolves” and handing the game right back over to the LMS’ #2 seed. They struggled to deal with a resurgent EDG on Day 4, but after an awful level 1 mistake by their bot lane it was always going to be a tough match to win.
This group is finely balanced, and as INTZ proved on day 1 any team can beat anyone in Group C. That being said, EDG ought to gain confidence from their wins over AHQ and H2K and make it out of the group without further losses, while INTZ do not look up to the standard of the other teams in this group and pose less of a threat to the seeded teams than Group A’s Albus NoX Luna. With that in mind, the obvious crucial match in week 2 for Group C is AHQ vs H2K in the battle for 2nd place.
H2K will go into this match feeling confident, having taken an early lead against AHQ in their first meeting. H2K relies on getting the early lead to mask their shaky mid-to-late game macro play, and it showed versus EDG when early casualties meant they could not contend as the game went on. Jankos still has the upper hand against Mountain in this match-up, and the Polish jungler’s determination to prove his mettle on the Worlds stage should give him all the motivation he needs to go out and win the game for his team.
Likewise, FORG1VEN and Vander should wipe the floor with AN and Albis in the rematch. They won lane but failed to outperform their counterparts in teamfights, and that needs to change for them to be successful. Ryu should have the advantage over both Chawy and Westdoor, particularly the latter, leaving top lane as the most volatile match-up in this game.
Ziv is a monster, but Odoamne can be too. Odoamne’s played the Kennen pick immaculately against INTZ and EDG targeted him with two bans, Kennen and Gnar, recognising how pivotal the Romanian top laner is to H2K’s chances. If Jankos can focus top lane and get Odoamne ahead of Ziv, they can win this match and give themselves a shot at a tiebreaker against AHQ for that 2nd-place finish.
Royal Never Give Up 2–1
Samsung Galaxy 2–1
Oh, Splyce. It’s hard to be disappointed in Europe’s #3 seed, despite their record in Group D. With no international experience, a team made up of mostly players in their rookie season, and having come from relegations just six months beforehand, we couldn’t really have expected much from them. They’re talented, but lack the vital experience needed to overcome the best teams in the Worlds.
They came close to putting a win on the board against TSM on day 3, but alas it wasn’t to be. Still, they gave us hope that, even if they can’t progress from the group (they, like G2, would need to win all three of their games to have a chance) they could play spoilsport to one or two of the teams looking to advance from Group D. They can make this group even more tense than it already is, and because of that many people (TSM fans included) will hope they can pull something off… as long as Splyce don’t upset their favourite team, anyway.
Deciding on the most important match in Group D is tough: is it RNG vs TSM, as the North American #1 seed look to take revenge for their opening-day defeat? Or is it Samsung Galaxy vs TSM, as the Korean #3 seed look to do the same to TSM? If we consider the strength of each team at their peak, TSM probably goes 3-0 in week 2 and takes first place in the group, leaving the rematch between SSG and RNG as the most delectable affair in this evenly matched group.
Samsung claimed victory in the team’s first two meetings, highlighting how vulnerable the Chinese #2 seed and MSI finalists are when Uzi and Mata don’t dismantle their lane opponents. Anyone looking for a masterclass in dominating laning phase should watch the VoD of RNG vs Splyce from week 1; anyone looking to watch a masterclass in shutting down a lane-dominant duo should watch RNG vs SSG. Ruler and CoreJJ were almost flawless, and it will be very exciting to see this bottom lane face off in week 2.
Of course, if Splyce can beat one of these two teams, or even finish the job against TSM this time around, this group could completely turn upside down. It’s exactly what we want from the Group of Death, unless you’re an analyst that is: get that coin balanced on your thumb ready to flip.
ALL TO PLAY FOR
Worlds returns on Thursday as Group A kicks off week 2 with an opening game between G2 Esports and ROX Tigers. Though the situation looks dire for Europe’s hopes of advancement, there are plenty of other games for European fans to watch with interest. Glory awaits eight of the 16 teams as they fight to book a place in the Quarterfinals in Chicago. Here’s to one more week basking in the volatile and wholly unpredictable magic of Groups!