You can’t be right all the time (or, in the case of the 2018 World championship, even occasionally), but covering competition isn’t about being right beforehand; it’s about celebrating success at the height of human ambition. After the dust of the Quarterfinals settled, it’s important to draw special attention to those who did exactly that.
Given the history of LCK’s performance at Worlds, seeing a semifinals with two European teams, one North American team, and one Chinese team requires major upsets — but also hero level showings. I wanted to kick off the semifinals by recognizing the key performers for every team that made a mark on this year’s main event.
To construct the top twenty list, I considered individual skill and clutch moments, map-based decision-making where applicable, consistency and importance of the player to his overall team success. Because of the final criteria, the top four of the list has a single representative from each semifinalist team. Play-In performances weren’t considered beyond adding context.
With the least amount of wins of any player on this list, Phong Vũ Buffalo’s Phạm “Zeros” Minh Lộc is probably the most controversial pick. But he put up impressive performances in laning phase against two of the best top laners in the tournament during Group Stage. PVB’s game against Flash Wolves features a highlight reel of Zeros’ work on Aatrox to even allow G2 Esports to play a tie-breaker. His pressure with jungler Hoàng “Meliodas” Tiến Nhật could have even meant the end of the road for G2 themselves. Every international event, a Vietnamese team sports at least one player whose name we can’t forget, and this Worlds, Zeros will linger in memory long after the victor hoists the Summoner’s Cup.
At this point, Yiliang "Doublelift" Peng's presence on Top Twenty lists is almost a joke. Every year he sneaks on, and every year, he leaves the tournament with expectations tempered. This year, more than any other year, his presence felt justified. Team Liquid’s problems stemmed from a deeper macro-based problem and poor dragon setups that didn’t allow Doublelift to get a good position in team fights. Even so, every win they came away with, Doublelift earned. His consistency, more than anything, gets him a spot on the list of top performers.
Any fan of Team Vitality would tell you that it’s almost offensive to blind pick Syndra against Daniele "Jiizuke" di Mauro. As an accomplished Ekko main, Jiizuke has spent his rookie year in the EU LCS outplaying his opponents in sidelanes and going for the daring catch that puts his team on the map. As always, an international stage never slows a European newbie down. In a meta where assassins become a viable option, and mid laners are one of the most important agents for a team, Jiizuke’s near complete and utter lack of a bad game speaks volumes.
Perhaps the most inconsistent player on this Top Twenty list, Invictus Gaming's Yu "JackeyLove" Wen-bo barely sneaks in by coming up insanely clutch in a Game Five against the first seed LCK representative, KT Rolster. Even if the rest of his team has a pact to never let him get a Pentakill, they can’t deny the world an image of JackeyLove hitting some of the highest highs of any player at the tournament in a meta that doesn’t favor his role.
The first question that comes when spotting Fnatic’s star mid laner at Number 16 is whether the list is in ascending or descending order. Rasmus "Caps" Winther definitely deserves a mention as a Top Twenty performer, and he still has his hat in the ring for best mid laner in the world, but the reality is that this hasn’t been his tournament, and he simply doesn’t look like the best player on Fnatic right now. No one expected Fnatic to win if Caps didn’t carry, but that’s consistently what has happened. Caps’ laning phases haven’t met his image when he’s faced LPL representatives, and Fnatic have had to make creative map movements to prop him up and keep the game moving. Even so, there’s a reason Fnatic divert the resources they do to give Caps an advantage, and he’s made key picks and plays in teamfights in the mid to late game.
Lee "Scout" Ye-chan's praise in 2017 came a year too early. At this World Championship, EDward Gaming not only relied upon their mid laner to make Worlds, but to turn dragon fights, survive laning phase when all pressure moves to bottom lane, and to constantly look for ways to patch together EDward Gaming’s messy mid-to-late game. Scout’s performance in Quarterfinals is one of the main reasons Caps fell further down the list, and giving him just a slight edge above the Danish mid lane wonder feels right.
The key to success against EDward Gaming has always come from targeting the support’s champion pool. Having taken over the shot-calling with Ming “Clearlove” Kai on the best, Tian "Meiko" Ye has gone from talented rookie sensation winning the Mid Season Invitational in 2015 to seasoned veteran. EDward Gaming’s game plan around Baron relies on Meiko’s ability to face check, and his performance on Rakan against Fnatic warranted a retooling of the draft. Once a jungle-support duo team, EDward Gaming has relied more and more on Meiko and Scout looking for picks in the bottom side river this year.
Cloud9’s mid laner’s inconsistency has remained a theme for the team since Play-In. The pool of opponents he has faced and still struggled against puts him lower on the ranking, but even from behind, Nicolaj "Jensen" Jensen finds ways to influence his team. Against Afreeca, he went from dominating mid in Game One to relying on Hextech GLP and Twin Shadows to control fights for his jungler and AD carry in Game Two. He and Caps share resourcefulness in common, and their matchup will no doubt bring an extra spark to the NA vs EU semifinal.
Shi "Ming" Sen-ming's legacy will either be denied Thresh Lanterns or the game-winning Rakan engage against Cloud9 that ensured RNG’s Seed One spot out of Group Stage. Aside from that, there’s no end to the laning tricks one can glean from watching Ming play: from potion usage to positioning in lane. If nothing else, two of the LPL’s supports have left a gigantic mark on the competition. One will certainly remember this as the year RNG had the Royal Road in their grasp and let it slip away, but Ming’s performance remains a highlight.
Invictus Gaming’s top lane rotation makes TheShy’s performances slightly less essential to his team’s function, but leaving him off the list after he made an apparent mockery of Song “Smeb” Kyung-ho in Quarterfinals would feel criminal. He's easily one of the most mechanically skilled players taking the stage this year. Without the flexibility of TheShy being able to aid in Invictus Gaming’s 1-3-1 execution, LPL wouldn’t have a representative in the semifinal after all three teams advancing from Group Stage.
After potentially struggling the most of any Cloud9 member in the 3-0 Quarterfinal, it may feel awkward to find Eric "Licorice" Ritchie on this list. Yet Cloud9 probably wouldn’t even make it past Play-In if not for some of Licorice’s crucial Lissandra play, and his performances in Group Stage also made Cloud9 look like the most flexible team in Group B. Add in the fact that Licorice had to contend with one of the most impressive top laners in the tournament in Quarterfinals and still managed to have an impact with Ornn ultimates and auto-attack Baron steals, and Cloud9’s top laner feels right at home.
If not for the Game Five implosion against G2 Esports leaving a bad taste, Royal Never Give Up's Jian "Uzi" Zi-hao would still be remembered as easily the best performing AD carry at the tournament. Constantly up in CS against anything except a Draven or a G2 Jhin lane, Uzi really did live up to his oppressive laning reputation, and his and Ming’s ability to control team fights yielded RNG incredible victories many probably felt they shouldn’t have gotten away with. Number Nine certainly isn’t where one would expect to find Uzi before the start of the tournament, but it’s a very strong Number Nine finish.
Given Martin "Rekkles" Larsson's long history of respect for Uzi and Uzi’s equally long history of finding the upper hand against Fnatic, it feels awkward to see the Swedish AD carry ranked higher. With the sheer amount of talent on Fnatic’s team and much talk about their solo laners in a solo lane-centric meta, one might even think I’ve gone mad. But the importance of Fnatic’s bottom lane’s success to their wins goes criminally underrated, and when Caps has had bouts of inconsistency, Europe’s first seed has looked again to Rekkles to carry. He sports the highest percentage of team damage of any AD carry standing in the semifinal (30.2%), and any team facing Fnatic will always have to consider a Tristana ban or be prepared to lose almost all of their turrets in rapid succession.
Some may quibble about Martin "Wunder" Hansen and the other two western tops at the tournament in ranking, but the amount that G2 relies upon Wunder to succeed gives him an easy edge regardless of overall assessment. He and G2’s mid laner have flexed their picks and their positions across games, managed to rotate at key times, and pulled bans off their bottom lane for stunning games against steep top lane competitors.
The phrase “elo Hell” was invented for Kim "Kiin" Gi-in's situation in the Afreeca Freecs vs Cloud9 series. Consistently squeezing Licorice out of lanes, Kiin lived up to the standards set for him as the best top laner in the world. Yet Afreeca’s bumbling decisions and bottom lane’s underperformance made it difficult for even a well snowballed Viktor to carry the mid and late game. Throughout Worlds, Kiin looked his worse when he couldn’t get a strong matchup in the top lane, but still managed to stay competitive and look for openings to impact the game.
Pegged as a favorite to win it all, it’s disappointing to see only one member of Korea’s first seed making this list. Cho "Mata" Se-hyeong's impressive gank setups and vision control remains a joy to watch even in a year with delayed Sightstone builds. KT probably had some of the weirdest mid game lane swaps of the event and seemed incredibly out of sorts taking fights against Invictus Gaming in the first two games of the Quarterfinal, but Mata seemed to never disappoint, making him both the highest rated LCK player and the highest rated support on the list.
Watching Cloud9’s games against Afreeca, it wouldn’t be a stretch to call Dennis "Svenskeren" Johnsen opportune rather than instrumental. Yet he always seemed to appear at the right place at the right time, find the Afreeca member who didn’t itemize against him, and continue to roam with Tristan "Zeyzal" Stidam to ensure they would get a jump on any opponent fishing for scraps in their own jungle. Svenskeren’s team felt comfortable drafting compositions that lived or died by him securing a lead, and he failed to let them down.
When Fnatic shone brightest domestically last year, Mads "Broxah" Brock-Pedersen's praise felt pre-emptive. His decision making sometimes came off as lazy, and his pathing predictable. This World Championship, he has been anything but. Even when he struggled slightly against EDward Gaming’s Chen “Haro” Wen-lin in the Quarterfinal, Broxah used jungle plants smartly, moved first on key objectives like dragon, and placed defensive vision to stop the bleeding. Broxah comes in third largely because it’s difficult not to just fill the list with Fnatic members. Wins always seem to come a different member of Fnatic carrying, but Broxah has had the most highs. The competition between him and Svenskeren will no doubt be explosive.
If one remembers the start of the World Championship Group Stage, consistency doesn’t immediately resonate, but in the series against Royal Never Give Up, G2 Esports’ middle of the map didn’t falter. Luka "Perkz" Perković has slowly found his footing and ramped up throughout the 2018 World Championship, and strong finishers leave a stronger impression. Of course, one can argue that Perkz hasn’t faced mid lane competition as steep as Caps at the other end of the list, but he’s done more with laning advantages yielded him by his roaming support and jungler. He’s had both some of the best Akali and Leblanc games of the event, which requires a great amount of individual skill. For G2 to make the final, Perkz more than anyone else on G2 needs to have an excellent game.
If there’s one player at this event who never let a single spectator down, it’s Song "Rookie" Eui-jin. He even wins games when he forgets to buy a level one item. Though iG have prioritized counter-pick for his lane in half of his games, he’s maximized the definition of a good matchup and almost taken over the map single-handedly. Most of the European teams at this event use pressure from the bottom lane to assist mid, but Rookie earns his own leads and spreads the wealth to the rest of his teammates even against the onslaught from the opponent’s support and jungler. The last time Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok didn’t make Worlds was the year Rookie won the OGN Summer Championship, but watching Rookie take his place as the final boss of international competition feels seamless. One has to think that, even if Faker were here, he’d feel apprehensive at the prospect of taking on Invictus Gaming’s star.