League of Legends 2017 World Championship: Play-In Stage Preview
Everything you need to know about the first round of Worlds: Team-by-team breakdowns, matchup previews & expert predictions
By Matt Samuelson
On September 23rd, the League of Legends 2017 World Championship will kick off in Wuhan, China. This year, Riot Games has changed the format of Worlds to include a Play-In Stage. This round features 12 teams that have qualified for Worlds but will need to play their way into the Group Stage. The Play-In Stage is the perfect opportunity for teams from smaller regions to prove they belong with the top teams in the World, it also gives weaker teams from stronger regions with a chance to get some wins, momentum and confidence before taking on the top teams in the Group Stage. Below is a bit of background on some teams you may not be familiar with and a few storylines to follow as you take in the Play-In Stage this weekend.
How many millions of viewers will watch the 2017 World Championship? Quibbl about it here!
In addition to kicking off the World Championships, the Play-In stage will feature first League of Legends games on the newest patch; some of the small changes could have a major effect on professional play. The changes in the patch should have a major impact on the landscape of the jungle. First off, Jarvan IV, Gragas, Elise, Cinderhulk and Knight’s Vow were all nerfed while Nidalee and Lee Sin were buffed. Personally, I’m interested to see if teams start to lean towards aggressive, early game junglers instead of the tanks we’ve seen dominate the jungle for the majority of the summer.
The nerf to Knight’s Vow hits the tanky junglers the hardest, as the item lost 100 HP. Although it’s 100 gold cheaper, junglers that take this route will feel much squishier as they also lost 25 HP on Cinderhulk. When combining this nerf with the buffs to Lee Sin, Nidalee, and the emergence of Ezreal jungle, teams may form an identity around having aggressive instead of tanky junglers. It will be imperative for teams to be able to play with and around both styles in order to win Worlds. The Play-In Stage will give us the first glimpse into how the jungle pool was affected by the new patch.
Another note in the new patch is that the Spellthief’s line of support items saw a major buff. The 10% CDR coming in on the Frostfang is a major change that may have supports like Lulu opting in for more early lane power instead of the increased gold generation the Ancient Coin line grants. Nerfs to Lucian and Cassiopeia will put them more in line with other champions in the mid lane, and Ryze received a major buff. I expect to see Ryze played in the group stage as his ultimate is tricky to play around in a team setting, and the Group Stage already features fantastic Ryze players like Crown and Faker. Fiora also saw her nerfs from 7.14 reversed, making her again an extremely powerful pick. She will see play and will most likely draw some bans if a team or an individual top laner shows a strong proficiency on the champion (looking at you, Khan).
Teams: World Elite, Gambit Gaming and Lyon Gaming
Predicted Outcome: WE, GMB, LYN
I believe this is the toughest group in the Play-In Stage, but I won’t go so far as to predict any upsets. World Elite qualified for Worlds through the gauntlet in China, knocking off Invictus Gaming 3-2. They’re the hometown heroes, the heavy favorite in the group and the strongest team in the Play-In Stage. Mystic and Xiye are significantly better than any other carry in this group, and I expect World Elite to breeze through the competition.
What makes this group tough is the international experience that Gambit Gaming and Lyon Gaming possess, despite coming from smaller regions. Diamondprox and Edward are from the legendary Moscow5, one of the tournament favorites in the Season 2 World Championship all the way back in 2012. Somehow, they find themselves back at Worlds with PvPStejos in the top lane, who made it to the quarterfinals with Albux Nox as a jungler. He turned some heads with his individual performance last year, and now he will try to do the same from a new role.
Lyon Gaming participated in the International Wildcard Qualifier last year, failing to make the World Championship after winning the group stage and getting upset by Albux Nox in a 5-game series. Despite the loss, Whitelotus was impressive. He led ADC’s in the qualifier in both DPM and kills. They return this year with a new support and a chip on their shoulder. Both Gambit and Lyon used superior macro play in their region to find victories. Now they’ll have to find new ways to win against much better competition.
Teams: Cloud9, Team oNe Esports, Dire Wolves
Predicted Outcome: C9, DW, oNe
Well, Cloud9 won the NA LCS gauntlet to earn the 3rd seed at Worlds, as is tradition in the NA LCS. Once again Cloud9 finds themselves at Worlds, but this time they have to earn their way into the Group Stage. I actually believe this Play-In Stage is very beneficial for Cloud9. In the NA LCS, Cloud9 lacked consistency, largely because of their jungler, Contractz. He doesn’t look as comfortable on tanks as he did in the Spring Split, when he was making huge plays against the likes of Lee Sin and Kha’Zix. The Play-In Stage gives Contractz a few games to adapt to the international stage and improve his tank play, although Lee Sin and Nidalee buffs will make those champions much more appealing for the rookie jungler.
Team oNe Esports was in the Challenger Series 4 months ago, and now they find themselves at Worlds. Part of me wants to see them do well because they wear their emotions on their sleeves, but the team lacks experience and synergy. That being said, don’t be surprised if they pull out unique picks or win a few teamfights.
Nevertheless, this is a weaker group overall, and I believe the lack of experience puts each team at a serious disadvantage. Dire Wolves are representing the Oceanic region as they did at the Mid-Season Invitational. Shernfire is the player to watch for Dire Wolves. At MSI, their lanes were extremely outmatched, making it difficult for Shernfire to operate. But I fully expect to see at least one game where Shernfire pops off. He is a mechanical freak, and with some more experience and knowledge I believe he could be a strong jungler in a major region. I’m looking for him to show signs of it here, as he carries his team to second in the group.
Teams: Fnatic, Young Generation, Kaos Latin Gamers
Predicted Finish: FNC, YG, KLG
This is probably the most cut-and-dried group when it comes to predicted results. Fnatic was the top team for the entire Summer Split of the EU LCS and faltered in the playoffs. That being said, they fixed a few of their flaws and took care of H2K Gaming to make it to Worlds. The experience of sOAZ and Rekkles should really help rookies Broxah and Caps acclimate to international competition. I also think Fnatic’s play style, which leans more towards putting gold in their solo lanes and putting Rekkles on utility ADCs, will aide them in the group stage against weaker teams.
I don’t think YG or KLG will be able to adapt against this if Fnatic gets ahead early: they should be surprised when Rekkles ganks for one of his split-pushing side lanes. This was a go-to strategy for Fnatic in the mid game all year, and it’s something to look out for when watching Fnatic. As for Young Generation, they are the 2nd seed from the GPL region and gained their seed thanks to Gigabyte Marine’s performance at MSI this year. Like GBM, YG plays extremely aggressive and like to dive. This worked for GBM at MSI, and we will see if YG can make it work here at Worlds. If not, BigKoro is their strongest player and will have to play well if YG wants to take second in the group.
Kaos Latin Gamers were in the International Wild Card Qualifier last year and quite frankly looked abysmal. That being said, the only player returning is Plugo in the mid lane and they found more success this year in Latin America South. I expect KLG to get crushed by this group; I don’t believe they will win more than 1 game. Hopefully Phreak gets to cast one of their games so we get to hear him say, “MANTARRRRRRRAYA.”
Teams: Hong Kong Attitude, 1907 Fenerbahçe Espor, Rampage
Predicted Outcome: FB, HKA, RPG
I expect this to be the closest group out of the 4 in the Play-In Stage. HKA is the 3rd seed coming from the LMS region. This region is strong and has always had good showings at Worlds. They’re also led by their coach Tabe, who was a runner-up in Season 3. It will be interesting to see if HKA stick to GodKwai or give Gemini playing time. Gemini is likely to see a few starts, as he brings a bit more experience in his role while GodKwai has been a standout performer on tanks like Sejuani.
Look out for Kaiwing, who is one of the strongest supports in his region. 1907 Fenerbahçe Espor makes their first appearance at the World Championship as an organization. That being said, Frozen is a household name for any LCK fans, formerly of Longzhu Gaming. Move was also on Gravity and Unicorns of Love in the past. Now Move, Frozen, and Thaldrin look to bring their experience with them to the big stage.
I’m taking FB to win this group; their halfway decent macro play and experience put them over the top. Look for Frozen to be the catalyst for the team, and don’t be surprised if he locks in Aurelion Sol. Rampage is hailing from Japan and looking to improve on the performance they gave on the international stage at MSI earlier this year. They topped the GPL and Oceanic Pro League in the Rift Rivals tournament after MSI, showing massive improvement as a team and as individuals. If Tussle can set the pace of the game from the jungle, Rampage has a chance to run through this group and into a best of 5 to get into the Group Stage. However, In this evenly-matched group, though, their lack of strong map play will hurt their chances against better competition.
The League of Legends 2017 World Championship starts at 3 AM EST on September 23rd on http://www.twitch.tv/riotgames
Matt Samuelson is the co-founder of the Miami University Varsity Esports Program and has been a student analyst and substitute for the university’s League of Legends team for the past 2 years. You can follow him on Twitter @Cubbyxx