The Main stage events have begun at World’s, with the Play-Ins wrapped up and teams sorted into their groups where they will fight for one of two chances to move onto the next stage in the tournament. Worlds 2018 is an exciting change from the norm without the dynastic SKT, and many new contenders have filled that void for the favourites to win it all. In Group A, arguably the group with the most parity, the fates of four teams will be decided. Can the Flash Wolves finally achieve the glory they’ve always been slated to? Will the Afreeca Freecs’ first trip to Worlds be a success? Can the Vietnamese squad of Phong Vũ Buffalo prove themselves and their region? And will G2 actually make it out of groups this year?
The LMS region has long been solely associated with the Flash Wolves and… not really anyone else. Easily the strongest team from the region, with the most consistent performances both internationally and domestically, they have a complete stranglehold on the region. While they’ve always performed consistently domestically, their performances internationally are more up and down. Sometimes they overperform when they’re underhyped, and other times they’re expected to win and they fall on their face. They’re never fully understood. It can be difficult to gauge their strength too because of the LMS’ trend of being a very ‘top heavy’ league, usually slanted to Flash Wolves and occasionally AHQ as well. This can be hard to judge too given that the LMS tends to be so top heavy, slanted towards the Flash Wolves in particular.
Unlike the other teams in Group A, the Flash Wolves tend to focus towards their bot side and mid lane. With the veteran support player, finally recognized on the World's top 20 players, Hu "SwordArt" Shuo-Chieh, Flash Wolves are in a position to control their own fate and make it out of groups. That is, of course, assuming they live up to those expectations this year. Their only weakness is that, unlike the rest of Group A, they don’t have a strong, carry oriented Top laner. Strength on the other side of the map offsets this, but if it gets out of hand they may be dismantled by a top laner who is out of hand. Flash Wolves still should be on course to secure at least second place in their group though, but they’ll need to not slack off in keeping their opposing teams top laners down and out.
The Afreeca Freecs are a team that has largely exceeded expectations for what many believed they could be.Gaining the ex-Rox Tiger mid laner in Lee "Kuro" Seo-haeng as a focal point was a good move for the Freecs, but Kuro also at the time was the weakest member of the Tigers. The loss of veteran Jang "MaRin" Gyeong-hwan had many feel that the Freecs would be a downgraded roster no matter who they picked up to fill that void. That all changed with the breakout year that was Kim "Kiin" Gi-in’s joining the Freecs. From a relative nobody to representing Korea at the Asia games, the rise of Afreeca Freecs has largely been on the back of Kiin and a resurgent Kuro.
With such a strong carry presence in the top lane, the Freecs are in a position to put resources elsewhere on the map to get themselves even further ahead. Kiin, even if behind, has pulled off some insane plays for his team. The uptick in performance from Lee "Spirit" Da-yoon helped Afreeca immensely in their playoff run as well. On top of the overall improvement of players, the Freecs are not afraid to experiment and stick with their own gameplans. Long after Swain’s dominance in the bot lane was no more, they brought it out in their playoff run of all places. Yasuo top and mid lane were picks they felt comfortable as well. The only drawback for the Korean side is that they are, outside of Kuro, completely new to the World’s stage, and that comes with some surprising responses to pressure and high stakes games. Whether they can ride out these jitters to the top seed of Group A is on them, but even if not second seed should, foreseeably, be theirs.
Vietnam’s recent showings at international events have gained them a spot at the main stage, and recognition as an independent region. With that comes a whole lot more seriousness and focus towards the region, which hasn't failed to deliver some interesting finals and performances. While they may have one of the easier groups in having drawn Group A (given that it’s not Group B or Group C,) their strength internationally hasn’t really been seen at quite the scale and magnitude that Worlds demands. Against the experienced team of Flash Wolves, no strangers to this stage, and the second seed from the best region in the world in Afreeca Freecs, The Vietnamese team looks a little under experienced and untested.
What they lack in international experience, they make up for in their unique style. Hyper aggressive and mechanical prowess that is impressive, the Buffalos would be right at home against an LPL squad, but perhaps mismatched against some of their fellow teams in Group A. What they possess in personal ability, they lack in overall macro play. Map movements, lane assignments, and objective control can be lacking in their hectic, chaotic playstyle. But they thrive in that chaotic atmosphere, and if they can create it against some of the more reserved teams, alongside their top laner in Phạm "Zeros" Minh Lộc, the off-meta, top lane carry focused, they may be able to catch teams off guard and off balance. If PVB can capitalize on that, they can steal away some wins and decide the fate of the giants in Group A.
There weren’t many groups that didn’t feel cutthroat this year for the Play-Ins that would be joining the Main stage after a grueling week of games, but G2’s draw wasn’t the worse it could be. Group A is difficult, yes, but not wrapped up like most claim Group B to be. G2’s experience in the Main stage of Worlds has been that of frustrations and falling short. While EU traditionally has fared well at Worlds, G2 is the glaring exception to that. But in a year with RNG finally winning an LPL title and SKT’s complete fall from grace, anything can happen, like G2 doing well in the Main stage at Worlds.
G2 is known for their lane kingdom style of play, often dominating their foes from the moment minions spawn and never letting up until they’ve won, or lost. Their particular strengths in both Top lane and Mid lane come from this playstyle. With the Top lane, held down by Martin "Wunder" Hansen, putting insane amounts of pressure on opponents, and franchise player in Luka "Perkz" Perković, constantly looking for the edge in his own lane, G2 have made an art of getting ahead in the lane phase. Wunder’s solo kills are well documented, and Perkz’s control of the mid lane is spectacular, but their bot lane can be lackluster at times. While this may not come back to haunt them in Group A, it can still cost them games if they lose that lane too harshly. In a group that looks to be the most competitive for who will make it out, that can be the difference between winning it all and losing.