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 B, what many have called the Group of Death, the fates of four teams will be decided. Will Royal Never Give Up continue their warpath to take every trophy in 2018? Will the defending Worlds champions, under a new name, Gen.G manage to defend their throne? Europe’s second seed in Vitality come in loud and boisterous, but can they back up the banter? Will the Cinderella story of Cloud 9 end with a doomed group draw?
It’s felt like a damn long time since we’ve had a team focused on as hard as RNG have been going into Worlds. With SKT’s dynasty in tatters, the ADC formerly known as the Crownless King sits atop his throne and prepare to win yet another title for his organization and country. RNG’s sudden rise to success has been momentous, and while many will (rightfully) turn their attention towards the Mad Dog and his impressive year, it’s the team aspect of RNG that’s impressed me. They work better together, they sacrifice for each other, and their 1-3-1 shows not just growth individually, but as a unit. It’s no longer a show of individual prowess in each position, but the combined might of all of them. And that’s scary for any opponent they’ll face.
But first they’ve gotta get out of groups, alongside some familiar rivals and new faces. Gen.G is in the same group as RNG… For the third year in a row. If I didn’t trust Riot’s Group draw integrity I would’ve said this was staged. But they’ll also probably be RNG’s only real competition in this group. Unlike last year, this year’s rendition of RNG, notably with the addition of some much needed stability and sanity in the Jungler position with Hung "Karsa" Hau-Hsuan, has become a far more… well, stable team. Alongside the tempering of the fires that is RNG’s aggression, you’ve also go a fired up Uzi, Summer Li "Xiaohu" Yuan-Hao (who has stated that he plays better in the Summer because he hates the cold,) and the duo of polar opposites Jungler options in Karsa and Liu "Mlxg" Shi-Yu. Alongside these flashier players is the ever reliable Shi "Ming" Sen-Ming and Yan "Letme" Jun-Ze, RNG feels like a complete package this year.
The defending Worlds champions did it again by qualifying for Worlds when many had already counted them out. While it was tragic for the rookie split of Griffin to end so abruptly, for Gen.G fans it was an oddly consistent thing amongst a year of ups and downs. They stuck with their Worlds winning roster too, only making a switch to bring in Song "Fly" Yong-jun to act as their starting Mid laner for a bit. With their Worlds, and lead up to Worlds for that matter, Gen.G opted with long time Mid laner Lee "Crown" Min-ho instead. With this year a change in Gen.G’s style from defensive boxer to a slightly more proactive team that has turned the roster into something quite different from last year.
While this years meeting of Gen.G and RNG is not quite as ice and fire as last years, they are still very different regions and definitions of what aggression means. To be called a proactive team in the LCK means you’re a passive team in the LPL. But Gen.G’s recent style change may be enough for them to gain the upperhand against their dancing partner RNG for the top seed coming out of the groups. With a strong veteran Top laner in Lee "CuVee" Seong-jin and the surging ADC Park "Ruler" Jae-hyuk, Gen.G have the long term pieces together to pose a serious threat in the group. Whether they can manage to topple the rising dragon that is RNG, and maintain composure against any possible upstarts from the Western teams in Group B, will depend on the sturdiness of this roster.
Even though Vitality enter Worlds as the technical second seed of the EU LCS, meaning they qualified off of Championship points, they did not mean they didn’t prove themselves in the Summer to get there. Beating both domestic competitors of Schalke 04 and G2 Esports in a last week tiebreaker boneza, Vitality then took third place over Misfits to secure themselves the second seed. They didn’t qualify by resting on their laurels, and they’re hungry to prove themselves at their first Worlds appearance. After finally finding the roster that clicked, Vitality have steadily improved over their EU LCS tenure. Drawing two of the strongest opponents they could’ve, in both RNG and Gen.G was unfortunate, but EU has a good record of defying the odds at Worlds.
On the back of a strong end to their Summer split, the European side is bristling with new talent from the talent-filled EU region. With the loveable, iconic-laughing Daniele "Jiizuke" di Mauro in the mid lane (who’s none too shabby at Ryze too,) veteran and long time member Lucas "Cabochard " Simon-Meslet, and surprising find Amadeu "Attila" Carvalho as the ADC, Vitality have been a consistent threat in their domestic region. They haven’t attended an international event yet, so this will be their first showing against non-EU teams. However, it’s their season saving Jungler in the team-hopping Mateusz "Kikis" Szkudlarek that brought Vitality to their current height. If the team hopes to back up their boasts and banter, they’ll need to step up to the plate and give some results too. They’ve got a chance at doing just that too, if they can find little holes in their opponents armour.
Of all the teams that are at Worlds, Cloud 9’s story has to be one of the most Cinderellian (is that a word?) stories this year. From an early split roster shuffle that left the team a complete mess and ultimately led the team to the lowest standings they’ve been in a long while, languishing in last place for multiple weeks, the team finally coalesced and rallied. Late in the season, going undefeated three weeks in a row, Cloud 9 managed to qualify for the playoffs again. The roster may have been unstable during the early split, but it paid off. What this roster shuffle did do was give Cloud 9 the strongest roster they could have, with a young trio of strong rookies to compliment their two veteran players. They may not be favourites to make it out of the group, but Cloud 9 have already proven expectations wrong time and time again this year.
For the miracle run to come together for the NA team, it’ll take a lot from their veteran players in both Mid laner Nicolaj "Jensen" Jensen and the player with the most consecutive Worlds appearances, Zachary "Sneaky" Scuderi. While these two players may be impressive, with half the team consisting of rookies in their first year of pro play, it’ll be on these players to keep the team and comms clear and level headed. Against both Gen.G and RNG, teams well accustomed to the World's stage, even the smallest of slip up or over aggression will be punished. Cloud 9 suffered quite a bit of that during their Play-In stage, but against stronger opponents those slip ups can be game enders. Shore up those leaks, and the cinderella story may have a shot, but if Cloud 9 didn’t learn from their Play-Ins blunders they may find those small holes in play torn open.