No other team is better at identifying its own weaknesses and adapting, which makes it hard to knock SKT out of the No. 1 spot here despite a 1-3 loss in the LCK Finals. SKT has had issues with top and jungle, leaving bot lane as a sole point of pressure, which Longzhu exploited by putting Khan on power picks and relying on PraY and GorillA to shove in Bang and Wolf. The fact that SKT is bringing Huni and the two junglers over Untara is a sign that the team has already begun to identify key problem areas from the finals loss. Look for a hungry SKT that wants to defend its crown at all costs.
It took the Incredible Miracle/Longzhu organization five years to finally put together a team capable of making a run for the world championships, and the starting five from the summer split pulled off one of the most unexpected domestic league titles in the game's history.
Following a flat spring split where the club finished outside the playoffs, a youth movement in the summer and the signing of a Korean top laner from China's secondary league turned everything around. That journeyman, Kim "Khan" Dong-ha, established himself as the ace of the team in only a single season. The team's backbone and veteran leadership in the bottom lane of Kim "PraY" Jong-in and Kang "GorillA" Beom-hyun guided the team's green nucleus all the way to the league championship. Longzhu became the first club in history to defeat SK Telecom T1 in a domestic final.
While ranking the Dragons first would seem like the correct move, the team still has glaring weaknesses it will need to fix if it wants to stop SKT from completing a three-peat and winning its fourth overall Summoner's Cup. Most notably, the team's youngest and most inexperienced member, jungler Moon "Cuzz" Woo-chan, was exposed late in the season by target bans and his routine of hovering top lane to get Khan ahead in the early game with his carry champions. Khan, the superstar of the team, will also need to step up in China. After showing an adeptness with high-skill, damage-focused champions all split, his insecurity with tank and utility champions, along with his so-so flanking, could lead to issues in later rounds. Still, unless the team has the tag "SKT," Longzhu's raw brute force in the laning phase should see it comfortably through until the final rounds of Worlds 2017.
Much like last year, it's a bit unexpected to see Samsung over KT as South Korea's third seed. This is the second year that Samsung has upended Korea's other telecom team to claim its spot on the Worlds stage.
However, also much like last year, Samsung have had certain players step up along with smart, comfortable draft strategies to aid the team in its success. In 2016 it was Lee "Crown" Min-ho and Jo "CoreJJ" Yong-in who made a splash; this year it's veteran jungler Kang "Ambition" Chan-yong and top laner Lee "CuVee" Seong-jin. While CuVee's statistics still aren't as impressive as Song "Smeb" Kyung-ho or Jang "MaRin" Gyeong-hwan's, he was sometimes the player dragging the rest of Samsung over the finish line when the team appeared to lose its way mid-split. Ruler also stepped up in a big way, going from a liability in draft to an AD carry that held his own, even when his support was not acclimated to the current meta. Samsung may not be the team that was expected to be here, but it certainly can't be counted out, brackets depending, of another Worlds final.
For much of the year, Team WE looked like the clear top team in China's League of Legends Pro League, but as with anything in LPL, it comes with a caveat. WE had to play three five-game series to even qualify for worlds, and lost two out of three domestically.
Perhaps the team's greatest strength is also its weakness; it's hard to characterize WE as having one style. Long gone is the "Elder Dragon" and "Son of Baron" era. WE can play effectively to a draft and understand a variety of different win conditions, but it works best with highly mobile solo laners and a heavy pressure laning phase to fight in the jungle or in bottom lane. The fact that WE can play a lot of different things makes it extremely difficult to prepare for, especially in single-game matches, and even if WE's foes chip away at its early game, Jin "Mystic" Seongjun has developed into one of the best team fighting AD carries in the world.
WE's bane comes through in its hubris. When WE tries to do too many things or drafts itself into a corner, it can fall as easily as it can rise. At its height, WE is the team from LPL most likely to take games from top South Korean powerhouses; at its lowest point, one might simply shrug if WE fails to escape Play-In.
Jian "Uzi" Zi-Hao has been well known in the international community since his debut in 2013, but the player to watch on RNG is mid laner Li "xiaohu" Yuan-Hao. The LPL's "little tiger" has grown exponentially as a player from his debut on Gamtee, to last year's RNG at Worlds, to his struggles in 2017 LPL Spring, to now.
Even with Uzi returning to the team after an injury, RNG has not fallen into the trap of funneling all of its resources to the AD Carry. Instead, the team is far more flexible, using Xiaohu's consistent mid lane play as a pivot point around which the rest of the team operates. Both side lanes of Yan "LetMe" Jun-Ze and Uzi/Ming are more than capable of carrying the team along with Xiaohu. RNG's drafts came under heavy criticism during the team's LPL finals loss, but the team should be able to put together some interesting strategies in best-of-ones, especially given how many carry threats RNG has. The true test for this team will lie in how it approaches best-of-fives, if RNG make it out of groups.
There are no excuses this go-around for TSM. The three-peating North American champion drew a group that doesn't possess any of the three South Korean teams. Following the past two years -- in which TSM was drawn into the "Group of Death" and failed to make it into the knockout stage -- it's put up or shut up time for the same five members who came into words last year with lofty expectations and couldn't even move through into the knockout rounds.
To the surprise of nobody, the team will once again flow through the talents of NA LCS league MVP and mid lane superstar Soren "Bjergsen" Bjerg. After coming up short in America last year at worlds, and once again in Brazil just a few months ago at the Mid-Season Invitational, this is Bjergsen's moment -- along with the rest of his team -- to rewrite the history of TSM at international events. If it can't, the team has no one to blame but itself.
The debate between Team SoloMid and G2 Esports comes nearly down to a hair. Both teams have a great deal in common.
Both have better fundamentals than other teams in North America or Europe.
Both benefit from having a better grasp of side wave control than other teams in LCS.
Both focus heavily on mid lane pressure and have discarded the approach of snowballing early to take more advantage of mistakes made by the opposition.
G2's advantages over TSM come from a stronger and more unified bottom lane duo, but in the current meta, mid lane control matters more. While G2 devotes a lot of attention and planning to keeping mid lane stable, Søren "Bjergsen" Bjerg can often keep mid pushed with blue buff and a reasonable matchup, freeing up the rest of his team. Luka "Perkz" Perković makes himself more vulnerable to pick-offs, necessitating more pressure from his side lanes. TSM also appears to have a better grasp of lane assignments, and G2 can leave its bottom lane exposed to push out top at bad moments. G2 ultimately leave fewer early openings than TSM, but the wrong lane assignment makes it easier to unravel them.
Despite finishing first in China, the fact that every LPL series featuring a semifinalist team stretched to five games makes ranking the Chinese participants less clear-cut. In terms of individual strength, EDG's Chen "Mouse" Yuhao remains a highly exploitable early-game weakness, giving up wave control nearly from level one. Ming "Clearlove" Kai's champion pool feels even more limited, especially with Lee Sin buffs on the new patch. Add a green AD carry with barely a few months' worth of high-level experience under his belt in Hu "iBoy" Xianzhao, and EDward Gaming looks more like a marvel of modern science than a top team.
EDG relies heavily upon Lee "Scout" Yechan getting his preferred lane-smashing picks, and the ability of Tian "Meiko" Ye to control the bottom side of the map on playmaking champions like Alistar. EDG believes in taking first-tier turrets as quickly as possible and have the resilience for long series, but the lower on the list teams fall, the more projected success in best-of-one matters, and EDG might have a rough climb ahead.
Flash Wolves have won four straight titles in Taiwan and is setting its eyes on a third straight world championship appearance. Unfortunately, the team's level went down a notch in the LMS this year due to its new initiative to be more flexible in the pick/ban phase. Not only that, but its superstar mid laner, Huang "Maple" Yi-Tang, underperformed during the summer split and isn't looking too hot heading into international competition. The saving grace of the team is support Huo "SwordArT" Shuo-Jie, who was not only the best support and player in the LMS, but is contesting to be the best support at worlds.
In a lot of ways, Immortals will be facing a "big brother" version of itself in Longzhu when the opening group stage kicks off. Both Immortals and Longzhu finished seventh and out of the playoffs in the spring split before making drastic changes in the summer to ignite a miraculous run to the world championships. While Immortals could bully in the laning phase through the talents of renowned Korean top laner Lee "Flame" Ho-jong and rookie Cody "Cody Sun" Sun in North America, it'll be a whole different beast when the likes of Khan and PraY are on the other side of the Rift.
The saving grace that could help see the club through into the knockout rounds is the one changed starting member from the spring to the summer split, team leader Jake "Xmithie" Puchero. A veteran of multiple world championships and even a Mid-Season Invitational final last year with Counter Logic Gaming, the presence and synergy the star jungler brings, especially with Flame in the top lane, could make Immortals one of the most successful western teams at worlds this year.
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