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Four Teams Set to Surprise at Worlds

Group stages encourage extreme thinking. On one hand there are top seeds that are most likely to advance at Worlds and contend for the championship, and on the other hand there are likely losers. Some teams appear to be there to get beat up by better teams that actually have a chance. But the truth is that once you get past the top seeds, this tournament features a lot more evenly matched teams than we've seen in previous years. A team’s seeding number, the region it represents and even its raw skill isn’t enough to properly rate it against another team. Looking at a team’s style and thinking about how it will interact with foreign teams is necessary to complete the picture or else a team will just fall out of sight.

These are the teams that are going to make this group stage exciting. They're the teams no one will see coming.

Counter Logic Gaming

Counter Logic Gaming has largely been written off as the free win in its group, having had a troubled summer after its seemingly miraculous spring and solid performance at the Mid Season Invitational. In a meta where the lane-swaps that CLG mastered are prohibited, it’s no surprise that CLG struggled and are being underrated at Worlds, but it’s also the same team that manages to turn enemy aggression on its head.

CLG is certainly in a hard group, with LCK champions KOO Tigers and EU LCS champions G2 Esports to compete against. The KOO Tigers are clear favorites to win the group, showing a level of mechanical skill and aggression that most teams in the world can only hope to match. Meanwhile, G2 Esports got a makeover from its Spring form, bringing on the all-star bot lane of Zven and Mithy and Korean top laner Expect. The lineup was dominant in Summer, with its bot lane showing plenty of merit and Korean jungler Trick showing that he was indeed the best jungler in Europe.

In a meta where the standard lane setups are the norm, the jungler’s safety and potential aggression becomes even more important. This is where CLG still has some major strengths to fall back on. CLG’s mid laner Huhi and support Aphromoo maintain strong synergy with jungler Xmithie, and still grant him the freedom to pressure the opposing jungler. G2’s jungler Trick is no slouch, but at times his team has failed to support him properly. In this way, CLG’s teamwork can overcome G2’s brute lane strength and cultivate early advantages, forcing G2 into uncomfortable macro decisions where individual ability is even further dampened. CLG is greater than the simple sum of its parts and that will show in group A.

Flash Wolves

Flash Wolves, in theory, have an easier group than most. They drew the second Korean seed SK Telecom T1, third North American seed Cloud9 and third Chinese seed I May. Cloud9 had a somewhat shaky gauntlet performance and although it was victorious, there were clear holes. I May also notably had a rollercoaster of a Summer Split, mostly relying on cheesy tactics to win games, barely making it through the regional gauntlet over Team WE. SKT remains an absolute beast of a team and will be the hard nut to crack, but with jungler Blank having a particularly weak split and poor synergy with his team, even SKT is beatable.

Flash Wolves, like CLG, are seen as a team that will suffer without the lane-swap. For the past year, the pups have been known as a mid lane focused team with side lanes that don’t always hold up under pressure. AD carry Neverloses is often a liability for the Wolves, on account of his weak laning phase and poor teamfighting. Regardless, Flash Wolves dominated the Summer Playoffs after the lane-swap changes and showed it is still a force to be reckoned with, despite its questionable side lanes.

But Flash Wolves’s fate ultimately depends on Karsa, and while his international performances would seem to make him a shaky foundation for the Wolves, he continued to refine his play in the LMS and looks to be in even better shape to curb enemy junglers, Blank and Meteos. Flash Wolves also possess one of the stronger mid-jungler duos in the tournament, thanks to Karsa's great synergy with Maple. In addition, Karsa has also shown that he can adapt his play around top laner MMD, in case he is in a troublesome lane matchup, or is merely outclassed. Meteos’s style makes it difficult to be proactive in the early game with his passive farm approach and that plays into the hands of Karsa and Flash Wolves’s early aggression.

Ahq e-Sports Club

Ahq e-Sports are the other Taiwanese team at the World Championship and unlike Flash Wolves, who looked dominant in their regular season, ahq had poor performances right up until the final week of the Summer Split. Also unlike Flash Wolves, ahq hit the absolute jackpot when they drew their group, with European second seed H2k and Brazilian squad INTZ, as their main competition. Chinese first seed EDward Gaming is largely seen as the juggernaut in this group and it would be surprising to see the lineup drop a game.

Ahq clearly trails behind H2k when it comes to the early game, as ahq are not known for laning prowess in mid or the bottom lane. Westdoor is problematic for ahq, similar to how Huhi is problematic for CLG, in the way that he doesn’t function so much as a laner as he does a foil for his teammates. Ahq’s strength, however, comes from its top laner Ziv, who dominates his region and is being forecasted to be one of the stronger top laners in the tournament. Ziv is the strongest top laner in his group and provides ahq the early game anchor they need in order to get to the late game.

Ziv will no doubt draw considerable pressure from bottom lane and allow ahq to make its own aggressive moves on the other side of the map. Past that, he also becomes ahq’s biggest carry in late game teamfights, whether he’s playing an actual carry or a traditional tank. Ziv provides ahq with the anchor needed to survive against H2K and the hammer needed to smash them to pieces, in the late game.

Royal Never Give Up

Royal Never Give Up is one of the strangest teams at the World Championship. It has some of the best talent in the world on its roster, but is not particularly favored as a team this tournament. RNG’s group has been dubbed the most competitive group, as it features North American first seed, Team Solomid, Korean third seed Samsung (SSG), and European third seed Splyce. The current favorites to advance are the NA dominant, TSM and Korean gauntlet runners, Samsung.

Royal Never Give Up may have been the second-best team at the Mid Season Invitational and Spring LPL champion, but it seems that teamwork eroded with the new split and meta changes. Lately, star AD carry Uzi has had to shoulder the whole team, and if he doesn’t get going, it’s been trouble for RNG.

However, it’s worth noting that with weeks to prepare for the world championship, the talent on the roster can show up at any time. Jungler MLXG and mid laner Xiaohu are a true dynamic duo and on-form, easily rival both TSM and SSG’s own mid-jungle duos. Both SSG and TSM have also shown their struggles in the later stages of the game and RNG is not a team that lets that slide. Royal have still displayed the killer instinct to crush opponents in team-fights and once they secure a lead that way, Mata takes charge and leads RNG’s macro game to a clean snowball victory. If that happens, both TSM and Samsung will have to watch out for RNG, as they could potentially even win the group.

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