The vital storylines of League of Legends Worlds 2016 so far

Underdogs rise as Europe falls.

Photo credit: Riot Games

As we head into the second week of group stage play at League of Legends' 2016 Worlds, every game is going to matter. Teams could drop a game or two during the first week and still have a chance of making it out of the bracket, but those losses are going to hurt when the group stages recommence. While it’s too early to say who’ll be making it into the playoffs and who’ll be packing their bags and going home, we’ve seen some interesting trends emerge from the games so far. Certain teams have stepped up and performed beyond any expectations, while others are spinning their wheels and struggling to gain any traction

Statistically, this is the most competitive Worlds yet, with every region stepping up... with one noticeable exception. As we head into the second week of Worlds and prepare to experience the most important games yet, here are the storylines you need to know.

Photo credit: Riot Games

Off to a strong start

There have been a surprising number of strong performances from unexpected contenders resulting shocking upsets. Here are a few notable examples: North America’s second seed, Counter Logic Gaming, took down tournament favourite ROX Tigers. In an even more extreme example, wildcard team INTZ pummelled China’s top seed, Edward Gaming, into submission.

What’s interesting is that these games aren’t rare exceptions: the group stages as a whole have been highly competitive. Korea and North America, combined, stand at an impressive 6-3 across their representative teams. China, another strong region, is at 5-4. LMS and the Wildcards are tied at 3-3. This is especially impressive for the Wildcard regions, who are historically considered a free win. This year, they’re battling back with early game aggression that often takes stronger, more coordinated teams off guard.

This doesn’t mean that the gap has closed, as the endless argument goes. Last year, North America had an astonishing first week at Worlds based on figuring out a quick and vicious meta. Once the other contenders figured out the strategy, they were able to counter it and stomp North America out of the tournament

However, it doesn’t seem like NA is relying on a cheesy strategy this time around. They’re exhibiting some genuinely impressive macro play and beating other teams in a solid fight. CLG’s match against ROX was an excellent example of this: they managed to get Huhi’s Aurelion Sol fed early and exhibit map pressure, snowballing objectives and controlling the game. ROX didn’t roll over and die, but CLG were able to stay in the bout and keep swinging. This bodes well for the next week of games... as long as the Wildcards don’t rise up, inspired by Albus NoX Luma’s defeat of CLG.

Photo credit: Riot Games

The European collapse

There’s one region that wasn’t mentioned above: EU. Europe has managed to collect only one win so far, going 1-8 as a region. Last year, Fnatic and Origen both made it out of groups and represented the region respectably, with Fnatic taking eventual winners SKT T1 to a full five games in the semi finals. Unfortunately, the region has collapsed since that high point. Several key players have left for bigger paycheques or better opportunities in North America, and there’s a lack of young talent to fill the void. Both Origen and Fnatic have fallen from grace, dealing with management issues, roster changes, and an inability to recapture that magic from 2015.The region’s new representatives, H2K, G2, and Splyce are also struggling under the pressure.

Splyce is a relatively new team, and this is their first time at Worlds; they can somewhat be excused for their performance. The team went from relegations to the finals in over 2016, and it makes sense that they might struggle on the international stage. G2, however, were considered one of the favourites to make it out of their group. They represented Europe at MSI and went through a similarly dismal performance there. Afterwards, they swapped out their botlane to bring Origen’s Zven and Mithy on board. Their dominance during EU’s summer split was offered as proof that they had solved their problems, but once again the team is collapsing on the world stage. It is an enormous long shot for them to make it out of groups, and it seems as though they’ll be returning to Europe, once again, to try to crack the code of what went wrong.

Photo credit: Riot Games

Still anyone’s game

While the games have been competitive so far, there’s still the chance that the days off will have dramatically changed each team’s fortunes. The players have been able to refresh and examine the games to see what went wrong and what strategies each team is bringing to the table. Certain power picks are going to be banned out. Aurelion Sol, Nami, Alistar, and Lee Sin are all likely to be off the table or first picked strategically, changing the landscape of picks and bans. 

Some teams have more to gain than others. Cloud9, for instance, got off to a rough start in their group. However, they now have the opportunity to rally. In an interview, Smoothie noted that they recognized their problems, and they have a few days to fix it. Other teams, such as the Wildcard regions, are going to be less lucky. Their strategy of early, vicious aggression has been noted, and it’ll be much harder to sink their teeth into an unexpecting opponent. 

This may be the most competitive Worlds yet, but it’s still early days. After a few days off, the teams will be re-entering their groups refreshed, re-energized, and ready to prove themselves. The question is whether they’ll be able to adapt to the new battlefield in the second week. The meta will have adjusted, every win means more, and there are less tricks to hide up each team’s sleeve. Only the best and brightest will survive this re-engagement on the world stage.

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