IntroductionIt's been five days since the Season 3 League of Legends World Championships have kicked off and already almost every popular conception about how the games would play out has been shattered. I don't think anyone expected just how much of a contest this would be right from the start - and barring a few exceptions - every single team that qualified has come out swinging with the type of skill that demands that every opponent, no matter the region, give them their full respect, analysis, and preparation to stay in the game.
So, without further ado, let's get into some of the most exciting trends we've been seeing unfold on and off of the Rift during the start of the year's biggest tournament:
The Top 5 Storylines of the Group Stage at Worlds
5 Koreans are Mortal
Cut them they bleed. Gank them they die. (Except maybe Faker!)
All throughout the League community, but especially here on TeamLiquid (where a StarCraft background has given us of opportunities to witness Korean domination) there was the very pervasive belief that Korea was going to crush this tournament and that every other region - with the possible exception of China - would be fighting for scraps.
To give an idea of the general consensus: Ozone's jungler DanDy now infamously said "I dont think there is any way Korea will lose to a foreign team" and that quote was not challenged in the least during the context of its first posting. We, as a community, were prepared to accept our new Korean overlords.
By Day 1, only a few hours into the tournament, that very idea had been fractured. By Day 2, it was smashed to bits, and by now on Day 5 it's not really a surprise at all to see what was considered the strongest team in the world going into the group stage locked in a seriously contested battle against TSM. Korean teams - in a quite surprising show of arrogance - did not really give other teams the preparation and respect they deserved and are only now starting to swing back to the level of preparation we expect from them. For SKT T1, this may be the kick they needed to get started and show off their true skill. While they remain a strong favorite to make a big showing later in the tournament, for the Korean representative in Group B, Samsung Ozone, this may be a case of too-little-too-late.
Only time will tell which NaJin Black Sword will arrive - they remain a mystery even in the Korean scene, but if their coaches have any sense they are giving their upcoming quarterfinals match the utmost practice knowing now that there will be no easy games - even for Korea - at this Worlds stage.
Chinese Might Not Be 4
Let's rewind our minds to the period right after IPL5, when it suddenly became "common knowledge" that China was now the powerhouse region to watch and were soon going to dominate everyone with the strength of their unstoppable aggressive death squad meta. It wasn't until All-Stars when the cracks in this line of thinking started to show and everyone jumped off of the bandwagon, but looking back it seems like the community really may have overreacted to Korea's victory when comparing the two scenes. Any advantage that the boys from Seoul had in terms of meta/adaptation seems to have been quickly made up between then and now.
It was mentioned during one of the casts that OMG is considered the hardest working team in China, practicing insane hours and so far not falling into Korea's trap of overconfidence - and they aren't even the first seed out of the region. Royal Club and their incredibly lethal Fizz/Annie support combo are waiting in the wings with a lineup that could potentially be even deadlier than OMG. If these early groups have done any one thing, its erase the gigantic question mark "?" we had about China's potential and make it perfectly clear they are world class in all aspects of their play.
"Analysts are now measuring how fast a team lose to OMG to see how good they played" - TSM TheOddOne
Obviously it's too early to tell whether China is going to be the unstoppable powerhouse in Worlds that we all expected from Korea, but its definitely worth noting that they didn't just surprise teams for wins. OMG completely demolished them. Nobody from Group A has stood up to OMG's onslaught so far, and their dismantling of small-fry teams like GG.eu was so fast, crisp, and methodical that they looked incredibly scary even against teams they were favored to beat. At this point, it seems like their upcoming second match against SKT T1 may be the only chance of them dropping a single game in this entire group stage.
"No one is watching us, so we can continue to grow under the radar" - OMG Gogoing
While nobody may have been watching before these groups, Mr. Gogoing, now I have a feeling that everyone will. Let's see how China holds up!
3 Whipping Boys
How to approach the clear, dominant, outclassing of the wildcard (GG.eu) and SEA (Mineski) teams depends largely on what Riot's is classifying the purpose of this tournament to be. If its meant to be an Olympics style global representation of every region, then nothing should be done. True, they weren't at the same level as the teams they were competing with but neither is, say, the New Zealand basketball team during the Olympics. Some regions will not have the proper scene to send out a world-class team but if the intention is to represent their players and styles then there is no problem. Certainly the two teams have both been class acts and gracious in defeat.
However, if its meant to be a real showcase of the best teams in the world then perhaps some changes need to be made, as it was extremely noticeable that they did not belong from a purely skill based perspective. Perhaps combining the SEA and Taiwan regionals and/or opening up the Wildcard tournament to any willing team from any region might be more representative of top tier talent and prevent the situation we have currently: where one team in each group is basically destined to lose every single match. It creates a rough spot for fans, who cant get too invested in the game knowing the inevitable outcome, and for the analysts and casters who are tasked with being realistic but also attempting to build up hype for a near foregone conclusion.
It was a little sad to see so many fans leaving the studio early on Day 4 because the last game (Mineski vs Vulcun) was predicted to be such a stomp, so perhaps decisions will be made in the future to mix the system up. Either way, props to both of these teams for putting on their best effort and looking like they are enjoying themselves even in the face of consistent losses.
NA Stepping Up 2
A pleasant surprise for anyone in NA who wants to root for a home team is just how well the region that everyone counted out has been playing - especially considering the elephant in the room, Cloud 9, has yet to even take the stage. While there are certainly some serious lapses in judgement that NA teams are occasionally making to throw away advantages - the fact is that they are earning these advantages to begin with by keeping up with or even exceeding their opponents from other regions in terms of mechanics/strategy.
TSM's big win over Lemondogs, Vulcun's over Fnatic, and the general level of play they have brought to their matches (even losses) against the big Asian teams have shown that this is a region that has grown tremendously in recent skill and will soon be ready to be a major player on the World stage. Even if they don't end up qualifying out of groups, TSM and Vulcun have shown a ton of promise for the region and give great hope for what Cloud9 might be able to accomplish when the quarterfinals roll around.
1 The Analyst Desk
What an awesome surprise the analyst desk has turned out to be. Amazing banter, personality, perfect time filler between games, and to top it all off - it actually has analysis! and it's good! Every one of the three key members has done a fantastic job bringing out their personality to their segments and providing the audience with valuable information - especially in the post-game breakdowns. Not to mention Riv has proven to be an extremely adept host able to keep the conversation flowing.
It has really made the Worlds watching experience from a game -> break -> game -> break type of situation to a much more fluid stream of entertainment and I really have seen nothing but love from fans responding to this new addition.
For the purpose of ESPORTS however, I would like to maybe suggest a few things that could possibly be improved:
1st - I don't know if it's the running scoreboard of correct picks that's causing it but there is way too much of the same pick going around, which thereby leads to the exact same argument being made 3 times as to why "X" team will win as we go down the desk prior to a match. When you watch a ESPN/Sports Center style piece they will almost always make sure to avoid that kind of situation and have at least one person at the desk advocating for each side and giving some argument as to why they might pull it out - even if they are the underdog. This allows for banter back and forth on the merits of the choice (some of the best segments on the analyst desk so far have been exactly that - think Doublelift talking about his belief in gut feelings and American apple pie to root for Vulcun). As of right now a team could be a 60/40 favorite over the other and the analysts will almost always triple pick the 60% one simply because its the safer bet for keeping their "score" up.
2nd - The current lineup of Montecristo/Krepo/Doublelift has amazing synergy and covers different areas of expertise / personality very well, but it is also the very first lineup tried out. It would definitely be interesting to hear from some other big personalities/names in the scene on the desk to see how they handle it and get some fresh voices. If they don't work out, its easy to switch back to the classic 3.
3rd - It seems like the analyst desk has completely replaced the Kobe-on-a-green-screen key battle analysis/playbacks that would break down some team's movement/plays at an important moment. While the former is certainly more awesome and a bigger draw than the latter, it seems like they could definitely co-exist at least for more hotly contested matches. Some analysis just works a lot better with a visual aid and those playbacks were invaluable for noticing cool plays/details that you couldn't pick out in the action before.
Anyway, don't let any of this wall of text fool you - the analyst desk is an absolutely resounding success among fans of personalities, trash talk, humor, game breakdowns, and fan interaction alike, and we should all hope it continues not only for the rest of Worlds but maybe even in some other form for tournaments to come during Season 4.
BONUS Round!#6 - Genja is a Hipster
Is there any doubt at this point that Genja is trolling us all at least a little bit? Not to knock the guy - he's one of the most innovative AD carries in the scene today and never settles for what is considered "standard" - but it's incredibly amusing as a spectator to see him do absolutely everything different than his peers.
Oh, you build Phage -> Sheen when you are going Trinity? Nah, I think I'll get the Zeal as my second item on Corki.
Oh, you build BF -> Pickaxe when you are going Infinity Edge? Nah, I think I need that 15% Crit Chance from the Cloak of Agility.
Doran's Blades? Pfft I'm past that. It's Doran's Shield time, baby!
Not to mention busting out - successfully - the first Kog'Maw of the tournament and the very first time a Trinity Force has been built on Kogin a professional match - doing so well against what was considered to possibly be the best bot lane in the world prior to the tournament (Imp/Mata) that they actually picked it up for their next game (and didn't do nearly as well!).
Win or lose, Genja's unique avoidance of the "mainstream" when it comes to playing AD carry has been a real treat for viewers to watch.
#7 - Unconventional Picks
Going off of Genja's uniqueness is a general trend in the entire tournament of teams not being afraid to bring their own style, mix up their picks a bit, and bring out some strong compositions that their opponents will likely have not prepared for.
Some of these adaptations were incredibly successful: Faker, the king of the wide champion pool, developed and played professionally a brand new mid lane champion - Riven - just from practicing in NA Solo queue, where he achieved a ridiculous win rate of 20-1 at the Diamond 1 - Challenger level, and scrims for the past few days.
Others, like Nukeduck's decision to bring out a surprise Swain to counter Ahri, or Fnatic's ill-advised attempt to resurrect (pun intended) Yorick top, have been less than successful.
While this isn't necessarily a groundbreaking story, the real reason we are all here - why this entire concept of eSports exists - is because its fun for spectators to watch. I've never met a spectator who asked "Could I see the same 10-15 champions every single game?" - and thankfully, that's not what we have received. While there is a core roster of strong picks for this patch (Zed, Corki, Ahri, etc.) teams have been opening up more and more to letting those through and developing ways to counter it in order to get their own advantage in the draft phase. We are seeing cool things like Ozone's Double AD push comp, China's support Annie, the EU's love of Aatrox vs. regions who forgot he was even a champion, etc.
All in all, it gives high hopes for the upcoming BoX series games that we will be seeing entertaining drafts.
#8 - Crowd Hype
Despite some naysayers on Reddit, the live studio crowd has been pretty intense. Sure, I think we can all agree that ward cheering might be getting a little old, but nothing highlights a cool play better than the roar of the crowd. Even Faker admitted that the during T1's match vs TSM, the cheers for his opponents during the pause break really pressured him to step up his game - that's the kind of live tournament pressures that make this so much more interesting than an online cup and separate the true professionals from those who crack under pressure.
As an added bonus, I spoke with Riot Lightblind who was one of the people managing the studio floor and he mentioned how cool/well-behaved fans were being about letting the players get where they needed to be without swamping them for autographs and pictures. Its a small studio and that could have been a problem, but the fans were super respectful to everyone who was there to do a job.
#9 - Production Value/ WP Riot!
So far so good when it comes to Riot's ability to run everything top-notch for such an important tournament. We've had only minor pauses, no crashing or CLG.EU/WE style fiascoes, amazing turnaround on highlight videos for the matches and really fun bonus segments that analyze the teams and interview the players for story lines that are ongoing. Anyone who has been to the studio live can also see how well run Riot has kept this event and how passionate they are about the games that are being put on. Although ... there may be a sneaky conspiracy theory that keeps the studio very well air conditioned in order to sell more Blitz hoodies. We will investigate further.