Mazurek: Summoner’s Cup is up for grabs as World Championship begins
Marek Mazurek | Thursday, September 29, 2016
This time of the year lends itself to predictions of all sorts. Predictions for the College Football Playoff, for the NFL or preseason picks for the NBA and NHL.
Yet there is another event, that begins Thursday night, which deserves some analysis — the 2016 League of Legends world championships.
Worlds, as it is called, operates much like the FIFA World Cup with a group stage of 16 teams that narrows into an eight-team tournament in its later stages. Also like the World Cup, Worlds brings together teams from across different regions who have vastly different levels of expectations. Just as Europe dominates the soccer world, Korea dominates the League of Legends scene, with the past three world champions hailing from South Korea.
Will this be the first time since 2011 a Western team takes home the Summoner’s Cup? Probably not, but here are a few teams worth watching as Worlds get underway.
SK Telecom T1 (SKT)
As the Season 3 and Season 5 champions, SKT is arguably the greatest esports organization in history, and they enter 2016 Worlds looking to repeat as world champions. Sanghyeok “Faker” Lee is arguably the best player the world has ever seen, and he has been the cornerstone of two world champion teams.
Despite its pedigree, SKT enters Worlds as a No. 2 seed, as ROX Tigers and Samsung Galaxy outmuscled it in Korea. The departure of top-laner Jang “MaRin” Gyeong-Hwan before the season has put Faker in a position where he needs to carry every game, and enemy teams are clued in to this strategy. If SKT fails to get Faker rolling, it could run into problems in later stages of the competition. However, the Koreans are too good at macro-gameplay to fail to make it out of arguably the easiest group, Group B. I don’t think SKT has everything it needs to repeat as champions, but it’ll get a sniff of the Summoner’s Cup when all is said and done.
Team Solo Mid (TSM)
Every year, hopes are high entering Worlds for North American teams. Like clockwork though, North America fails to break into the upper echelon of the League of Legends ranks. Last year, none of the three North American representatives managed to make it out of the group stages, but this year is different.
TSM is the best team North America has produced to date with Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg leading a revamped squad that includes veterans like Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng and Dennis “Svenskeren” Johnsen along with rookie support Vincent “Biofrost” Wang. Individually, TSM may not intimidate many people, but over the course of the Summer Split, it dominated by posting a 17-1 record and winning the Summer Split playoffs. If North America has any hope of making it the semifinals or beyond, it is TSM that will do it.
Just as TSM carries the hopes of North America, Edward Gaming (EDG) carries the hopes of China. After a disappointing showing at last year’s Worlds, EDG made some roster changes, bringing in mid-laner Yechan “Scout” Lee to synergize with star jungler Kai “Clearlove” Ming. Clearlove is one the game’s greats, and along with Worlds veteran Hyeokgyu “Deft” Kim, he has the ability to propel EDG back to international prominence.
Throughout 2016, EDG has built a reputation for being a team of five talented individuals who also happen to play on the same team. If the Chinese squad can come together as more than a collection of talented individuals, EDG will be a force to be reckoned with, especially with no clear challenger in its group, Group C. Look for EDG, as well as the other Chinese teams, Royal Never Give Up and I May, to make a strong showing after last year’s letdown.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.