And on the fifth day of the League of Legends World Championships, the Koreans in Groups C and D look beatable and, in fact, were beaten.
But the fifth day of Worlds has also proven that if you draw blood against the Koreans, they will look to crush their next opponent — a vengeance so strong that it multiples with every defeat, multiplying like a hydra’s head.
Let’s take a look at some of the marquee matches of the day, highlighting the flaws of Najin White Shield and Samsung Blue that LCS teams were able to pick apart.
Najin White Shield (NJWS) vs. Alliance (ALL), 1:0
After day four of the League of Legends World Championships, it was very clear that Rumble would be the darling pick of the tournament — much like Corki in championships past.
While day four was all about trying to counter the Rumble pick with Kayle, day five brought a new challenger to “face” Rumble in the top lane: Irelia. Kayle seemingly failed to make an impact in almost every game as a counter to Rumble because teams correctly punished both Kayle’s pre-level 6 weaknesses. Kayle inherently pushes her lane, leaving her exposed to ganks the second she starts CSing with Righteous Fury. With a pushed lane and without her ultimate, junglers simply camped top and never let Kayle actually have the lane bully matchup against Rumble.
But Irelia offers a completely different set of tools to battle Rumble in lane, and unless Rumble can gain an early advantage, an Irelia with an early Sheen can trade with him the entire lane in micro-skirmishes until the Irelia player has complete control of the lane.
And that’s why NJWS didn’t pick Rumble — who managed to make it through the first rotation of the draft — because ALL had shown the Irelia pick (Wickd’s signature Irelia, no less). Instead, NJWS’ top laner picked Riven, who doesn’t necessarily win or go even against Irelia.
All of this is to say that Irelia seemed to be the key to ALL’s early and mid game problems against Cloud 9. ALL came out guns blazing with Wickd dominating top lane without the help of Shook, which allowed him to focus on the bottom side of the map with Froggen on Twisted Fate.
But if all of the regional playoffs told us anything, if you give a Tristana a kill, you pay the consequences. Reacting to ALL’s lane dominance, NJWS simply broke the lanes, grouped up, and sieged — feeding each and every kill to Zefa’s Tristana.
Despite a 7-0 kill lead in the early game, ALL couldn’t find ways to convert an overwhelming kill advantage into a map advantage, only getting one tower before NJWS started grouping. Without a significant map advantage, NJWS could battle for vision — a battle ALL couldn’t keep up with as ward control is one of the many strengths of the Korean League scene.
From there, calculated picks fed to Tristana got NJWS back into the game where the team coordination that led NJWS to the World Championships with 9 straight wins through the Korean qualifier shined, especially in one of the final team fights of the game.
If you watch, ALL’s positioning and decision making is correct here; they’ve isolated Tristana from her team and, if they got the kill, they could clean up. But NJWS completely outplays and punishes ALL’s lack of commitment to dive the Tristana, and instead — after a wonderful flank from Riven — manage to reassess their poor positioning until ALL ends up funneling into a choke point with Tristana shooting anyone she liked guarded by her entire team.
Samsung Blue (SSB) vs. Fnatic (FNC), 0:1
Everyone will say they never saw this coming, but SSB’s early game has always been a problem for the team — extraordinary, likely unrivaled late-game prowess, but an early game that definitely leaves more to be desired.
In their match against FNC though, the problem proved to be fatal.
This match has really been beaten to death, so while I’d like to acknowledge that an LCS team beat a Korean team — one favored to win it all — in a best of 1 where FNC correctly pressured SSB’s weak points, I don’t feel like I can contribute anything else to the conversation.
What I would like to say is that in SSB’s next game against LMQ, they proved my earlier point: losing is more important to a Korean team winning than actually winning. Deft was brought to tears with his performance against FNC only to dominate LMQ.
That’s quite scary.
Najin White Shield (NJWS) vs. Cloud 9 (C9), 1:0
NJWS’ early game looked flawed in their match early in the day against Alliance, but those kinds of matches are what make Koreans such a force on the international stage. They can keep up their results throughout a tournament, but often trip up at some point, revealing to their opponents their weaknesses.
But those weaknesses are also made clear to the Korean teams themselves, which ends up actually being a huge benefit to them.
And NJWS was very aware of their weaknesses in past games going in to their match against Cloud 9.
The game was largely won after NJWS’ bot lane dominated C9’s with the help of two ganks from Elise. But before we talk about the early-game map control and early-mid-game aggression from NJWS, this match is a good entryway into the current jungle meta.
The competitive jungle meta is stale, boring, and desperately needs some attention. If Lee Sin doesn’t force a ban, teams get him on the first rotation of the draft (sometimes first picking him). If Lee Sin is first-picked, then the other team simply picks Kha’Zix.
And that’s what happened on this game. C9 spent their final ban on Lee Sin, NJWS took Zed after withholding their final ban, and then C9 took the Kha’Zix, as if junglers are almost trained to take the pick immediately.
But that decision is largely problematic for two reasons, one of which could be the main reason why C9 almost immediately lost control of the game.
In Groups A and B, we saw Rengar, Jarvan, and Elise get picked when Lee Sin and Kha’Zix were banned or taken, but didn’t impress much outside of Starhorn Royal Club InSec’s Rengar.
Although the options are there, they are very niche, and, like Meteos and C9 might’ve thought in their draft, Kha’Zix and Lee Sin are just miles away more useful. I’d agree for the most part with Lee Sin; in competitive play, he’s got it all, and I’d go out and say every remaining jungler knows how to play Lee Sin and dominate the map with the champion.
But the same cannot be said of Kha’Zix. Many, if not every jungler not named Watch, Spirit, or Dandy, have had varied success with the jungler. While he’s incredibly strong and worthy of the second rotation pick, the two reasons junglers haven’t been successful with him are 1.) they have trouble applying pressure with the champion, and 2.) don’t quite know how to react when his poor map control is targeted.
In NJWS vs. C9, Watch — on Elise — dismantled Meteos on Kha’Zix with the help of Gorilla on Thresh. Innately, Kha’Zix sacrifices map pressure and control because he can’t realistically build a Sight Stone in the same way most every other jungler (barring Rengar) can. Instead, the trade off is that farming and dueling is stronger than most other champions.
By constantly going into C9’s jungle and getting deep wards throughout their blue-side jungle, NJWS’ bot lane could play without any fear of the jungler roaming bot, which allowed the duo to gain an advantage in lane. Watch then further snowballed that lead with repeated ganks, while Meteos focused his attention top lane.
The entire game plan was premeditated and orchestrated beautifully though, unbeknownst to Meteos and C9. With Zefa strong enough to 2v1, Gorilla was able to roam through C9’s blue-side jungle, continue to ward up, and render Meteos useless. With Meteos only able to control top-side — a lane that was already losing after Save teleported bot lane in one of the NJWS executed ganks — he couldn’t reliably pressure any part of the map.
In these best of 1s, dynamism is everything, especially on a jungler. Relying so much on Lee Sin and Kha’Zix as the default top two junglers is anything but dynamic.