Expectations vs. reality -- grading the Worlds Play-In stage performances

Team WE jungler Xiang "Condi" Ren-Jie helps make his team a favorite to advance to the world championship main event. Provided by Riot Games

The 2017 World Championships is the first year the tournament has included teams from emerging regions in the main event through a play-in stage. With the tournament moving to the main group stage this Thursday, now is a good time to look back and see what we learned about the chances of advancing major region teams, emerging region competitors, and how both stacked up in front of a global audience.

The short of it is:

  • Better than expected: Cloud 9, Lyon Gaming, Young Generation

  • Worse than expected: 1907 Fernebahce, Rampage

  • Not as bad as people think: Gambit Esports

Our power rankings for the play-in stage were generally accurate. Although C9 and Lyon both overperformed expectations, predictions suggested that this might be possible with the group draw both teams received. The biggest surprise was Young Generation, which despite being power ranked #23/24 managed to take a game off Fnatic and looked a strong early game team at international level despite shaky performances in GPL. Although emerging regions put up good showings in one off games vs the third seed representatives from major regions, this promising performance did not translate well to best-of series, and Cloud 9 and Team WE in particular look extremely strong going forward. Although the play-in format worked out well for major regions and the strongest emerging region teams, it is not clear how this format helped teams from smaller regions like Rampage and Dire Wolves, who played two days of games, and went home without much gained in terms of experience.

Team WE - Grade: A

Considered among the best teams in the tournament, Team WE advanced comfortably through the play-ins and look strong going into the group stage. Even in games where it got behind early (Lyon Game 1, YG Game 2) Team WE never looked in any danger of losing. The team's vision control and jungle pressure (from ahead and behind) is excellent, and Xiang "Condi" Ren-Jie and Jin "Mystic" Seong-jun in particular had stand out performances. However, if Team WE continue to disrespect early power spikes compositions in group stage they will drop games.

Cloud 9 - Grade: A+

Cloud 9 came into Worlds after a shaky playoff run in North American LCS with questions about its macro game, especially transferring early mid lane pressure to side lanes. The team ended up performing exceptionally well (admittedly against favorable stylistic matchups in Group B and playoff), snowballing leads with ruthless efficiency. However, it remains to be seen how C9 will perform against teams who will more aggressively contest a mid lane push.

Fnatic - Grade: B

Despite the 3-1 result, Fnatic had an extremely poor performance in Group C. Its lane swap play and minion wave control was a disaster, the team was frequently out-traded on objectives by YG and KLG, and Mads "Broxah" Brock-Pedersen had little early game presence (or worse, was caught out being over-aggressive). FNC was, however, much better vs. Lyon in play-ins. In the third game it made great use of mid pressure in the 2-2-1 -> 4-1 rotation, using Paul "Soaz" Boyer to cover 2 lanes, and freeing Rasmus "Caps" Winther and Broxah to make plays around the map. In his post-match interview Jesse "Jesiz" Lee highlighted the difficulties for the FNC rookies in adapting to the pressures of playing in a World Championship environment. Maybe this mid focused style will be one way to take the pressure off the duo and allow them to play a more natural game moving forwards.

1907 Fernebahce - Grade: B

1907 Fernebahce deserve to be in group stage of Worlds, but its performance was far below what should have been expected based on the TCL (due to the emergency substitution of jungler Lee "Crash" Dong-woo for Kang "Move" Min-su) and the teams own publicly stated expectations through interviews and social media. Crash got baron steals, but played too aggressively (and got picked) repeatedly and was inconsistent in team fights. Without Move, Kim "Frozen" Tae-il was forced to play defensively in lane, and only truly showed his ability in game 4 vs Team One. FB have exceptionally good mid and late minion wave control, and have shown very strong team fighting ability, especially when top laner Berke "Thaldrin" Demir is on Galio or Maokai. However, early game its bot lane looks exploitable by strong teams.

Lyon Gaming - Grade: B+

Lyon Gaming was extremely unlucky to get WE in groups, then C9 in playoffs, but the team still had a strong performance. Like Fernebahce it showed great use of minion waves, excellent mechanics and played around Matias "WhiteLotus" Musso in team fights well. This play has drawn praise from interviews with rival teams. Team WE's mid laner Su "Xiye" Han-wei, singled out Lyon as a "strong opponent who were able to match Team WE" blow for blow in its two encounters. Lyon have clearly improved significantly from the team who looked below par at Rift Rivals. However, there is still room for improvement moving forward. Sebastian "Oddie" Alonso Nino Zavaleta had a very poor tournament, choosing to go for high risk jungle pathing that frequently put his team behind, and Daniel "Jirall" del Castillo found it very difficult to get top pressure. Lyon could have had an interesting series vs FNC/FB for a group stage spot, but C9 dominated through the top lane 1v1 and Lyon were eliminated in a quick 0-3 defeat.

Hong Kong Attitude - Grade: C

Despite looking mechanically solid, and frequently with leads in the first 15 minutes of games, HKA often looked lost come mid game. HKA should have won at least one, possibly two, games of its 0-3 series defeat to FNC but could not identify the correct lane assignments/rotations to be able to close.

Team oNe Esports - Grade: B

With mid pressure (Tiebreaker vs DW, Game 2/3 vs FB) Team oNe looked like a decent team. The problem is that oNe frequently found it hard to get this against two teams (FB and C9) that consistently devoted significant resources to mid lane. After its return to Brazil we spoke with Ygor "Redbert" Freitas and Joao "Marf" Piola about the experiences at worlds. Both highlighted the differences in how aggressively international teams use mid pressure to snowball the rest of the map compared to Brazilian teams, and the difficulty that Team oNe had in adapting to this new pressure "metagame" in the short time the team was in China. Marf also highlighted how certain players were suffering health-wise before the series with FB, which affected performance. However, Team oNe is still young and saw significant improvements in its play each day as the tournament progressed. The team will no doubt use this experience as a stepping stone to further improvement at future international events.

Gambit Esports - Grade B-

Despite a disastrous 0-4 result, GMB actually played well and were unlucky to be drawn in Group A. Although an underdog to WE, GMB vs Lyon was a matchup which was always going to be decided by bot lane priority, and Gambit did not put enough jungle attention into the lane, preferring to focus top through jungle pressure and draft. Without Edward free to roam, GMB had early game issues and Daniel "Blasting" Kudrin looked uncomfortable in hyper-carry ADC meta. Despite this, the team's lane swaps, vision control and objective trading from behind were consistently at a high level. On a different patch or with a different group draw, GMB might have comfortably made it out of groups. The GMB organization has also rejected any knee-jerk reaction to its elimination, indicating a willingness to continue building around the current roster going into next season.

Young Generation - B+

Not the sister team of Gigabyte Marines, Young Generation showed itself to be a team that was consistently inconsistent throughout Worlds. Able to beat Fnatic close in one game, then lose to Kaos the next, YG's major weakness (like HKA) in this tournament was an inability to close games properly with a lead. Despite this, the team improved its shot calling (attributed by Dang "BigKoro" Ngoc Tai as the primary reason for improved results as the tournament progressed) and Nguyen "Palette" Hai Trung had an exceptionally good tournament. His play on Lulu definitely lived up to the reputation he has on the champion in South East Asia.

Kaos Latin Gamers - C+

KLG performed much better at Worlds than most analysts expected. In the end it was unlucky not to earn a tiebreaker game vs Young Generation. The team showed competency in pressure control (for instance, transferring pressure away from Renekton in Game 1 vs YG), traded objectives favorably against Fnatic, and executed its bot lane focused style well. However, too many individual mistakes, odd drafts on day 2, and slow rotations from solo lanes to jungle invades cost it a chance at progression. KLG had a clear understanding of a game plan, but its execution was not always up to a World Championship level.

In summarizing the tournament with Sebastian "Tierwulf" Andres Mateluna, Tierwulf highlighted the huge benefits that playing (and scrimming) at Worlds had given KLG. Each player returns to LAS with "over [six pages] worth of notes on how they could individually improve." However, what was clear was a huge discrepancy in infrastructure between emerging region and major region teams. "KLG brought seven staff to worlds -- 5 players, a sub, and a coach. Most major region organizations had over 10 people working towards the success of their team," he said. Closing this analysis gap, rather than the gap in player skill, will no doubt be the most difficult challenge of all moving forward.

Dire Wolves - D

Although there were warnings about Dire Wolves strategic weaknesses from Oceanic observers before the tournament, Worlds clearly highlighted glaring weaknesses in DW understanding of basic objective trading, minion wave control and vision play from a losing (or even neutral) situation. When Team One and C9 gave early game leads in draft the Wolves looked fine, but if games went long or the team could not get leads with early aggression, it looked completely lost. These are the same problems DW suffered at the Mid Season Invitational, and given how isolated OCE is as a region, it is not clear how these problems can be easily solved with the resources available.

Rampage - Grade: D-

A reactive team by nature, Rampage's passive play did not transfer well from the LJL to international competition. Despite arguably being outclassed in group D, RPG consistently did not take any proactive action in the early game, even with localized leads. The end result was that it ended up rolling over and losing to FB and HKA without putting up much of a fight in any game.