Containing arguably the strongest teams from each pool, Group A pits Chinese League of Legends Pro League third seed Team WE, against Gambit Gaming from the LoL Continental League (LCL) and Lyon Gaming from the Latin American North LLN. Group A is about three new generations of players seeking to distinguish themselves, not just on the modern international stage, but within the historical legacy of their organizations.
Can Team WE, arguably the most popular team in China, find redemption after its last Worlds appearance was the quarterfinals from Season 2 (marred by technical delays).
Can Gambit Gaming, the Russian super team with a roster combining the core of Season 6 quarterfinalists Albus Nox Luna and veteran players Danil "Diamondprox" Reshetnikov and Edward "Edward" Abgaryan of the legendary Moscow 5 roster, live up to the legacy of its predecessors?
Can Lyon Gaming, historically the dominant force in the LLN, finally deliver on the promise shown in domestic competition to the international stage at its first World Championship?
Considered by analysts going into Worlds to be amongst the best teams in the tournament and a favourite to make a deep run for the Summoners' Cup, it may seem confusing to non-China watchers why the third seed from the LPL in particular is held in such high regards. Despite needing only a third place in LPL summer playoffs to guarantee a top two seed worlds qualification, WE lost back to back five-game matches, only qualifying with a close five-game victory over Invictus Gaming in the gauntlet finals. Can a team that came so close to failing to qualify for Worlds really be considered a contender?
The simple answer is yes, but with caveats. Team WE are a team with mechanical strength across the roster, carry potential in every lane, and a strategic sophistication (especially around jungle pathing and pressure) unique outside of South Korea. The team is also notoriously difficult to beat on stage. Both playoff defeats revolved around heroic solo-carry performances from enemy mid laners Li "Xiaohu" Yuan-Hao (on Corki in game five of the semis vs. Royal Never Give Up) and Song "Rookie" Eui-Jin (on Syndra in game four of the third/fourth playoff match vs Invictus Gaming).
WE has two big weaknesses as a team: a tendency to draft scaling compositions (with three losing lanes), and a tendency for side lanes, especially top laner Ke "957" Chang-Yu, to play disrespectfully in early/mid game against roaming enemy mids. The pressure on the team to perform will be huge: Chinese fans demand immediate success. Fortunately for WE, neither of its opponents in Group A are well equipped to punish. GMB are a mid-focused team, and will look to draw pressure towards mid lane when possible. Lyon are better at playing around bot lane, but their early game is historically shaky against international opposition, and the top lane matchup of 957 vs Daniel "Jirall" del Castillo is a significant mechanical mismatch.
Gambit Gaming are a Russian super team created with the intent to perform well on the international stage. Mykhailo "Kira" Harmash and Alexander "PvPStejos" Glazkov (now role swapped to top lane from jungle) were cornerstones of Albus Nox Luna's 2016 run to to the quarterfinals at worlds. Daniel "Blasting" Kudrin is an AD Carry who has appeared in the last three LCL finals on 3 different teams, winning two. Edward and Diamondprox are legacy players who have played professionally at the highest level since Season 1.
Gambit's playstyle is heavily reliant on the synergy between their jungler and support. Edwards' roams in the early game enable Diamondprox to pressure mid lane early and play an aggressive counter-jungling style. In the mid game Gambit are smart about its lane assignments, splitting the map and allowing its jungle and support the freedom to roam and make picks. However, the team can be sloppy with mid game vision control, and will often start Barons without proper setup, relying on Diamondprox to win 50/50 Smite battles.
Lyon Gaming from LLN enter the play-in stage as one of the strongest wild card teams mechanically, but one which has historically failed to convert talent into victories at the international level. Built around the strong laning of Edgar "Seiya" Bracamontes and Matias "Whitelotus" Musso and the aggressive jungle pathing of Sebastian "Oddie" Nino, Lyon plays a bot side focused style of play. It prioritises jungle pressure to either mid or bot lane, leaving top laners Daniel "Jirall" del Castillo to fend for himself.
Against teams with strong roaming supports like Gambit Gaming and Team WE this gives Lyon a good stylistic matchup. However, Group A is an extremely tough group draw for Lyon, and questions about the team's ability to cope with the pressure of performing on the international stage persist. If Lyon can overcome these obstacles and secure a place in the main group stages of worlds it will be a significant achievement.
1) Team WE
2) Gambit Gaming
3) Lyon Gaming
On paper Group A should result in a comfortable victory for Team WE. The battle for second place will be more interesting. GMB has better mid game macro, mechanics and experience than its LLN rivals. However, it plays a high-risk style of League of Legends and relies heavily on roams from its support to plug early game weaknesses. Lyon are a strong bot lane focused team, and if it can counter by either locking Edward into lane, or punishing Blasting when he is left solo, it might be able to surprise.