One of the favorites at the entire tournament, it's difficult to imagine a scenario where Longzhu Gaming doesn't exit this group in first place. In its most recent matchup, Longzhu knocked off the default League of Legends Champions Korea winner SK Telecom T1 to claim the Champions trophy, making it only the second organization that's not SKT to do so since the spring of 2015.
Standing in Longzhu's way -- or lining up for the Longzhu woodchipper -- are North America's Immortals, Vietnam's Gigabyte Marines, and Europe's Fnatic. Can one of these teams upset Longzhu for the first seed?
Not likely. The race comes down to the second seed of this group, where the volatility of best-of-ones is certain to come into play. All four of these teams are exciting and fairly proactive in their playstyles, making this an explosive group, if nothing else.
Many eyes will be on top laner Kim "Khan" Dong-ha, who stands out as a strong carry player that can best nearly anyone in a 1v1 matchup. Longzhu ensures Khan's success by focusing on his carry champions in draft and through Gwak "Bdd" Bo-seong's strong control over the Longzhu mid lane. Bdd becomes an immovable object which also affords rookie jungler Moon "Cuzz" Woo-chan a bit more leeway to make mistakes without costing his team much of anything. On another team, Cuzz could be an easy target -- and was targeted in Korea with some success by SKT's Kang "Blank" Sun-gu and KT Rolster's Go "Score" Dong-bin -- but Bdd makes this an impossible task for most teams.
Yet, the true crown jewel of this new Longzhu Gaming is the former ROX Tigers bottom lane duo of Kim "PraY" Jong-in and Kang "GorillA" Beom-hyeon. Out of game, there are the intangibles of leadership that these two bring, especially with three players on the team that are new to the international limelight. In game, these two, in their own words, create the foundation on which the rest of the team is built. PraY specifically has had a career year, which is impressive considering his successes throughout the years with NaJin Black Sword and the Tigers. GorillA and PraY are both strong teamfight initiators, which in turn takes pressure off of Khan, Bdd, and Cuzz.
Their strong laning presence and control over the bot side of the map give Cuzz additional leeway and allow Longzhu to focus more resources top side to ensure that Khan can easily overwhelm his opponent by mid game at the latest. This also allows them to split pressure on the map and send Khan to side lanes as quickly as possible. Longzhu also draft intelligently around the team's strengths, presenting a near-insurmountable challenge for the rest of the teams in this group.
Despite faltering to Team SoloMid in the 2017 North American League of Legends Championship Series Summer Finals, Immortals should be favorites to make it out of Group B as the second seed. Immortals is a more consistent team than either Fnatic or the Marines when it comes to gameplans, and make fewer mistakes in getting caught out on the map or pushing up without vision.
A large part of this is thanks to veteran jungler Jake "Xmithie" Puchero who, along with Coach Kim "Ssong" Sang-soo, is credited for giving Immortals some much-needed stability. Throughout the 2017 North American League of Legends Championship Series summer split, Xmithie has proven himself one of, if not the best, jungler in the region, using his in-game experience to react precisely and quickly to his opponents. Combined with the resurgence of mid laner Eugene "Pobelter" Park, the dynamic bottom lane led by Kim "Olleh" Joo-sung, and a return to form for top laner Lee "Flame" Ho-jong, Immortals will be a formidable opponent for both Fnatic and Gigabyte Marines. Even their matches with Longzhu could be interesting due to a focus on top side pressure and Xmithie's reactive jungle pathing, although PraY and GorillA are likely to overwhelm Cody "Cody Sun" Sun and Olleh with relative ease.
Immortals' mistakes are often in ceding vision or experience to opponents in pursuit of other objectives or skirmishes. Olleh's forward playstyle only works if the rest of the team is on board, and his engages can lead to disaster without proper vision or wave control. Longzhu will punish these mistakes, but against more inconsistent teams like the Marines and Fnatic, Immortals should be able to come out on top.
In an AMA following the 2017 Mid Season Invitational group stage, then-top laner Phan "Stark" Công Minh and support Trần "Archie" Minh Nhựt said that the team that caused it the most trouble besides SKT was itself.
No other statement better describes the Marines, even now. This group is going to be an uphill climb for them. Against the strong jungle/mid duos of Immortals and Longzhu, the Marines will struggle unless they've exponentially improved in the month leading up to Worlds. Star jungler Đỗ "Levi" Duy Khánh has somewhat been neutralized by the current jungle meta (although watch out for him since more carry-oriented champions are trying to make their way back into the jungle pool). Mid laner Trần "Optimus" Văn Cường has looked shakier this past split, and the Marines sometimes don't do him many favors, sending him into sidelanes when they haven't established pressure elsewhere on the map. This isn't limited to Optimus, but to anyone who is dispatched to take care of side lanes.
The Gigabyte Marines are a different team both in names on the roster list and in playstyle. Archie continues to provide a strong veteran presence but does so from the top lane more than the support position and the new bot lane of Nguyễn "NoWay" Vũ Long and Phan "Syaa" Trung Toàn look stronger than the prior Slay/Archie duo. The Marines still love to fight, but now have a slower early start than many would assume from their previous international showing and play a bit more to the meta. That being said, this is the team most likely to pull out a weird best-of-one strategy.
Marines Coach Dương "Tinikun" Nguyễn Duy Thanh has said that there's no one way to play the game, and MSI showed that the Marines are fearless when it comes to facing its opponents onstage, focusing instead on its own gameplay rather than being bogged down by playing to another team's style. With its current roster, Marines can also flex Archie into the support role and play top laner Phùng "Nevan" Thiện Nhân, like they did in the qualifying series against Ascension Gaming. Although not a favorite to make it out of this group, underestimating the Marines will be costly and the second seed is not beyond its reach.
Following the team's performance in the 2017 World Championship Play-In Stage, Fnatic appear to be a long shot for the second seed in this group. Fnatic is more than capable of making it out of the group, but the team's inconsistent nature due to two rookies in the all important mid and jungle roles make it difficult to count on.
Similar to the Marines, Fnatic is likely to have trouble against the two stronger jungle/mid duos in this group of Cuzz/Bdd (thanks to Bdd more than anyone else) and Xmithie/Pobelter. Mads "Broxah" Brock-Pedersen had trouble applying map pressure in Europe and in the recent Play-In Stage. Xmithie, Levi, and Cuzz all should be able to exploit this. Fnatic also seem reluctant to funnel resources into the mid lane, leaving the talented but raw Rasmus "Caps" Winther to his own devices. As recent as Fnatic's Play-In stage matches, Caps was routinely punished for risky all-ins and lack of lane presence, especially against Young Generation's Võ "Naul" Thành Luân.
As a team, Fnatic continues to focus on side lane pressure above all else, relying on legacy top laner Paul "sOAZ" Boyer and star AD carry Martin "Rekkles" Larsson. Fnatic should be able to garner bot lane advantages in this group against all teams but Longzhu, and has the potential to split the map with sOAZ.
It won't be shocking to see either Fnatic or the Marines make it out of this group, but based on recent performances and consistency, the most likely outcome is Longzhu Gaming followed by Immortals.