Heralded as this year's Group of Death before the arrival of 1907 Fenerbahçe Esports, Group C has the greatest hope for both China's League of Legends Pro League and the European League of Legends Championship Series. Royal Never Give Up have the talent, the dive bottom approach, the heavy lane pressure that could even upset Samsung Galaxy in a game, while G2 Esports sits a rung above its fellow European competitors in its ability to adapt between games should it escape Group Stage. Samsung stands in the way with a solid grasp of its own identity. At the very least, everyone will stare intently at mid lane with some of the most well-respected names at the tournament cutting a hole in the center of the map.
Samsung Galaxy's surge into the third seed position for South Korea came as somewhat of a surprise for fans of KT Rolster, but after last year's five game World Championship final, Samsung feels at home on the main stage. Its ability to keep top side control and set up for Baron is unrivaled, and even with Lee "Crown" Minho struggling, he should at least be considered a top ten mid laner in a tournament brimming with mid talent.
Despite its emerging region status, even Turkey's 1907 Fenerbahçe Esports turned heads with Kim "Frozen" Taeil smart mid lane play and mid game split-pushing. With more time for Lee "Crash" Dongwoo to synergize with the team, 1907 Fenerbahçe Esports may have the blueprint for tussling with giants -- at the very least, it has more potential for glory than even 2014's Dark Passage did in a group with EDward Gaming and Samsung Galaxy White.
The Samsung advantage
Samsung's journey through League of Legends Champions Korea this year came dotted with struggles around mid and jungle. The entrance of Kang "Haru" Minseung initially seemed to turn Samsung into a more aggressive and exciting team to watch, but a shift in meta and Crown's laning trending toward inconsistent exposed a great many gaps in the rising jungler's play. What looked like smart camp steals turned into more risky invades without mid lane pressure, and the more experienced Kang "Ambition" Chanyong returned on a near-permanent basis to the starting roster.
That doesn't give a complete picture of Samsung's struggles. As Cinderhulk junglers rose, Samsung should have felt comfortable to farm and scale for team fights, but this change also accompanied a higher emphasis on ganking, especially in the LCK. Crown felt more exposed in lane, and one of his favorite picks, Viktor, fell from grace.
Viktor worked so well for Samsung in part because of the unconventional way in which it played with the champion. When Baron spawned, Samsung had a knack for taking and reinforcing Baron vision, even from behind. Viktor's unconventional split-pushing Lich Bane build helped the team bounce minions to just past the river on top side, and his area of effect ultimate made him perfect for red side red buff area jungle fights in enclosed terrain. As such, Samsung's control over Baron from red side with the pick was iron-like, especially when paired with the likes of Park "Ruler" Jaehyuk's catch style Jhin, Varus, and Ashe champion pool.
Samsung lost some of its best picks in a slow meta change, but still managed to adapt in summer. With champions like Kalista or Rakan on the board, Samsung could generate a lot more pressure from bottom lane to compensate for some of mid lanes struggles, and Ambition's ability to identify when he needed to head mid to help Crown push out plugged a lot of Samsung's laning phase holes. Lee "CuVee" Seongjin rising to place his name beside Korea's all-time top lane greats with on point Teleports and powerful zoning in team fights allowed Samsung to still play with optimal threat on Baron and get control.
The advantage for Samsung still comes from how it plays around Baron. That makes it a favorable matchup for both G2 Esports -- which play with a similar mindset and approach -- and Royal Never Give Up, which struggle to redistribute wards from bot side to top when Baron comes into play. If either Royal or G2 want to find success against Samsung, they should focus on strength in mid and jungle and snowballing through the lanes, deny a strong bottom lane matchup, and look to control the jungle around mid to prevent reinforcements to Crown from Ambition.
G2's laurels and RNG's upside
With only a split of experience together as a team, G2 Esports' 1-5 performance at the World Championship was met by jeers and creative jingles. A strong showing in smashing through Team WE 3-1 at the Mid Season Invitational this year has made fans more optimistic, yet G2 fall short in two significant points.
Mid and jungle have exploitable inconsistencies in laning phase. Kim "Trick" Gangyun is happier in a scaling jungle meta that emphasizes farming, but the catch-up experience mechanic has made the jungle role more and more about getting buffs and pressuring lanes. This style naturally favors Liu "Mlxg" Shiyu's more aggressive disregard for Krugs and Raptors. As such, Luka "PerkZ" Perković should approach laning against Royal Never Give Up as if he has a target on his back. Splyce have demonstrated that a pick style approach to mid lane can unsettle the Croatian star.
G2 gain a lot of late game advantages because of the strength of Jesper "Zven" Svenningsen. Team WE succeeded in MSI's by choosing compositions that could burst through G2's favorite shield compositions and having a solid AD carry threat to fall back on. With Jian "Uzi" Zihao and Park "Ruler" Jaehyuk in the same group, that shouldn't necessarily give G2 reprieve.
Aside from Zven, teams in the EU LCS have a tendency to heavily stack side waves in the mid and late game for a slow push. Though many teams believe slow pushes create a lot of pressure on side lanes and force responses, splitting up opponents, the slow march of a major wave of minions in side lanes both gives the opposing team more time to react and doesn't force it to lose experience by waiting for the wave to push closer to its carries. As such, G2 could safely catch massive waves of experience without venturing too far out on the map and still Teleport for Baron fights. Neither Samsung nor Royal use minions waves in the same way and prefer to either bounce waves (Samsung) or hard push with AD carry or mid.
In this group, G2 don't have the same luxury of waiting for late game Barons and relying upon them. Royal will snowball and deny waves for comebacks, then go toe-to-toe in faceoffs that may well come down to Zven or mid laner Li "xiaohu" Yuanhao.
With Ardent supports falling back into favor, Royal can play almost like it did at last year's Worlds with a stronger mid lane influence. A blue side bot lane push will deny blue buffs from PerkZ or Crown, and most of xiaohu's pool excels at dives if Mlxg snowballs mid lane with side lane ganks. Trick will need to pull major weight to disrupt the flow.
The key to unsettling Royal will be snowballing a carry so hard that RNG's players cannot match him. G2 can do this by playing to mid, top, or a particular AD carry pick like Tristana. As it demonstrated against EDward Gaming, if RNG cannot match side lanes, it loses vision control easily and will struggle in disorganized fights.
A chance at glory
Because mid may well be the key to success in this group, 1907 Fenerbahçe Esports can still do damage. It will struggle most with Crash still unaccustomed to the team, as it seemed to play Play-In by focusing on having strong lanes and giving Crash time to scale. This means disaster against Royal particularly, but even there, Frozen's willingness to play reactively and trade sides may catch RNG off guard.
Ultimately, however, FB lack the unsettling early game dive formula that could destabilize either Samsung or G2. It's hard to imagine it winning games in this group of titans, but any victory will bring major respect to the Turkish region.
Royal Never Give Up
1907 Fenerbahçe Esports