The first day of the League of LCK vs. LPL vs. LMS 2018 Rift Rivals ended on Thursday with results that proved this year's competition would be anything but clear-cut. Each of the three regions brought varying playstyles and each clashed in a way that led to upsets throughout the first day.
Coming into the event all eyes were upon the defending champions, China's LPL. Not only did China utterly smash Korea during the inaugural Rift Rivals last year, it also came into the event on top of the world after Royal Never Give Up's triumph during the 2018 Mid-Season Invitational. While the region's other two banner-holders, EDward Gaming and Rogue Warriors, have a bit less successful history to draw upon, the presence of the current international "champion" at the event meant that initial predictions heavily favored China.
Unfortunately for LPL fans, it was not China who ended up owning the day -- at least in terms of quantity of wins. The day opened with a rematch straight out of the Mid-Season Invitational when Royal Never Give Up took on the Flash Wolves, who made a deep run into the event thanks to an unparalleled group stage performance. More important than the recent history of the teams, however, was the vast difference in playstyle between the two, as the Flash Wolves have been content to ride the wave that patch 8.11 produced and run some compositions that look straight out of bronze level solo queue; RNG's composition might as well have been pulled straight out of MSI. The mismatch ensured that the game took an interesting turn from the very beginning, as RNG dodged the Flash Wolves' Pyke/Mordekaiser lane with a play straight out of the 2015 playbook -- the lane swap. While the swap did sacrifice RNG's bottom turret very early on, it also gave their top laner Liu "Zz1tai" Zhi-hao an enormous advantage over his opposite number, Su "Hanabi" Chia-Hsiang, who didn't even make it to level 2 until six minutes into the game. Unfortunately, all the trickery in the world couldn't make up for the fact that RNG's composition was a thing of the past, and in the end the Flash Wolves took the opening game off the back of AD carry Huang "Maple" Yi-Tang's Vladimir that made Jian "Uzi" Zi-Hao's Kai'Sa nothing more than a punching bag during each of the game's teamfights.
Many of the day's other games proved far less compelling, as the LMS' Machi E-Sports and MAD Team helped prove just why the LMS is known as a top-heavy region by racking up losses to Invictus Gaming, KT Rolster, and even SK Telecom T1 in games that weren't even remotely competitive outside of the early game.
That is not to say that the rest of the day was a bore, however, as the day also featured the event's first two meetings between China and South Korea when EDward Gaming did battle with the Afreeca Freeecs and when Rogue Warriors made its international debut against KT Rolster. Fans of either region ended the day with mixed feelings, however, as each region took turns thrashing the other.
EDward Gaming made short work of the Afreeca thanks to some suspect drafting from Afreeca that left EDG with advantages in both the top and mid lanes. After each lane picked up leads from the very beginning, the rest of the game was but a formality as EDG ran away with the win.
The shoe was very much on the other foot when it came time for the Rogue Warriors to debut against KT Rolster, however. Outside of a truly spectacular performance from top laner Chen "Mouse" Yu-Hao on Rumble there was nothing to write home about on display from Rogue. A truly bizarre Talon pick by mid laner Kim "Doinb" Tae-sang was immediately countered by Son "Ucal" Woo-Hyun's Galio. With its star mid laner out of the equation, it was difficult for Rogue to make anything happen at all as KT waltzed to its second victory of the day.
At the end of Day 1, LCK is sitting at the top with a 3-1 record, while LPL sits right behind at 2-2 and LMS lags behind with a lackluster 1-3 record.
-- James Bates