League of Legends World Championship roundtable: Looking back at the group stage

The Summoner's Cup looks down on the crowd at the Verti Music Hall during the League of Legends World Championship group stage. Courtesy of Riot Games

BERLIN -- The group stage of the League of Legends World Championship wrapped up Sunday, with eight teams earning berths to the quarterfinals in Madrid. Along the way, several players, teams and moments rose above the rest and made their mark at the Verti Music Hall.

Here are our picks for the best of the best -- and the biggest disappointments -- of the group stage from Emily Rand, Tyler Erzberger, Ashley Kang and Adel Chouadria.

Biggest surprise

Fnatic rise on final day of Group C

It isn't a surprise that Fnatic made it out of their group, but it is a surprise in how they did it, especially after a shaky start on Sunday in their Clutch Gaming match.

Honestly, there wasn't anything that truly shocked me in the group stages, so I wanted to call attention to Fnatic's mental fortitude. When it came time to step up, Fnatic absolutely did.

-- Emily Rand

TheShy gets greedy

Invictus Gaming top laner Kang "TheShy" Seung-lok admitted that Kleptomancy might be the way to go on Jayce after scoffing at his newfound rival, Jang "Nuguri" Ha-gwon of Damwon Gaming, for using the build during the first week of groups. After iG's loss to Damwon in the group stage, TheShy made his way to solo queue to practice Kleptomancy Jayce and rolled it out on the final day of groups against Nuguri himself.

-- Tyler Erzberger

Griffin soar and topple G2

For me, the biggest surprise is Griffin's qualification out of the group stage as No. 1 team in Group A.

Griffin had lost their third League Champions Korea final in a row before this worlds. Questions were raised about the team's ability to perform on a big stage. However, the Griffin we saw in Berlin looked like the resurrection of the Griffin that went 12-0 with just two map losses to start this year's LCK spring split.

Griffin's teamwork has looked infallible so far at worlds, with individual members of the team moving around the map in perfect synergy. Griffin's next test is the quarterfinals, as the team faces the defending world champion Invictus Gaming on a best-of-five in Madrid.

-- Ashley Kang

Fnatic show up SKT

By itself, Fnatic's qualification to the quarterfinals would not have been surprising, but the circumstances they overcame on their way there was a pleasant event for European fans.

Indeed, with many of their players battling illnesses, a passive and unrecognizable Fnatic appeared in the first three games, failing to hold initiatives when their compositions required them to do so. Their fourth game, against Clutch Gaming, was equally horrendous, but Fnatic escaped with the victory.

However, as the players pushed on during Saturday's matches, Fnatic bared their fangs through devastating early-game planning, leaving SK Telecom T1 reeling.

Their victory over longtime foils Royal Never Give Up not only eliminated RNG, it propelled Europe's No. 2 seed to the playoffs alongside G2 Esports and Splyce, who had qualified in the previous two days.

-- Adel Chouadria

Biggest disappointment

Royal Never Give Up's overreliance on Uzi

Before this tournament began, I complained that Royal Never Give Up always have to relearn the same lesson before every international tournament: Their team was more than bot laner Jian "Uzi" Zi-Hao.

Despite their quarterfinals performance last year, RNG were one of the best 1-3-1 teams in the world. Mid laner Li "Xiaohu" Yuan-Hao and top laner Xie "Langx" Zhen-Ying are both formidable carries in their own right, and I wanted RNG to play more toward them.

But both Langx and Xiaohu looked flat throughout this tournament. Support Shi "Ming" Sen-Ming played below what he's capable of and what we saw in the League of Legends Pro League this split. Uzi had the strongest performance of anyone on his team, to the point that it made RNG's early exit from worlds particularly crushing. Uzi's chronic pain and injuries have typically come up at some point during his team's worlds performances, but this time around he carried the squad even more than he usually does despite his usual out-of-game struggles.

RNG were placed in the most difficult group, and it's unfortunate that they're still likely better than some of the other teams coming out of weaker groups, but they also didn't perform up to the level that they're capable of.

-- Rand

Cloud9 go out with a whimper

This is a difficult choice between Cloud9 and FunPlus Phoenix. At least FPX will have a chance to redeem themselves in Madrid, so I'll side with C9 as the biggest disappointment. They never felt like they truly understood the worlds meta, and even with a 2-4 record it feels like they played worse than a Clutch Gaming side that took zero games in the group stage.

-- Erzberger

Tough draw dooms RNG in Group C

When the teams for Group C were drawn, one of Fnatic, RNG, SKT -- three powerhouses that had the potential to contend for a spot in the worlds finals -- was destined to not make it out of the groups. In the end, it was RNG and the team's promised prince Uzi who crumbled at the doorsteps of the quarterfinals. RNG insisted on the monotonous playstyle of focusing on activating Uzi as the main carry, and other teams in Group C pounced on RNG's predictability.

When Uzi did not get enough resources to disrupt the enemy team, Xiahou or Langx were not able to be capable fallbacks for the team. The holes in RNG's strategy culminated in Fnatic breaking down RNG's Nexus on Saturday, sealing the LPL team's fate.

-- Kang

Gigabyte Marines not as dangerous as we thought

In a wide-open Group B, Gigabyte Marines had a clear opportunity to propel Vietnam to the bracket stage, but they bungled it in spectacular fashion.

GAM, a team known for innovative tactics and picks, played more standardly in the group stage and were unexpectedly outmatched, failing to detach themselves from playing around Pham "Zeros" Minh Lộc's top lane exclusively. Judging by how their playstyle changed during the Vietnam Championship Series when they used Lê "Yoshino" Trung Kiên, perhaps they should have opted into substituting him in for Zeros.

Gigabyte Marines' solo lane permutations (including occasional top lane games for Trần "Kiaya" Duy Sang) earned them the VCS's top seed, making their choice to bench Yoshino all the more baffling.

-- Chouadria

Best player

Lee "Tarzan" Seung-yong, Griffin

Halfway through the League Champions Korea Summer Split, Tarzan looked more predictable and had seemingly defaulted to a slower tracking style. Griffin were already highly criticized for being so passive early, even last year when they were coming up as a recently promoted powerhouse of solo queue talent.

This year, they found themselves outpaced by the other top LCK talent, and by outpaced I mean they still earned first seed in the summer split but lost an entire five series with the rest of the LCK catching up. Much of it had to do with the fact that Tarzan was helping Choi "Doran" Hyeon-joon as the newest member of the starting lineup. Although top laner Choi "Sword" Sung-won lacks Doran's laning power, he soaks up pressure, and Tarzan has been able to path more freely since his return.

Tarzan was always an excellent jungler, but he's been able to show that and more already on the worlds stage.

-- Rand

Heo "ShowMaker" Su, Damwon Gaming

ShowMaker went from a relative unknown to Western fans before the tournament to drawing comparisons to Faker back in 2013 when he made his debut on the worlds stage. The mid laner's Akali might be the most dangerous player-champion combo in the competition, and even off his signature champion, ShowMaker has been stellar. He was my play-ins top player and now my No. 1 pick after groups. If he keeps this up, the only thing left is the finals MVP in Paris.

-- Erzberger

Lee "Tarzan" Seung-yong, Griffin

Tarzan was the best player to step onto the Verti Music Hall stage this week. He has been a No. 1 player in the South Korean solo queue for some time, and many analysts touted the young talent as the most talented player in the LCK.

During this group stage, he finally seemed to meet the expectations placed on him.

Tarzan was the key player for Griffin as the team took down G2 Esports two times in a row to win the group's first seed. He seemed to be everywhere on the map and activated the individual lanes for Griffin throughout the group stage. While Tarzan was more known for his tank champions at the LCK, his performances on both Lee Sin and Qiyana were superb.

The King of the Jungle is finally living up to his nickname, and I can't wait to see more from this promising talent.

-- Kang

Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok, SK Telecom T1

SK Telecom T1's players took turns shining under the worlds spotlight, but none did as consistently and as prominently as Faker, be it through strong laning, teamfighting or escape artistry after split-pushes or following botched fights. The mid laner contributed 30% of his team's total kills and had a 66% kill participation ratio, fourth among mid laners in the tournament. However, Faker also made a few small mistakes as his side lanes faltered in SKT's lone groups loss against Fnatic, as he attempted to secure priority in an unrealistic scenario.

Should SKT aspire to win their fourth title in organization history under duress, and with side lanes faltering in the starting moments of the game, Faker ought to receive help if his team is put in that spot in the quarterfinal.

-- Chouadria

Best team

SK Telecom T1

The team formerly known as SK Telecom T1, now simply T1, is looking like a heavy favorite to take the entire tournament. Although you can write off G2 Esports' faltering in their final matches as taking these games not as seriously (having "happy games," as G2 would say), they still faltered.

T1, outside of one game where they had no idea how to deal with Fnatic's Veigar pick and kept diving into it, have been patient while tweaking their early game enough to make it stronger. Jungler Kim "Clid" Tae-min is having some of the strongest performances of his career, and that's on top of having a strong showing in League Champions Korea this past split.

Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok is coming for his throne, and he has a team that can take him all the way.

-- Rand


Can I just pick South Korea as a whole? SK Telecom T1 went 5-1 in the toughest group in worlds history. Griffin, amidst drama surrounding their former longtime head coach, put on a clinic to their end group by blowing out Mid-Season Invitational champion G2 Esports in back-to-back games. And not to be outdone, Damwon Gaming pulled off a firework display and topped what was probably the second-toughest group at worlds. If I'm forced to pick, I'll go with Griffin and their dismantling of G2.

-- Erzberger

SK Telecom T1

SK Telecom T1 are still the best team in the tournament. SKT's five starters are all displaying consistent performance and are still displaying the meticulous vision control and teamfight prowess of the LCK.

SKT have also shown flexibility in drafts, with AD carry Park "Teddy" Jin-seong readily playing non-marksman champions such as Yasuo and Kayle. SKT will only look more dominant as we head into the elimination rounds, especially with individuals such as Faker and coach Kim "kkOma" Jeong-gyun, who have a proven track record in best-of-five scenarios on the international stage.

-- Kang

SK Telecom T1

SK Telecom T1's ascension to the top of the group of death was no accident: Save for their loss against Fnatic, SKT displayed great game understanding and adjusted to difficult situations on-the-fly.

Kim "Clid" Tae-min's pathing allowed the three-time world champions to achieve balance or accrue leads in the early-game, facilitating their game plan as their team compositions allowed. Other South Korean teams also shined in the group stage, but SK Telecom T1 did so against Royal Never Give Up and Fnatic, two teams who delivered on expectations as they were positioned in the top five of ESPN's pre-worlds power rankings.

-- Chouadria