With one final best of five remaining, one of DWG KIA or EDward Gaming will be going home as World Champions. For Damwon, it would mean back-to-back championships - a feat thus far only accomplished by SKT in 2015 and 2016. For EDG it means vindication. It has been years of failed attempts and high hopes leading to ruin.
DWG KIA - defending champions, icons of the LCK ascendancy
DWG KIA have been rampant at this World Championship, going undefeated in groups and earning a 3-0 over MAD Lions in the quarterfinals. Things nearly derailed in the semis when T1 pushed them all the way to five games in a series that harkened back to the glories of 2016 ROX v SKT, but DK emerged victorious in the end despite the fierce opposition.
And honestly? This might be even more reminiscent of 2016 yet. SKT went on to win the finals comfortably in that year, with many lamenting that the toughest series had instead played out in the semifinals. T1 v DK this year may have been just that. It will be up to EDG to stand up and crush those nervous murmurs dead in the finals.
The reason for those nervous suspicions is simple: DWG KIA are really good at League of Legends. They came into Worlds touted as having the best topside in the entire world, while their bot lane was a great fit for the team but potentially exploitable. Damwon’s topside was as imperious as promised, but more terrifyingly Jang “Ghost” Yong-jun and Cho “BeryL” Geon-hee have turned on the star power. Against T1’s all-star botlane, Ghost and BeryL put on a masterclass with the likes of Jhin, Ziggs and Maokai - there was even a somewhat ill-fated Draven game in there as well.
With what was nominally Damwon’s weak link firing on all cylinders, pairing that up with the likes of the most dangerous mid/jungle pairing in the world right now of Heo “ShowMaker” Su and Kim “Canyon” Geon-bu should make EDG tremble. Both have vast champion pools and are able to contest a lot of what Lee “Scout” Ye-chan and Zhao “Jiejie” Li-Jie have proven to be most comfortable and successful on. The likes of Zoe, Syndra, and Lee Sin among others are staples for Damwon, and could prove a dangerous inroad into curtailing Scout’s prowess in mid lane. If Scout is caught in an unfavourable mid/jungle matchup, EDG have been left vulnerable in the past.
A note must go towards Kim “Khan” Dong-ha. He’s pulled off everything from Lucian pentakills to comeback Kennen ultimates that have won the game from dire positions for DWG KIA this Worlds. All the same, he had a relatively quiet semifinals (with the notable exception of a very clutch Gragas in game 4) and has publicly admitted to increasing levels of nerves as the tournament has gone on. His career has been plagued by second place finishes and “almosts” - as it stands, Khan has never won a major international title despite being on multiple championship calibre teams. It would be a mighty stretch to prophesy a poor performance from Khan, but there is immense weight on this player who has come so close and yet been so far so many times. Add in that it’s likely his last series as a pro-player before he head off to Korean military service, and there’s a very real world where he has a muted performance in finals.
Khan has had a strong tournament, but a history of underperforming internationally. Now in the biggest and final match of his career, DWG KIA will be relying on him to hold his nerve.
EDward Gaming - the LPL’s prodigal sons, a return to glory
EDG are a team that know the bitter taste of underperforming internationally intimately. Five times this team has failed to progress past quarterfinals at the World Championship, despite huge expectations and the impressive calibre of talent that has graced this organisation’s roster over the years. No longer. Finally EDG have had a successful Worlds run. Finally they have made finals. Now they just have to win it.
That’s easier said than done - DWG KIA are formidable opponents. EDG’s quarterfinals and semifinals were both bloody five-game series, despite strong showings in groups, and they must show tighter form against Damwon to come away with the victory.
Fortunately, they certainly have the tools to do so. Scout has had a great tournament, flexing his muscles on a wide variety of mages but with a strong preference for Ryze, and if jungler Jiejie can be put on the front foot with a high-agency comfort pick like Lee Sin or Jarvan IV in the right scenarios, this duo could do the necessary work of limiting DK’s deadly mid/jungle’s efficacy. EDG have looked at their most fierce when Scout is in a position to carry and Jiejie can rely on his aggressive tendencies - something that is much harder to do without a lead - and so prioritising a strong mid/jungle pairing will be important for the LPL representatives.
The other major power point of EDG this year has been Park “Viper” Do-hyeon and Tian “Meiko” Ye. Their priority on Lucian/Nami and other enchanters bot lane has been a staple of EDG’s gameplan over playoffs. When it’s worked, it's been oppressive - perma-push in bot lane with little recourse for easy recalls for opponents, alongside the additional power of kill-threat if Viper does get Lucian. When it hasn’t, one of EDG’s main stars in Meiko is often left in a position of low agency, especially when the team has often looked to his strong roams and hard engages… things not readily available in many enchanters.
Viper too has been uncharacteristically reckless with his leads over quarters and semis. Against Cryin in the quarterfinals, his Ezreal was repeatedly crushed by Cryin’s Annie. Against Bdd’s Seraphine in the semis, his refusal to flash a Seraphine Encore nearly cost EDG game 1. While he has still shown the lethal-mindedness to secure aggressive kills, that edge of unreliability in the mid and late games is a point of concern. On paper, Viper should be favoured over Ghost, on recent performance both seem more evenly matched than EDG fans would like. That must change for finals.
A last note must go to Li “Flandre” Xuan-Jun. He’s often been left to his own devices in the top lane, but has shown a mastery over Graves and has a pedigree for excellent split-push play. There is a world where the likes of Jax and other side-lane duelists end up in Flandre’s hands to change up EDG’s often bot focussed playstyle. If pick/ban priority leaves Flandre with an open champion pool, he has the tools to become a major threat versus Khan and DWG KIA.
Matchup to Watch - Meiko v BeryL
EDG’s talismanic veteran goes up against one of DWG KIA’s most creative and most criticised.
The LPL and EDG have historically saved last pick for support, and Meiko has been one of the most consistently dangerous players in the world with that advantage. He and Viper are one of EDG’s most important points of strength, and to overcome DWG KIA both must turn in the kind of performance that earned them accolades as one of the best bot lanes in the world.
BeryL on the other hand has as recently as MSI been decried as the weak link on DWG KIA. While his Worlds performances have been stellar, and his roams and creative counterpicks have earned him praise, he must continue that streak of form in the finals lest Meiko find a much needed win condition for EDG.
Verdict: 3-1 DWG KIA
They are too good. While Viper and Meiko may earn a game off of Damwon, this team is rightly being favoured coming into this series. When even your alleged weakest members manage to match up well into the likes of Gumayusi and Keria, you know your team is something special.
Time for a back-to-back champion.
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Featured image courtesy of Riot Games.