The series result, however, is a little more tricky to parse.
Edward Gaming - the LPL’s last hope, a pre-tournament contender
EDG, once the LPL’s most dominant force, had fallen away from prominence over the recent years. From the highs of winning the inaugural MSI in 2015, EDG had previous to their triumph over RNG this year, never gotten past the quarterfinals stage, each time falling out of Worlds at or before knockouts in five previous attempts. The frustration and humiliation marred the organisation’s international record for the longest time - especially after their era of preeminence in the LPL waned in favour of the likes of iG, RNG and FPX. Now though, not only have EDG claimed an LPL title once again, but they have also finally conquered their international curse by advancing to the semifinals.
As the last non-Korean team left in the tournament from a region that has grown used to victory in China, there is a lot of weight on EDG’s shoulders. The good news? EDG looks like they can bear it. They have the skills, playstyle and picks to make this series a competitive one at a minimum.
Their series against RNG was a close fight - both teams knew each other so well that there were very few tricks either team could pull that would be a complete surprise to the other… outside of perhaps Yuan “Cryin” Cheng-Wei’s Annie pick. Even so, EDG emerged victorious after a gruelling 5-game series, largely off the back of superlative team fighting and a heavy focus towards empowering Park “Viper” Do-hyeon and Lee “Scout” Ye-chan on the likes of Ezreal and Ryze.
Taking a step even deeper, EDG excelled at combining early jungle pathing with bot lane enchanters to devastating effect. Tian “Meiko” Ye played only enchanters in the series, into a primary melee engage champions for RNG’s Shi “Ming” Sen-Ming. In comparison, Zhao “Jiejie” Li-Jie was regularly able to either match RNG’s early jungle pathing to shield his bot lane or create a mismatched jungle start to be around bot lane while his opposition was topside for even more pressure. The end result was permanent lane shove and obnoxious poke to burn through sustain in favour of EDG’s Viper and Meiko via the range discrepancy offered by the support matchup, and Jiejie managing to ward off attempts to bail out the lane or capitalise on RNG’s topside focus. The Aphelios/Lulu duo from game three is a prime example of this.
It’s no surprise EDG was considered to have the best bot lane in the world coming into the tournament (though T1’s Gumayusi and Keria may like to contest that claim), especially when the team sets up their bot lane to receive so much attention. Versus Gen.G, they’ll likely want to continue that form and try to put pressure on Park “Ruler” Jae-hyuk and Kim “Life” Jeong-min as a possible win condition.
Another thought must go to the mid lane matchup. Scout has had a strong championship run thus far, but when he did fall behind or out of relevance, the team struggled against RNG. Against a mid/jungle as dominating as Gwak “Bdd” Bo-seong and Kim “Clid” Tae-min have been, EDG will want him at his best. Fortunately, Scout has been delivering thus far - the question is whether he can do so against a team that has hyper-prioritised playing around lethal mid/jungle set-ups, especially if EDG prioritise playing through pressure lanes bot.
Indeed, the mid/jungle is perhaps where EDG must be wariest in general. Jiejie has looked aggressive and creative on favoured picks like Lee Sin but has been more inconsistent when forced onto less comfortable picks or an early rotation Jarvan IV against a composition that makes his life tricky. Clid, on the other hand, has been a superstar for Gen.G, and he too is infamous for his Lee Sin mechanics. Expect it to be a heavily contested pick, and expect for Scout to be able to withstand or outmatch Bdd (plus any permutations of roamers and gankers) in the advent of an EDG victory.
The last eye goes to the top lane. In the LPL playoffs, EDG began to showcase a willingness to play through Li “Flandre” Xuan-Jun - a perennial contender for best top laner in the LPL but cursed to never quite succeed on Snake. Instead, he’s often been asked to play with a dearth of teammate attention… something he’s done largely successfully, reliably becoming a sidelane threat and teamfight presence as the game goes on. Against either Kim “Rascal” Kwang-hee or Noh “Burdol” Tae-yoon, Flandre should come out favoured, especially if junglers and supports are preoccupied elsewhere. Watch for the heavy priority on securing him Jayce or Graves, something that EDG has invariably looked for at this Worlds.
Gen.G - Dark horse, symbol of the LCK’s domination
And then there’s Gen.G, a team that has simultaneously dominated and frustrated in equal measure. At their best, Gen.G is cleanly able to snowball and close out games against teams they are considered better than. At their worst, Gen.G stalls into passivity, relying on late game clutch plays from Bdd or Clid to drag themselves over the finish line. We’ve seen both at Worlds - but for once, Gen.G has been ramping up as the tournament has gone on. They ran the gauntlet of tiebreakers to emerge first from their group and put C9 to the sword in a 3-0 quarterfinals victory.
Core to that has been the superlative form of Bdd and Clid. The mid/jungle pairing of Gen.G has been in incredible form, able to oscillate from lethal Syndra plus Lee Sin combos to unexpected counter picks like the Aatrox into Yasuo matchup Bdd pulled out against Cloud9. Zoe, too is edging towards a must bad - or at least contest - against Gen.G after Bdd has put some absurd games to his name internationally.
Against Team Liquid in the group stage tiebreaker match, the early skirmish that secured Gen.G a massive lead was built on the back of Bdd, hitting four clutch Bubbles in a row through every piece of terrain available. Add in how much of a takeaway Lee Sin is from Jiejie and how well Clid plays it, and there may well be some draft headaches for EDG - especially if they want to prioritise Viper and Meiko. Expect Bdd to look to his notorious Syndra or Zoe as mentioned, but Azir is another signature option. Clid, too will likely want to look for a high-agency AD jungler like the Lee Sin, Xin Zhao or potentially a Jarvan IV. Pair them up, and you have a recipe for success through the mid lane for Gen.G.
Ruler and Life should also be no easy walkover for Viper and Meiko. Life has shown a willingness to pick up enchanters if they want to fight fire with fire. On the other hand, Gen.G has also proven themselves proficient with the increasingly high priority pick of the Jhin with an engaged champion like Rakan (a staple for Life). As long as Ruler can survive an inevitable early onslaught from EDG, his and Gen.G’s team fighting prowess should make him a dangerous threat in the mid game and may open space for Bdd and Clid to find win conditions elsewhere by drawing pressure.
Where things might fall apart, though, is the top lane. Rascal had a strong showing against C9, pulling out the Graves and Kennen to solid effect, and has largely been stable for Gen.G. However, against a player the calibre of Flandre, he may be pushed further than he has in the previous series and may even be a focus should EDG revert to a more top focused style seen in the LPL playoffs. If he falls dangerously far behind in lane priority in particular, it could open up Clid to challenging scenarios versus Jiejie and Meiko, hamstringing attempts to play through mid and jungle control.
The last note has to go to the elephant in the room: Gen.G doesn’t punch up well. They were a combined 4-6 in series wins against playoffs teams, including being 0-4 versus DK and T1, while they were an undefeated 8-0 against the teams not in playoffs. Gen.G are fantastic against opponents; they are better than - clinical and decisive in a manner the best of LCK teams would be envious of. Against teams who can match or exceed them? They often fall apart, ending up in a painfully passive playstyle that relies on clutch plays or misexecutions from enemies to get them back into games. EDG are a team that can mechanically match Gen.G, and LCK fans need to hope that Gen.G’s development over this Worlds run has helped them resolve some of their issues against other top-tier teams.
Matchup to watch - Viper v Bdd
This is cheating slightly - normally you’re supposed to stick to individual lanes or roles, not cross-contaminate them. However, in this series, particularly highlighting the must succeed factors for both teams is paramount.
Bdd is in contention for MVP of the whole tournament; Gen.G will be looking for him to continue to dominate if they are to win this series. EDG have made their name by empowering Viper to utterly crush teams with his laning and team fighting prowess - he’s arguably the best ADC in the world right now. If Gen.G allows him to run roughshod over games, they are all but doomed. On the contrary, if either can hold or surpass Bdd and Viper, respectively, then they have made a major step towards securing their team victory, but the onus here is on Viper and Bdd to continue to be the banner bearers and hard-carries for their teams.
If one succeeds while the other does not, then that is almost guaranteed to determine the series.
Verdict: 3-2 Edward Gaming
Gen.G has improved, and the LCK has looked more dangerous than many anticipated pre-tournament, but EDG was considered Worlds contenders for a reason. While Bdd and Clid look fantastic, the stability and team fighting prowess of EDG should edge out the series against a Gen.G that has shown unfortunate passivity against high-tier opposition. EDG definitely counts as high-tier opposition.
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Featured image courtesy of Riot Games and Getty Images.