With the 2016 League of Legends World Championship's first games just on the horizon, theScore esports' Kelsey Moser, Emily Rand and Tim Sevenhuysen break down their best guesses for what lies ahead.
Kelsey Moser - Prediction: ROX Tigers
Barring an implosion, the ROX Tigers, the team that pioneered playing around their jungler, should win it all. Smeb has overtaken Faker in the eyes of many as the best player in the World, and Peanut's aggressive jungling style has few missteps now that he's tightened his vision control. The only thing that can stop them is Peanut's LCK final "coke" episodes spreading to Worlds, and even then, toppling them will be a difficult ask.
Emily Rand - Prediction: ROX Tigers
This is it. This is the Tigers' year. Peanut has made what was already one of the best teams in the world last year into the undisputed best team of 2016. The only thing that stands in the Tigers' way is their mental block with SK Telecom T1. While that could rear it's ugly head again, I think that this time around, the Tigers are ready for the challenge.
Tim Sevenhuysen - Prediction: ROX Tigers
It should surprise no one that the ROX Tigers are the favourites. They won the LCK summer split, and the team that pushed them to five games in the finals, KT Rolster, isn’t even attending the tournament. There will always be some lingering doubts until ROX are able to beat SK Telecom T1 directly, but overall this is the Tigers’ tournament to lose.
Biggest Group Stage Upset
Kelsey Moser - Prediction: INTZ finish higher than ahq
As I ranked INTZ higher than ahq, I suppose I have to predict that INTZ will finish above the LMS' second team. While I am not as convinced of this as I sound, I think INTZ's resourcefulness could prove surprising, but westdoor's ability to constantly detect when Mountain is in danger will make this result a difficult one to bet on.
Emily Rand - Prediction: I MAY take a game off SKT in groups
I don't think I MAY can make it out of groups, but I do think they're resourceful enough to shock a better team in a best-of-one, especially with an unconventional roaming strategy built around applying pressure with both Avoidless and Road.
Tim Sevenhuysen - Prediction: CLG defeat the ROX Tigers
The Tigers aren’t infallible. They can be beaten, and CLG have a decent shot at doing it. Ever since the Mid-Season Invitational, CLG have had the taste of Korean blood in their mouths. They’re hungry for more. Meanwhile, the Tigers have dropped games to inferior teams at international events in the past, so they’ll need to maintain their focus to avoid letting it happen again.
Kelsey Moser - Prediction: ROX Tigers' Peanut
In a meta where a jungler's resourcefulness really matters and most successful teams will play around him, Peanut will have to win the MVP for ROX. If he can't manage it, their victory is less certain.
Emily Rand - Prediction: ROX Tigers' Smeb
Since I'm picking the Tigers as my winning team, Smeb is my pick for MVP. Smeb has only improved from his breakout year in 2015, and is the strongest top laner in the world. If the Tigers raise the Summoner's Cup, you can bet that Smeb will play a significant role in their victories.
Tim Sevenhuysen - Prediction: ROX Tigers' Peanut
Given the degree of hype surrounding the ROX Tigers' top laner, Smeb, it might seem odd to predict one of his teammates as MVP instead of him. In the current meta, though, I’m expecting decisive junglers to seize the day. Peanut does so much to set Smeb and the rest of the team up for success. This will be his opportunity to move beyond being a stellar jungler and become an international household name.
Kelsey Moser - Prediction: Royal Never Give Up
I think the biggest disappointment will be Royal Never Give Up. The have one of the best lineups in terms of talent and performed well with a weaker AD carry at the Mid-Season Invitational, but even though they only seemed to look progressively worse all summer many still expect them to show up for Worlds. I have a feeling they won't.
Emily Rand - Prediction: Royal Never Give Up and the Uzi/Mata bottom lane
Prior to their teaming up on RNG, a friend of mine made a joke that he wanted to see blood with the Uzi/Mata duo — two strong-willed personalities fighting each other in lane more often that their opponents. Others wanted to see one of the best supports in League of Legends history in Mata alongside one of the best and bullish AD carries in Uzi. Instead, the Uzi/Mata bot lane has been underwhelming on all accounts. The two lack synergy and coordination not only with each other but with the rest of their team. Because of this, I don't see RNG making it out of groups, despite the fact that they have talent that's more than capable of doing so.
Tim Sevenhuysen - Prediction: G2 Esports
With the talent assembled on G2 Esports, there are good reasons to hope for strong results, despite their very poor showing at the Mid-Season Invitational. However, there’s a decent chance they could be upset by CLG and fail to make it out of their group. If that happens, it will be incredibly disappointing for Europe as a whole.
Most Played Champion
Kelsey Moser - Prediction: Rek'Sai
I still have to pick Rek'Sai. Despite nerfs, the global presence Rek'Sai provides and ability to gank well and farm safely make her incredibly invaluable, and now she's less likely to be banned.
Emily Rand - Prediction: Rek'Sai
I don't see the nerfs to Rek'Sai on 6.17 and 6.18 enough to diminish her ubiquitous presence in the jungle. However, the nerfs to Gragas from 6.17 effectively remove him as a top-tier jungle pick. This makes Rek'Sai the de facto jungle champion, if she wasn't already. If she's not the most played champion, it will likely be because of bans, not because she's undesirable.
Tim Sevenhuysen - Prediction: Elise
With Rek'Sai and Gragas seeing nerfs, the jungle champion pool has been opened up. Elise was knocking on the door of top-tier status on 6.15, and now she's poised to fill the void. She can be played in almost any team composition and has a range of viable item builds. There are enough other worthwhile jungle picks that I doubt Elise will be banned heavily, so I think we'll see a lot of her in the coming weeks.
Most Banned Champion
Kelsey Moser - Prediction: Tahm Kench
Global meta and a few more vulnerable AD carries will be big. Tahm Kench fits squarely into compositions that work well around both. He can also provide melee roam presence, durability, and tangle with ranged laning supports. This just makes him very unpleasant to play against and an easy ban target.
Emily Rand - Prediction: Elise
I'm tunneling on jungle picks — quelle surprise — but I'm still up in the air about most banned. I think a lot of teams will try to squeeze the jungle and ADC pools as they're the smallest going into the tournament, but as the tournament meta is formed, the most banned champion could be something newer (my bet would be on Orianna or Ryze here) that emerges as a remarkably powerful pick during the group stage round. I settled on the safe option of Elise, since I do think that teams will try to narrow down the pool of early-game jungle champions that can apply early pressure for standard lanes.
Tim Sevenhuysen - Prediction: Vladimir
Vladimir was banned 58 percent of the time across the five major regions over the course of the summer split. It’s possible that some stronger counterpicks will arise organically, but I’m expecting to see Vladimir held off the Rift quite often. Nidalee is another candidate who could be high on the ban list.
Kelsey Moser - Prediction: ROX Tigers vs. Team SoloMid
Yes, I predict TSM will make the finals. I will probably regret this, but for reasons I've previously outlined, I think they're the most likely to take out SKT or EDG. I could see the final taking placed between ROX and either of these three, however.
Emily Rand - Prediction: ROX Tigers vs. EDward Gaming
I think it's either going to come down to the Tigers against EDG or SK Telecom T1. I ultimately picked EDG because I think they, and Clearlove, are taking this tournament very seriously, and should be able to make the adjustments necessary at each stage of the tournament to make it to the finals. Please don't let me down, EDG.
Tim Sevenhuysen - Prediction: ROX Tigers vs. SK Telecom T1
I put SKT second in my power rankings, and my mind hasn’t changed. In my opinion, these will be the strongest two teams at Worlds. Obviously the finals matchup depends on how the bracket lines up in the knockout stages, but as long as ROX and SKT dodge each other in the quarters and semis, I think we'll see them stage a rematch of last year's world final.
Correction: A previous version of this story said that Vladimir had not been changed at all between playoffs and Worlds. In fact, he was nerfed in 6.18. theScore esports regrets the error.