The 2016 League of Legends World Championships Group Stage is officially in the books. Before diving into the best-of-five portion of the tournament, here’s a look at one player from each of the four groups who stood out as the most valuable to their team.
Group A: PraY, AD Carry, ROX Tigers
The ROX Tigers were the consensus favorites to take the whole tournament, but inconsistencies and uncharacteristic mistakes left them looking shaken. The Tigers still finished first in their group, but they did so in the least impressive way possible.
In the midst of it all, one player was an anchor in the storm: Tigers AD carry Kim “PraY” Jong-in.
In Week 1, when the Tigers were falling so far behind in every early game and looking incredibly vulnerable, PraY was the most steady presence on the team. He consistently put himself in position to capitalize on every opportunity, getting enough gold and items that when the key moments arose, he had the damage to follow through.
Every member of ROX had big moments during the group stage. Smeb and Kuro blew up G2’s entire team with a Kennen combo set up by a Malzahar silence. Peanut did some great early-game work and made some nice engages, especially during Week 2. GorillA has lit up the map with more vision than anyone else at Worlds and was involved in 80% of his team’s kills.
PraY had huge moments of his own. More importantly, though, he was there every game, carrying his load and doing his fair share. He didn’t commit the kinds of glaring mistakes we saw from Smeb. He didn’t lose his lane like Kuro and gave up fewer deaths while participating in far more of the team's kills. PraY's positive contributions may not have shone as brightly as Peanut's, but he didn’t suffer from the occasional invisibility that Peanut did.
PraY carried the Tigers every game and never failed to make his presence felt.
Group B: Faker, Mid Laner, SK Telecom T1
Aside from a hiccup against their thorn-in-the-side rivals, the Flash Wolves, SK Telecom T1 stormed their way to a convincing first place in Group B. They were led, as usual, by the greatest League of Legends player of all time, Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok.
Faker was effective in lane, roamed well, played five different champions in six games and lived up to his reputation as a great playmaker. His playmaking prowess was highlighted on Lissandra in the final game of the group, where SKT punched Cloud9’s ticket to the quarterfinal by exacting revenge on the Flash Wolves. In that game, Faker was all over the map, landing massive initiations and demanding that the Flash Wolves fear him and invest their energy into dealing with him — which bought his teammates time and space to do their jobs more. This was Faker at his best, a man straddling the line between calculation and recklessness, dragging both friends and foes in his wake.
Speaking of friends, an honorable mention for this award goes to Bae “Bang” Jun-sik, who impeccably capitalized on Faker's work by crushing his lane and securing towers while Faker both created action elsewhere and was focused with heavy attention from his enemies, and who dropped tons of damage in team fights to make Faker's engages count, all while staying out of harm's way and keeping his death count minuscule, giving up just five deaths in six games.
Faker catches the eye more readily, and deserves credit for doing so many things well while under so much pressure, but Bang is the perfect complement. Between these two players, SKT possess the most feared carry duo in the world and that’s why they are a threat to go all the way in the coming weeks.
Group C: Jankos, Jungler, H2k-Gaming
H2K took first place in Group C by unexpectedly beating EDward Gaming twice in Week 2. Throughout the group stage, they had some great performances from Andrei “Odoamne” Parcu, Yoo “Ryu” Sang-ook, and Konstantinos “Forg1ven” Tzortziou, but their most consistent contributor was Marcin “Jankos” Jankowski.
As a supportive jungler, Jankos did everything right. He produced First Blood in five of H2K’s seven games, covered his laners to help them gain big CS advantages, lit up the map with by far the highest ward output of any jungler at Worlds so far, and led H2K by a mile in kill participation (Vander’s 65.5 percent was second-highest on the team).
Beyond those stats, much of Jankos’s story is told by the fact that he was the most impressive jungler in his group while butting heads with the legendary Ming “Clearlove” Kai.
H2K has always lived and died by Jankos’s performances, and so far he has been holding up his end of the bargain. With H2K continuing to struggle in late-game teamfights because of issues with their initiations, Jankos has foun success by taking that role upon himself with champions like Olaf, Rek’Sai, and Skarner instead of on early ganking champions like Elise and Lee Sin.
Despite H2K’s better win rate when Jankos doesn’t play ganking junglers, the team has won every game where it earned First Blood and lost every game where it didn’t and Jankos has been involved in every First Blood H2K have earned.
For H2K to find success in the bracket stage, Jankos will need to continue on the same trajectory. Albus NoX Luna’s Alexander “PvPStejos” Glaxkov has played a similarly crucial role for his team, and he is the only player with more First Blood participations than Jankos at Worlds thus far.
Group D: Bjergsen, Mid laner, Team SoloMid
It takes a special set of circumstances to give an MVP award to a player from a losing team, but we saw those kind of circumstances for TSM’s Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg in Group D.
There were some other very good players in Group D. Royal Never Give Up’s AD carry, Jian “Uzi” Zi-Hao, flexed his hard carry muscles a few times. Samsung’s Lee “Crown” Min-ho dominated on his Viktor comfort pick, and Jo “CoreJJ” Yong-in was very good in his four games, making a strong argument for the team to keep using him instead of Kwon “Wraith” Ji-min in the next stages of the tournament.
What made Bjergsen stand out was how integral he was to his team’s chances of winning, and how well he delivered on that responsibility. While Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng was making positional mistakes and missing opportunities to Flash out of enemy engages, Bjergsen was anchoring the back line. When Dennis “Svenskeren” Johnsen was invading the enemy jungle and securing pick-offs, Bjergsen was invariably there with him, enabling him and following through on his playmaking.
Aside from one shaky game on Zilean, Bjergsen crushed his lane opponents, generating an average +406 gold lead at 10 minutes. He dominated multiple games on his own and most of the time he was able to translate that into roams that set up his teammates for success. But when TSM drafted Ryze for Bjergsen against Li “Xiaohu” Yuan-Hao’s Aurelion Sol, he was unable to get out of his lane. Svenskeren and TSM’s bottom lane duo eventually cracked under the pressure, and Bjergsen’s stellar teamfighting wasn’t enough to overcome the team’s deficit.
There were a few notable mistakes from Bjergsen, mostly in the previously mentioned Zilean game. Bjergsen wasn’t perfect, but the fact that those mistakes stood out so clearly and that TSM struggled so much when Bjergsen wasn’t perfect goes to show just how valuable he was. Unfortunately it wasn’t enough to carry his team through to the quarterfinals.
Tim "Magic" Sevenhuysen runs OraclesElixir.com, the premier source for League of Legends esports statistics. You can find him on Twitter, unless he’s busy giving one of his three sons a shoulder ride.