Several power rankings projected that the ROX Tigers would take on EDward Gaming in the 2016 League of Legends World Championship Grand Final match. Both teams had a more difficult time escaping their group than projected. They also played an unexpected tie-breaker match in an effort to claim the coveted first seed out of their group. That's where the similarities stop, as the Tigers managed to win that tiebreaker match while EDward Gaming lost, setting them on an Oct. 15 collision course.
When one thinks of these two teams, the jungler instantly comes to mind. Yoon "Peanut" Wangho has developed into an aggressive agent for Tigers while Ming "Clearlove" Kai functions as a patient counter-jungler, but both of these mechanisms let each team down in San Fransisco.
Ultimately, over the course of the group stage, the Tigers re-identified their emphasis on jungle control. They were willing to start with very early invades as they chose pushing lanes, but still relied on Peanut’s initiative to invade and collapse when needed.
For EDward Gaming, controlling the jungle became second to controlling the lane. When EDG play, they look to assert lane control and then invade the jungle. As Group C progressed, this style collapsed when H2K could counter EDG’s lanes, while the Tigers found more success giving up lane advantages to invade, then pressuring these successes back into the lanes.
Picks like Nami especially illustrated a problem for EDward Gaming. EDG tunneled hard on controlling the laning phase only to lose all source of initiative when their laning advantage failed. Mid lane also became a key point of contention as both Heo "PawN" Wonseok and Lee "Scout" Yechan struggled to find lane advantages. Once those were shut down, Clearlove became less likely to invade. Laying out vision and mid lane control caused Clearlove the most pause in Group Stage.
By contrast, Peanut had many daring and disrespectful invade attempts. In particular, against Albus NoX Luna, Peanut chose to solo invade. Following any failed attempts, Alexander "PVPStejos" Glazkov pressured a lane immediately. When Tigers mid laner Lee "KurO" Seohaeng over-extended in lane after Peanut was forced out of his jungle, he made for an easy target. This lack of respect cost the Tigers throughout the group stage, as did their misplays around their jungler.
To adapt, the Tigers eventually started making initial plays around Peanut. Their Level 2 blue buff invade in conjunction with KurO and support Kang "GorillA" Beomhyeon circumvented Peanut’s solo invade tendency and lane advantage. This allowed the Tigers to immediately begin facilitating Peanut while giving him opportunities to win the side lanes with his teammates.
This fundamental return toward ROX’s status quo is key. Though ROX struggled in the early game, often falling behind to the teams they faced in Group A, they went back to the playstyle that has given them success throughout the regular season. As a result, when they face off against EDward Gaming, one has to weigh their most recent form more positively than EDG’s.
Instead of looking to coordinate initial invades before laning, EDG fixated on winning the bottom lane. This especially cost them in a Group Stage where blue side has a 60 percent win rate. In particular, teams with a strong bottom lane will often look to invade the red side blue buff early. To do this, EDward Gaming will attempt to win lane and then lay pressure down into the buff.
Red side blue buff is easier to invade than blue side red buff. As a result, any team with a push advantage can find it easy to close out a game. In both of their losses to H2K, EDG were on red side, but this is a problem they can deal with by applying more of the Tigers' formula. If they place Tian "meiko" Ye on a more comfortable roaming support champion, he can facilitate more jungle control than he can on an exclusively lane dominant champion like Nami. This is a lesson that EDG still haven’t learned despite their losses.
As ROX have looked more comfortable with this strategy recently, despite both teams losing games to obliviousness, one has to assume ROX will take this set handily.
Conveniently, I haven’t mentioned the top lane matchup at all, in particular because it isn't as relevant as one might believe. Chen "Mouse" Yuhao, despite an average of -22 CS relative to his group stage opponent at 10 minutes, wasn’t EDG’s greatest problem. Their inability to contain mid pressure was, as Clearlove was constantly forced into a position where he had to countergank mid, and where PawN in particular often roamed to an awkward part of the map during mid game.
In the tie-breaker match against H2K-Gaming, EDward Gaming tried to counter by traveling top and placing pressure on the lane. Neither Mouse nor Clearlove could find the advantage. Rather than struggle top, one might advise EDward Gaming to abandon the lane and all-in bottom, as this might be the only lane where their advantage could arise.
But Mouse won’t even play. Instead, the unknown quantity Tong "Koro1" Yang will appear in the top lane after a summer of absence in which he mostly focused on promoting the organization. His last performance this past spring saw him lose lane to obvious ganks and fall behind as drastically as Mouse. Despite communication concerns, a low skill threshold can often times trump any intangibles Koro1 might provide.
As EDward Gaming suffered an unexpected loss to H2K, they are likely to be feeling lower on morale than their opponents. Koro1’s appearance on the team will be difficult to argue as a change for the better.
Normally, it wouldn’t even matter, except that Song "Smeb" Kyungho is regarded as the best top laner in the tournament. I don’t like to tunnel on individual lane matchups, but when it’s hard to identify a clear advantage for EDward Gaming, it’s hard to decide what side of the map Clearlove can play on. If meiko hasn’t returned to more roaming supports, EDG will lose the element of surprise, and they’ll simply fall behind. They won’t act on the openings Peanut provides for the opposing team because Clearlove will be slow to react.
It’s possible EDG can take a game, but with no evidence of them developing in the Group Stage and a last minute substitute, it’s hard to argue for more than that. If this doesn’t end in at least 3-1 victory for the Tigers and another year of disappointment for Clearlove, it's an upset.
But make no mistake, just because there will be a loser in this match, neither of these teams are tournament favorites anymore. ROX showed improvement in the last two games of their Group. With Peanut's short history of unreliability, it's hard to say it will stick.
Kelsey Moser is a staff writer for theScore esports. You can follow her on Twitter.