With a glut of games to watch across China’s LoL Pro League and Korea’s LoL Champions Korea this week, and most of them falling at inopportune times for a Western audience, VOD-watching is often a must. Here are a few matches from this first week that just might be worth losing sleep over if you’re up for it, especially with Week 1 excitement in full swing.
LCK: CJ Entus vs. ESC Ever
Without a headlining matchup like KT Rolster versus SK Telecom T1, or ROX Tigers versus SK Telecom T1 — the absence of SKT is certainly felt in this first week — focus shifts to more intriguing sleeper matchups. Both CJ Entus and ESC Ever are a bit unknown heading into this split, the former due to a roster pickup and the latter due to questions of their actual strength relative to superior competition in the LCK.
While CJ has long-since fallen from grace after an eighth-place LCK Spring 2016 finish, offseason moves to shore up their jungle position — signing Kang “Haru” Min-seung who will hopefully start over Park “Bubbling” Jun-hyeong — show that the team is looking in the right direction. Support Hong “MadLife” Min-gi did an admirable job directing the team last split despite their disappointing finish, and mid laner Gwak “Bdd” Bo-seong always seems to have a flashy play for the highlight reels regardless of whether CJ wins or loses.
Opposing them are KeSPA Cup and IEM darlings ESC Ever, whose plucky run to an IEM Cologne title despite being a mere challenger team captured hearts worldwide. Thought as the weaker of the two challenger teams in the LCK Summer 2016 Promotional Series, Ever put on an arguably stronger performance against SBENU Sonicboom than fellow challenger side MVP did against Kongdoo Monster, finally earning their rightful place in the LCK. This match with CJ should act as an initial gauge of just how far Ever has to go in order to be considered a legitimate top contender.
Ever’s newer jungler Choi “Bless” Hyeon-woong revitalized the team upon arrival in the latter part of Challengers Korea Spring, and watching him take on CJ Haru (should Haru play) will be an interesting clash of newbie LCK junglers. Then there's Ever AD carry Lee "LokeN" Dong-wook, whose promotion performances impressed many. Also of note is whether CJ will deviate from their spring strategy of feeding AD carry Ha “Kkramer” Jong-hun, relying on late-game teamfights, or give rising star Bdd more of a carry role.
LPL: Royal Never Give Up vs Team WE
Royal Never Give Up’s Round Robin stage run at the Mid-Season Invitational astounded many, but this was far from the same Royal Never Give Up we saw in the LPL and far from the one we might expect to see in the first week of the Summer split. Rosters with Jian “Uzi” Zihao have a history of a slow ramp-up time as teams adjust to his style, and Royal’s surge was the obvious result of dedicated effort in a short period of time. Royal will probably slow down at the start of the season to find their footing.
This will make the match against WE that much more exciting. Despite the build up and excitement for Royal Never Give Up vs. EDward Gaming, RNG toppled EDG easily in a 3-1 series, while WE made them more than sweat in Games 3-5. The surprising AD carry substitution in Game 5 cemented RNG’s roster for MSI and resulted in a kiss from Cho “Mata” Sehyeong to his AD carry.
WE is the only team of the projected top four in the LPL to keep the same roster as they had in 2016 LPL Spring. Yoon “Zero” Kyungsup’s return to form as a top tier support and WE’s general tendency toward dragon control (with the highest dragon control rate in Spring’s regular season) make them naturally suited to adapt quickly to some of the patch changes that will confront LPL teams.
Fans will watch Royal Never Give Up’s new bottom lane closely for signs of longevity. Streams of RNG’s dynamic queue games featured comical dives from Uzi and Mata, resulting in multiple kills, Uzi’s death, a chorus of “It’s nothing, it’s nothing,” and Mata’s feigned frustration. How this team really approaches a competitive match will be a telling look at whether Uzi will finally begin to adapt this year as well as WE’s ability to go from a well-rounded roster to a world class one.
Perhaps the most exciting confrontation, however, will be the continued rivalry between Liu “Mlxg” Shiyu and Xiang “Condi” Renjie. Nothing has seemed to visibly frustrate Mlxg more than Condi’s precise smite capabilities, and both junglers will be primed to show the other up, putting a lot of emphasis on early game pathing and camp control as the series progresses.
Honorable mention: Newbee Gaming vs. EDward Gaming
The last confrontation between Newbee Gaming and EDward Gaming ended in less than a minute. Newbee, previously QG Reapers, forfeited the semifinal, allowing EDG to advance to the final unscathed.
Both teams are easy Top 4 favorites, but the lingering question is how mid lane roster changes will affect both teams. Lee "Scout" Yechan’s underwhelming debut for SK Telecom T1 didn’t inspire confidence, and Bae “dade” Eojin’s recent form has been far less than crisp. The opening match of the LPL will give a sense for how many contenders the region actually has.
Kelsey Moser is a staff writer for theScore esports. You can follow her on Twitter. Emily Rand is a staff writer for theScore esports. You can follow her on Twitter. Neither of them are fans of sleep.