WUHAN, CHINA -- Day 3 of the 2017 League of Legends World Championship was the first and only day that all three League of Legends Pro League representatives could play on the same stage. Stands on the right filled with lit signs supporting EDward Gaming, Team WE and Royal Never Give Up.
But even beyond the throng of fans screaming "加油！" (Chinese for "add oil," intended to encourage and spur on the teams) for LPL squads, today was a special day. The opening match featured Team WE, the legacy team of the LPL, dominant in the end of 2012 and the beginning of 2013, and the most renowned LoL brand in the world: Team SoloMid.
When Yiliang "Doublelift" Peng told the crowd on the broadcast that TSM would win this time because, at MSI, his team managed to split 1-1 with WE without him, the crowd cheered just as loudly as they did for Xiang "Condi" Renjie's opening statement.
The magic and anticipation for the TSM vs WE game unfortunately dwindled as the match progressed. TSM drafted three low-pressure lanes against WE's composition. Condi, predictably, dotted the lower river with wards and looked for openings on the blue side jungle entrance near raptors. Team WE grouped with bottom lane pushed to collapse on Dennis "Svenskeren" Johnsen.
With a combination like Sejuani and Shen at level six, any mispositioning becomes costly, but as long as Kevin "Hauntzer" Yarnell got pressure on the top side in exchange for Team WE's engage, Team SoloMid came out ahead in the trade.
"It sucks that I had to be the sacrificial lamb," Svenskeren, shrugging, told me after the match. When Ke "957" Changyu burned Teleport against priority, Hauntzer nearly took the first tier top turret on his own. WE sent three members top to try to catch Hauntzer unsuccessfully, giving TSM leave to take mid control and set up for a quick Mountain Drake on Svenskeren's respawn.
Throughout the match, TSM kept themselves ahead in objectives with only a few early misplays. The crowd cheered more loudly for WE, but when Team SoloMid turned the match, I could still hear cheers from the press room. Team SoloMid's game-winning play came from its decision to set up top wave to push and wait at the blue side jungle entrance near mid lane for a pick when Sin "Mystic" Seongjun roamed top to clear.
Chinese crowds have a reputation for growing silent when LPL teams lose, but handfuls of black-and-white-decked locals had shown up to support North America's biggest organization with signs that said "B-Tier ADC = Best Tier ADC" and "Everyone else is trash." WE vs TSM is a match of great international significance, and TSM's win could put it in position to become the first North American team to make a World Championship semifinal since Season One.
Europe finally grabs some wins
Despite the easy schedule for EU LCS representatives G2 Esports and Misfits Gaming, Martin "Deficio" Lynge still mockingly called it a bold prediction that the 0-4 EU region would "win their first game" on Saturday. Misfits' introduction of the Trundle top pick as a counter to Cho'Gath did him one better.
Misfits' composition featured a red side Janna, whose ultimate could deflect the 10th- to 11th-minute dives that Flash Wolves love to take from blue side. Janna also makes Cho'Gath a nightmare to play with limited engage options.
Despite early moves that allowed Misfits a lead, the team hesitated to look for engages. Tristan "PowerOfEvil" Schrage admitted that Lee "IgNar" Donggeun usually is most vocal about opportunities to start fights in comms, so moving to disengage supports might contribute to the team's difficulty in closing. But Misfits didn't show wear nearly as much as Flash Wolves.
Hu "SwordArt" Shuojie mispositioned, which limited his effectiveness, and Flash Wolves didn't avoid the fights Misfits did take, contributing to a deathless win for Europe. G2 Esports brought the overall EU score to 2-4 shortly after with a victory over 1907 Fenerbahçe Esports.
Alfonso "mithy" Aguirre Rodríguez was relieved by how smoothly G2's first win went. He confessed his personal jitters in the first 10 minutes of a game to me after the victory, which may contribute in part to G2's struggles in single-game series. The biggest reasons for those difficulties, of course, are drafts and understanding the meta.
"But the meta should be fairly straightforward at this point," mithy said. "At least, it looks like it."
The lack of major patch change between the EU LCS final and the World Championship gave G2 a sense of ease entering groups. Figuring out the meta always makes the team slow starters at international events, but with a better grasp this time around, G2 feels more confident to close out its week against Royal Never Give Up.
RNG revs up against Korean squad
It's confidence G2 may need after RNG became the LPL's darling with the first and only win over a South Korean team of the tournament. The excitement LPL's fans lost with WE's defeat at the hands of Team SoloMid returned in a flurry when Royal Never Give Up and Jian "Uzi" Zi-hao took to the stage.
Cheers began as early as draft, which gave RNG several tight combinations between Galio, Jarvan IV, Tristana and Janna. The composition put the onus on Li "xiaohu" Yuanhao not to misposition as Syndra against Maokai and Rakan but gave RNG scaling options, engage and strong matchups.
Perhaps it was a bit too disrespectful on Samsung's end.
"We were surprised we got these picks," Yan "LetMe" Jun Ze said after the game, "but Samsung also got a good composition, so we weren't too surprised."
I have to disagree with RNG's top laner. Although Samsung's composition was well-rounded and strong on paper with most of the meta-related boxes checked, the ability for RNG to engage and Uzi to free-hit would chip easily at Samsung's front line. Samsung had the option of using Ryze as a flank tool and keeping Syndra from pushing out indefinitely, but RNG found picks early on with a smart lane swap and a chaotic dive.
Despite the odds, and despite Samsung's reputation for teamfights and comebacks, LetMe knew RNG had won when the team got four kills and went for a Baron. So did the crowd.
"RNG加油!" could be heard well throughout the stadium, and fans banged their thunder sticks together fervently. Even in the international press room with journalists from neighboring countries and the U.S. let out gasps and whoops.
When the match had ended, I waited in the interview room for LetMe and stood next to crowd favorite, Uzi. Almost every member of press stopped to fist bump him or congratulate him personally, and one of the members of Riot's PR staff stared wistfully at the highlight reel playing on the monitor in the room and sighed "I'm so happy for Uzi" as if no one was around to hear it.
But even as the crowd shared in Royal's excitement after their win over Samsung, its true task came when EDward Gaming, still battered after a loss to SK Telecom T1 the day before, took to the stage.
Cloud9's Syndra and Shen combination worked especially well to punish Lee "Scout" Ye-chan's overzealous mid lane play by turning Lucian's attempt at an all-in into first blood. Cloud9 took over EDward Gaming's jungle, and Jung "Impact" Eon-yeong forced Chen "Mouse" Yu Hao under turret, acquiring a creep score lead of 50 in mere minutes.
Even before groups, EDward Gaming's woes seemed evident. Scout tends to play aggressively to try to snowball because without him, EDG lacks a significant carry threat. That often puts Scout in awkward situations of playing far forward without vision.
Cloud9 won the match and practically ended EDward Gaming's chances of advancing out of groups -- but the No. 1 seed out of China still has one advantage.
Wuhan is the hometown of EDward Gaming's most famous face, Ming "Clearlove7" Kai, and even though the team went 0-3 this week, those ties matter. As both teams left the stage, the stadium continued to cheer for the hometown hero as fans tore down the banners on the rafters and rushed outside.
Saturday, just as they had the day before, the fans congregated at the back gate of the Wuhan Indoor Sports Gymnasium. Fans held black signs lit with words of encouragement for EDG's players up against yellow plastic barriers.
They waited for EDward Gaming, as they had the previous night, to egg on their favorite team in defeat, to support the squad at its lowest. EDward Gaming posted a video of the team's reaction inside the bus to weibo.
"It's the home-court advantage," the team's lead content creator explained to young AD carry Hu "iBoy" Xianzhao. "Losing the match, they'll still be out there, cheering for you."
EDward Gaming have a near impossible task next week, but if it manages to earn a quarterfinal spot, it's lucky to be in Wuhan, where cheers for Clearlove7 will always be the loudest.