Flash Wolves start 2-0 in LoL Worlds group stage, LCK stumbles

Taiwan’s Flash Wolves upset South Korea's Afreeca Freecs on Thursday to go 2-0 in the group stage of the League of Legends World Championship. Courtesy of Riot Games

Flash Wolves 1, Afreeca Freecs 0

Taiwan's Flash Wolves improved to 2-0 on Thursday with a clean upset over South Korea's Afreeca Freecs on the second day of the 2018 League of Legends World Championship group stage.

Much like G2 Esports, who took down the South Korean squad the previous day, Flash Wolves has struggled over the course of the last couple of world championships. Nevertheless, the LMS team was able to match Afreeca blow-for-blow, keeping dead even in every lane matchup. Hoping to avoid a repeat performance from Wednesday, Afreeca put star top laner Kim "Kiin" Ki-in onto a hyper carry assassin in Akali, pivoting away from Wednesday's Sion pick. However, Flash Wolves' tanky draft gave Kiin next to no targets in teamfights, and the champion's vulnerability in a long lane led him to give up first blood and first turret.

While Afreeca was able to keep up in gold, the mismatch in team compositions came front and center at 33 minutes. Even after picking off the enemy jungler for free, Afreeca couldn't take Baron against four members of Flash Wolves. AD carry Lu "Betty" Yuhung had been free to pick up defensive items such as Banshee's Veil and Quicksilver Sash due to Kai'Sa's unique build path, and combined with the twin shields from Killer Instinct and Stand United (the latter provided by support Hu "SwordArt" Shuo-Jie on Shen) he was practically unkillable. Flash Wolves' solo laners on Urgot and Sion were even more durable, and Afreeca's squishy, dive-focused lineup couldn't come close to taking down a single member. The LMS squad secured the 4-vs-5 teamfight and Baron cleanly.

The members of Afreeca crumbled from the relentless pressure from Flash Wolves, who, after one more Baron buff, claimed first place in Group A in 42 minutes. Meanwhile, Afreeca became the first South Korean team to begin a worlds group stage 0-2.

-- Brendan Hickey

Phong Vũ Buffalo 1, G2 Esports 0

Phong Vũ Buffalo proved it came to the 2018 League of Legends World Championships to play on Thursday, finding its first win of the tournament over G2 Esports.

G2's telltale inconsistency has plagued the organization all season long, and it seems the world championships are no exception. After starting off groups with an impressive win over Group A favorite Afreeca Freecs on Wednesday, G2 fell apart on multiple fronts Thursday night. Jungler Marcin "Jankos" Jankowski had an abysmal game on Olaf right from the start, with repeated missteps resulting in the loss of his flash, and subsequently his life for first blood. Meanwhile, with his signature Heimerdinger banned, AD carry Petter "Hjarnan" Freyschuss struggled on Kai'Sa, falling behind in farm while the G2 bottom lane gave up multiple early kills to turret dives, eventually resulting in the loss of first turret.

With a lineup full of bruisers, G2's ticket back into the game had to be brawling, but Phong Vũ Buffalo made it nearly impossible. Jankos' lack of presence meant that the Vietnamese squad consistently outnumbered G2 in skirmishes, and as the gold lead continued to mount, things only got harder. G2 did eventually manage to run Phong Vũ close in a number of fights, but thanks to the strength of AD carry Dang "BigKoro" Ngoc Tai on Xayah, Phong Vu came out ahead in every important engagement. Combined with Phong Vũ Buffalo's intelligent macro play that granted the team a near shutout in turrets, G2 simply couldn't find an avenue to come back, losing in 34 minutes.

The two teams now each sit with at 1-1 record in Group A, and will look to secure a winning record in their next matchups: Flash Wolves for G2, and Afreeca for Phong Vũ Buffalo.

-- Brendan Hickey

Fnatic 1, 100 Thieves 0

Fnatic dismantled 100 Thieves on Thursday during the 2018 League of Legends World Championship group stage in South Korea.

100 Thieves and Fnatic gave fans their first taste of the classic western rivalry at Worlds 2018 on Thursday, and it wasn't pretty for the North Americans. Fnatic took a bold risk during the draft, last-picking Irelia for star mid laner Rasmus "Caps" Winther. While this gave Caps one of his strongest champions, as well as a favorable matchup into the Synrda of Yoo "Ryu" Sang-ook, it also left Fnatic with a complete lack of magic damage. Up against a relatively tanky 100 Thieves lineup, this put the pressure on the European squad to end the game before resistances could come through on the other side.

Fnatic, as it turns out, had nothing to worry about. 11 minutes in, Caps justified his champion pick with an easy solo kill onto Ryu, and this was only the tip of the iceberg. Fnatic immediately rotated several members bottom lane for a tower dive, and 100 Thieves couldn't hope to defend with Ryu still in the death chamber. Within minutes, Caps' KDA (kills/deaths/assists) read 3/0/0, mirroring Fnatic's 3-0 turret lead. It was all 100 Thieves could do to snatch away Rift Herald and secure a single turret, as Caps and the rest of Fnatic steamrolled their way to a 10,000-gold lead by the 25-minute mark. Caps ended with a phenomenal 8/0/2 KDA as 100 Thieves surrendered at 27 minutes.

Having firmly established itself as the dominant western team in Group D, Fnatic look like an early favorite to make it out of the group stage. If 100 Thieves can't step it up, however, the same cannot be said for the North American squad.

-- Brendan Hickey

Invictus 1, G-Rex 0

Invictus Gaming turned what looked like a close game into a swift slaughter, taking down G-Rex on Thursday in the 2018 League of Legends World Championship in Busan, South Korea.

Coming into the matchup as the heavy underdog, G-Rex was able to keep the game much closer than expected for quite a while. The individual prowess of Invictus' players shined through in the form of farm advantages across the board, but while these were significant, they were by no means insurmountable. Meanwhile, with both teams having drafted fully fledged teamfighting compositions, clashes abounded in the mid lane for several minutes, with the two teams trading evenly throughout. After a full 24 minutes of play, G-Rex was even in kills with Invictus Gaming and was up one turret, although down in gold by roughly 2,000.

In League of Legends, however, it can only take one moment for everything to fall apart, especially when playing against a team of Invictus Gaming's caliber. Just after the 24-minute mark, Invictus jungler Gao "Ning" Zhen-Ning used Zac's long-range engage tools to find a beautiful pick onto G-Rex mid laner Kim "Candy" Seung-ju on Syndra. G-Rex's attempt to bail out its teammate backfired, giving a triple kill over to mid laner Song "Rookie" Eui-jin's Irelia, as well as Baron over to Invictus. Rookie subsequently ended the game with a 6/0/7 KDA (kills/deaths/assists) for perfect kill participation as Invictus took the G-Rex Nexus with the Baron buff still active.

After a pair of one-sided matchups in Group D, it remains to be seen who the top dog of the group is. For the moment, Invictus sits 1-0 alongside Fnatic.

-- Brendan Hickey

Cloud9 1, Vitality 0

In a high-octane bloodbath, North America's Cloud9 brawled out a win over Europe's Team Vitality in the 2018 League of Legends World Championship in Busan, South Korea.

After 100 Thieves' crushing defeat at the hands of Fnatic earlier in the day, it was up to Cloud9 to redeem North America against its European rivals, and ultimately it delivered. The teams traded blow for blow throughout the early game; while Cloud9 jungler Dennis "Svenskeren" Johnsen found kills in the top lane, his Vitality counterpart focused the bottom lane. When Cloud9 spent Teleport to find a kill in the bottom lane, Vitality secured Rift Herald. Finally, after trading turrets on opposite sides of the map, the two teams elected to meet each other head on in the mid lane.

With each team possessing a powerful 5-vs-5 composition, it's no surprise that what followed was a long series of scrappy teamfights that would last throughout the remainder of the game. As the game drew on, the willingness of the teams to fight it out never wavered; the only thing that changed was the stakes. Trades of kills and turrets gradually gave way to Barons and Elder Drakes, with Vitality finally taking the first inhibitor at 42 minutes. However, as its base was beginning to crumble, Cloud9's fantastic scaling was starting to shine through as well. Ultimately, with a single timely pick in the mid lane onto Vitality AD carry "Attila" , Cloud9 was able to secure both late-game buffs, and barged into the Vitality base for a 47-minute win.

Cloud9 will be happy to have secured its region's first win of Worlds 2018, but it has a long way to go to secure a spot in the bracket stage of the tournament. Both teams sit at 1-1 after the match.

-- Brendan Hickey

Royal Never Give Up 1, Gen.G 0

In likely the closest game of the 2018 League of Legends World Championships thus far, Royal Never Give Up closed out the second day of the group stage with a victory over Gen.G.

With Gen.G and RNG being the winners of the two most recent international tournaments, Worlds 2017 and MSI 2018, respectively, this matchup looked to be a potential preview of the tournament finals. In terms of skill proximity, we can only hope that the finals delivers as well as this match did. Nothing in this matchup was given away for free; champion picks, farm, and especially kills and objectives had to be fought and sacrificed for. When Gen.G top laner Lee "CuVee" Seong-jin took the scaling champion of Camille into Sion, he was able to get to this core items, but not before falling well behind in terms of creep score and ultimately losing his turret. Wherever there was weakness, these two teams saw fit to punish it.

Once CuVee finally did pull his build together, he became a massive threat. With all of RNG's lanes having found farm advantages, CuVee was the lone member of Gen.G to be able to pull the creep score back in his favor as the game progressed. Critically, it also allowed him to lead Gen.G in a 29-minute teamfight, taking out enemy mid laner Li "Xiaohu" Yuan-Hao's Ryze. However, in such a narrow game, it only took one instant to tip the scales. A single stellar engage from RNG top laner Yan "LetMe" Jun-Ze's Sion at 35 minutes gave the Chinese squad a clean 4-for-0 teamfight, and the ability to charge straight down mid and end the game.

With this loss, South Korea's teams have put together an embarrassing 1-4 start to Worlds 2018 -- worse even than North America's paltry 1-3 record. Meanwhile, China remains undefeated thanks to RNG's victory. Only time will tell if these patterns will reverse as the group stage continues.

-- Brendan Hickey