Cloud9, Team Vitality prove Royal Never Give Up aren't invincible

RNG shakes hands after a loss against Cloud9. Provided by Riot Games

BUSAN, South Korea -- Cloud9 jungler Dennis "Svenskeren" Johnsen grinned sheepishly down from a large screen mounted over center stage of the BEXCO Auditorium at Centum City. In a small looping image, he drank from a cup and spilled liquid onto his keyboard, forcing an in-game pause. The audience, who had already sat through a rollercoaster of a day at the 2018 League of Legends World Championship round-robin phase, clapped politely. From the center of the auditorium, a small chant began.

"Let's go, C9!"

It was then drowned out by a roaring, "RNG, jia you"!(contextualised as RNG, fighting!) that began on one side of the auditorium and quickly overtook the remaining crowd. The origin point was a concentrated group of hundreds of Royal Never Give Up fans waving large flags and hand-drawn neon signs. Earlier that afternoon, fans of RNG AD carry Jian "Uzi" Zi-Hao had put together a free food and coffee stand for attendees. Another group of fans waited around the back side of the auditorium, hoping to glimpse the star AD carry as he came to the event by bus. There were at least as many RNG fans who had made the trek to Busan as there were South Korean fans of reigning -- soon to be former after their demise -- world champions, Gen.G.

Based on RNG's earlier performance, those fans likely hadn't expected to see RNG bleed, let alone be cheering RNG through a tiebreaker match for the No. 1 seed in Group B. The members of RNG sat, some laughing slightly, some stone faced, as they waited through the pause. Had they won their first match or second match of the day, RNG wouldn't have been in the position of fighting a plucky North American C9 for first-seed advancement from Group B. Days before, it was all but assured.

RNG still made it out of the group as the first seed, as expected, but it wasn't a convincing day of games for the Chinese side. The C9 tiebreaker in particular cast a long shadow of doubt over the one team that, until the full slate of Group B games began, had appeared to be a lock for the Summoners' Cup title match.

In the first round robin of single-game matches, RNG were unstoppable. The closest they came to a loss was against Gen.G, where the game came down to a mid-lane teamfight and timely engage from RNG top laner Yan "LetMe" Jun-Ze. This RNG iteration seemed to have finally moved on from the team's tendency to draft solely late-game scaling compositions, sacrificing the entire early game for late-game teamfighting. Their compositions in the first round robin of the group stage had mixed damage, at least one pushing lane, and strong engage to supplement RNG's natural 5-vs.-5 prowess.

On the final day of their group stage matches, all of this went out the window in RNG's first two games. Instead, they drafted single-damage scaling compositions around Uzi, lacking a pushing lane, even with jungler Hung "Karsa" Hau-Hsuan on the more aggressive early option of Lee Sin. In both games, first against Vitality and then against C9, RNG were run over before Uzi's Kai'sa was able to scale.

This isn't a new look for RNG. The same tendency plagued the team throughout spring, in the group stage of the 2018 Mid-Season Invitational (which they later won), and even in the summer split, after Uzi's return to the starting lineup following an injury. RNG swapped to jungler Liu "Mlxg" Shi-Yu for their match against Gen.G and, more importantly, chose compositions with stronger, pushing lanes like Kalista and Lucian for Uzi instead of Kai'sa.

Support Shi "Ming" Sen-Ming admitted after the tiebreaker victory over C9, that the team had been a bit overconfident going into the day's matches, due to their resounding success in the first half of the group's games. This could mean that RNG still sees these slow, late-game teamfighting compositions as a default, despite varying international success with them this year.

Going forward, RNG would do well to remember that they, too, have strong laners and two junglers who can make early-game moves depending on matchup and minion pushes.

Despite RNG's initial strong start and eventual first-seed placement, their second round-robin performance shows that the team still has many weaknesses that could be exploited by teams like KT Rolster, Flash Wolves, Fnatic (if they too don't default to scaling options in most lanes), and even Invictus Gaming, who poked holes in RNG's play during RNG's close 3-2 LoL Pro League Summer finals victory.