Afreeca entered the World Championship with the same hype as the other teams from the LCK – the most dominant region in League of Legends history.
However, it quickly became apparent during the Group Stage that this year was like no other, with every Korean team looking vulnerable to some extent. Afreeca were no exception as they opened 1-2 before rebounding to sweep the final day of play for a 4-2 overall mark.
Despite that recovery, they clearly have things to work on.
Afreeca bounce back
Focusing more on star Top-laner Kiin has been a huge benefit for Afreeca, with the team performing much better after appearing to shift their mindset. A team notorious for quality drafts and preparation, Afreeca’s initial drafts were astonishingly poor, with the team drafting much better in the second round robin.
Entering the best-of-five matches of the knockout stage, Afreeca have the opportunity to interchange their Junglers should they so choose, with Spirit generally seeing playing time thus far ahead of the more inexperienced Mowgli.
One of the keys for Afreeca moving forward will be the play of TusiN, a player who is primed to perform well with the current playmaking Support meta. In conjunction with Kramer, a stable Bottom-laner who brings a form of consistency to the line-up, TusiN is the wildcard who Afreeca will look for to start a fight in the Mid-game.
Look for Afreeca to play a controlled game which aims to slowly squeeze out the opposition, rather than blowing them away in the early stages.
Cloud9 emerge from Group of Death
Cloud9 are the last remaining hope for North America. They narrowly lost out on top spot in the ‘Group of Death’ to one of the championship hopefuls, RNG, in a tie-breaker.
Despite having multiple rookies on their squad, Cloud9 were able to outlast both Gen.G and Team Vitality, with Top-laner Licorice continuing to impress with his poise despite the big stage.
Overall Cloud9 are one of the most-balanced teams to emerge from NA in quite some time, with a similar ability to Afreeca Freecs in terms of having a pair of Junglers available.
With an incredibly-aggressive rookie in Blaber and a stable veteran in Svenskeren, Cloud9 have multiple looks they can throw at Afreeca to keep them off balance.
In yet another similarity, Cloud9 have long been praised for their ability to manipulate the pick-and-ban phase, with Reapered being the most respected coach in the region.
Can Jensen stand the heat?
The issue for Cloud9 is whether or not the stage is too big for them, with Mid-laner Jensen struggling, at times, when the lights shine the brightest.
That said, Jensen has been solid this tournament, although every member of Cloud9 has performed better than anticipated. Support Zeyzal has thrived with the likes of Alistar and Thresh, setting up Licorice to make a massive impact.
Cloud9 are also one of the teams most willing to play off-meta champion picks, routinely bringing out both Hecarim in the Top lane and Zilean in the Mid lane, two champions rarely seen in competitive action today.
However, there does remain concern for Cloud9, in particular from their showing in the Play-In Stage when they only narrowly scraped past Gambit Esports 3-2 in the play-offs.
They will start underdogs in this one but will be facing scrim (practice) partners so it is open to question what each team has left to surprise the other.
This adds a fascinating subtext to what has already shaped up as a competitive battle.