There’s Always Next Year: Three Major Teams Missing from Worlds

The 2016 World Championship is right around the corner, and 16 of the best teams in the world are making final preparations for the group stages. Meanwhile, however, three teams are making plans for next season a bit earlier than they’d planned, and facing a longer offseason than they wanted. Such is the woe of qualifying for Worlds — there are only so many spots, and that means some stories get cut short.

J Team (LMS)

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For the past three international tournaments, LMS has had the same two representatives, Flash Wolves and AHQ. J Team simply sought to break that trend, and return to international glory under the new name for the Season 2 champions, Taipei Assassins. They seemed poised to do just that under the leadership of Cheng “Bebe” Bo-wei, the ADC for that championship team. They found their streak on the back of the second and third best KDAs, going undefeated (with 4 ties) in the summer split, and earning a free spot in the finals.


So what happened?

All J Team had to do was win a single Best of 5 against a team they went 3-1 against in the regular season, and punch their ticket to Worlds. Sounds easy enough, right? Not so fast. Flash Wolves earned just one point fewer than J Team in the regular season, and being a perennial powerhouse, nobody counted them out. It didn’t help that J Team appeared to be slumping of late, tying both AHQ and the distant-fourth Hong Kong eSports in the last week. J Team was systematically dismantled in a Flash Wolves sweep. But not all was lost, as they had gone 3-1 against AHQ in the season as well, and surely could take them in the regional qualifier — had they ever gotten the chance. In a shocking turn of events, J Team were taken out in five games by M17, who they’d not lost to at all in the summer. With J Team out of the way, it wasn’t hard for AHQ to make their third consecutive Worlds appearance.

Where do they go from here?

Despite a crushing end to an otherwise great season, the organization has been rather optimistic looking forward, knowing that their experience still matches that of Taiwan’s two Worlds representatives, and this will make them just as competitive next season. They don’t appear to be considering the route of roster replacements, looking to improve from within. The players have all returned to streaming already, and the team has even already started shooting promo material for the offseason. Talk about hitting the ground running.

Immortals (NA LCS)

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Immortals generated a lot of conversation before the season for its superteam roster, and even more once the year got under way. Living up to its name, the team went 33-3 through the spring and summer regular seasons, with an average game time about two minutes faster than the next fastest team, and a first tower rate of 79%. Four of its players also had KDAs in the top five in the spring. Many figured there was no way this team wouldn’t be appearing at worlds. And yet here we are, talking about what they’re doing since they are not making the circuit around the United States.

So what happened?

For every thing Immortals was able to accomplish during the seasons, there was a corresponding flaw they had in the playoffs. Finishing third both splits is hardly something to scoff at, but a team that only loses three times all year should surely be able at least make an appearance in the finals. The flaw seemed to lie in their inability to find more than one way to win a game, relying heavily on getting an early lead across the map, especially pressuring the top side to snowball to victory. This failure to learn to play from behind, combined with a poorly timed meta shift away from lane swaps, took the wind out of Immortals sails, as individual early matchups became more significant. The team was unable to run teams around the map anymore, and dropped both the playoff semifinal and regional qualifier final series to eventual #3 seed Cloud9.

Where do they go from here?

The 2016 season was a great first run, and still somehow not even remotely what it should have been. CEO Noah Whinston acknowledged this fact in a postseason message, but remained faithful in the team’s ability to improve. He also has stated that replacements on the player roster and staff are possible, but not guaranteed. In an unprecedented display of unity, the team also released players to serve as position coaches for fellow North American teams during their Korean bootcamps, most notably Yeu-Jin “Reignover” Kim to Counter Logic Gaming.

KT Rolster (LCK)

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Quite possibly the most disappointing absence from Worlds is that of Korea’s KT Rolster. Similar to Immortals, they had quite the year, finishing second in both regular seasons, and third or second in playoffs. KT Rolster played in a way different from most dominant teams, with relatively average individual player stats, but gradually establishing a team-wide lead, as they spent more time with a gold lead than any other team this season, and had excessively high gold difference @ 15 minutes, first blood rate, and “first to three towers” rate. Who ever would possibly beat them out for Worlds?

So what happened?

A spot at Worlds seemed all but locked down for KT Rolster when they took down SK Telecom in the semifinal playoff match. It seemed more probable as they took the ROX Tigers to game 5 in the finals. As they built up a sizeable lead, and took out the Tigers’ jungler, Wangho “Peanut” Han, they headed for Baron, almost certain to snowball to the end. And then the unthinkable happened, courtesy of Kyungho “Smeb” Song. The baron steal heard ‘round the world led to three kills and an inhibitor for ROX, and minutes later, the Tigers had instead punched their ticket as the #1 seed, leaving KT Rolster to fight through the regional qualifier. In a further unforeseen turn of events, Samsung Galaxy, who had placed fourth in the regular season, and sporting former Dignitas ADC Yongin “CoreJJ” Jo at support, upset KT Rolster in five games to cut their season short.

Where do they go from here?

There wouldn’t appear to be any real reason for KT Rolster to intentionally change up their roster, given how successful this year’s run was before the very end. The team’s been relatively quiet, however, since their defeat, and the organization has instead been mostly talking publicly about CS:GO.

We look forward to seeing all three of these teams improve next year, and maybe even seeing them at Worlds! Of course, we’re looking more forward to this year’s championship, which starts this Thursday, September 29 at 4 pm PST.

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Mr Fidori

Obsesses over League of Legends a little too much. Writes for Break the Game. In that order.