For the third time in four years, the greatest League of Legends player of all time, mid laner Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok, is heading to Worlds. And once again, he’s got a target on his back. While other mid laners from around the world aren’t quite as strong as they’ve been in recent years, there are certainly some standout stars looking to take the crown from him.
First, though, let’s take a look at exactly why Faker is so good.
Faker – SK Telecom T1
Faker is unquestionably the best League of Legends player to ever play the game.
His game knowledge is immense, his mechanical skill is unmatched, and his champion pool is frighteningly deep. To beat Faker, you have to hold him down in lane (near impossible), then deal with his teamfighting prowess (even more difficult), and finally make sure that he doesn’t take over the game late (rarely done). To beat Faker, you have to be perfect.
Even in the 2016 LCK Summer Playoffs, where SKT fell in the penultimate round to KT Rolster, Faker played like we’d expect from the Unkillable Demon King. Though his teammates fell around him and he wasn’t quite able to pull out the five-game series, he’s still very much the same Faker that burst onto the scene back in 2013. He’s the best mid laner at the tournament, and likely one of the top 2 players in general (ROX Tigers’ Song “Smeb” Kyung-ho being the other contender).
Bjergsen – Team SoloMid
Perpetually the West’s best hope to carry from mid, Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg may have the best chance of his career to win a World Championship. He’s got arguably the best roster of players Team SoloMid has ever seen at his back, and is playing as well as ever.
Something’s different now, though. No longer is he trying to 1v5 the opposing side. He doesn’t need to. With the likes of AD carry Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng, jungler Dennis “Svenskeren” Johnsen, and top laner Kevin “Hauntzer” Yarnell all capable of carrying from their respective positions, he can play a variety of styles, focus on shotcalling, and make sure that his team gains leads, not just himself.
And with the post-6.15 meta being all about attaining lane pressure and roaming to find advantageous fights, Bjergsen is poised to take over some games.
PawN/Scout – EDward Gaming
Even though he’s one of only two mid laners to have ever beaten Faker’s SKT squad in a best of five series, Heo “PawN” Won-seok will likely be sitting on the bench for much of the 2016 World Championship due to a back injury. In his stead, Lee “Scout” Ye-chan will be manning the EDG helm.
What’s interesting about EDG is that they haven’t missed a step with their substitute mid. The team lives or dies by their ability to play as a unified roster; their games are thus based around momentum rather than individual play. Often, though, Scout is the tipping point that gets the ball rolling. When EDG is on, his pool full of lane-dominant control mages creates opportunities for roams to the side lanes and enough pressure for his other laners to create opportunities elsewhere. It’s just a matter of whether or not EDG can stay consistent long enough to let that happen.
If PawN does play, however, expect some surprises. PawN is known for an immensely deep champion pool, capable of pulling out just about anything to fit the needs of his composition. Need an example? How about his Morgana pick to hand Faker’s legendary LeBlanc its first competitive loss ever at the Mid-Season Invitational 2015? If you’re looking for one of the most legendary mid lane matchups in history, cross your fingers for PawN to step onto the Worlds stage.
Jensen – Cloud9
When Nicolaj “Jensen” Jensen – then known as Incarnati0n – first came to North America following his years-long ban for toxic behavior, he was one of the most hyped imports to the region since Bjergsen. Another highly-skilled Danish mid, many thought he could become Cloud9’s counterpart to TSM’s franchise player.
For about a year, it didn’t work out. Cloud9 struggled to find success in 2015, and Jensen’s mediocre play was at the center of their problems.
But now, after seemingly endless roster swaps and shotcaller changes, they’ve found their stride, climbing back to Worlds after a grueling playoff season. At the center of it all is Jensen, a player who has grown into his own potential, earning him an undeniable spot among the best mid laners in North America.
At Worlds, he’ll meet his first true challenge. Will he be able to control his emotions and keep his head up long enough to compete with the best in the world?
Kuro – ROX Tigers
Finally, the current king of the LCK postseason, Seo-haeng “Kuro” Lee. With a domestic championship under his belt and a second-place finish at last year’s World Championship tournament, you can bet that Kuro is looking to crush anyone who dares wander into his line of sight.
The MVP of the Summer Split Playoffs in Korea, Kuro doesn’t always dominate his lane. Hell, he doesn’t usually walk away from the early game with a CS lead. But what he does bring is team synergy. Kuro has a knack for being exactly where he needs to be, forming the teamfighting core of the Tigers alongside ROX AD carry Kim “PraY” Jong-in. When Smeb is getting camped while doing his best to 1v1 his lane opponent, you can bet that Kuro will be waiting in the wings to back him up.
Kuro may not be the most mechanically gifted mid laner in the world, but he’s got the trust of his team behind him, and that cannot be overstated when looking at who could win at Worlds.
Taylor Cocke would love to see Lee “Crown” Min-ho, Huang “Maple” Yi-Tang, or Ryu “Ryu” Sang-wook surprise him at Worlds, but isn’t convinced quite yet. Follow him on Twitter @taylorcocke.