1. ROX Tigers
Runner-up last year at the World Championships, it's the Summoner's Cup or bust for the Tigers this year. It finally brushed off the image of being a choker in finals by winning the summer domestic title in South Korea, and all the team is missing now is the grand prize to make up for the heartbreak from last year. If he isn't already, Song "Smeb" Kyung-ho is one tournament victory away from establishing himself as the clear best player on the planet today. He has back-to-back MVP awards, a domestic title and a first-seed at Worlds; all that is left is to vanquish Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok and SKT T1 to exact revenge for countless defeats in finals.
2. Edward Gaming
If you had to pick a non-Korean team to nab away the Summoner's Cup this year, the clear choice is Edward Gaming. The Chinese champion didn't drop a single series in the summer split, and it has the perfect balance of veteran leadership and youthful exuberance to put together a winning campaign. Who would have thought that Lee "Scout" Ye-chan, the rookie understudy of Faker on SK Telecom T1 last split, would be penciled in as the starter for a team higher than SKT on the rankings?
3. SK Telecom T1
Yes, SK Telecom T1 didn't have the best ending to the summer season. It dropped three straight games to KT Rolster, a team that was playing the best it ever had as a unit together. Still, it'd be foolhardy to rank the defending world champions ahead of the Tigers or EDG, and Faker along with his four cohorts will need to flip the switch again at Worlds if SKT wants to win it all for the third time in organization history. The biggest question for SKT will be which jungler wins the starting job: the two-time world champion veteran Bae "Bengi" Seong-woong or erratic rookie Kang "Blank" Sun-gu?
4. Team SoloMid
After North American teams went a combined 0-10 in the second week of group stages last year, putting an NA team this far up the rankings could look foolish in a month's time. However, TSM, like it or not, has played at a high level throughout the summer season, and it only dropped one series in the entirety of the league to the pesky Phoenix1. Søren "Bjergsen" Bjerg is the best player in the western region, and this is his chance to take his next step as a superstar on the grandest stage possible. TSM were dealt a tough opening round group, but if you're aiming for the heavens, no obstacle on the ground should hinder your ascent.
5. Samsung Galaxy
Samsung as an organization has been to Worlds two times before. In 2013, Samsung Ozone came to the Worlds hosted in America and completely crumbled in the group stages, not even making it into the bracket stage. A year later, the same team sans a single starter returned under the new brand of Samsung White and went on to dominate the entire field to win the Summoner's Cup.
This go around, no one from that championship winning team is on this roster, but we could be looking at a similar bust or boom scenario with this Samsung roster. Although this roster lacks the star-power of former Samsung squads at Worlds, keep your eye on mid laner Lee "Crown" Min-ho to be a possible breakout MVP candidate if the South Korean third seed can go far. Also, under no circumstances are you allowed to give Crown his signature Viktor. Just don't try it, Group D.
6. G2 Esports
Who would have guessed that the whole G2 Esports vacation saga at the Mid-Season Invitational wouldn't hinder the team at all? While it failed to get out of groups in China and left Europe without a Pool 1 seed, G2 was still able to get drawn into a group where it'll be a strong favorite in the opening round with only one perceived superior, ROX Tigers.
Which Luka "Perkz" Perković will we see at Worlds: the good one that challenged for the MVP award in the spring, or the bad one that at times looked like he was playing with oven mitts on? As long as Perkz can find success in the mid lane with help from back-to-back EU LCS MVP Kim "Trick" Gang-yun, Europe might soon forget G2's grievances in Shanghai.
7. Flash Wolves
It'll be interesting to see how the Flash Wolves fare in their return to the World Championships. In the starting five, the Taiwanese champ possess two to three world-class players with an acceptable top and a languishing AD carry in Hsiung "NL" Wen-An.
8. Royal Never Give Up
Don't get me wrong, on paper, RNG should be much higher up these rankings and alongside the top contenders for the Summoner's Cup. The skill ceiling on this team might be even higher than EDG and ROX. Issue is, the team sputtered to a poor end of the summer season, and it was embarrassed by EDG in the Chinese final. Cho "Mata" Se-hyeong has two weeks to get his troops in game shape before the opening round starts in San Francisco, and a group with TSM and Samsung could mean certain elimination.
No, I didn't just rank Cloud9 ninth because of the pun potential. Sure, I thought about it, but this feels like a fair spot for the North American summer runner-up. The team has progressed throughout the split, and the coaching of Bok "Reapered" Han-gyu has turned a once general-led force into a democratic shotcalling unit. Maybe above everything else, the reemergence of Jung "Impact" Eon-yeong as a top lane carry has given C9 hope of getting into the quarterfinals, and the former world champion will have a date with his former teammate Faker in the group stages. SKT T1, Flash Wolves and I May aren't a cakewalk by any means. But with how quickly this team has improved alongside Impact's constant solo lane kills, C9 is a club that can't be overlooked.
10. H2k Gaming
Will we finally see Konstantinos-Napoleon "FORG1VEN" Tzortziou against the world's best, or will H2k go back to Aleš "Freeze" Kněžínek if he's completely healthy? H2k come into this Worlds better prepared than it was last year when it was slotted into a group with two of the tournament's favorites in SKT T1 and EDG and failed to make the quarterfinals. While H2k will see EDG for the second Worlds in a row, the rest of the group is wide open for the European side, and it should be favored to make it through. Whether it's Forgiven or Freeze, Marcin "Jankos" Jankowski will be there, and his influence in the early-game and beyond will be a key for H2k to get out of groups and even challenge EDG for the first-place position in Group C.
11. I May
Edward Gaming's former sister team, I May, is the Cinderella story of this year's Worlds. Its plucky results from the start of the season eventually turned into true success come the end of the summer season when it upset Team WE in two best-of-fives (third-place match in the domestic league, finals of the Chinese Regionals) to make it to Worlds in breathtaking fashion. It took a hail mary flank at the 50-minute mark from captain and top laner Shek "AmazingJ" Wai Ho to turn around a seemingly insurmountable deficit into a ticket to Worlds. AmazingJ bawled out of happiness as Team WE's base ultimately fell, and he might have had the same expression when he saw the group of SKT T1, Flash Wolves, and Cloud9 in front of him at Worlds. For I May to have any chance of making it out of the competitive Group B, AmazingJ, the sub top laner for EDG last year at Worlds, will need to neutralize and outpoint the likes of Impact of C9 and Lee "Duke" Ho-seong.
12. Counter Logic Gaming
Here you go, CLG fans. Counter Logic is rated down near the bottom of the rankings, and it feels like the consensus is giving them little to no hope of making it out of the group containing two domestic champions in G2 Esports and ROX Tigers. Counted out. Looked over. Belittled. This is where CLG plays to its highest level, when everything and everyone is against them. The consensus from pundits was that CLG would fail to make top four at MSI, and it resulted in the then-NA champions making it all the way to the finals. When CLG finally got the respect it deserved in the summer split, the team failed to make the finals and ended up in a disappointing fourth. Now, we're back to where we started, and we'll see if the faith is rewarded once more come mid-October.
TSM, Samsung, and RNG. Welcome to Worlds, Splyce! For a team that was in relegations last split, even being at Worlds is a massive achievement for the rookie organization. It's in a group with orgs that have combined for three Summoner's Cup Finals and now 12 appearances at Worlds in total. Splyce surprised in the summer split of the EU LCS, and it'll need to do the same in America if it wants to get out of the perceived "Group of Death." Martin "Wunder" Hansen was a revelation this past season, and we'll see if his success in Europe will transition over to the world stage.
14. AHQ Esports
I don't expect much from AHQ at this year's Worlds. As the only team with the same five starters from last year's Worlds, this iteration of the former Taiwanese kings feels weaker than the side that maneuvered its way to the quarterfinals in 2015. J Team appeared to be the best or second best team coming out of Taiwan for large parts of the summer season, but collapsed at the finish line for AHQ to step over its corpse to make Worlds. On the positive side, top laner Chen "Ziv" Yi is a world-class talent, and it'll be interesting to see which LPL team opens it pockets this offseason to offer him the most money to play for their team in the new year.
15. INTZ e-Sports
Could this be the year a wildcard region team makes the quarterfinals? While INTZ are ranked 15th in the ranking, it is in a group with H2k and AHQ, two teams that appear beatable when comparing the upper-echelon of the teams at Worlds. However, for the Brazilian dream to take place, INTZ will need to play far better than it did at the International Wildcard Qualifiers, where it barely got through a depleted Dark Passage club from Turkey playing with two subs. Similarly to AHQ, though, its top laner, Felipe "Yang" Zhao was a pleasure to watch during the run to Worlds, and his Shen play was the biggest reason we're seeing INTZ at Worlds.
16. Albus Nox Luna
CLG always seem to lose to wildcard region teams at international events recently, so there's a silver lining for Albus Nox Luna as it enters a group with the Tigers and G2. Mykhailo "Kira" Harmash has been a standout from Ukraine for the past three years, and we'll finally get to see him facing off with international top lane talent. Also, he won the 1v1 tournament at the International Wildcard All Stars Event last year before losing to Bjergsen at the full-on All Stars 1v1 tournament. That means we'll see TSM vs. Albus Nox Luna in Los Angeles for the Summoner's Cup Finals, right?
I'll go book my tickets now.