WE’s performance also marked yet another game proving the overwhelming influence of Ardent Censer on the tournament as a whole, with WE’s team-fighting making the most of the early Ardent power spike from support Yoon “Zero” Kyung-sup’s Janna.
Almost a week later, the first Korean team to sit onstage in front of a roaring crowd at the Wuhan Sports Center was Samsung Galaxy. Samsung’s adversary, G2 Esports, quickly banned both popular Ardent supports, Janna and Lulu. Their absence allowed G2 mid laner Luka “PerkZ” Perković to pick one of Alfonso “mithy” Aguirre Rodríguez’s personal favorites, Alistar, while Ivern was chosen for G2’s Kim “Trick” Gang-yun as the team’s Ardent champion. Across the stage, Samsung mid laner Lee “Crown” Min-ho locked in Taric for teammate Jo “CoreJJ” Yong-in.
CoreJJ entered the Rift with a Relic Shield, as did his laning partner, AD carry Park “Ruler” Jae-hyuk.
The double Relic Shield start is an odd evolution of what the Afreeca Freecs started in the League Champions Korea summer playoffs: AD carries starting Relic Shield to rush Ardent Censer on the support and make the most of the early team-fighting power.
“Game 1 Afreeca” quickly became a memetic phrase on social media and in commentary during the LCK summer split. The Afreeca Freecs were often peerless in their first game. They always came to the Rift with unique, cohesive, and targeted Game 1 strategies that made the most of Lee “KurO” Seo-haeng’s mid lane control — which miraculously required little to no resources in comparison to his LCK mid lane counterparts — and AD carry Ha “Kramer” Jong-hun’s improved bot lane prowess.
Not many will think of the Freecs now that worlds is in full swing. Perhaps a few fans will feel a slight pang that popular top laner Jang “MaRin” Gyeong-hwan — who made a name for himself at worlds in 2015 with SK Telecom T1 — isn’t present, or they’ll lament the former ROX Tigers‘ absence, which includes KurO.
Yet, the Freecs’ legacy continues and has now further evolved on the worlds stage.
One minute and 19 seconds into the Freecs’ first game against SKT on August 12, the OGN observer focused on Kramer waiting in a brush by blue buff. Kramer’s Twitch was surrounded by the two, rotating specks of light that signified Relic Shield, a basic support item. A cursory glance at support Park “TusiN” Jong-ik’s items showed an Ancient Coin for his Janna. Later investigation revealed that the Freecs support had taken Gold Quintessences and Seals in his runepage. That was all in service of rushing Ardent Censer for Janna, a logical evolution of the Freecs’ oft-bot centric strategies that funneled resources to Kramer while MaRin split in a side lane and KurO held mid.
“Even Kramer is trying to rush the Ardent Censer for the Janna,” English language OGN caster Christopher “PapaSmithy” Smith said in near-disbelief. “He’s actually opted into sharing gold as an AD carry.”
It was a rare decision at the time, especially for a generally resource-hungry carry like Kramer, who bets on a larger payoff down the road. The role of an AD carry is to scale into the late game with attack damage, which is why so many resources are funneled to them in the first place, and why ADs are granted a duo lane. Trading away early laning power to rush Ardent is a risk, but Ardent itself is a support item solely meant to supplement the AD carry’s — and the team’s — damage in team fights with heals, shields, and bonus on-hit damage.
In this specific game, the Freecs’ Twitch/Janna combo had no kill pressure, or pushing power, in lane, but an early roam from KurO and jungler Lee “Spirit” Da-yoon secured First Blood assists for Kramer and Tusin, mitigating Lee “Wolf” Jae-wan and Bae “Bang” Jun-sik’s lane dominant duo of Lulu and Tristana. Although the Freecs fumbled their execution and mid game — also the Twitch against Tristana wasn’t the best AD with which to debut this strategy — losing to SKT 2-0 in the series, an innovative bot lane early build was born. The Freecs used their Relic/Coin start with varying success in their regional qualifier attempt, while other teams started picking it up. It spread throughout Korea, where it was prevalent in the spring promotion tournament, to the point where one match saw both teams take Relic/Coin duo lanes, hilariously negating the strategy’s effectiveness.
Still, heading into worlds, it seemed as if tankier engage supports would dominate the meta. Following the play-in stage, it was clear Ardent Censer still ruled the support world.
At 20 minutes in Samsung’s first worlds match against G2, CoreJJ and Ruler had matching Targon’s Braces along with a rushed Ardent Censer for the Taric and Rageblade for Ruler’s Varus. CoreJJ and Ruler pushed on G2’s Tier 2 bottom lane turret before they had to back off and respond to a G2 Rift Herald in the mid lane.
At 21 minutes, CoreJJ had 70 CS. The Freecs’ original Relic Shield/Ancient Coin duo had now spawned Samsung’s double Targon’s gold generation beast. It was a smart response to G2’s own Ardent attempt by drafting Ivern and banning out Lulu and Janna. The Ardent Censer early spike helped allow Samsung to scale comfortably, despite G2’s early attention top side to Lee “CuVee” Seong-jin’s Cho’Gath.
The Afreeca Freecs narrowly lost to Samsung in a crushing 3-2 reverse sweep that helped Samsung eventually claim its spot at worlds. Yet, the Freecs live on in Samsung, and other teams’ item choices, as innovators of what is now almost a bot lane standard.