The Garena Premier League group stages have come to a close and teams are now gearing up for the bracket stages. While the beginning of the season was dominated by a handful of teams, several organizations have stepped up in recent weeks and given the top teams a run for their money, showing that the GPL talent runs deeper than the general perception usually indicates. In the group stages, 2 groups of 6 teams each battle it out playing 10 games within their groups. The top 4 teams from each group advance while the bottom two teams are eliminated. These teams are then seeded against the opposite seed from the opposing group into the bracket stage. For example, the 1st seed from group A will face the 4th seed from group B in the first round.
Where, AHQ dominated most of the season in Group A, it’s worth noting that the Snipers only 2 losses came at the hands of AHQ e-Sports club and if they meet in the playoffs are sure to craft specific strategies to combat them. The Saigon Jokers, who looked to be a step below the top teams all season, took a game off AHQ at the end of the season in a surprise upset giving this team a surge of momentum pushing into the bracket stage. They should be a team to watch and may even pull off a surprise upset against AHQ in a 5 game series if they play out of their minds. Group A definitely seemed to be the stronger group and there are arguably three strong teams that could take a game off of anyone.
While AHQ was busy dominating Group A, the Taipei Assassins were thrashing group B and living up to their historied reputation setting more records by becoming the first GPL team to ever finish undefeated in their group. Where TPA sometimes looked shaky in the early game, they made up for it with expert teamfighting and fantastic synergy in the mid-late game. Time and time again they won teamfights from a gold deficit—one game being close to 10k gold. Other teams to watch out of the group include the Flash Wolves and Saigon Fantastic Five. SF5 in particular looked strong in a showing against TPA where they accrued a dominating early game lead and didn’t begin to lose it till after 25 minutes. If they can shore up some mid to late game weaknesses, they have a real shot at taking some games off the top teams in the bracket stages. The Flash Wolves, though having a disappointing season, still have some extremely skilled players—especially in the 3 remaining players from the Gamania Bears. However, their new additions in their jungle and mid laner have looked fairly weak all season. They’ll have to step up considerably to put up a strong showing against the best teams GPL has to offer.
Group Stage Standings
1. ahq e-Sports Club 9-1
2. Taipei Snipers 8-2
3. Saigon Jokers 7-3
4. Insidious Gaming 4-6
5. Bangkok Titans 2-8
6. Imperium Pro Team 0-10
1. Taipei Assassins 10-0
2. Saigon Fantastic Five 6-4
3. Yoie Flash Wolves 5-5
4. Singapore Sentinels 4-6
5. Full Louis 3-7
6. Manila Eagles 2-8
You can find the bracket here by scrolling down the page.
AHQ vs SGS
Series: 3-0 AHQ
At the time of the writing of this article, these matches have already been completed. The 3-0 was no surprise as AHQ were the heavy favorites coming in to the match. Mid laner Chawy has been the only bright spot for the Sentinels all season long and they have struggled to perform well against any of the stronger teams. Having a 4-6 record in the weaker Group B did not bode well for them against the 9-1 AHQ. Though AHQ has looked strong, there have been times throughout the season and even to some extent in this series where they have shown weaknesses in the jungle and mid lane. While Westdoor is undoubtedly one of the best mids in GPL, his champion pool is a bit outdated and he often falls back on his pocket fizz pick. A more evenly matched team could possible find an opening in picks and bans to abuse Westdoor’s champion pool. Also, AHQ jungler Naz can prove inconsistent. While he will often grab his team an early lead, there have been multiple games he’s been out-pressured in the early game and fallen behind. The key to a clean win lies with how well Naz performs deeper into the bracket stage.
SF5 vs SAJ
Series: 3-1 SAJ
SF5 put up an incredibly strong first game showing on the back of Jungleology who is (shocker) the SF5 jungler. He showed some impressive lee sin mechanics even winning 1v2’s and completely taking over the game from the beginning. However, SAJ would answer by improving their picks and bans in game 2 and for the remainder of the series where they would either pick up Safety’s comfort Pantheon, or pick/ban away Lee Sin from SF5 or both. One game they would even put Junie on support lee sin just to pick it away and force the SF5 jungler off his comfort picks. Jungleology would not be able to impact the game to the same degree and consequently SAJ jungler Safety was able to get his bot lane a lead each of the remaining games of the series drawing the first kills of the match. SAJ showed incredibly strong mid-series adaptation in the focus of their picks/bans and strategy. This is a great sign for a team going into an extremely rough semifinal match against a veteran AHQ e-Sports club. Going into the next round, expect Pantheon to be a highly contested pick between SAJ and AHQ as both junglers have shown incredibly strong games and compositions around him throughout the season.
TPS vs Yoe.FW
The Flash Wolves have continued to find themselves struggling this season, especially in the case of their new members in jungler Mountain and mid laner REFRA1N. This is sharply contrasted by the Snipers who are at their best when their jungler and mid laner get going and get roaming. Winds and OhReal are unrivaled in the GPL in the amount of early pressure they put on the map and the incredible synergy these two players have. There are no apparent disadvantage in any other lanes, so I expect TPS to create a lead in the mid lane, and to transfer that lead to side lanes. Standard TPS strategy relies on roaming and creating picks in rotations through superior vision control in the enemy jungle. Expect heavy duelists in most games from both Winds and OhReal to take advantage of their strengths.
iS vs TPA
Insidious Gaming is a team that performed exactly as what was expected of them. They picked up 4 wins during the group stages. These were 2 wins a piece against the bottom two Group A teams now knocked out of GPL Winter. The remaining 6 games were two losses each against the top 3 teams in Group A. As much as I would like to give win conditions for iS, it’s incredibly unlikely. IS’s problems as a team aren’t incredibly specific to certain areas of the game and they haven’t had incredibly strong early game showings against any of the top teams either. TPA on the other hand seem completely unstoppable. Even when they do accrue an early game lead no one has been able to shut them down and close out a game. I expect TPA’s veteran teamfighting experience to carry them through, but even before that I expect them to dominate early game and make most of these games stomps fairly quickly.
What to watch for
If the quarterfinals go as planned, the semifinals should hand us a rematch of last years nail-biting finals between sister teams TPA and TPS. While TPA has looked incredibly strong, as most have pointed out, they definitely had the weaker group. The moment of truth is close at hand and it’s all up to the Assassins to prove whether they deserved the 10-0 record or not. Traditionally the Snipers have been a tough matchup for the Assassins. All eyes will be on the junglers as Winds arguably applies the highest amount of pressure and presses his early game advantages harder than any other jungler in the GPL. Last season DinTer would run into a lot of trouble trying to match Winds and would often cost his team the early game due to getting outplayed and making crucial mistakes.
While there are good games happening in the top half of the bracket, AHQ are the heavy favorites to make it out. Assuming this happens, then AHQ will either be facing TPS in a rematch from the GPL finals of two seasons ago, or facing off against TPA in a battle of the powerhouse first place teams from their respective groups. Regardless, the GPL has some fantastic games in the coming weeks and there is no clear favorite to win it all.