The League of Legends World Championship play-in stage begins Oct. 1 in Seoul, with 12 teams competing for the final four spots at the game's premier tournament. With the tournament approaching, ESPN broke down the rosters and picked the best players at each position. These difference-making stars could make or break their teams' world title dreams in South Korea.
Here are the top mid laners entering this year's tournament.
1. Song "Rookie" Eui-jin: Invictus Gaming
Another unanimous No. 1 was Invictus Gaming's Rookie. iG is known for drafting well for what the team likes to do, red side counterpicks and Rookie. Since his first, disappointing appearance with iG at the 2015 World Championship, the LoL community has waited for Rookie to return to the international stage.
When you want to see stunning, peerless 1v1 outplays, look no further than Rookie. But he is far more than an excellent mid laner -- he helps define iG as a team. This year, Rookie is a two-time LoL Pro League MVP leading a far stronger lineup than the one that accompanied him in 2015. Rookie is a vocal leader on his team, and his mid lane prowess unlocks iG jungler Ning for aggressive invades. He roams as frequently as possible to aid in bot lane dives for first turret and helps control iG's entire early game. Now iG is not simply Rookie carrying the team to success -- iG has strong lanes across the board, again supported by the team's drafting strategy -- it's a team that makes the most of its laners with Rookie as its centerpiece.
2. Lee "Kuro" Seo-haeng: Afreeca Freecs
Every prodigious mid laner coming up the South Korean solo queue ladder will inevitably be compared to the best to ever play the game, Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok. Our first mid laner in this ranking, Rookie, was compared to Faker, as was Edward Gaming's Lee "Scout" Ye-chan (who barely missed making the top five). Even European mid lane extraordinaire Caps, who appears later on this list, was called "Baby Faker" for a time. Yet, there's an argument to be made that far more mid laners have emulated Kuro in playstyle than Faker as the game has shifted towards more team-focused play.
Kuro was a mid lane squatter, an immovable object, before it was cool (or at least, the default mid lane playstyle). When the Afreeca Freecs revamped their roster back in the 2016-17 offseason, Kuro's flexibility and knack for holding mid pressure with little to no resources was paramount to Afreeca's success. Since then, Kuro's stability has been a crucial part of the Freecs' gameplan, even with both Spirit and Kramer learning to do more with slightly fewer resources themselves. Kuro is often overshadowed by flashier players, but he's one of the best mids at this tournament and a large reason why the Freecs are here.
3. Son "Ucal" Woo-hyeon: KT Rolster
At the age of 12, Son "Ucal" Woo-hyeon witnessed the most famous League of Legends final in history when he traveled to beaches of Busan to watch Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok reverse-sweep the KT Bullets in the 2013 summer Champions final. That was the moment that propelled him to become a pro gamer. Now 17, he is the most recent LCK final champion, having helped Go "Score" Dong-bin -- a player who had been on the Bullets lineup that lost to SKT -- win his first major championship. In his first year as a pro, Ucal has established himself as one of the leading faces of South Korea's new generation, having an up-and-down rookie split before coming alive in his sophomore season to break into star status. Famous for his Taliyah in solo queue, the champion to watch out for from Ucal at Worlds will be his Azir, which he has used to great effect in both splits this season on KT.
4. Li "Xiaohu" Yuan-Hao: Royal Never Give Up
Xiaohu gets a lot of flak for succumbing to lane pressure internationally, but more often than not, he's a rock of a mid laner with a hidden gear that comes out when Royal Never Give Up desperately needs it. Xiaohu's general understanding of wave control, solid champion pool and attention to sidelanes are what make him such a valuable mid laner to RNG. Xiaohu isn't flashy and wasn't considered one of the very best mid laners in the LPL this season, but his steady performances earn him a spot in the Top 5. Watch out for his Galio and Ryze at the World Championship -- they're still his big ticket champions.
5. Rasmus "Caps" Winther: Fnatic
Here comes the European MVP. Rasmus "Caps" Winther, only 18 years old, enters the 2018 World Championship with a chip on his shoulder. After laughing his way through the play-in stage at last year's Worlds, his performance varied in the group stage. He narrowly made it into the knockout round following a 0-3 start to the main event and defeated both Immortals and Gigabyte Marines in tiebreakers. In the quarterfinals, he exited the tournament with a disappointing performance against Royal Never Give Up. Since moving into his second year as a pro, Caps has come into his own and has become the undisputed ace of the team, with the mixing and matching in the bottom lane. He has been the constant, and as far Caps goes this tournament, so will Fnatic.
In his past 11 games, Caps has double-digit kills in three of them. I'd say he is in pretty good form coming into Worlds.