League of Legends Worlds 2021 kicked off with two of the strongest teams in the Play-In Stage who are expected to make it to Groups — LCK’s fourth seed Hanwha Life Esports and LPL’s fourth seed LNG Esports.

Competing on League of Legends patch 11.19, the Worlds 2021 meta is already vastly different from Summer. As Goredrinker users in the solo lanes have risen in popularity, mages in mid lane saw a decline due to weak itemization.

So while Tryndamere mid was made popular by Gen.G streamer Tim “Nemesis” Lipovšek in May, and rose to relevance in September, no one foresaw mid lane Gragas in the Worlds 2021 opening game.

LNG Esports surprises in the draft phase with last pick mid lane Gragas on red side

Hanwha Life Esports vs. LNG Esports draft in Worlds 2021 opening match of the Play-In Stage with mid lane Gragas
Screenshot by Amanda Tan/ONE Esports

The champion picks and bans from both teams largely conformed to the current Worlds 2021 meta. Irelia remains strong, Qiyana, along with Zed and Talon were recently buffed in the jungle, while Miss Fortune’s ultimate Bullet Time increased in number of waves since patch 11.18.

Then, out of nowhere, LNG Esports locked in a last pick Gragas on red side, a champion that was only picked 15 times in LPL Summer 2021, largely as support or top.

The rationale behind this pick boiled down to one thing and one thing only: Sustain.

What do you do against a champion like Tryndamere with high sustain? Pick another champion with high sustain who also so happens to possess one of the best crowd control spells in the game, Explosive Cask.

Screenshot of LS tweet about HLE vs LNG drafts, and Midbeast's Tweet about LNG winning draft
Screenshot by Amanda Tan/ONE Esports

Still, though the picks were relevant, T1 content creator and analyst Nick “LS” De Cesare was of the view that the overall team composition on both sides was not clear. Former pro player and Team Liquid content creator Drew “Midbeast” Timbs on the other hand, felt that LNG Esports had won draft.

How LNG icon made Gragas mid work in Worlds 2021 opener against Hanwha Life’s Chovy

The laning phase was uneventful for Xie “icon” Tian-Yu’s mid lane Gragas. As Jeong “Chovy” Ji-hoon’s Tryndamere pushed waves in, he steadily farmed up, and discouraged ganks by keeping healthy with Drunken Rage.

From the mid to late game however, it was clear that LNG Esports had more engage options with Rakan, Gragas, and Qiyana leading the charge with their ultimates.

Since it’s not effective to use Explosive Cast on Tryndamere, who can spin back into the fight or mitigate everything with his Undying Rage ultimate, icon’s mid Gragas focused on controlling the space, and therefore the outcome, of team fights.

At the 32-minute mark, he saw the opportunity to isolate Hanwha Life’s backline, pushing back Kim “Deft” Hyuk-kyu’s Ezreal and Oh “Vsta” Hyo-seong’s Karma. This bought so much time for his team to deal with Chovy’s near unkillable Tryndamere.

Icon was shrewd at using his positioning on Gragas to threaten Hanwha Life’s formation. Holding onto his ultimate at the end game, he placed himself right between his teammates and the enemy champions, and made his presence felt.

After this last team fight at the 40-minute mark, icon and LNG Esports finally found their first sweet victory on the international stage.

In the post-game broadcast interview, icon further explained that he picked Gragas because the cooldown on Body Slam (E) is the same as Tryndamere’s Spinning Slash (E) in the later stages of the game.

“In team fights, all I have to do is stand next to my carry and protect them,” said icon.

LNG icon mid lane Gragas AP build

  • Everfrost (Mythic)
  • Tear of the Goddess
  • Boots of Lucidity
  • Zhonya’s Hourglass
  • Chemtech Putrifier
  • Rabadon’s Deathcap

Watch the 2021 World Championship matches live on Riot Games’ official channels on Twitch and YouTube.

READ MORE: The 5 best mid laners to watch out for at Worlds 2021