After a month of fighting, the world championships are once again coming to an end. On October 29th, the world will watch as the two time world champions of SK Telecom attempt to defend their throne against Samsung’s newly formed band of upcoming talent.
The Reigning Kings
Coming from the left side of the post-group brackets, SK Telecom are the heavy favorites in this year’s finals. After coming into the tournament being accused of a slumping state, SKT have eliminated the doubts surrounding their current form by placing first in their group. In the group stages, the Korean titans’ only loss was delivered in the first week by Taiwan’s Flash Wolves; a team who had famously never lost to a Korean team prior to this event.
In the second week of their group stage, Lee “Faker” Sanghyeok and his team seemed to have further improved on past issues, and showed a more confident form. Using their improvements during their off-time, SKT proceeded to win all three of the week’s games, including the rematch against their Taiwanese rivals.
In their bracket stage run, SKT faced off against two longtime rivals, and former world finals adversaries. The first of the two challengers was China’s Royal Never Give Up, who had finished their group in second place, with a 3-3 record. After losing 3-1 to SKT at the Mid-Season Invitational, Royal had added star AD Carry Jian “Uzi” Zi-Hao to their lineup in hopes that he would take their team to the next level.
Despite a dominant showing from Uzi and his lane partner Cho “Mata” Se-hyeong in the first game of the series, the star AD Carry’s addition was ultimately not enough. In a repeat of the previous clash, SKT bounced back and won the next three games, thanks to an adapted pick ban phase, and subbing in jungler Kang “Blank” Sun-gu.
The ensuing semifinal match would be a meeting with their Korean rivals, the ROX Tigers. Although the match-up was historically in SKT’s favor, ROX had improved significantly over the year, and it was unclear who would be slated to win the series. Out of the gate it was clear that the rematch between Korea’s two best teams would do more than just live up to expectations. Although SKT managed to use their superior team fighting skills to win the grueling first game, their rivals made it clear that they would not go down without a fight.
The tigers pulled back the momentum in the second and third games, thanks to a surprise pick of Miss Fortune support. While it may have seemed to be either an unintentional or completely disrespectful pick, ROX’s ace in the hole was brought in as a counter pick for Zyra , which had proved to be an oppressive presence throughout the tournament. Using their new pick, ROX handily won the next two games, bringing the score to 2-1 in their favor.
In response to their consecutive losses, SKT decided that it was time to replace Blank with Bengi, in order to have a more experienced and levelheaded player, who would perform when his back was against the wall. Game 4’s bans saw the expected Miss Fortune ban from SK Telecom’s side, as well as a shift on ROX’s side, to using all three of their bans against Faker. Although the decision was made due to Bengi’s infamous ineptitude on Nidalee, the veteran jungler picked it for the first time, and showed that he could be the steady presence that his team needed, no matter what champion he was forced onto.
With both teams’ hands laid out on the table and two wins apiece, it was time for the final game in one of the best series to ever take place on the world championship stage. After a fairly normal pick/ban phase, the two rivals loaded on to the rift with their tournament hopes riding on one final performance.
The game started with a fierce back and forth battle over the gold lead, but momentum was thrown into SKT’s favor around the twenty minute mark. ROX had decided to bet on a risky baron call, but their hopes were dashed as Bengi foiled their plans, by initiating a fight which would see their team almost completely wiped off the map. The game went on for another twenty minutes and remained a close back and forth, but it seemed that SKT were now always slightly ahead of their opponents.
In the end, the Tigers were crushed underneath the immense pressure that their nemeses put upon them in response to every mistake.
The Aspiring King slayers
Coming from the right side of the bracket are Samsung Galaxy, a team with everything to prove. While SKT boast several of the best players in the world, and an immense legacy, Samsung are a group of outcasts who were predicted to lose every step of the way. Whereas SK Telecom’s wins have been written off as inevitability, Samsung have faced adversity at every turn. From being predicted to place behind TSM (or not make it out at all) in the group stage, to being met with boos and silence as they dismantled the Western hopes, Samsung are used to playing the underdog, and that certainly won’t change in the upcoming finals.
During the bracket stage, Samsung’s primary adversaries were North America’s TSM, and China’s Royal Never Give Up. At the end of the two week round robin, Samsung emerged as their group’s 1st place seed, having only dropped a game to TSM during the first week. With their impressive showing, Samsung earned themselves slightly more legitimacy in the eyes of fans and analysts.
Unfortunately for the rookie squad, their knockout stage run provided little legitimacy to their performances, as opposed to SKT’s run through two of the best eastern teams at the tournament. Their first opponents were North America’s final hope and fan favorite, Cloud 9. From the moment that the two teams got on stage, the tone for the match had already been set, as boos echoed throughout the Chicago theater as the Korean team was introduced.
If it wasn’t clear yet, it would become abundantly so as the games went on; the crowd wanted anything but to see Samsung win. Although most members of Samsung outclassed their opponents throughout the series, their bottom laners Park “Ruler” Jae-hyuk and Jo “CoreJJ” Yong-in put up a completely dominant performance, leaving their lane opponents with only one kill to their 22 deaths over the series.
In their semifinal series, Samsung would yet again play the villains to the home crowd, as they would now be looking to eliminate H2K, the final Western team in the tournament. The first game’s action came quickly, as H2K’s jungler Marcin “Jankos” Jankowski mounted a level 1 surprise attack in the bottom lane. Throughout the early stages of the game, Jankos continued to pressure the already crippled bottom lane, in hopes that they would yield to his relentless attacks.
Despite the imposing aura of his enemy, Samsung’s veteran jungler Kang “Ambition” Chan-yong managed to keep the game even by delivering two swift executions in consecutive ganks on the middle lane. Thanks to his jungler’s sturdy presence, top laner Lee “CuVee” Seong-jin’s constant minion wave management was able to show itself during the mid game, and ultimately led to a victory for his team.
The second game began with Jankos earning himself yet another first blood, this time in the top lane. Although Jankos looked to be making himself an unstoppable force for the second game in a row, Samsung’s star mid laner Lee “Crown” Min-ho was doing the same, on his monstrously scaling Cassiopeia pick. Thanks to his efforts in the mid lane, Crown’s team turned the tables on their opponents yet again, and won out another game thanks to their signature prowess in mid game team fights.
For the first time in the series, game 3 began with a first blood for Ambition, rather than Jankos. With their biggest threat lacking the power that he had in the previous two games, H2K could not withstand Samsung’s devastating attacks on their objectives, resulting in a convincing end to both the game and the series.