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Worlds

SKT vs. ROX: A Worlds Classic

In front of a sold-out crowd in Madison Square Garden, New York City, ROX Tigers and SK Telecom T1 played perhaps the best series of games in the history of Worlds. The first and second seeds from Korea battled back and forth, as the series went to five games. We saw unique and innovative picks, perhaps the best Ashe arrow in the history of competitive League of Legends, and Silver Scrapes blasted through the speakers of the world’s most famous arena.

Unfortunately for these two teams, there could only be one winner, one team going to the FInal in the Staples Center in LA next week. Despite the best efforts of their opponents, when it comes to Worlds there is only one team you can never bet against: SKT beat their domestic rivals to earn their place in the Final. For the third time SKT will attempt to take home the Summoner’s Cup, and considering their record so far is 2/2, we still wouldn’t bet against them.

THE JUNGLE CONUNDRUM

Peanut Semis

Peanut's Lee Sin was excellent in games 2 and 3.

SKT started the series with longtime jungler Bengi, a decision Kkoma explained to us after the series: “We decide the starting jungler after the coach observes them practicing and judges them on their current condition,” he said. It’s an interesting situation for SKT: should Bengi choose to retire in the near future, is Blank ready to take the position full time? Especially considering how the series played out, but we’ll get to that in a bit.

Game 1 set the pace for the series, and exemplified how close these two teams are in ability and performance levels. ROX jungler Peanut was proactive in the early game, attempting multiple ganks including one in the mid lane which Faker expertly escaped from, but it took until almost 12 minutes into the game to see the first blood. A kill for Smeb on Faker’s Orianna, and another for Kuro on Bengi’s Olaf as ROX cleaned up the first dragon of the game.

SKT kept a steady lead from the mid game until they secured the game’s first Baron, allowing them to finally break through ROX’s defenses and destroy tower after tower. From there ROX were on the back foot for almost 10 minutes as SKT built their gold lead further, before ROX sneakily secured Baron while SKT were preoccupied with the dragon. ROX used the baron to chip away at SKT’s lead, before a crucial elder dragon fight. Bengi proved clutch as he secured the elder dragon under pressure from Peanut’s Elise, before Faker landed a multi-man Shockwave to win the fight and ultimately the game.

For game 2 SKT decided to sub in Blank, a curious decision considering Bengi performed well in game 1, but this is not something new for SKT. They see Blank as, or rather hope he can be the future undisputed starter for SKT and want to use him as much as possible, yet it seems that Bengi at this moment is the better player. Despite this, SKT switching out Bengi for Blank was not the most surprising part of game 2. With ROX on red side, Korea’s first seed of course had the last pick, usually saved as a counterpick. They used that counterpick to instalock support Miss Fortune for GorillA, as the crowd cheered in surprise and anticipation.

Miss Fortune

GorillA surprised everyone with his Miss Fortune support pick.

SERIES OF MISS FORTUNATE EVENTS

It proved to be a genius move by the ROX Tigers, as they seemed to have found a way to counter the very strong support Zyra pick. The heavy poke and push from Miss Fortune with a Spellthief’s start, followed by PraY’s Ashe ult in to MF Bullet Time meant that Wolf died over and over again, sometimes with the help of Smeb’s potent Rumble and Peanut’s patented Lee Sin. Peanut played particularly well, helping Smeb get the lead in the top lane with an expert counter gank. Then there’s PraY, whose game-winning Ashe ult provided a highlight that we’ll watch for years to come, sniping Duke’s Ekko from across the map as Duke was teleporting to defend his base.

It was a game to remember for fans around the world watching this incredible Semifinal match, and with the series tied at 1-1 there was plenty more to come, and to the delight of the crowd, there was more Miss Fortune support to come. GorillA locked it in again for game 3, once again picking it it counter Wolf’s Zyra and once again paired with PraY’s Ashe. SKT choosing not to ban either, nor Peanut’s Lee Sin, proved to be costly for SKT.

PraY and GorillA once again dominated the laning phase, while a switch to Viktor for Kuro afforded him a safer lane against Faker’s Orianna. Peanut completely out jungled Blank for the second game in a row, as ROX Tigers, for the first time ever, secured two wins in a series against SKT. PraY in particular was a monster, and he and Peanut won a 2 v 4 fight in the late game to ensure SKT could not wrestle back control of the game.

Something clearly needed to change for SKT as they were on the verge of defeat and being knocked out of Worlds for the first time in their history. Coach Kkoma made two major changes: firstly, Blank was out and Bengi was back in, and they banned the Miss Fortune. Blank clearly could not beat Peanut and SKT needed to avail of Bengi’s services once again, and SKT made the decision that MF was too much for their bot lane to handle when they were down 1-2.

In the first match we couldn't react to it,” said Kkoma after the series. “So we just played against it, and after the game the team members and coach talked about it and decided that she was still manageable to play against. But after the second game we all concluded she probably shouldn't appear again in this series, so we made it a fixed ban.”

RETURN OF THE KING

SKT Semis celebration

SKT surround the hero Bengi after he helped carry the team to the Final.

The revised strategy worked well for SKT, as they adapted their pick and ban phase and completely dominated ROX Tigers in game 4, thanks in no small part to Bengi. The two-time world champion played his first ever game on Nidalee and crushed Peanut’s Olaf. Bang picked Jhin, a champion he is famous for in the LCK, and along with Wolf’s Karma the bot lane pairing looked unshaken after their previous two losses and rolled over ROX’s bot lane.

With the series tied at 2-2, the winner of game five would advance to the Final to play the winner of Saturday’s Semifinal between H2K and Samsung Galaxy. Another Miss Fortune ban paved the way for Smeb to pick up Jayce, as Duke responded with a Poppy pick, and Bengi picked away the Lee Sin to match up against Peanut’s Elise. Bang picked up Ashe for the second time this series, having won with it in game 1.

The final game was as tight as the first with ROX just 300 gold in the lead until a catastrophic baron attempt by Korea’s first seed handed SKT the lead and was the catalyst to SKT’s eventual victory. ROX attempted to pick up a quick baron before SKT could respond, but the power of two Cloud Drakes allowed SKT to react in time. Though ROX secured the baron, SKT picked up four easy kills to take the lead. SKT slowly but surely squeezed the life out of ROX who could not contend with SKT’s pressure, before picking up some barons of their own to close out this incredible series in 43 minutes.

For the third time in their history, SKT are going to the Final of Worlds. The only questions that remain now are who the reigning champions will face in the Final, and can they be stopped from winning their third World Championship. To see their opponent, tune into the clash between Korea’s Samsung Galaxy and Europe’s H2K on Saturday, live from Madison Square Garden!