RETURN OF THE KINGS
Of course this isn’t the same Samsung that dominated Worlds in 2014; most of those players left for China in the great Korean exodus following Worlds, and since then Samsung has been rebuilding their roster to once again challenge for the top spots in the LCK. They qualified as a surprise #3 seed, keeping out LCK summer runners-up KT Rolster after an impressive performance in the LCK gauntlet final.
Assessing the relative strength of these teams coming into the Final is more difficult than it would appear, considering the differences in paths to the Final. SKT had it easy in the Group Stages, with Cloud9, Flash Wolves and IMay making up the rest of Group B. They won the group with ease, dropping a single game to the Flash Wolves, forever the bane of Korean teams. In the Quarters they faced China’s Royal Never Give Up, runners-up in Samsung’s Group D, and after dropping game 1 they quickly recovered to sweep the next three games and advance to the Semifinals. There they faced ROX Tigers, and the rest is history.
Samsung’s run was effectively the inverse: in the Group Stage they faced North America’s #1 seed TSM, China’s #2 seed RNG, and Europe’s #3 seed Splyce. They advanced from Group D as the clear winners, holding the two fastest wins of the tournament going into the Quarters after 23-minute stomps against RNG and Splyce in week 2. In the Quarterfinals SSG dominated a Cloud9 team that had only narrowly escaped Group B, before dismantling Europe’s #2 seed and Group C winners H2K.
It can be difficult to call out specific matches as pivotal in a World Championship Final, especially one that has the potential to be the closest in years, but in this matchup it’s worth calling specific attention to the bot lane as CoreJJ and Ruler will not have it as easy as they have in the previous two series. In the Quarterfinal against C9 they completely outclassed a C9 bot lane that are perhaps not up to the level of the best international teams, and H2K’s curious draft phases afforded Samsung winning matchups in all three games, though even then they did not perform exceptionally well.
Bang and Wolf are the best bot lane in this tournament (and arguably in the world) and they have been for almost two years now. However, they also struggled in their last series, although significantly more so than Ruler and CoreJJ. ROX Tigers famously picked support Miss Fortune in the Semifinals, and dominated Bang and Wolf to the point that SKT banned this niche pick for games 4 and 5 of the series. Considering CoreJJ also plays support Miss Fortune we should expect to see it on the ban list in the Final yet again, or Bang and Wolf could find themselves in trouble.
Considering the other lane matchups are quite evenly matched, including Crown versus Faker in the mid lane, the bot lane could be the deciding factor in this series. If Bang and Wolf control the lane as they’re expected to we could see a quick 3-0 for SKT, but if Ruler and CoreJJ can rattle the SKT bot lane with unique picks and strategies, we could be in for a tight series.
ONE MORE UPSET?
The countdown to the Final is already underway. Two huge Korean teams are vying to further their legacy in League of Legends esports; SKT, the Korean powerhouses attempting to extend their reign over the World, and Samsung, the only organisation to break SKT’s dominance, fresh from a full roster rebuild with new, fresh talent. Though SKT enter as favourites, this Worlds already featured some of the biggest upsets in the history of competitive League. Tune into the Final on Saturday to see the best team in the World crowned live at the Staples Center!