The Group Stage of the League of Legends World Championship didn’t go as expected. Cloud9 finished second in Group A, Immortals failed to make it into the Playoffs in Group B, Team SoloMid had an extremely disappointing performance in Group D, failing to make it to the Quarterfinals, with Misfits Gaming taking their spot.
Before the Quarterfinals started on Thursday, SK Telecom T1, Royal Never Give Up, Longzhu Gaming, and Team WE were favored to make it out to the Semifinals, with some outcomes less certain than others. Namely, the matches between LZ and SSG, as well as Team WE vs. C9 were up in the air.
Due to the fact that they won the 2017 LCK Summer Split, Longzhu Gaming was slightly favored to win with the caveat that it was hard to tell whether the World Championship pressure would make them crumble against the experienced Samsung Galaxy team which took second place in the 2016 World Championship.
In the Game 1 Pick and Ban, nobody could say that Longzhu didn’t go for Samsung’s throat. Eschewing the popular Ardent Censer meta entirely, they picked Thresh with Ignite and decided that top tanks are overrated, electing to go with Jax.
On the other side, SSG answered with Kennen top and rarely seen Malzahar mid. When it came to the game, Longzhu’s Kwak “Bdd” Bo-seong appeared to be gaining a foothold on Syndra against his lane opponent, Lee “Crown” Min-ho; however, Kang “Ambition” Chan-yong quickly dashed his hopes and ventured topside to help Lee “CuVee” Seong-jin.
While Longzhu kept up with their opponents in the early game, the SSG team was able to use their Tristana pick and the pick pressure from Kennen, Rakan, Jarvan IV, and Malzahar to gain a substantial turret lead, eventually closing out the game.
With their Game 1 plan not working out, Longzhu picked a more traditional comp with Lulu support and Cho’Gath top for the second game of the series. It also had a Varus for engage and a Jarvan IV + Orianna combo going for it. On the other side, Samsung Galaxy remained loyal to Tristana as their ADC. Also, they went a more traditional Shen top route, with Taliyah in the mid lane and Taric as their support.
On the Summoner’s Rift, the first sparks of action appeared in the mid lane, before Samsung moved to the bot lane to execute a 4v2 dive. The teams proceeded to wrestle for control with Samsung coming out ahead most of the time, before Longzhu decided to go for a Drake. Samsung went to contest and did it successfully, with Crown getting himself a Quadra Kill. With the sudden infusion of gold and pressure, SSG started pressuring the map and eventually closed out the game pre-30.
With their backs against the wall, Longzhu decided to take away Crown’s Taliyah and abandon Jarvan IV as one of their Jungle picks.They also decided to take Trundle for the top lane to go against CuVee’s Shen. SSG ran Sejuani, Tristana, and Taric once again, also bringing out Lissandra.
For 25 minutes, the game was more or less quiet, with Samsung getting a decent gold lead through turrets and dragons, when a big fight broke out around the mid lane. SSG followed it up with a Baron Nashor, putting Longzhu in a bad spot.
Samsung used the Baron buff to pressure inner towers and were at the gates of Longzhu inhibitors, when LZ decided to chase down ambition on the top side of the map. Even though they were successful, Samsung rallied, taking the bot inhibitor for their trouble—a worthy trade. They even got away from a Longzhu chasedown attempt with only their support dead. While that was happening, Crown was using the Baron buff to take down the inner top tower.
Next, Samsung reset and started pushing into the enemy base in earnest, starting with the top lane. After getting the top inhib turret, they tried to rotate through the Longzhu jungle to the mid lane, but were caught, costing them some kills. Their gold advantage at this point meant that single lost skirmishes weren’t game-changing.
Soon after, Samsung found a fight on their terms in roughly the same place, won it and went to the Longzhu’s Nexus, successfully bringing it down and winning the series, 3-0.
The second Quarterfinals match to be played was heavily favored towards the World Champion SK Telecom T1, which was facing an European upstart, Misfits Gaming. The Koreans had much more trouble than they were expecting, even if they did manage to win in the end.
The Pick and Ban in the first match of this series was not what you’d have expected, with some unusual picks on both sides. SK Telecom T1 forewent the tank top, going with Jayce, Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok went with Galio against Tristan “PowerOfEvil” Schrage’s Ryze, Bae “Bang” Jun-sik played Caitlyn, while Lee “Wolf” Jae-wan picked Trundle support. On the Misfits side of the pick and ban equation, everything was more traditional, with Rumble for Barney “Alphari” Morris being the only real surprise. While not exactly off-meta, Rumble has fallen by the wayside in the meta in recent times.
The early game for Misfits didn’t seem to be going very well, SKT went for Misfits’ throat in the early game, all over the map. At around 20 minutes, the Koreans were almost threatening their opponents’ inhibitors, even though it took them five more minutes to actually take down the Nexus. At this point, it was hard to imagine the scenario that was going to unfold in the next four games; by all rights, it looked like SKT was headed towards an easy 3-0 blowout.
For their second game, SKT picked a much more traditional comp, featuring Cho’Gath, Jarvan IV, Corki, Kog’Maw, and Taric. On the other side of the stage, Misfits went a little bit ham with Karma mid and Blitzcrank support, surrounded by Tristana, Gnar, and Sejuani.
Just like they were supposed to with a Blitzcrank as their support, Misfits focused on the bot lane quite a bit. Contrary to what Western League of Legends teams usually do against Korean gods, they didn’t play conservatively in this match. Instead, they went for the throat of SK Telecom T1 and it payed off in a major way. While they lost Game 1 at approximately 25 minutes, they managed to more or less smack back at the World Champions with a similarly timed victory.
In this game, SKT went all wonky in their Pick and Ban once again, trying to make Vayne work against a Tristana Leona bot lane by Misfits. Tanks were also forgotten about on both sides, Heo “Huni” Seung-hoon played Jayce again, while Alphari went with Jarvan IV. Nubar “Maxlore” Sarafian also chose to play Ivern against Kang “Blank” Sun-gu’s Gragas.
The first real piece of action happened in the bot lane, where Blank and Wolf fought against Steven “Hans Sama” Liv and Lee “IgNar” Dong-geun. There were no junglers to help, it was a straight 2v2 and the Misfits bot lane won it.
Then, Misfits overvalued their hand, pushing SKT’s bot lane and Blank inbetween turrets. IgNar paid for it with his life and SKT chased the Misfits players back, with Faker coming to help.
After this misguided play, the MSF bot lane rotated top and caught Huni and Wolf with the help of Alphari. For the rest of the game, Misfits continued making smart decisions and pressuring objectives, getting themselves Drakes, turrets, farm, and kills. With Baron Nashor and Elder Dragon secured, they managed to crack open the SKT base and close out the game soon after.
With their backs against the wall and at match point, SK Telecom T1 needed to do something to stop their opponents. They decided to finally take away Tristana from Hans Sama, forcing the Misfits AD to play Sivir, a much less aggressive pick. With Faker on Ryze, SKT had a very nice late game.
While Misfits went after SKT’s throat in the early games of the previous two games, it was SKT’s turn now. They got themselves wins there and there, however, Misfits managed to keep up and avoid the game getting out of hand. In fact, after securing a Baron buff, they even took back the gold lead in the resulting fight.
Unfortunately for the Europeans, SK Telecom T1 wasn’t about to lay down their weapons. They won a huge team fight, secured Elder Dragon and ran down mid to close out the game.
In the last Pick and Ban of the series, SK Telecom T1 prioritized Tristana once again, taking it as their first pick. Jayce, Jarvan IV, Taliyah and Tahm Kench followed, met by Misfits’ Shen, Syndra, Sejuani, Varus, and Thresh. Against the enormous pick potential available to the European comp, the Tahm Kench promised to be an inspired pick.
This was a weird game. Even though Misfits were ahead in kills for most of it, the focus on objectives by SKT allowed the Koreans to keep themselves in a small gold lead for most of the game. Eventually, SK Telecom T1 found the fight they needed, ballooned their lead and closed out the game while most of the Misfits lineup was pushing daisies and waiting to respawn.
Even though Fnatic managed to surprise everyone in their Group Stage and make it to the Quarterfinals while Immortals were heavily favored to get there instead, it was difficult to objectively say that Fnatic were favored against Royal Never Give Up.
In the first game of the best of 5 series, the two teams played each other very close. While Fnatic were ahead on kills, RNG held a lead in objectives, ending up about even. Eventually, with Jian “Uzi” Zi Hao playing out of his mind on Tristana, RNG were able to take the initiative and close out the game.
In Game 2, Fnatic made a confident move in an effort to take back the initiative, picking up Vayne to face Uzi’s Tristana. While this could have worked out to be a game-winning decision, it was extremely hard to pull off, as the player facing Martin “Rekkles” Larsson in lane was Uzi, one of the best AD Carries in the history of the game, who found himself in an advantageous matchup.
With the gank-magnet Vayne in the bot lane, there was no wonder that the majority of action revolved around the bot side of the map. While a gank from Mads “Broxah” Brock-Pedersen did net Fnatic first blood, the turret first blood went to RNG after Uzi managed to take down the structure.
With the bot tower down for the count, Uzi and his support rotated top to pressure the tower there. The rest of their team prepared it by killing off Paul “sOAZ” Boyer as well. RNG was about to kill the tower, when Rasmus “Caps” Winther came and somehow managed to not only stop the push despite being 1v3, but also get one enemy killed.
Over the next several minutes, Fnatic managed to get enough kills to earn themselves a decent gold lead for that point in the game. At the 33 minute mark, however, it all went wrong for the FNC team as the Chinese jungler stole Baron Nashor, though they couldn’t get much out of it.
Fnatic took Elder Dragon, RNG responded with Baron. This time, the Baron power play was game-ending. RNG just went bot and pushed to the Nexus, taking advantage of some fortunately long death timers.
This time, Fnatic actually prioritized Tristana above everything else. With Gnar, Sejuani, Malzahar, and Karma, they stood a good chance against RNG’s Cho’Gath, Jarvan IV, Galio, Kog’Maw, and Morgana.
The game was reasonably even with RNG having a gold lead and a fed Kog’Maw for most of it. Despite that, FNC managed to find objectives and keep pushing the Chinese, eventually securing Elder Dragon and running down several inhibitors before finally pushing for the Nexus. Royal Never Give Up is not in the habit of giving up, however. They stopped Fnatic’s offensive and made them reset.
They successfully pushed Fnatic out of their base while the bot inhibitor was respawning and the top one was getting chipped away by the minions. Eventually, Fnatic gave up and tried to get the oomph they needed from Baron Nashor, but RNG successfully stole it.
With Fnatic pushing bot inhib, sOAZ tried an xPeke on the RNG Nexus. The Chinese went to defend, Fnatic rushed to help. Dying like flies, they were ultimately successful, ripping a point out of RNG’s hands.
With Fnatic on the blue side, RNG weren’t in the mood to allow Rekkles to play Tristana, so they just banned it. As a result, he was left with Varus, surrounded by Galio, Sejuani, Taric, and Gnar. On the RNG side, Shen, Jarvan IV, Corki, Twitch, and Janna were the champions to be brought onto the Summoner’s Rift to face Fnatic.
In the early game, Fnatic were the ones making aggressive moves, however, the Royal Never Give Up team made their moves to limit the advantages FNC could gain from their plays. After 20 minutes of action, Fnatic was only ahead by 2k gold.
At around 36 minutes, Fnatic got themselves a Baron Nashor, but had to give up Elder Dragon to the RNG side, which turned out to be disastrous, when the next team fight to break out happened in the jungle, where the Baron buff was vastly inferior to the RNG burn. Immediately after winning the fight, RNG went for the Nexus of Fnatic and managed to destroy it between the Europeans managed to respawn, winning the series 3-1.
While Cloud9 had a chance in this series, Team WE was slightly favored to win nevertheless.
In the Pick and Ban of Game 1, WE drafted a comp which could be called one of the most popular in the tournament, Cho’Gath, Gragas, Corki, Kog’Maw, and Janna. On the other side, C9 opted for a more roam-heavy Shen, Jarvan IV, Aurelion Sol, Caitlyn, and Lulu.
C9 started growing their lead in the mid lane, using Shen to catch Corki. They made all the right moves for a long time, more or less steadily growing their advantage to 5.4k at 20 minutes, until WE managed to start shrinking it a little bit over the next 10 minutes and finally took the advantage.
After that, the game was a seesaw, before Team WE killed four of the C9 players and closed out the game.
In the second game of the series, WE kept the same kind of comp they ran in the first game, adapting it by using Maokai and Karma, but keeping Corki and Kog’Maw. On the other side, Cloud9 threw a curve ball by locking in Singed Top.
This game was much more even. While C9 had a lead early, it was extremely small. At 20 minutes, however, C9 have been losing the initiative for a while, WE had a lead of 2.4k gold. It didn’t last long, however. The Americans made the right moves and managed to swing the gold in their favor again. This time, however, they refused to give up the initiative, steadily growing their advantage and eventually winning the match.
In the third game of the series, WE remained loyal to their tanks, picking Maokai top and Cho’Gath Jungle. C9 also kept up with the Singed which worked out in Game 2. To be honest, the biggest surprise in this Pick and Ban was the Jayce mid pulled out by Team WE.
While WE was up by 1k or so in the first 10 minutes, Cloud9 made all the right moves to allow them to gain a gold lead later. The score was even at 10 minutes, but C9 steadily got more and more ahead over the next 14 minutes, eventually resulting in a win for them with a 12k gold lead.
In Game 4, Team WE has finally had enough of C9’s Singed shenanigans. They simply banned the hell out of it. The Americans were left to pick Trundle, Sejuani, Orianna, Xayah, and Taric, while Team WE chose to run with Cho’Gath, Jarvan IV, Taliyah, Kog’Maw, and Rakan.
Without the confusion born from having to deal with Singed, WE were back in their comfort zone. Starting at the 7th minute mark, they started pulling ahead and barely had any setbacks. Over the next 25 minutes or so, the Chinese grew their lead to 13.7k gold and convincingly won this match, bringing the series to a tie.
Encouraged by the win, Team WE banned Singed once again and proceeded to pick up Gnar, Gragas, Galio, Kog’Maw, and Janna. C9, on the other hand, started with Shen, Sejuani, Orianna, Caitlyn, and Lulu.
The two teams went back and forth, gaining minuscule leads for the first 10 minutes, but then Team WE started pulling ahead. Cloud9 were left powerlessly watching as their Semifinals dream disappeared in the face of the Team WE onslaught with the weight of the Western League of Legends hopes on their shoulders.
After the Quarterfinals, we are going to have SK Telecom T1 face Royal Never Give Up and Team WE match up against Samsung Galaxy.
Despite their struggle against Misfits, SK Telecom T1 should be able to win this match against their old Chinese nemesis. Samsung Galaxy has every opportunity to make it into the Finals as well. If everything goes as expected, we will have the same Grand Finals matchup for a second year in a row.
The 2016 World Championship Final between SKT and SSG was one of the best League of Legends matches in the history of the game. While it would be nothing new, we would like to get a chance for something similar happening this year as well.