With a skill ceiling higher than almost any other team in the world, Royal Never Give Up is a team, which can win a series against anyone. Their opponents, two time World Champions, SK Telecom T1, with the best player to ever play a game of League of Legends, Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok, are known to be much more stable and predictable. Because of all of this, SKT were favored to advance to the Semifinal by practically every analyst out there.
In the first match of the best of 5 series, SKT’s comp had a scaffold seen numerous times during the course of the tournament – Ezreal, Karma, and Lee Sin. Complementing it, they also had Viktor in the Mid Lane and Poppy Top. Going up against them, the Chinese had the Worlds top lane staple Jayce, Rek’sai, Vladimir, Jhin, and Zyra.
The game started with most of the action taking place in the Top Lane, where RNG’s Jang “Looper” Hyeong-seok opened up the kill count by solo killing his lane opponent, Lee “Duke” Ho-seong. That is actually not surprising, because while Poppy can shrug off a lot of Jayce’s damage once she builds a couple of tank items, this is different in the early game. Following the solo kill, action moved to Top entirely. When fights broke out, RNG kept winning, getting a lead. While SKT managed to get within 2k gold of their opponents, mostly due to Bae “Bang” Jun-sik on Ezreal, it didn’t last long, because the Chinese ran away with it after getting a Baron, followed by Elder Dragon.
Following the unexpected loss, SKT switched up their strategy, playing entirely different champions in all lanes. With Jayce banned by RNG, SKT picked Kennen and Jhin in the first rotation, responding to Royal’s first pick of Olaf. Ultimately, four of RNG’s champions were the picks SKT had in the first game they lost, Poppy, Viktor, Ezreal, and Karma. That comp was to be played against the Korean’s Kennen, Zac, Varus, Jhin, and Zyra.
With the lane bully Kennen going up against Poppy, SKT were able to put their attention to Mid and Bottom lanes. The first fight broke out near the Dragon pit, where RNG’s Bot lane and Jungler got collapsed on by four SKT players. Predictably, it went in the Korean’s favor, they picked up two kills.
Following that, RNG’s bot lane kept getting wrecked, first when Jian “Uzi” Zi-Hao got killed by Lee “Wolf” Jae-wan after Bang’s Curtain Call chunked him out and made the Chinese phenom burn Flash, only to die to Support Zyra. Then, SKT’s Jungler also joined the party in the bot lane. Following that, Bang and Wolf swapped lanes with Duke, to make the Top tower fall faster. Poor Kennen got rekt twice in a row, when RNG collapsed on him en masse. Despite that, SKT weren’t about to let their lead go, making smart plays across the map. The rest of the game was a lesson in maintaining and growing a lead, taught by your friendly neighborhood SK Telecom T1.
Trying to recover from the convincing loss in Game 2, RNG either had a plan to win, yet failed to execute it, or just made a very big mistake. They banned Elise in the first rotation. When the bans were done with, Syndra was left open with SKT having first pick, with Caitlyn, Jayce, and Kennen banned by the Koreans and Elise, Ryze, and Nidalee taken away by RNG. SKT snapped up Syndra immediately. RNG responded by getting themselves Jhin and Lee Sin to have a strong lane presence in Bot, while being able to InSec Syndra to get slaughtered. SKT responded by taking Olaf, which, an argument could be made, is worthier of a ban than Elise in the first place, and Gnar. Then, RNG got themselves a Vladimir to try and minimize the damage a lane bully like Syndra can do, leaving the two time Worlds winners to get their Bot Lane champions, Ezreal and Karma. RNG rounded out their comp with Rumble Top. Looking at the comps, it was mystifying that RNG gave the strongest mid champ in the meta to the best Mid player in the world and expected to win the game. Yes, they had a plan to deal with it, however, people have a saying: “Faker does Faker things.” There’s a reason why people say that.
With Gnar theoretically being able to stand against Rumble and Faker getting a lane bully champion, Syndra, Blank had nowhere else to go but Bot. That’s what he did and Cho “Mata” Se-hyeong paid the price. Apparently, Zyra is squishy. Who knew… The immobile Rumble was the next gank target. Trying to help his team catch up, RNG’s Liu “mlxg” Shi-yu went to Bot lane. While he did manage to get a kill on Bang for his team, Mata paid for it with his life once again.
While RNG tried to come back, they ultimately failed. It’s hard if not impossible to do that against a team of SKT’s caliber when all three lanes lose. The Chinese were mostly outplayed individually AND on the team level. The outcome of this match was mostly assured as soon as Faker got Syndra and RNG failed to deal with it before The God could get strong. While Vladimir is a good pick against Syndra, outscaling it and avoiding getting one shot in the late game, it’s practically impossible to reach that stage of the match when someone can Q+R to just delete someone.
With the let’s-let-faker-play-Syndra experiment over and done with, RNG banned it out before Game 4. After both teams spent their three bans, the only power pick top lane champion left was Kennen. RNG snapped it up with their first pick as the Blue side team. Responding, SKT took advantage of Royal Never Give Up leaving Elise open for the first time in the series and also got Bang his Jhin. Then, RNG picked up Karma and Lee Sin, SKT responded with Irelia and Zyra. Surprising no one, the Chinese picked Ezreal as their ADC, while Li "Xiaohu" Yuan-Hao opted to play Aurelion Sol for the first time in the series against SKT and the second over the whole World Championship. It seems like Royal Never Give Up were grabbing at straws, trying to surprise SKT by bringing out a new champion. Faker’s response? Malzahar, a soft counter, which can stop Sol’s pushing by silencing him and make him an easy target to gank with Nether Grasp’s suppression.
The Jhin Zyra vs. Ezreal Karma bot lane matchup was played in each game of the series. SKT showed themselves capable of winning lane from each side of the matchup, however, this time, RNG had some great vitamins before the match. SKT’s bot lane had a very bad time in the beginning of the game. First, Uzi killed Wolf, then, Xiaohu waltzed in with his Aurelion Sol and they killed the poor plant lady once again. Next, RNG tried to bring the thunder on Faker’s head, when Xiaohu and Looper ganged up to dive The Best There Ever Was. Faker unloaded everything he had on his upstart mid lane opponent and killed him with Blank’s Elise’s help, once the spider showed up. Unfortunately, the fight soon turned into a 3v2 when Mlxg came. Still, SKT managed to win the skirmish, 2 for 1. RNG did well for some time after that, however, SKT eventually started winning fights and taking objectives, gaining a bigger lead than any their Chinese opponents had that game.
Winning against RNG 3-1, SKT moves to face the winner of the match between ROX Tigers and Edward Gaming in the Semifinal of Worlds.