After three largely one-sided quarterfinals, the fourth bout at the League of Legends World Championship featured the closest series of the week. That’s no surprise considering the two combatants: The second and third ranked Korean teams, KT Rolster and KOO Tigers.
The two have a recent competitive history, battling in the semifinals round of the Champions Summer playoffs on Aug. 21. In that series KT Rolster scored a close 3-2 victory. But today, the KOO Tigers got their revenge, beating KT Rolster in a close 3-1 series where the team leading at 20 minutes lost three of four games.
The Tigers won on the back of a signature performance by their top laner Song “Smeb” Kyung-ho. Smeb played Fiora in all four games and used it to shut down KT’s own star Kim “Ssumday” Chan-ho, blistering his counterpart with Fiora’s unique kit. Smeb led his team in damage in two of the four games with an 18/8/18 KDA.
The Fiora selection wasn’t the only constant in the pick and ban phase through the series. Both teams played similar styles throughout, but it was really KOO Tigers’ mid and late game shot calling and aggressive playmaking that proved the difference. In games two and four, KOO Tigers overcame 4.4k and 5.7k gold deficits around the 20 minute mark to blister KT Rolster.
KOO Tigers favored a scaling control mage in the mid lane, playing two games with each of Veigar and Viktor, an AD carry with range like Ashe or Caitlyn, and Fiora in the top lane. It provided them a potent siege composition with plenty of control for team fights should their foes find a way to engage.
KT Rolster countered with lineups featuring their AD carry No “Arrow” Dong-hyeon on Kalista and Jinx backed by a flurry of ineffective mid laners from Kim “Nagne” Sang-moon. Ssumday favored Darius and mixed in Renekton and Malphite, but often failed to find a way to impact matches in the face of Smeb’s incredibly aggressive Fiora play. If KT Rolster won the series, Go “Score” Dong-bin and his Gragas would certainly have been the player of the series. He nailed multiple early ganks in both the top and bottom lane and set his team up for success, but they couldn’t follow through.
The teams traded the first two games with two eerily similar matches. In the first, KOO Tigers built a lead into the mid game but fell prey to some key team fights from KT Rolster despite their lack of hard engage, in part due to an amazing Gragas ultimate from Score at a Dragon fight and a great teleport flank by Ssumday later on. But KOO Tigers recovered in game two, refusing to make the same mid game mistakes that allowed them to fall into KT Rolster’s pace.
Game three was a one-sided romp for the KOO Tigers. Then, in game four, KT Rolster built a huge 5.7k gold lead and watched it slip through their fingers thanks to impressive playmaking from KOO Tigers and a big mistake in the Baron pit by KT Rolster.
In many ways that was signature KOO Tigers—entering the mid game with a deficit but pulling it back with excellent shotcalling and team playmaking. In that regard, top laner and shot caller Smeb showed why he’s become a superstar in 2015.
Player of the Game: Song “Smeb” Kyung-ho, 18/8/18 KDA, 580.58 DPM
Entering the series, Ssumday was the top laner most hyped for his play. Lauded as perhaps the best in the world at the position, Ssumday was the consistent force for KT Rolster that would carry them to victory.
Then he met Smeb and his Fiora.
Using the Grand Duellist, Smeb wrecked Ssumday one-on-one through multiple matches in the series. The reworked Fiora offers skilled top laners plenty of tools to show their skill and turn what might be difficult matchups on their head. Her W, Riposte, allows her to turn enemy abilities back on them. Against Renekton, Smeb used it to flip the matchup by countering Renekton’s stun. Against Darius, he even flipped the powerful ultimate back at the dunkmaster himself.
Smeb’s play was beautiful and effective. His extreme aggression kept KT Rolster on the back foot, and it allowed him to post the highest damage in the series, topping even his mid laner and AD carry.
“At first in the juggernaut patch, I thought Darius was the best pick. But after playing Fiora in some games, I found that it better fit my own style,” Smeb said in his post-game interview. That was evident through the series, and in many ways it was a surprise that KT Rolster never took that potent weapon away from Smeb.
The Duelist’s Dance and Fiora’s combination of mobility and outplay potential surely seems to fit Smeb’s tendency towards aggression, and he used it to carry KOO Tigers to the semifinals.
There Smeb will meet another top laner in a similar vein: Heo “Huni” Seung-hoon of Fnatic. The Fnatic player showed off his Riven in the quarterfinals against EDward Gaming, a champion with similar outplay potential to Fiora. Both play a bloodthirsty style. But Smeb says that while Huni is confident, he’s inexperienced—so he’ll beat him.
If Smeb plays like he did today, then it’s hard to see Huni surviving.
Play of the Game: Ssumday’s dunk gets blocked
A highlight reel of Smeb’s solo kills against Ssumday would certainly make for exciting viewing, but sometimes it’s the plays that aren’t made are at least more entertaining, if not more impactful. In game three, with KOO Tigers beginning a comeback with Lee “KurO” Seo-haeng’s Viktor coming online, Ssumday found himself caught behind enemy lines and goes to make a play.
He readies the slam dunk, jumping into the air ready to crash down and shut down the mid laner. But he gets stopped in midair.
Gravity Well, the Dikembe Mutombo of the Summoner’s Rift.
No, no, no, Ssumday. Not in my house.
Next week the League of Legends World Championship moves to Brussels, Belgium for two semifinal swings pitting European teams against Korean squads.
On Saturday Korea’s top squad SK Telecom T1 will face off against Europe’s second seed Origen. Then KOO Tigers will battle Europe’s top squad Fnatic in a matchup that promises to provide an explosive series. Only four teams remain at Worlds, but the tournament is far from over.