Entering the semifinals of the Riot World Championships, the Star Horn Royal Club hype train was losing members fast. Chinese team OMG drove a shiny new model straight through NaJin White Shield in the quarterfinals, and bandwagoners were switching cars fast.
Royal Club, on the other hand, crashed headfirst into Edward Gaming. When they were up 2-0 against China’s top seed, it looked like Royal Club would ride into the semifinals with ease. But Edward Gaming exposed some of Royal Club’s weaknesses, showing the potential for them to fail.
When OMG destroyed NaJin White Shield in three straight games, it was the first time a team outside Korea has beaten a Korean squad in a best-of-five series this year. That’s the kind of win that has fans thinking the impossible—could a team actually topple Korea for the World title?
It’s still a possibility. At least if you count a team with two Koreans on it as Chinese. If a Chinese team does do it this year, it will be Star Horn Royal Club.
Royal Club beat OMG in a close 3-2 series, the two teams trading blows in the most explosive series of the tournament.
Royal Club’s superstar marksman, Jian “Uzi” Zihao, became the first player to ever reach two World finals in League of Legends. He’s done it with four different players each time, the only common member between this year’s edition of Royal Club and the one that lost to SK Telecom T1 last year. But the impressive thing about the semifinal match wasn’t Jian’s play. It was the fact that the team around him, the team he had to carry on his back at times against Edward Gaming, stepped up to get him to that record-breaking second final.
The ecstatic Jian had a huge grin plastered across his face as sideline reporter Eefje “Sjokz” Depoortere interview him in front of the Summoner’s Cup after the match. “I’m very very happy right now,” he said. Jian thanked his teammates “very very much” for making his second World finals a reality. “What we can trust, what we can rely on is a five-person team,” he continued. “Only with that we can win.”
Though it helps when you’ve got some other superstar talent in your back pocket, like jungler Choi “inSec” In-seok.
“We believe inSec can carry our whole team so we trust him,” Jian said. “With his champion picks we trust him a lot.”
In game three, Choi brought out Fiddlesticks as part of a team fighting composition. While it didn’t work early, it turned out to be a huge boon late in the game when Royal Club turned around the match.
The fifth game, a decisive match where one mistake could spell disaster for either team, saw Choi pull out a champion who had not appeared at Worlds: Pantheon. The Artisan of War proved the perfect pick as Choi nailed down first blood and never looked back. OMG was never safe with the threat of Pantheon jumping into their back line. Royal Club snowballed to the biggest lead by any team in the entire tournament. Pantheon? A 10/3/10 KDA line, spearheading the Royal attack.
But it wasn’t an easy road. OMG actually took the first game in decisive fashion, exposing all the problems analysts harped on before the game.
OMG abused their skill advantage in the solo lanes to allow the best jungler in China to pressure the bottom lane, preventing Jian from very coming online with the late-game oriented Tristana. Yin “Loveling” Le’s Kha’Zix was a nightmare for Royal Club, posting an 8/0/4 KDA while neutering Royal Club’s bottom lane. OMG also picked Lucian for Guo “San” Jun-Liang, giving him a powerful champion in the early and mid game, allowing him to stand up to Uzi’s strength in lane. It was an impeccable strategy.
But Royal Club adjusted in game two. They picked Lucian and Kha’Zix for themselves, while playing a safer Dr. Mundo in the top lane. Those moves opened the game up for their star, Jian, to impact the match in every stage of the game, while mitigating the options of their foe. That ability to adjust proved key to Royal Club’s victory. It also helped that they got top-level performance from players like Lei “Corn” Wen.
Hailed as a strong Chinese mid laner, Lei’s tournament thus far was lackluster. But today he held up against OMG’s Yu “Cool” Jia-Jun, something NaJin White Shield’s Yu “Ggoong” Byeong-jun cannot claim. In game three, OMG found themselves down over ten thousand gold, but the team managed to come back thanks to a strong team fighting composition and Lei’s solid Orianna play, posting a 6/2/11 KDA in the game.
It was a thrilling match, and could easily have gone either way. Considering OMG tossed away that massive game three lead, they could easily have been the ones holding China’s hope in the World final. But it was Royal Club that won the day. This time they did so not only thanks to Jian’s superstar play—and his play was certainly superb—but also due to the combined contribution of his teammates.
Whether that will be enough against Samsung Galaxy White in Seoul next week is another matter. In some ways, it will be a clash between similar teams: both White and Royal Club favor explosive early games, but often struggle with their aggressive tendencies late. But can Royal Club really stand up to the team with the greatest array of talent in Korea? Jian may need to have his backpack ready once again, but if today was any indication, at least the load will be lighter than it was earlier in the tournament.