The Mercedes-Benz arena this weekend will be aglow with talent assembled before thousands of fans who will be treated to the highest level of play that League of Legends has to offer. After the unfortunate team-kill during last year’s semifinals between Samsung White and Blue, we once more have the undeniable top two teams in the tournament playing in the Finals. SKT T1 managed to draw a relatively straightforward side of the bracket in order to reach the finals, while the Koo Tigers were forced to emerge over KT Rolster, Fnatic, and EDG in their half. In doing so, the Koo Tigers proved that their level of play was worthy of a spot in the World Championship Final. With the bestowing of the Summoner’s Cup onto one of these two sides in Berlin this weekend, here’s a comprehensive list of everything that you need to know about this World Championship Final, complete with story lines, head-to-head match-ups, pick/ban hypotheses, and finally a prediction for the Final.
Going into the matchup, it should be an alluring final with an even more compelling storyline. These two teams have been the most dominant Korean sides this season, with the then-GE Tigers coming out of nowhere to dominate the LCK Spring Split until the final against, of all teams, SKT T1. This changing of the guard marked yet another era of SKT T1 dominance over Korea. Although KT Rolster temporarily gained a foothold over the re-branded Koo Tigers as Piccaboo revolutionized the way KT used vision, Smeb and his Koo Tigers squashed this notion in the Worlds Quarterfinals. Not to mention, the formation of these teams adds another ripple to their storylines.
The Koo Tigers are the band of outcasts, thrown away from their former teams. Smeb was discarded from the Incredible Miracle organization, while Pray, Hojin, Gorilla, and Kuro were all no longer part of the new Najin team after the removal of sister teams. Bonding together as a group of friends, they decided to form their own team. Dominating the spring split, this gang of rejects introduced new strategies and picks, most notably the “Juggermaw” strategy that they developed. The Tigers are also responsible for the popularization of the mid Viktor pick, with it becoming nearly synonymous with Kuro.
On the other side of the rift, SKT T1 consists of six impact players (yes, Easyhoon counts), four of which were part of SKT T1 S, the lesser of SKT’s two sister teams last year. In the 2014 Summer Split, SKT T1 S, much to the anguish of fans, only was able to master one style of play, using Easyhoon’s Ziggs to drag games out for what seemed like an eternity. Marin, who was heralded as the next great Korean top lane talent, never even scratched at his potential. Although they ended up finishing 4th in the summer split, their placement was largely due to a lucky bracket draw. This season, they kept nearly the same roster, bringing over Bengi and Faker from their other team and adding T0M as a sub. The infusion of Faker’s aggression and Bengi’s intelligent jungle pathing took pressure away from the rest of the team, allowing for them to develop as players and become major threats on the SKT T1 lineup.
Head-to-head Positional Comparison
These two teams have savvy players littering their lineups, but forced to compare the teams, here is the rundown between the two teams, with further explanation for each match-up underneath.
Marin vs. Smeb
We begin with the hardest match-up to discern between the two sides. Both Marin and Smeb have had stellar performances throughout the regular season and Worlds. I nearly assigned them “even” in the chart, but looking at laning phase, Smeb is simply the best. In an article I published earlier this week, we see that Smeb exerts incredible early game dominance over his lane opponents. Nearly all of his gold advantages that he builds in lane comes from his CS leads. Stamping his authority on his lane opponent in a 1v1, Smeb creates advantages though his intelligence rather than ability to outplay, managing to think thirty seconds ahead of his opponent. On the other hand, Marin has been brute in teamfights, dishing out massive amounts of damage. However, compelled to pick between the two, Smeb’s individual play ever so slightly eclipses that of Marin, although well-founded arguments could be made favoring Marin. Advantage Smeb.
Bengi vs. Hojin
Hojin, considered the weak link on the Koo Tigers, has actually performed admirably, gathering numerous statistics similar to Bengi. He has also been an active presence on the rift, securing the safety of his laners while preparing for his opponent’s next move.
However, Bengi, with the fall of Clearlove and Kakao, has been the top performing jungler at this Worlds tournament. His ability to roam effectively and invade the enemy jungle with early deep wards has played dividends for SKT T1’s macro-level play, enabling the team to jump out to massive early game advantages. Advantage Bengi.
Faker vs. Kuro
You know, you really have to feel bad for Kuro. Dealing with the fall from grace that the Tigers endured during the LCK Summer split, the embattled Kuro bore his fair share of criticism. Yet, finally as he and the Koo Tigers come so close to finally winning a tournament, he has to face the best League of Legends player of all time. Faker, giving one relentless performance after another this season, has not been merciful in lane, picking up more and more solo kills as time has progressed. Rarely does a game go by where faker fails to stun fans with his pure brilliance. Faker’s flashing of Nagne’s Cassiopia ult under turret in the LCK Summer Finals has to be up there as the play of the year. He did so on Riven, a champion that he hadn’t played competitively in the entire 29 game summer split. Currently, in spite of his aggressive play style, Faker is spotting a 7.3 KDA. Enjoy bold statements? If Faker wins this World Championship, Faker will be the single greatest eSport athlete ever. Advantage Faker.
Bang vs. Pray
Had this evaluation of the two been around the end of the LCK Spring Split, Pray would absolutely be favored in this matchup. His terrorization of opponents on Kog’maw was well documented, carrying the Koo Tigers. However, Bang began to blossom in the LCK Summer Split. Bang quietly has become the most domineering Kalista player in the world, being undefeated on her while holding a jaw-dropping 17.0 KDA. Earlier in Worlds, Bang gained recognition for holding otherworldly KDA numbers. While it isn’t upwards of 60 now, he still holds the top spot with a 19.9 KDA. Simply put, bang has been absolutely terrorizing bot lanes all tournament long. Advantage Bang.
Wolf vs. Gorilla
When I look back on the largest atrocities committed in my lifetime, just after George Lucas’ creation of Jar Jar Binks is lolesports’ failure to place Gorilla on their “Top 20 Players at Worlds” list. Not enough can be said about his integral role in Koo’s success this season. The heart and soul of this Koo Tigers team, Gorilla has been making plays this entire season, often saving his teammates from certain death at the last second. Turning teamfight after teamfight around, his stellar performance has transcended over seven different champions this Worlds already, and he has yet to play Braum or pull out his pocket Annie pick. Most notably is his warding, as the placement of his wards don’t just grant his team vision, but rather mark territory on the map as their own. Wolf, while a decent support, is prone to being caught out from time to time, and is widely regarded as the weak link on SKT T1. Advantage Gorilla.
Easyhoon vs. Wisdom
Comparing the two subs between their teams, we see a deep chasm between both the usage and quality of these players. Wisdom has yet to play a game at Worlds, and really holds no role on the Koo Tigers other than to jump in from Hojin if he suffers a heart attack or some other disaster. Meanwhile, Easyhoon is the single greatest strategical advantage that any League of Legends team in the world has. A top five midlaner in the world, Easyhoon offers a both a different playstyle and champion pool in comparison to Faker, forcing teams to prepare against him differently. Demonstrated against Origen in the Worlds Semifinals, Easyhoon and Faker can be used in a manner similar to relief pitching in baseball. After one of the two mid laners plays for a certain length of time, they pull him and put in the other, forcing the opposing team to adjust and learn on the fly how to beat the counterpart. Have I mentioned that Easyhoon is the best Azir player in the world? Advantage Easyhoon.
Kkoma vs. NoFe
If the substitute player comparison wasn’t enough of a mismatch, get ready. While NoFe has done an admirable job in inventing new playstyles and picks for the Koo Tigers, Kkoma is simply the best coach in out there. At the end of 2012 Kkoma took the reins of the SKT organization, bringing his team unparalleled success during his time at the helm. Through careful theory crafting, Kkoma’s teams have constantly developed and mastered unique macro play styles that other teams either find themselves defeated by or used by themselves. Furthermore, he is adored and beloved by his players. After their departure from the SKT T1 organization, Kkoma stayed in close contact with both Piglet and Impact, supporting them in their voyage to the NA LCS. Simply put, Kkoma is the ultimate authority on coaching in League of Legends. Advantage Kkoma.
Looking at the pick/ban phase, there’s one thing we know: red side will likely be banning Lulu, Gangplank, and Tahm Kench away every game. Since Gragas has been disabled, an Elise ban could be likely as well by either side. Additionally, both junglers have five victories on her this tournament, meaning that should she get through the ban phase, she’ll almost be guaranteed to be picked up by blue side, unless one of Lulu, Gangplank, or Tahm Kench get through too.
One interesting pick in this series could be Zac, or as I affectionately refer to him, “Flubber on ‘roids.” Hojin was a monster on the champion in the semifinal against Fnatic, setting the table for his team beautifully with his engages and crowd control abilities. Netting a 7.75 KDA on Zac, SKT T1 should heavily consider banning him out. Hojin has a much more pedestrian 3-3 record on champions other than Elise and Zac, compared to his 7-0 record on the two. Don’t be too surprised if SKT T1 ends up banning Zac to expose the Koo Tiger’s weakest link.
Both Marin and Smeb have performed admirably on Fiora. Being such a hot pick for the two of them, look to see a high priority placed on her. However, it could end up being the case that the Koo Tigers simply ban her away. During Worlds, Smeb has shown to have the larger champion pool of the two, playing six different top lane champions to Marin’s four. One interesting blue side strategy from the Tigers would be to ban out the other three champions and pick Fiora first rotation if SKT T1 doesn’t ban her. Regardless, if SKT bans Fiora, the Koo Tigers could potentially pick Lulu or Gangplank right away. While it is unlikely that, in such a scenario, both Lulu and Gangplank would also be banned away, Koo would be able to first pick Tahm Kench if that happens while still forcing Marin onto a new champion. It’s only a faint possibility, but nevertheless an interesting scenario.
The major wild card will be how SKT decides to use Easyhoon, if at all. If he plays, Koo must ban Azir away on red side, or first pick it if blue. It is such a unique threat, and no other player on either team is as widely regarded for their play on one single individual champion like how Easyhoon is. In addition, there’s the large possibility that, by playing Easyhoon for the first two games of the semifinals against Origen, that SKT T1 was hiding picks and strategies. This all equates to a tall order for predicting what SKT T1 will end up doing in pick/ban, as they have so many elements of surprise on their side.
Maybe you’ve skipped all the way down to the bottom of the article just to see what my prediction is, and if so, you’ve made it. SKT T1 will win the World Championship Final by a score of 3-1. Smeb will do his best carrying act and bring the Koo Tigers to victory in game two, but as soon as SKT T1 win for the second time, there will be no way for the Koo Tigers to prevent it from happening again. Via Easyhoon and the surprises that I assume SKT T1 will have prepared for the finals, they have the ability to throw something completely different at the Koo Tigers in any elimination game in the match. When all is said and done, SKT T1 will win the World Championship, and Faker will be named the tournament’s MVP.
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Photo credit to: lolesports, the ongamers.net Youtube channel, inven.co.kr, Koo tigers twitter account
Statistical credit to: oracleselixer.com, lol.gamepedia.com, lolesports