Everyone that watched Worlds 2017 remembers the championship-winning play.
It was when Samsung ADC Park “Ruler” Jae-hyuk flashed forward onto SKT mid laner Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok, rooting the SKT star and eliminating a major portion of SKT’s damage. Already down 0-2, SKT had no answer for the ensuing Samsung push that saw their final Nexus fall. It was the culmination of a shocking 3-0 sweep from Samsung.
In reality, that play was set up before the series even started. Samsung came in with a plan of how to attack SKT’s side lanes, control the jungle, and make Faker irrelevant. They knew they had the talent to win after coming within a game of winning it all last year. They just had to execute.
And they did. Here are the five plays that won Worlds.
5) Controlling the jungle, part one
One of Samsung’s heroes this year was jungler Kang “Ambition” Chan-yong. After getting married a few months ago, some thought he might be moving on from professional play. Instead, he’s looked reinvigorated. Ambition’s aggressive play and pathing caught SKT off guard and set the tone for the entire series.
There’s not much to see in this first play. There usually isn’t when the topic is jungle pathing. First, Samsung support Jo “CoreJJ” Yong-in spotted SKT jungler Han “Peanut” Wang-ho invading Krugs, which allowed Ambition to do the same. This gave Ambition a subtle tempo advantage on Zac, a jungler who is notably weak in the early game.
Then, SKT disrespected where Ambition could be by chasing Samsung mid laner Lee “Crown” Min-ho into the river. They should have known that Ambition and Crown had vision towards top side. Faker took too much damage from Crown’s Voidlings, and didn’t respect Ambition’s easy counter-gank angle. He only blew heal to get out of the situation, but that missing heal would be crucial in the next few minutes.
4) Controlling the jungle, part 2
Peanut recovered somewhat from the weak early game to spot out Ambition invading his red side jungle. After seeing him earlier, it should have been easy for SKT to count Ambition’s CS totals and realize that his top side jungle was clear. The only play Ambition had was to go to the bottom side of the map.
But SKT simply did not respect how aggressive Ambition would be in the early game. ADC Bae “Bang” Jun-sik and support Lee “Wolf” Jae-wan were pushed up way too far without the proper wards. Zac is notoriously hard to ward against because of his ridiculously long engage distance. But that’s why you need to spot him coming from far away. A ward in the tribush is not enough in that situation.
To make things worse, Faker took a bad trade in the mid lane. Without heal, he felt forced to burn flash. Losing flashes on their two most important members at that point in the game sunk SKT. They drafted a snowball team composition that required them to win fast. Without those flashes, they lost pressure, rendering their early-game composition ineffective. Samsung punished them heavily, nearly taking a perfect game.
An entire game at Worlds lost for want of a few early Summoner Spells.
3) Oh Bang, where art thou?
Bang had one of the worst series of his life against Samsung. In the first two games, SKT gave him Varus for build flexibility and lane control. But despite early CS leads, he wasn’t able to actually move the lane much in his favor.
Then, pressing for teamfights, Bang made some horrendous mistakes. At his best, Bang is a player who goes in aggressively with mobile champions like Ezreal and Tristana. But when he is not afforded that mobility, things get ugly in a hurry. SKT’s jungle pressure actually netted them a lead in the second game of the series. But a crucial mistake by Bang threw it all away.
This was a poorly conceived play from the start. Similar to Samsung in the first game, SKT wanted to punish Ambition for not having flash. The difference was that Samsung had four members in the area and priority in the duo lane. Once top laner Lee “CuVee” Seong-jin started his teleport, Bang should have looked to disengage. Malzahar and Janna were both nearby with ults at the ready. It was almost impossible for Bang to kill anyone.
But Bang decided to flash into the dragon pit, a position that cut him off from the rest of his team. CuVee zoned out everyone else, the Janna and Malzahar ults came in big, and SKT were routed, handing control back to Samsung.
It cannot be emphasized enough that this was a fight SKT did not need. There were no objectives up. Even if they killed Ambition and lost nobody, it would not have been worth Bang’s flash. It was a bad play from start to finish, indicative of the night SKT had.
2) Ruler, popping off
The throw would be complete on another fight near the dragon. Once again, this was a fight SKT did not need. They had already finished the dragon, but knowing that Ruler was flash-less, they tried to kill Xayah.
But none of their initiation hit the Samsung ADC. They didn’t even force him to burn his ult. Once the Gragas barrel missed, they should have retreated through their own jungle. Instead, SKT stuck around and got popped. That meant Baron for Samsung, and that was the game.
1) SKT Baron throw
Few remember this because SKT won the series in five games, but last year’s World Championship almost turned on a Baron throw. SKT had steamrolled Samsung for two games and had an easy Baron in the third that they could have used to close. But they threw and Samsung almost pulled off the impossible.
Now on the losing side of the series, SKT again had an easy Baron, this time to turn the tide. And again they failed to execute. Instead of burning Baron and zoning off Samsung with Leona, Tristana, and Gragas ults, SKT turned to fight in a choke point, exactly where Samsung wanted them.
Samsung fought beautifully in that narrow jungle corridor, and a near-Ace netted them the Baron. It was a tremendous mistake from SKT, shocking for a team that’s made its name around late-game objective fights.
We love to remember the big fights, the flashy outplays, and the amazing moments that make champions. But it should not be lost that Samsung won this series because of superior team play. They had a better sense for how to play the map, how to coordinate their team composition, and how to execute teamfights. In many ways, they figured out how to play like peak SKT.
It’s fitting that the only team that has figured out SKT’s secrets could finally beat them at Worlds.