SK Telecom’s Swan Song
Recently, E-Sports journalist Thorin and OGN English Caster MonteCristo released a comprehensive list of the greatest games of 2014. The article can be found here. Highly recommended, they concluded that the greatest games played took place, of course, in South Korea. One omission however was the 3rd game of the LoL Masters final, which in my opinion deserves serious consideration to be in contention for the best game played in 2014.
Link to the game:
The Context of the Game.
A Long History
SKT T1 #2 Faker looking like a cold-blooded killer in his first match of Champions Spring
SK Telecom vs Samsung Ozone is indisputably the greatest rivalry of all time in professional League of Legends. It all began in OGN Spring 2013. The atmosphere of the time was that Korean LoL was still under the thumb of the dominant CJ Entus teams of Frost and Blaze, with their only competition coming from the previous season champions Najin Sword and potentially the rising talent of the KT Bullets.
But they were all to be deceived. For whispers of a new force in Korean LoL rippled through the various grape-vines of social media: The most dominant organisation in Starcraft Brood War, SK Telecom T1, were to aquire a roster of solo-queue superstars and challenge the kings of old. Most notable of all was to be a player by the name of Faker. With reactions of lightning and a champion pool like no other, many wondered if it was an alternate account of one of the established players as he rocketed atop the ladder, but no. Faker had come.
MVP Ozone’s new line-up: Mata, imp, DanDy, dade, Homme
As if guided by the divine, a nemesis to them was brewing. In Champions Winter, MVP White had a decent showing, making the ro8, but had been soundly destroyed by Najin Sword 3-0, with MakNooN delivering the ultimate smack-down onto ageing top-laner Homme. But this was not to be the story of MVP. Picking up AD mid maestro dade (formerly of the old CJ Entus line-up) as well as the red-hot rookie of Mata in the support position, Ozone now had a star-studded roster that could take down the world.
After touching gloves in the group stages, with Ozone delivering a 2-0 sweep thanks to some god-like Tristana play from imp, these two teams engaged in their first intense brawl in the semi-final. Splitting 1-1, the series looked to be on a knife’s edge, but dade and imp gritted their teeth, eyes glowing red, as they delivered a fatal one-two punch, putting up monster scores on Ryze and Caitlyn to pummel SKT into the ground, sending them flying into the final. SK Telecom came into the set as favourites but left it stunned into silence. They had been denied their chance to walk the royal road and had to attend the final as spectators, squirming in their seats as they watched Ozone storm to a 3-0 victory over CJ Blaze to seize glory in Champions Spring.
MVP Ozone Homme after their upset win against SK Telecom T1 #2 in Champions Spring Ro4
SK Telecom were down, but they were certainly not out. They had a special type of magic that could not be so easily broken, and after exploding into Champions Summer they went undefeated 9-0 before they ultimately met Ozone in the semi-final once more. This time they were truly hungry. Dropping a map to dade’s signature Zed plays, a beautiful Condemn from Piglet onto imp turned a fight into SKT’s favour as they steamrolled through game 2. The momentum was theirs as they feasted on their arch-rival’s blood in game 3 with a fantastic fast-push composition with mid Ezreal and there was nothing Ozone could do has they quivered in fear, losing one final game to Faker and his army. Tasting the bitterness of defeat, Ozone learned what it was like when the shoe was on the other foot as SK Telecom came back from an 0-2 deficit in the final to win Champions Summer in truly remarkable fashion.
SKT T1 Piglet after their semi-final win over MVP Ozone in Champions Summer
A new age of Korean LoL had dawned, and it was all about SK Telecom. Ripping through the Season 3 World Championship, they were the greatest team ever to grace the world of LoL and sat atop their mighty throne. Ozone on the other hand, were in the deepest, darkest slump of their lives as the meta was unkind to poor dade, once a deity in the mid-lane, he was now washed-up – struggling to adapt to the champions of the time and unable to perform where it mattered.
Times could not be anymore sweet for SK Telecom in Champions Winter, as a lucky bracket draw from Ozone meant it was the final that they could fully embarrass their rivals. On a huge stage in front of a massive crowd, Faker and his boys styled on the slumping Samsung, completely dominating them in game 1, snowballing every single lane and going up 8-1 in kills in the first 15 minutes. SK Telecom had Ozone’s head in a guillotine and with another two brutal displays of destruction, they cleanly dispatched dade and company to claim Champions Winter for a perfect season.
Samsung Ozone DanDy after getting brutally crushed in game 1 of the Champions Winter final
Something in Ozone needed to change. Swapping in PawN from their sister team, Samsung Blue, Ozone were now forced to adjust the balance of play-makers and role-players: PawN and Looper were to provide peel and utility, particularly through Looper’s use of the Teleport summoner spell which caught their enemies blindsided, finding themselves suddenly outnumbered as they fell like lambs to the slaughter. Mata, DanDy and imp would provide more than enough carry potential and add the elusive “X-Factor” of being able to have that something special that secured victory in high-pressure situations.
It would be fitting then, that in Champions Spring their first opponent in the bracket stage would of course be SK Telecom T1 K. The seeds of SKTs downfall had already been sewn in the group stage thanks to a shaky 1-1 with their sister team, SKT T1 S, as well as being brutally destroyed by the KT Arrows 2-0. K were served on a plate for Ozone and by god did they feast. A Zilean pick from Faker came out of nowhere to hand off the first map to K, but a simple Zilean ban and Ozone flexed their muscles, mercilessly destroying their victims in the rest of the series to eliminate K from the tournament to give them their worst placing ever. Displaying such dominance for so long it wasn’t a matter of if SKT T1 K would start to slump, it was about when. And who better to deliver this crushing defeat than Ozone, the only team in history to hold a winning record over Korean LoL’s first ever true bonjwa.
imp and Mata after winning 3-1 over SKT T1 K in Champions Spring 2014 Ro8
8 days later In the LoL Masters round-robin stage, SKT and Samsung split 1-1, with Blue beating K but a miraculous upset from S secured a victory over Ozone. With a masters match forced, Samsung simply fielded Ozone while SKT sent out the S bottom lane of Bang and Wolf with the remaining members of K, and managed to seize the game and the series. Not exactly a bad sign for SKT, but in terms of the K vs Ozone rivalry it just wasn’t enough. Now was the time of the Samsungs and SKT just had to deal with it.
A fortnight ahead and SKT were off to Paris for the All-Star Invitational. Going undefeated at this tournament, many fans of SKT were hopeful for a resurgence: hopeful SKT would return to Korea and deliver the same calibre of results they had shown abroad. And guess who was waiting for them to challenge this notion? Samsung.
Up until this point, K had played Ozone the most frequently in their history, and likewise Ozone had played K the most, with the overall record between the two teams being 9-6 to Ozone in matches, and 2-2 in best-of-five series. With the ADCs from each side also openly admitting bitter resentment of each other, the history and context could not be more delicious.
Samsung Ozone imp on Piglet’s laning phase in the Champions Winter final
K’s Last Stand
The epic Masters Final intro
The LoL Masters final was to be the stage in which this captivating storyline recorded another chapter. In a best-of-five series, each organisation had to send out each of their sister teams twice, with the 5th game being a Master’s match, should it come to that. With S getting destroyed by Ozone in game 1, and K losing narrowly to Blue in game 2, the pressure was on for K to harness their past glory and overcome their greatest opponent. Losing game 3 to Ozone would see SKT get clean swept by Samsung, but a victory would grant the SK Telecom organisation much needed respite, and keep the dream alive for a victory against seemingly impossible odds.
What was special about this game was that not in over three-quarters of a year had we seen these two teams face each other in anywhere near competitive form. The Winter and Spring series had been forgone conclusions thanks to the fluctuating conditions of both sides, but now finally, after all this time, the fans got given what they most desired: A truly competitive match between Korean LoL’s behemoths.
The Course of the Game
Picks & Bans
What should immediately spring out about the picks and bans is how diametrically opposed these team compositions are. When competition in any form truly reaches its peak, it is often due to opponents having markedly different goals they are trying to achieve, and about whether they can accomplish them while simultaneously preventing their enemies from achieving theirs.
On SK Telecom’s side, stalling the game with Ziggs should allow Ryze to scale into the late game, and with a second life thanks to Chronoshift from PoohManDu’s Zilean, a powerful Impact has every ability to wreak havoc. While the pick potential from a sped-up Twitch is available for SKT, it pales in comparison to the choreographed dance Samsung Ozone can create through picks – if Twisted fate can catch someone with a Gold Card then it will certainly spell doom for the unlucky recipient, with Elise and Morgana being able to easily follow up with chained crowd-control from Cocoon and Dark Binding. Once Twisted Fate hits level 6, Ozone are sure to be in a monstrous power spike. Picks are created off the back of success through vision control, and DanDy and Mata were masters of this craft – SKT would require nothing short of a miracle to survive this mid-game onslaught, but if they can just hold out, there is hope for them yet.
A Game to Remember
Level 1 and SK Telecom leapt into action with an invade onto Ozone’s blue – trading 2 flashes for 1 but securing the buff. Taking a leaf out of their sister team’s book, Ozone showed nothing short of strategical genius in the early game; Sending imp and Mata to the top lane, DanDy answered with a blue buff steal of his own, but the real mastermind was Looper: Thanks to the poor kill potential from Zilean, he was able to accrue what gold and experience he could in the 2v1 at bottom lane while Impact fell further and further behind, clearing the jungle at a snail’s pace on Ryze.
PawN shows off his dodging skills while DanDy comes in for the counter-gank
Ozone now flexed their mechanical muscles as PawN popped Ghost, perfectly juking Bengi’s Jarvan EQ combo before a god-like countergank from DanDy and a great Teleport from Looper allowed Ozone to rampage through SKT’s jungle, ultimately trading 2 for 1 in kills with Looper getting a double. A catch onto Bengi in his jungle and Looper was now 3 kills and 2 levels up on Impact and proceeded to crush him into the ground, gaining a significant cs lead and by 13 minutes, he already had a Banshee’s Veil.
Diving forward aggressively, Ozone tried to brute force a pick onto Faker, but the rest of SKT came charging through, turning the dive and answering with 3 kills in return. Samsung Ozone continued to play out their composition beautifully though, creating a pick onto Piglet with TF ult and picking up dragon. This is what Ozone needed to do, but this was SKT T1 K they were facing – they wanted more.
The crazy fight at mid. A picture paints a thousand words, and this fantastic video from OGN Global does it better than I ever could.
What happened next was one of the most astounding teamfights of all time. Piglet, sped up by Zilean, charged toward DanDy’s Elise while Impact tried to wrap around with Teleport to cut off his escape. Reading the situation perfectly, DanDy Rappelled to the ward Impact was teleporting too, and with a clutch port from PawN, Impact was forced to run away. With all of SKT grouped together, Mata seized the initiative as he lunged forward like a rabid dog – flashing into the middle of the enemy he had all 5 members trapped in his tethers, forcing SKT to turn onto him and focus him down to start a cataclysmic fight. Piglet went down just as Chrono Shift had worn off, but he had slaughtered 2 members of Ozone in the process as both sides suffered heavy casualties. In the most perfect, haunting show of symbolism, the two players that remained were Faker and imp – the players that had dominated as the stars of their team in the first spring season, a beautiful homage to times long forgotten as they limped away with minuscule hp remaining.
“Wow Chobra, these games are really delivering tonight in terms of entertainment”
– English caster MonteCristo after Mata’s five-man tether
Looper continued to be absolutely massive in a subsequent fight near SKT’s red, where a great Dragon’s Descent meant the fight went comfortably 2-1 in Ozone’s favour, and they did not stop there: creating plays and picks left, right and centre, Ozone were now in a commanding 8k gold lead.
Most matches between most teams in most circumstances would see mindless wave-clear from Ziggs delay the game for eternity before inevitably conceding defeat, but this wasn’t a normal match and these certainly weren’t normal teams. This was SK Telecom vs Samsung Ozone and like a captain with his ship, if Faker was to go down he would do so with valour and honour. SKT’s method of mounting a comeback was through madness as these two teams bashed heads repeatedly with chaos all over the map. Faker made play after play, landing perfect Mega Inferno Bombs and hitting every single Q onto key targets meant two consecutive fights went 3-2 to SKT. Faker and Bengi charged up mid-lane to take the tier 2 tower, but Mata and DanDy would not sit idly by. Launching themselves onto their enemies, Bengi went down in a flash – but Faker was able to burst down Mata before DanDy took his life with a nice Cocoon. The game had transformed into a total bloodbath, the kill score 18-21 at 34 minutes and the action did not cease there as another fight at baron went 4-1 to Ozone, with imp barely living through a Time Bomb from PoohManDu.
At Baron once more, Ozone were seething with the thought of SK Telecom playing them close as they viciously dove into a team fight that sent their opponents reeling – acing them and only losing DanDy, with PawN having perfect positioning and Gold Card timing allowing him to pick up a Quadra Kill to catapult Ozone into a mind-blowingly vast 11k gold lead as they picked up the mid inhibitor.
PoohManDu’s ultimate just barely comes up in time to save his life and buy time for Faker to clean up and save the nexus
Now, after fighting for vision control at baron, a fantastic ultimate from PawN lead to the merciless annihilation of 3 SKT members in their base as Ozone looked to charge through to a victory, but Impact was still alive and this time he finally had items as he received the Chrono Shift, allowing him to rip through DanDy, imp and PawN before finally succumbing to the power of Looper. Desperately attacking the Nexus, Looper was peppered over and over by the bombs of PoohManDu, meaning the Nexus just barely lived before Faker respawned to finish off Looper and secure a reverse ace for SKT.
This game had become the most epic, bloody game in the history of their rivalry as SKT clung to life, taking baron in the short window of time they had, with Ozone forced to look on bitterly from a grey screen. They were still ridiculously ahead however, and with the backdoor potential from a Lich Bane Twisted Fate, as well as the pick potential from Elise, Morgana and TF, SKT could not leave their base. With nothing better to do, Faker attempted to take the wolf camp over the wall with Bouncing Bombs in a hilarious sequence that did nothing but make this game even more memorable.
Faker engages in an intense duel with the daddy wolf
With Baron worn off and down 16k gold, SKT had fought bravely, but the clock ticking over to 50 minutes marked the beginning of the end, with great positioning from imp being Samsung Ozone’s coup de grâce, winning one final teamfight 5-2 to ultimately seize the game and the tournament, dripping with sweat and glowing with the overwhelming feeling of victory.
Consequences and Significance
This game was phenomenal not only because it was crucial to Samsung’s victory in Masters, it was not just because it was so strategically deep with the contrasting compositions, it was not just because of its incredible entertainment value with awe-inspiring plays and gut-wrenching fights, it was not just the roller coaster of emotions for SKT, it was not just because of Faker’s hilarious game of fetch with the wolf – this game symbolised the end of the greatest story ever told in competitive League of Legends. It was one final goodbye to a year of the most exciting, bitter rivalry Korean LoL had ever seen – the last game these two legends had fought each other close: In the Champions Summer quarter-final and the 2nd place decider, SKT were crushed by Ozone 3-1 and 3-0 respectively as Ozone started to peak before their dominating worlds run, while SKT didn’t even qualify. Now with both teams forever disbanded, we can always look back on this day as one of the great games in both teams history. One last swan song for a story that will forever shine in Korean e-sports history, the greatest tapestry on earth.
SK Telecom T1 – Season 3 World Champions
Samsung White – Season 4 World Champions