The best League of Legends team in Korea didn’t need the best League of Legends player in the world to win the SBENU Champions Spring league.
SK Telecom T1 swept GE Tigers in the Champions finals this weekend, a disappointing loss for the Tigers team that sat atop the league standings through the entire season. Even worse, SK Telecom T1 did not even need Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok.
Through most of this season, SK Telecom has rotated two world-class mid laners. Faker, the 2013 World Champion largely considered the top player in the world, and Lee “Easyhoon” Ji-hoon, another top class player who favors more defensive champion picks than Faker.
The two have rotated throughout the season, with a common algorithm used to often decide who plays: Easyhoon starts the series, but if SK Telecom gets in trouble, Faker comes in to clean up the mess.
That strategy paid dividends in the semifinals against CJ Entus. After CJ took the first match, SK Telecom T1’s coach Kim “KkOma” Jeong-gyun turned to Faker. CJ took the next game, causing another substitution, with veteran jungler Bae “Bengi” Seong-ung coming in for Im “T0M” Jae-hyeon. Then the Faker-led SK team stormed back to win three in a row, including a ridiculous blind-pick fifth game where Faker’s LeBlanc ran roughshod, a 15/1/10 KDA line with his most-feared champion.
Against GE Tigers, though, SK Telecom kept their trump cards in their back pocket. The Easyhoon and T0M pairing won redemption for their previously poor playoff performances as SK Telecom T1 secured a fairly comfortable sweep.
That sends SK Telecom T1 to the Mid-Season Invitational, where they will square off against the best teams each region in the world has to offer. Team SoloMid, Fnatic, and EDward Gaming await Korea’s best in Tallahassee, FL beginning on Thursday.
Of course, the Riot Games hosted tournament throws a wrench into SK Telecom’s modus operandi so far this year—they only allow six players on a roster. That means SK Telecom T1 can’t bring two junglers and two mid laners even though they used seven different players in the five-game semifinal against CJ Entus. Coach KkOma had decided to leave the rookie T0M back home, bringing Bengi in the jungle and both his mid lane weapons Easyhoon and Faker to Tallahassee.
How KkOma plans to deploy his Korean champions remains to be seen. Fans and players alike are looking forward to the clash between Faker and the West’s best mid laner, Team SoloMid’s Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg.
“I’m looking forward to EDG and TSM the most,” Faker said in a post-game interview on Inven. “I think those two teams, the Chinese region and NA region has the highest quality out of all the foreign regions. Also, I’m personally excited because EDG and TSM both have strong mid laners. EDG has two Korean players. And I have never faced Bjergsen before so I would like to play him this time.”
Of course, if SK Telecom uses Faker and Easyhoon the way it has during the season, the 2013 World Champion will be kept safe in a glass case with a sign reading “break in case of emergency.” That may not endear them for fans hoping to watch Faker and Bjergsen duke it out in the mid lane, but look at it this way: If a team like Team SoloMid or EDward Gaming want to challenge Faker on the international stage, they certainly need to be able to beat Easyhoon. GE Tigers didn’t earn the right to face the best player in League of Legends this weekend. Whether the world’s best will will be one of the most exciting storylines this week.