The world’s best League of Legends team faced their first best-of-five test at this year’s World Championship, and they passed with flying colors.
Korea’s SK Telecom T1 have been marked as the favorites at the World Championship by fans and pundits alike. Titles in both the spring and summer splits in the LCK were interrupted only by a runners-up finish to EDward Gaming at the Mid-Season Invitation.
Led by star mid-laner Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok, SK Telecom T1 continued their dominant play during the group stage of the year’s biggest League of Legends event. Their perfect 6-0 record in groups included two impressive revenge victories over the same EDward Gaming team who had thwarted them in Tallahassee, Florida.
The team’s quarterfinal draw, ahq Esports Club, seemed on paper to be hardly a challenge. While ahq had managed to claim two regional titles in Taiwan just as SKT had in Korea, their qualifying for the knockout round seemed as much as the team could have hoped for. Upsetting the best team in the world would prove a bridge too far.
SK Telecom T1’s draft in game one reflected a desire to disrupt ahq mid-laner Liu “Westdoor” Shu-Wei. Westdoor’s comfort Fizz pick was banned out, and Faker settled on a Lulu pick to slow down Westdoor’s pool of assassin champions.
The game’s first significant exchange was a poor omen for ahq. After the two teams engaged in an increasingly common lane swap that saw either side looking to quickly take a first tower, SKT seemed to miscalculate the number of hits needed to drop the first tower belonging to ahq. This allowed the ahq bottom lane pairing of Chou “An” Chun-An and Kang “Albis” Chia-Wei to rely on the barely standing tower for some measure of protection.
But they became too comfortable under it, with SKT jungler Bae “Bengi” Seong-ung perfectly timing an entrance from the ahq jungle to coincide with the SKT bottom lane diving in. Just like that, the tower was knocked down and both An and Albis had been felled.
That sort of precise timing from SKT and propensity for errors from ahq defined the series, especially through the first two games. SKT won the first game by way of superior vision, positioning, and map control. While ahq was capable of engaging in team fights with some success, SKT was able to roll a baron buff and a single decisive victory into an ahq nexus for the first game.
The second game played out much the same way. While ahq was willing and able to engage, SKT’s coverage and control of the map was too much. An SKT gank smoothly transitioned into a baron, a nexus, and even a few fountain kills. Faker had likely his biggest presence of the series on Ryze as ahq again struggled to keep pace with the crisp decision-making and set-ups of their Korean opponents.
In the third and final game of the series, ahq was able to put up their best fight. Westdoor locked in pocket champion Fizz and proved a game opponent for Faker’s Kassadin, earning three kills to zero deaths in the mid-lane against the world’s most renowned player.
But the story was ultimately the same as it had been in prior games. While ahq was capable of hanging around through team fights and individual play, the highest pressure moments were those in which SKT’s superior play shone through.
With four dragons in the bank and an aspect buff on the table, ahq instead decided to make a play for baron. Once again, the baron pit proved inescapable for the Taiwanese challengers, as SK Telecom T1 neatly cleaned them up and pushed through to the nexus. It was a sudden end to what had seemed a back-and-forth game, but considering the way it all ended, it’s tough to say if the result was ever really in doubt.
Player of the Series: Bae “Bang” Jun-sik, 20/3/18 K/D/A
The easiest thing to do would be to acknowledge SK Telecom T1 team as a whole for what was a predictably fine performance in their quarterfinal series. But if you have to single out one player, you could certainly do worse than AD carry Bang.
Bang’s clean play at the World Championship continued in the knockout round. He suffered only one death in each game and consistently contributed both kills and assists, making individual plays and pumping in the necessary damage to keep his team in control.
Play of the Series: Another Baron fight for SKT
Victories in and around the baron pit were the theme of the day for SK Telecom, representative of their superior shotcalling and positioning. The biggest such fight was undoubtedly the final one, in which ahq decided to try for baron rather than a fifth dragon and SKT punished them badly for it before marching in on the nexus and ending both the game and the series.
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