Last year, when the iconic red and black jerseys of SK Telecom T1 weren’t at the World Championship, it almost felt wrong. Their name was almost synonymous with the Summoner’s Cup after their run of supremacy through 2015 and 2016, back when the LCK was on top of the League of Legends world.
But the world has changed since the days of straight Korean domination over the pro League scene. In 2018, Korea failed to win the World Championship for the first time in six years, and with that, many believed that Korea’s reign might have ended.
In their place, multiple new contenders rose, many from Europe. In fact, all three of the LEC’s representatives have qualified for the knockout stage at Worlds 2019—one of which was Splyce.
Splyce has been a staple organization in the European League scene since 2015, but this was the first time the team qualified for Worlds. With a combination of young, hungry players and an experienced veteran in the top lane, the snakes have earned their spot among the eight best teams in the world.
And yet, Splyce—and the rest of the world—can’t help but worry about this coming weekend. The LCK destroyed the competition, with each Korean team finishing on top of their respective group. And a giant has woken up.
SKT were placed in the supposed Group of Death this year, against teams like Fnatic and Royal Never Give Up. They ended up only dropping one game throughout the group stage. It feels like SKT’s inevitable championship is coming, and yet they haven’t even played the first quarterfinals match of Worlds.
So the question remains—is there a team that can stop Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok and this star-studded roster in a best-of-five? Will we be singing songs of the unlikely heroes of Splyce? Or will the horns of victory echo across the Spanish sky for SKT?
The ultimate underdogs
When Splyce were drawn into their quarterfinals match with SKT, everyone was probably thinking the same thing: “3-0 or 3-1, if these guys get lucky.” And it was a reasonable expectation.
Splyce played in arguably the easiest group at Worlds 2019, and they’re decidedly the weakest representative from Europe at the tournament. Meanwhile, SKT have had an impressive performance thus far, with each player firing on all cylinders.
It’s easy to assume that SKT win this, but don’t underestimate the power that Splyce can bring—as long as they perform at their peak. Splyce’s early struggles during the group stage highlighted some of their faults, but instead of crumbling under the pressure, they buckled down and fixed their issues.
Variety is the key to victory
There really is a chance that Splyce can pull off some miracle victories. How? By harnessing their inner 2017 Misfits Gaming.
At Worlds 2017, Misfits almost pulled off a monumental upset in their quarterfinal matchup against SKT. The reason why? They threw a little bit of chaos into the mix with some off-meta champion picks, like Blitzcrank and Leona support.
Although Blitz and Leona are pretty standard picks in today’s meta, Splyce still need to get crazy with their drafts to catch SKT off-guard. If they try to go toe-to-toe against this Korean juggernaut, they’ll get absolutely run over. SKT have superior firepower in every position and will destroy Splyce if they play standard.
This will be a monumental test for Splyce, and if they do manage to pull off this upset, it’ll be a story that League fans will talk about for years to come. This team has always been underestimated.
The doubters have been here all along. “You think Splyce can make Worlds? You think Splyce can make it out of groups? You think Splyce can beat FunPlus Phoenix?”
They did it all. And now they only have to answer one more question, one many didn’t think would need to be asked: “You think Splyce can challenge SKT?”
“I am inevitable…”
Unfortunately, the heart says one thing while the mind says another—we can hope for an upset of epic proportions, but this matchup feels decided before it’s even begun. As we’ve said before, SKT roster might be their strongest iteration yet with immense firepower coming from almost every position.
Jungler Kim “Clid” Tae-min has been incredible, dominating the early game and grabbing kills across the map for himself and his teammates. He has the fourth-highest KDA of any jungler at Worlds and the third-highest kill participation percentage.
Park “Teddy” Jin-seong is SKT’s late-game insurance policy, boasting some of the best teamfighting of any AD carry at the tournament. He has the fifth-highest KDA of any player, while holding the fourth-highest kill participation percentage of all ADCs.
Faker has come back as a different beast this year too, especially now that he knows he can rely on his teammates to back him up and push the team to victory. He can still do Faker things, but SKT’s true power lies in how the team combines their strengths throughout the game. Their laning is strong, their teamfighting is even stronger, and they’re poised to dominate right from the first minute.
SKT might have a ton of pressure on their shoulders, but they’ll feel right at home in this situation—after all, they’ve been here almost every single year. The competition has improved tremendously since the last time they attended Worlds, but SKT have also improved in the ways they prepare and the way they adapt and solve problems that pop up throughout the tournament.
Will SKT win this matchup against Splyce? Probably. But don’t expect the European faithful to roll over right away. If Splyce can throw a bit of insanity into their matches, you could watch these snakes strike back, even for a moment.