This 2017 Worlds story is brought to you by Predator.
Day two of the League of Legends World Championship has concluded, and unsurprisingly, back-to-back world champions SK Telecom T1 lead their group with an undefeated record of 2-0.
In their first game of the tournament, SKT found themselves with an early kill lead due to a botched gank by Cloud9. Although SKT drafted a late game composition with champions like Kog’Maw, Cloud9’s mistake was allowing SKT to bypass their champions’ poor laning phases.
But against EDward Gaming, SKT weren’t so lucky. EDG dominated the early game, punishing SKT’s choice to yet again draft a scaling composition full of losing lanes. EDG’s lanes, who all had pressure during the laning phase, could easily roam to the mid lane to gank SKT mid laner Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok.
If not for the phenomenal engage SKT found which propelled them into a Baron buff, EDG would, barring any major throws, have won the game and achieved an upset.
While some may write off this almost-loss as a one-off occurrence due to the group stage format, SKT’s poor early game echoed a problem—a problem which plagued the Korean organization throughout the summer.
Reliance on scaling
During SKT’s Summer Split slump in which they lost a series of matches in a row, it was normal to see the world champions draft losing lanes. Historically one of the world’s best mid to late game teams, SKT favored scaling compositions that would become unstoppable past 30 minutes, despite being poor during the laning phase.
But the LCK evolved from the time where SKT could easily come back from major deficits through strong mid-game teamfighting and decision making. Teams like Longzhu Gaming and Samsung Galaxy, who house strong laners, simply snowballed the leads SKT graciously gifted them. SKT couldn’t make their renowned mid-game comeback because they had already lost the match by then.
Heading into the World Championship, this was a problem pundits hoped SKT would solve during their month of preparation. SKT’s decision to bring top laner Heo “Huni” Seung-hoon, who was a much stronger laner than Park “Untara” Ui-jin despite a poor Summer Split, looked to be a sign that the team finally decided to put a focus on their early game.
But with the rise of support item Ardent Censer, which rewards teams who pick not only scaling hyper-carriers, but scaling first items like Relic Shield, SKT look to have returned its focus to late-game compositions.
Although this is a clear weakness, fans of SKT shouldn’t be too worried. SKT are still the clear favorites to top their group. Cloud9, EDG, and ahq e-Sports Club all have their own sets of weaknesses that offset or even override SKT’s early game problems.
Once SKT reaches the bracket stage though, issues may arise. While foreign teams might struggle to punish SKT, Samsung and Longzhu will definitely abuse their fellow Korean team’s weakened laning.
But SKT still have over a week of group stage play remaining to flesh out their performance. As the tournament meta becomes more clear, so will SKT’s drafting. Come the bracket stage, we may see a different SKT.