SK Telecom T1 defeated G2 Esports on Sunday for the 2017 MSI Championship. The result was expected. How it happened wasn’t, as the two teams gave us the best MSI series since 2015.
For years, SKT has been built by two men: Kim “kkOma” jung-gyun, a retired Starcraft player turned head coach, and Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok, the best to ever play the game. The team has won championships from every major tournament by relying on their singular talents. But in this final, more than ever before, they relied on the other team members to carry.
For most of the year, Faker has looked indomitable in the mid lane. After all, he just came off a semifinal series where he completely undressed Huang “Maple” Yi-tang, one of the best mid laners in the world. Few expected him to have any trouble with G2 mid laner Luka “PerkZ” Perković.
But PerkZ was coming off the best series of his life. A series where he was finally able to balance the mechanical skill and fearless mentality we saw from him last year as a rookie, with veteran savvy and consistent restraint expected of true stars. PerkZ has been heavily criticized for past failings at international events, but would have none of it this time.
Riding that surge of confidence, PerkZ played with an aggressive style from the very start. Taking Jayce into Cassiopeia, PerkZ got help from jungler Kim “Trick” Gang-yun to get First Blood on Faker. Then, as if to prove it was no fluke, PerkZ did it a few more times, eventually solo-killing Faker and placing the SKT star on a 0/4/0 stat line.
With so much going their way, it looked as if G2 could use PerkZ’ split push pressure to break open the game. The problem was the side lanes were winning for SKT, particularly the duo lane of Bae “Bang” Jun-sik and Lee “Wolf” Jae-wan. Those two were able to prevent G2 from taking control of the map long enough for the late-game SKT team fight to carry the day.
PerkZ actually had himself a good fight as he killed the SKT duo lane, but SKT was able to win every else and had a major scaling advantage. Faker at one point even took the Elder Dragon solo, and SKT closed out shortly afterwards.
Even after losing the opener, G2 had a blueprint for how to beat SKT. In game two, things would get started even faster as they read Faker’s tendency and surprised him at level one in the river bush. Faker was forced to blow flash and cede lane control to PerkZ. This time, things would go better in the side lanes where both top and bot were winning.
SKT didn’t lay down. But the superior scaling on the side of G2, particularly Kim “Expect” Dae-han’s Gangplank, made it nearly impossible for SKT to contest in teamfights. In a surprise to many who predicted an SKT sweep, G2 won the game to even the series.
Losing a game might have been exactly what SKT needed to get their heads in the game. kkOma can be faulted for part of the game two loss by virtue of his draft, which saw Han “Peanut” Wang-ho on the unfamiliar Ivern and the team facing a severe scaling disadvantage.
SKT went back to comfort picks in game three and got started early. PerkZ was able to grab another CS lead on Faker, but in a sequence we’ve seen so many times, Faker was able to get back into it with kills. G2 was being run around the map, but stubbornly refused to yield.
That’s when Wolf stepped up. He’s perhaps the most criticized SKT starter over the last few years, as people have pointed out to the carries he’s played with as proof that others are responsible for the wins. But in one crucial sequence, he showed exactly why kkOma trusts him so much:
Not many supports have the gall, or the support from their team, to flash into the middle of the enemy team and give up their lives for the team to follow. Wolf is not like most supports. He’s a two-time World Champion and one of the most important members on SKT.
Game four was the ultimate SKT team game. It what has become a strange refrain, PerkZ was able to gain control of mid lane but wasn’t able to do anything on it. With Lee banned, Peanut went with Olaf, another comfort pick. And the bot lane absolutely crushed G2’s. SKT gained complete control of the G2 bottom side jungle, rendering G2’s CS leads irrelevant.
Closing the game was a team affair. Peanut was able to match Trick’s Lee wherever he went. Heo “Huni” Seung-hoon was excellent again on Rumble. Wolf made timely saves again and again on Tahm Kench. And Faker and Bang carried.
G2 put up a fight, and proved that they are worthy of respect on the international stage. But as things have tended to go since Faker and kkOma first teamed up, even when things get tough, they end with SKT holding the trophy.
It’s now two-straight MSI titles for SK Telecom T1, to go along with two-straight World Championships. They’ll get their chance at at third at Worlds this October. For G2 Esports, they have broken their international duck and will look to have another crack at glory later in the year.