The ROX Tigers will be facing off against their long-time rivals SK Telecom T1 in the semifinals of the 2016 League of Legends World Championships. As well as being the rematch of the previous World Championship finals, this series will be the ROX’s final test to prove if they truly are the best team in the world.
After two painful defeats in the LCK finals, the ROX Tigers finally won their domestic title. The only caveat to this title was that they didn’t face SK Telecom T1, the team who previously squashed all their LCK championship dreams, at any point in the playoffs. In both series that the ROX Tigers played against the Korean juggernauts, they lost without even scoring a single game win. Thus, even though they won the coveted championship, ROX was never able to take down the bane of their existence, SK Telecom T1. If the Tigers can actually beat SKT, than their World Championship title is almost guaranteed.
SK Telecom T1 and the ROX Tigers are both coming off dominant quarterfinal performances, dropping only one game to the first and second Chinese seeds. The strengths of these two teams’ players, as well as their playstyles, are extremely different, causing their clash in the semifinals to be very exciting.
Top Lane: Duke vs. Smeb
After his underwhelming quarterfinal performance against Royal Never Give Up’s Jang “Looper” Hyeong-seok, SKT’s Lee “Duke” Ho-seong will need to engage in serious practice if he wants to have a chance against ROX’s Song “Smeb” Kyung-ho. Throughout SKT’s series against RNG, Looper was constantly solo-killing Duke. Against arguably the best player in the world in Smeb, this type of play is costly. If Smeb solo-kills Duke the same way Looper did, Smeb will easily take over the game.
Unless one of these top laners snowballs off repeatedly solo-killing their opponent, the top lane will ultimately be decided on roams by the mid laner or jungler. In ROX’s match against EDward Gaming, the team prioritized getting Smeb ahead with constant roams to the top lane by their mid laner or jungler. Seeing how Duke performed against Looper, there is almost zero chance that SKT will leave Duke on an island without help in the semifinals.
Jayce will most likely be banned throughout this whole series by SKT. Smeb is without a doubt the best Jayce in this tournament, and since SKT does not prioritize Duke’s champion in the pick/ban phase, there is no way they will freely give up Jayce. Among Smeb and Duke, Kennen will be a highly contested pick. Kennen was the most played champion by both of these players throughout Worlds. Unless Smeb pulls out another pocket pick, like the Maokai, aside from Kennen, the only other champions that will be played top will be Rumble, Gnar and maybe Irelia.
Jungle: Bengi/Blank vs. Peanut
The jungle role is without a doubt the biggest positional mismatch between ROX and SKT. In ROX’s match against EDG, Han “Peanut” Wang-ho clearly certified himself as the best jungler in the tournament. This series showcased Peanut’s ability to play every viable jungler to a masterful level. From his early jungle pathing, to his ability to pull all of EDG’s member’s attention to him during a team fight and still survive, Peanut displayed an unparalleled jungle dominance in the quarterfinals.
In contrast, SKT’s weakest role is their jungle. In the first game of their series against RNG, SKT’s veteran jungler Bae “Bengi” Seong-woong had an absolutely awful performance. Bengi was “invisible” for almost the entirety of the game, having very little impact on Lee Sin, a playmaking champion who needs to put pressure on the map.
Kang “Blank” Sun-gu, SKT’s other jungler, had a much better performance in the quarterfinals than his older counterpart. While Blank clearly improved from the group stage, his subpar early game continued to persist. Despite his early game issues, there is almost zero chance Blank will not be played, as his play was vastly superior compared to Bengi.
Blank cannot afford to get behind Peanut in the early game. Peanut showed in the quarterfinals that if you give him an iota of freedom, he will take full advantage of it, easily snowballing his lanes.
Mid: Faker vs. Kuro
Every time these two players have faced off in a serious match, SKT’s Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok has always bested ROX’s Lee “Kuro” Seo-haeng. Throughout his career, Kuro’s kryptonite has always been Faker. No matter how well Kuro played during the regular season or playoffs, as soon as he faced Faker in the finals, Kuro played terribly.
Regardless of any mental blocks Kuro has towards playing against Faker, taking into account pure quarterfinal performance, Faker has the edge in this matchup. Faker’s champion pool has proved to be vastly superior to Kuro. ROX’s quarterfinal match revealed that if not on Aurelion Sol, Kuro’s influence on the map dramatically decreases. Faker has never played Aurelion Sol in competitive, so it’s safe to assume that SKT will ban the galactic dragon throughout the whole series.
Despite playing only Aurelion Sol and Ryze in the quarterfinals, the Worlds mid lane meta should be in favour of Kuro. Champions like Viktor and Varus, which historically have been Kuro’s best champions, have come back to viability.
The sheer amount of pressure Faker emits in the mid lane will hinder ROX’s cross map roaming. Kuro won’t be able to roam the map with the same freedom he had against EDG. Faker will punish these movements, either through taking the mid turret, or countering with a roam himself.
Duo: Bang/Wolf vs. Pray/Gorilla
This will be a difficult matchup for ROX’s bot lane. SKT’s Bae “Bang” Jun-sik proved in their match against RNG that he is the best AD Carry at the tournament, out-playing Chinese superstar Jian “Uzi” Zi-Hao. Bang is looking to be the quintessential ADC. Facing Bang in the bottom lane is ROX’s Kim “PraY” Jong-in. While not thought of as being the best ADC in the world, PraY has shown that he can hold his own against other top AD Carries like EDG’s Kim “Deft” Hyuk-kyu. With this information, there is no reason to believe that Bang will utterly dominate PraY.
Both ROX and SKT’s supports have been playing very similarly. Lee “Wolf” Jae-wan and Kang “GorillA” Beom-hyeon have exclusively played only Zyra and Karma, meaning that during their semifinal series, these two champions will almost be exclusively picked. Between these two supports, Wolf has a slight edge. Many of the game winning team fights SKT had in the quarterfinals were on the back of Wolf’s excellent setups.
This series will ultimately be the battle of the unstoppable force (ROX), against the immovable object (SKT). The ROX Tigers have an explosive early game, which will definitely nab them a gold lead. Unless Blank vastly improves over the week, Peanut will easily create leads for his team.
The difficult part comes during the mid to late game. SKT, when behind, is the best at stalling out the game, waiting for their opponent to make a mistake. ROX can’t commit to the same reckless team fights they had in the quarterfinals, or else they risk throwing their lead against SKT.
Unlike almost every team ROX has played against so far, SKT won’t make any foolish plays like a 50/50 Baron call when they are ahead. This means that if ROX gets behind, there is almost no way for them to come back. The early game is everything for ROX, and if they can’t manage a gold lead by the end of the laning phase, they are in serious trouble.
This will be an extremely close series between the two best teams in the tournament. Not only is pride on the line for these players, but the title of the best Korean team in the world. In a sense, this will be the true summer LCK finals that ROX never got to play.
Who do you think will win this matchup? Let us know by commenting below or tweeting us @GAMURScom.
Photos courtesy of LoL Esports, and Ongamenet
Preview image credit here.
Article by Malcolm Abbas. Follow him on Twitter @SmashhLoL