Photo: Daily eSports (데일리e스포츠)
The Finals. Twenty thousand plus fans will be sitting, standing and doing whatever is possible to be in attendance for the most highly anticipated Champions final of all-time. On one side, the KT Rolster Bullets, a team that built on experience. Thought to be favorites to win the title in the past three seasons, the summer was their breakout tournament, finally making it to their first grand final with a dominating victory over Frost in the semifinals. On the other, you have SK Telecom T1, a squad that relies on its youthful superstars to lead them to victory. In their second Champions season, SKT T1 learned from their past mistakes that eliminated last season, came back this summer, and got revenge for their semifinal loss against Ozone by defeating them this season in the very same round.
In this article, we have you covered from every angle before the opening ceremonies begin tonight. We give you a summary of how the Bullets and SKT T1 got to the finals, and then we have GTR, our expert historian, give you a lesson on the long, decade long rivalry between the KT and SKT organizations. To the finals themselves, we break down both teams in-depth, introduce you to some interesting statistics, and prepare you for the clashes to come tonight.
Finally, be it you're a reader from Reddit, TeamLiquid, or got linked this article by your League loving friend, you're invited to join our discussion during the final in our live report thread.
Table of Contents
Prologue to The Finals
A Rivalry Renewed
KT Bullets: A Roller Coaster Ride
SKT T1: Return of the Emperor
The Finals Preview
Prologue to The Finals
The semifinals were not only a clash between the strongest teams in Korea but also a clash between generations. CJ Entus Frost is a team that seemed to have a place in the Finals reserved each time ever since the first OGN Champions in Spring 2012. This season was the first for Frost with major changes in their lineup. They swapped out Muse for Space and added Ganked By Mom as a substitute for Rapidstar. Frost had a good start and once again reached the Semifinals where they met the KT Bullets. The KT Bullets increased the strength of their roster with the transfer of InSec into the toplane and KaKAO into the Jungle from KT A. In addition, KT B faced the brother team of Frost in the quarterfinal. Frost had a lot of data and game experience against KT B, so they had a very good opportunity to be prepared but instead showed the same mistakes and weaknesses as Blaze one week before.
InSec won the top lane against Shy without much trouble, a feat made easier when Frost left his strongest champions in top lane unbanned and unpicked. He was able to deny any possible pressure from Shy and on the other hand turned the pressure around onto Frost. With one of their core pillars disabled and the Bullets' interesting strategy of banning out Madlife's “play-making” champions, Frost was already at a big disadvantage. It was evident that KT Rolster B came prepared to fight against Frost. Shy picked Shen into a bad matchup against Zac for three straight games, resulting in him being at a distinct disadvantage, yet there was no change in strategy by CJ Entus Frost. This stubbornness suggests that CJ Entus Frost may be a second “one trick warhorse” like CJ Entus Blaze. If so, then this could be a failing caused by the training in the CJ Entus house. Their strategy works against weaker teams who are not on the same level mechanically as the CJ Teams and do not possess the ability to find the errors in their play, but against the new upcoming top teams like SK Telecom T1, KT Bullets, and MVP Ozone that have coaches and a similar training structure allowing them to spot every small mistake and exploit it, the CJ teams will continue to lose.
Another issue could be that Frost may have taken it for granted that they will qualify since they think they are the best in Korea because of their past results. When newer teams appear, teams that are hungrier for victory, that work harder and push each other into higher levels of play, like what has happened in Korea with the creation of new teams like KT Rolster and SKT T1, those that are content to rest on their laurels will quickly find themselves surpassed. This has been seen even on the individual level, as when a player is not able to show results he will be switched out for somebody who works harder, plays better, and shows better results. In addition the already existing rivalry between those two teams spurred an even more cruel fight over the League of Legends throne in Korea.
Overconfidence in their own abilities could well be an issue with older teams in Korea. I am sure everybody who follows OGN saw the pre-match trash talk between MVP Ozone and SKT T1. Ozone started with a strong game against SKT T1, but Faker and company were able to focus once more and regain the momentum to turn the series around. In addition, MVP Ozone's solo laners were outclassed, and with their confidence crushed after game two, they stood no chance against SKT T1. MVP Ozone have in Homme the oldest player in the Korean League of Legends scene, and he was outplayed by Impact in every game. This could be a sign that a newer, younger generation with better mechanics will overthrow the first generation of League of Legends players, or perhaps the older players just need to realize that they are no longer the top dogs by default, because there are hungrier and more vicious dogs out there. In any case, the time of being overconfident is over because only one who strives to improve himself further and further will come out on top. Nontheless, we as viewers are in for a good time because the skill level will rise higher and higher in the upcoming seasons.
A Rivalry Renewed
Im Yo-hwan, Lee Young-ho, Kim Taek-yong, Park Jung-seok. What do these legends of e-Sports have in common? All have participated in a SK Telecom vs KT Corporation Proleague final at one point in their career. If EG vs Liquid is considered to be the marquee match-up of the western Starcraft II scene, then there is no doubt that SKT vs KT is the 'El Clasico' of Korean e-Sports, and arguably, global e-Sports.
When SK Telecom acquired Boxer's 4Union team in early 2004 after failing to renegotiate a contract with their previous sponsor, Tongyang Orion, the community and pundits were licking their lips in joy and glee. The consensus was that SK Telecom and KT (back then known as KTF MagicNs) had the strongest rosters due to their backing by behemoth corporations - KTF with the 'Korean Galaticos' approach of hoarding superstars such as YellOw, Reach and Nal_rA, while SKT had the leadership of BoxeR combined with the dominance of iloveoov. It was inevitable that the two telecommunication rivals in Korea were eventually going to meet in a Proleague final. The only question was when.
Come July 2005. the KTF MagicNs, carried by ace sensation (and now Champions commentator), Nal_rA, would have an undefeated season up until the finals. SK Telecom T1, now strengthened by the arrival of GoRush and Midas from GO (now CJ Entus), would end up second in the regular season - their only losses to KTF and KOR (who would later on become OGN Sparkyz). The stage was set for an incredible finals at Busan's Gwangalli Beach, considered the holy mecca of e-Sports venues.
In front of a crowd of 120,000 people, SK Telecom shocked the world and convincingly swept the heavily-favoured KTF team 4-1. During my trip to Korea last year, I was able to get a word from one of them members of the losing KTF team, TheMarine, on what he thought on the situation.
TeamLiquid: While there was a painful memory for you at the finals, you must have thought you were invincible during that streak.
TheMarine: I thought we were the best. If you don't believe that you're the best, how can you perform the best? During that time I thought we could be confident in our skills. Meeting SKT in the finals, I think SKT were more professional in their game preparations. They made a profile for each of us, our traits and weaknesses. SKT was really efficient at that. So in the end we lost. Even though we were undefeated during the season, they won in the end so it proved that they were the better team.
TheMarine: I thought we were the best. If you don't believe that you're the best, how can you perform the best? During that time I thought we could be confident in our skills. Meeting SKT in the finals, I think SKT were more professional in their game preparations. They made a profile for each of us, our traits and weaknesses. SKT was really efficient at that. So in the end we lost. Even though we were undefeated during the season, they won in the end so it proved that they were the better team.
Since then, the record of SKT-KT in Proleague finals has been 3-2 in favour of SK Telecom. KT finally broke its hump against SKT in 2010, where a completely rebuilt KT Rolster team, led by Flash took down SKT 4-2. Now with the significance and popularity of Proleague slowly dwindling due to the failure of SC2 in Korea along with the rapidly rising popularity of League of Legends, Champions has taken the reigns to become the premier stage of Korean e-Sports in this current generation.
While it would have been an amazing fairy tale if Champions could have returned to Gwangalli for this summer season, considering the teams playing in the finals. As fans begin to queue in the wee hours of the morning at Seoul's Jamsil Auxillary Stadium to witness history, this final will mark a new era of a classic rivalry.
KT Bullets: A Roller Coaster Ride
Mention the name KT Rolster and the first name that will spring to mind in most people's minds is Flash. And who can blame them? Flash is a bonjwa, easily one of the best StarCraft players to grace this earth all the way from the Brood War days till now. He represents an organisation with a rich history in progaming, and one that continues to impress even today. KT Rolster had a humble beginning as KTF MagicNs, an organization that started out small and grew, carving their name in Brood War history and starting a rivalry with fellow telecommunications team SK Telecom T1. Many great names passed through KTF through to 2009, including huge names like YellOw and Reach. After losing to SK Telecom T1 in 2005's Proleague finals, many of KTF's legends retired or left for mandatory military service.
In 2009, after the Proleague season concluded, KTF was rebranded KT Rolster and came under the ownership of their parent company KT. The Rolster stands for Roller Coaster, supposedly because of the intense thrill and excitement that audiences will experience when spectating the KT players – like that of a roller coaster. KT Rolster's biggest victory so far was their victory in the 2009-10 Shinhan Bank Proleague, where they finally beat out SK Telecom T1 in the grand final with a decisive win by Flash.
KT Rolster's association with League of Legends stretches back a bit further than their acquisition of the A and B teams in late 2012. Former KT progamers YellOw and Reach went on to coach Xenics' and Najin's League of Legends squads, respectively, and Nal_rA casts Champions now. Their vast experience in competitive gaming gave them insights into the mentality required of a professional player, and helped both organisations reach success, as demonstrated in the fact that all four teams are representing their organizations in Champions Summer.
B for Beginning
When KT Rolster announced its acquisition of two League of Legends rosters, many were excited to see what the popular organisation would achieve in the new frontier of League of Legends. Though KT Rolster A never experienced much success outside of qualifying for Champions, they now look to a bright future under the leadership of top lane legend MakNooN. The indisputable stars of KT Rolster's League of Legends division is the team formerly known as KT Rolster B – the Bullets we know today.
KT Rolster B had its beginning with the acquisition of 'Crazy' Ragan and KaKAO from the amateur scene, while Ryu, Mafa and Score (who changed his name from Joker and switched to AD carry) joined from the disbanded StarTale, the team which some will remember housed Locodoco for a short while after he left MiG Frost. Initially, KT Rolster B tailed their sister team KT Rolster A for a while, losing their first prized tournament in the first round to China's Invictus Gaming. Admittedly, their potential competition was a lot tougher than the road that KT Rolster A braved – had Score's men beaten Invictus Gaming, they would have faced either CJ Entus or World Elite, while KT Rolster A dispatched of the weaker RoMg and Incredible Miracle (and also being swept cleanly by World Elite).
However, this would be the first and last time that the A team would be ahead of the B team. Both KT Rolster teams made their way into Champions Winter 2012-13, performing admirably in the group stage. Though KT Rolster A did not lose any matches in the group stage, they only won one, tying five. KT Rolster B's story was completely opposite, completely sweeping their group without dropping a single game (though they did lose one cross-group game to Azubu Frost). This was it – the rookie team that was primed for the royal road.
The big man is in(Sec)
inSec is In
The quarter-final round would bring an unfortunate teamkill match, where KT Rolster B emerged victorious over their sister team 3:1. Their Champions run was then cut short as MakNooN's Sword mercilessly executed the upstart team in two sets, 3:1 and 3:0. Beaten by the team that would eventually win Champions Winter, it was back to the drawing board as Ragan was released and KaKAO was moved to KT Rolster A in favour of young talent ssumday and legendary CJ Entus jungler inSec. With the acquisition of a more stable, if less flashy top laner and possibly the best jungler in Korea, hopes were once again high for KT Rolster B as they flew to Dallas for the 2013 MLG Winter Championship after only three weeks of practice with ssumday and inSec.
In their first trip to the United States, KT Rolster B threw Curse Gaming in the trashcan in a 2:0 sweep, and faced Gambit Gaming in one of the most highly-anticipated international matches of Season 3. It would be Gambit, however, who would fall to the mighty Koreans, though not before a hauntingly strong performance by jungler Diamondprox, who made inSec's Lee Sin look mortal next to his Udyr. Gambit would still lose 2:1, but many fans elected to see KT Rolster B's loss to the Russians as a flaw on their part, that they could drop a game to a weaker foreign team.
KT Rolster B shook off any criticism as they tore through the group stage of Champions Spring 2013 (as their sister team fell in the same stage), losing a total of three games: one to ahq, and two to CJ Entus Frost. The two losses to CJ Entus Frost, however, came under scrutiny as neither team appeared to be trying hard. The most likely explanation was that KT Rolster B was throwing in order to gain a more favourable match-up against Group A's MVP Ozone, who would have been less of a threat than Najin Sword, the team that had knocked them out of last season's Champions.
The would-be champions neglected to see that MVP Ozone placed higher than Najin Sword in the group stage for a reason. After thousands of hateful comments at KT Rolster B's ill-mannered move, the team crumbled 3:0 to a combination of imp's destructive play and the immense mental degradation that came with having to read through death threats and spiteful words. The team that was meant to win Champions Spring had fallen to a dark horse, and this was surely the darkest period in the team's history, even with a third place finish in NLB Spring 2013.
MakNooN didn't look as smug after dropping out of Champions qualifiers - Photo by KT Rolster Facebook
A shock announcement came at the end of May: KaKAO was coming back to KT Rolster B after three months of failure with KT Rolster A. Replacing him was Chunnam Techno University's former jungler Lira, joined by fellow rookie bottom lane Sonstar and Rookie, and surprisingly, Najin Sword's MakNooN. The biggest question floating in the air was what Lee Ji-hoon was planning to do with two junglers on his marquee League of Legends team. After twenty-six painful days, KT Rolster would put fans out of their misery as they announced one of the biggest position swaps in history – ssumday would move to a substitute position and KaKAO would step into the jungle to allow inSec to take the top lane.
Why would he do this? Why would the world's best jungler change positions? If you've been keeping up with Champions Summer 2013, you already know the answer. If you're coming in to check out the Telecommunications War, then we'll have to catch you up – inSec is insanely good at top lane. He has brought CJ Entus' top lane gods Flame and Shy to their knees, and ushered in a new age of tanky top laners and first-pick Zacs. To use a StarCraft analogy, this would be like INnoVation switching from Terran to Zerg, then beating Jaedong and Soulkey with about a month of practice.
With this, KT Rolster B were rebranded KT Bullets in order to give them a more distinct image, and they stormed into Champions Summer 2013, winning Group D along with CJ Entus Frost. CJ Entus Blaze's season would be cut short as they fell in a nailbiting five-game series against the Bullets, with a win from behind off the back of inSec and Ryu on the two-ninja composition of Shen and Zed. The woes of the CJ Entus organisation would continue as Frost fell in three games through a stubborn refusal to ban inSec's Zac away.
And now, KT Rolster face their long-time rivals SK Telecom T1 for the title and a guaranteed berth at Riot's Season 3 World Championship. If they fall here, they will need to fight through the qualifier tournament against strong names like CJ Entus Blaze and Frost, as well as SK Telecom T1, the team that they lost to. If they win, all pressure is off as they lock in a position at Worlds, and force MVP Ozone into the qualifier tournament.
Anyone you recognize? - Azubu
A Star-studded Tale
To fully understand the history of KT Bullets' players, we have to look at an organisation that has produced many great players, including Code S victor Life. However, we are looking at League of Legends here. The first name from StarTale that has a stake in this match is someone who you may not have expected – kkOma, former StarTale jungler, retired from competitive play to coach SK Telecom T1's League of Legends division instead. Though indirectly, KT Bullets will have to face a former teammate as they face SK Telecom T1. Fionn has written more about kkOma's influence on this match, so refer to that if you're interested in this little rivalry.
StarTale, under the coaching of legendary Zerg player FruitDealer, recruited a League of Legends team for Champions Summer 2012. The original line-up was Vitamin in the top lane, kkOma in the jungle, Ryu in the mid lane, Fine as AD carry, and Mafa as support. A sixth player, Joker, switched between top lane and AD carry but was not part of the core team at the beginning. Not long after the team's inception, Vitamin and kkOma left in search of greener pastures. Joker filled in the top lane, while Ryu moved to the jungle to facilitate 5cean's joining the team. Fine left after a few weeks, replaced by ex-Frost player Locodoco. The team enjoyed mild success, placing 5-8th in Champions Summer 2012, losing to the new project of the Najin organisation, Najin Sword.
Top laner Joker did not look too bad next to MakNooN, but it was clear that MakNooN was on a different level. Soon after their loss, StarTale disbanded and became the KT Rolster B we came to know and love. Joker renamed himself [b]Score, and earned his nickname 'the Immortal' after an incredibly solid performance in Champions Winter 2012-13. To be entirely honest, Score is not a particularly interesting player outside of the fact that he is incredibly difficult to kill. His pride in being a defensively-minded carry showed in his Summer Lesson, where his play strongly contrasted with the aggressive playstyle of imp.
However, what he does, he does well. The legendary 'Scorki' has only been sighted once this season, and in unconvincing fashion as KT Bullets played a mostly throwaway game against Incredible Miracle. Though Ezreal is said to be his other favourite champion, he has only touched the Prodigal Explorer twice in Champions Summer 2013. His preference for slippery marskmen, combined with his naturally defensive, safe play results in one damage-dealer who is incredibly hard to pin down. For this reason, he is the most consistent of the Bullets, always able to output damage and always able to be relied on.
Score's success is largely attributed to his support Mafa, who plays a crucial role in ensuring that the Immortal is not dragged down to the same level as mortals. After a solid first season, Mafa has been celebrated as one of the better defensive supports of Korea, in contrast to more aggressive supports like MadLife or Cain. Although always willing to lay down his life for his friends, Mafa does a great job of not dying himself, a skill possibly picked up due to sitting next to Score every game and absorbing his abilities through osmosis.
Mafa's favourite champion is Sona, the perfect fit for KT Bullets' playstyle. Her versatile kit allows Mafa to protect Score, and Crescendo is a game-turner that can be used to engage or counterengage, working well with the Bullets' dive-happy compositions. Though he may not make overly flashy plays, he is the second half of the bottom lane combination that guides KT Bullets through their rough games, and can be relied on to always perform, even under pressure.
The third member of StarTale to switch over, Ryu, has been playing mid lane since the acquisition of KaKAO. Through his whole career, he has maintained a reputation as one of Korea's better mid laners, even when stacked next to previous legends like RapidStar and Ambition, or current superstars like dade and Faker. The hallmark of his play is the coordinated dive. With his teammate KaKAO, Ryu roams the map with the goal of ultimately securing objectives through diving particular targets.
Ryu has achieved this most effectively on Zed this season, effectively pushing waves and killing targets with high damage from Death Mark. As an aggressive, diving mid laner, Ryu is set apart from similar players through his team-focused perspective. Ryu does not chase personal glory or a high gold count, but rather treats his dives as a means to an end – the end being map objectives like towers. Unlike his opponent Faker, his team does not always require him alive to win the game, and Ryu will often be seen happily trading kills to pick off a crucial target.
KaKAO came from nowhere when he joined KT Rolster B, but suffered for a long period after their third place finish in Champions Winter on the weaker KT Rolster A. Freed from his chains and taking up his trusty Hunter's Machete under the Bullets moniker, KaKAO's jungle play has been highly impressive this season. Adopting the philosophy that a jungler's role is to meet the needs of their team during the laning phase, KaKAO's low-farm, high-roam style has been the backbone of KT Bullets' early game through the entire tournament. International comparisons include bigfatlp of Counter Logic Gaming and pretty much every single jungler in the South East Asian region.
Though KaKAO has stated in the past that Jarvan IV is his favourite jungler, he has employed a balanced mix of Jarvan IV and Elise as his early-game carnivore picks. Even if he branches out to a more damage-oriented champion like Evelynn, his focus is still coordinating dives with Ryu. More often than not, we will see one of KaKAO and Ryu bring CC to a dive, while the other brings damage. Though junglers are not particularly known for their damage-dealing capabilities, picks such as Evelynn, Lee Sin and Elise are highly potent in dealing damage in the early game, exactly what KaKAO looks for.
Those not familiar with the Korean League of Legends scene may be scratching their heads wondering why so much praise is given to inSec, the top laner of KT Bullets. Those familiar with the Korean League of Legends scene may still have doubts as to why the world's best jungler would switch positions. The answer lies in his play. Judging by his performance this season a very bold, potentially premature statement could be made that could potentially get us into trouble if we're wrong – inSec may well be the world's best top laner.
Here's the undeniable truth when it comes to position changes – a good League of Legends player is a good League of Legends player. 'Everyone knows that,' you say. 'What does that have to do with a position change?' The evidence for this claim can be sourced from League of Legends' history as a competitive video game. Counter Logic Gaming's Chauster has played every position competitively in his career, and to a decent degree relative to the skill level of those playing the same position at that (though his jungle play is called into question by some). His teammate Nien switched from AD carry to top lane, and has looked incredibly promising. OMG's LoveLin, heralded as a possible challenger to MadLife's support throne, switched to the jungle to maximise his game knowledge and decision making abilities. Lilac, similarly, also switched from support to jungle, and has captained an Incredible Miracle #2 that has looked strong recently.
Team Solo Mid's WildTurtle switched effortlessly between mid lane (defeating even World Elite's Misaya) and AD carry. MiG coach Woong was one of Korea's greatest top laners before his switch down to the bottom lane with MadLife. Singapore Sentinels veterans Chawy and d4rkness have played in every lane through their careers, and have settled down bottom as the region's strongest duo lane.
And inSec, the world's best jungler, switched to top with almost no speed bumps on the way. Perhaps it is because he plays similar champions. Perhaps it is due to his playstyle, or that Zac is just too overpowered to give a top laner. Perhaps his insane performance, in which he slayed the colossus Flame and then his similarly powerful brother Shy, is just beginner's luck. However, if we examine each of these explanations, they will fall apart at one point. inSec played a magnificent game on post-nerf Jayce against CJ Entus Blaze to pull out a deathless win – it is not just the tanks that he is proficient on. The defensive tank playstyle is not invulnerable, as evidenced by any team selecting Shen and Zac and losing. If inSec's ability is due to beginner's luck, then we can only assume that he will fall to Impact, choked by his inexperience.
Though beginner's luck may be an acceptable argument, critics must ask themselves an honest qusetion – is Impact really better than inSec? Impact switched lanes too – he went from support to top laner and has had a great transition with SK Telecom T1. The prevailing gut feeling, more often than not, will be a resounding no. Impact is probably outclassed here – though he is a consistent player, inSec's best is better than his best. And in a grand final, both teams will require the best of their top laners.
For a detailed breakdown on what inSec contributes to his team, check out our head-to-head match-up analysis. If you want it in plain speech, however, understand this: inSec is one of the greatest playmakers to ever grace League of Legends with his presence. He makes things happen, from anywhere and on anyone. Even on a more passive pick like Jayce, inSec was an incredible presence on his team, to the point where CJ Entus Blaze did not feel like engaging the Bullets when inSec was there, poking them down.
Ask anyone who the players to watch in this upcoming grand final are. Most will respond in unison – inSec and Faker. Watch them indeed, for their performance could mean the difference between going to the Season 3 World Championship, or watching from Seoul in preparation for Champions Winter 2013-14
SKT T1: Return of the Emperor
If you talk about e-sports in Korea, the first team that comes to mind is SK Telecom T1. Established over a decade ago by the Starcraft legend Boxer, the team was picked up in 2004 by the SK Telecom organization and have never looked back. Collecting over fifteen championships in Brood War from 2003 to the end of 2012, no Brood War historian will tell you differently: SK Telecom T1 are the greatest Korean e-sports franchise in history. Piloted by one of the biggest businesses in Korea, they have always been known for their deep pockets, thirst for victory, and never ending quest to always win every single tournament they enter.
As all great things, the professional Brood War scene came to an end in the final stages of 2012, leaving the door open for a new video game to take over as the the next e-sport to take Korea by storm. Starcraft 2 debuted with SK Telecom T1's Brood War team transitioning over, but while popular in its own right, wasn't able to become the successor to Brood War in Korea. With League of Legends officially opening its doors in Korea, OGN, the be all and end all gaming channel in Korea, picked up the game that was running PC Bangs across Korea and set up its own league. While it would take over a year from when the OGN Champions tournament started for SK Telecom T1 to finally make a plunge into Brood War's successor in popularity, any one who had followed SKT throughout the years knew they wouldn't be entering the scene without making a huge splash.
After picking up Reapered's Eat Sleep Game as their first time, SK Telecom T1 allowed the former Starcraft 2 pro and Startlae Jungler, kkoma, to set out and find the sister team for their already established main squad. With Reapered already leading his team to a victory in their first tournament appearance during IEM Cologne, it looked like SK Telecom had hit it out of the park once again with a new team to challenge for the top of Korea. Kkoma, searching through the Korean solo queue and the less established teams in Korea, was able to put together his dream team with the help of SKT's massive presence in Korea and their checkbooks.
Acquiring Mandu from the upstart, but unsponsored GSG team that won NLB Winter, and Impact from the inconsistent Xenics Storm roster, kkoma was able to bring much needed experience to the team. Going from there, he rummaged through the he amateur and ladder system in Korea, hoping to find the final pieces to make his team come together. Signing bengi, a relative unknown at the time from the amateur team BBT, which had competed in the NLB tournament that Mandu won on GSG, the secondary SKT team had found its Jungler. Finally, with two spots remaining on the roster, kkoma picked up two players who had never played a professional game before. Piglet, an AD Carry who had made his name on the Korean ladder, and Faker, the hottest free agent in Korea at the time of his signing, having topped the Korean solo queue ladder and creating highlight reel packages in the process.
With the team complete, it was an experiment. Next to Reapered's team, there were no guarantees on this new squad. Mandu and Impact were experienced, both having played professionally for a while, but they were nowhere near stars or established carries that could single handily bring a team to new heights. With the three inexperienced players, the question was if their solo queue mentality could hold up when it came to the pro scene -- especially with their most talked about rookie, Faker, who had a reputation of being cocky. While he could destroy people all day on ladder, using his superior mechanics to wreck amateurs and pro alike on the solo queue ladder, what did that matter in the pro scene? It's all fine and dandy to go 20/0/7 and ignore your teammates in solo queue, but what would happen when he was forced to be a team player or work as a collective unit to beat the best teams in the world?
Luckily, kkoma's brainchild didn't crash and burn like what could have happened. While the team's coordination and team fighting wasn't up to snuff compared to the other elite teams in Korea, their laning phase and mechanics were so solid that it was able to mask their faults, pushing them to top of their Champions group. Beating the likes of CJ Entus Blaze, KT Rolster A, and even Mandu's old team in GSG (now MVP Blue), SK Telecom's second team had suddenly become the crown jewel of the company's eye. Reapered's team was also good, but not to the same level as the group that kkoma had put together. Faker, living up to the hype, did not disappoint the fans by putting on classic performance after classic performance, crushing every Mid Lane opponent he was set up against.
Almost expectedly, SK Telecom T1's problems rose to the surface and ended their hopes of a Royal Road in the semifinals against eventual winners MVP Ozone. Exploiting their weak team fighting and over reliance on Faker, they executed a plan that no team before had thought of -- ignore Faker entirely, let him farm to his heart's content, and wreck havoc on the rest of the team. Breaking the legs of his teammates, Faker couldn't stand alone against a more complete unit, MVP Ozone asserting their dominance with superior teamwork and play. A cruel end to their dreams of bringing SK Telecom another championship to put in the display case, but it was honestly the best thing to ever happen to the team. Instead of them never learning from their obvious mistakes and continuing to rely on Faker until a team finally stopped him, their crushing defeat to Ozone made SK Telecom not only think of new strategies to overcome their adversaries, but come together as a team as well.
Now after a season of progression, learning to go from five individuals into a world champion contending team, kkoma's dream has become a reality. On the cusp of gaining SK Telecom T1's first major hardware in League of Legends against their most hated rivals for the past decade, this wacky, out of the box experiment put together by a man who once went by the ID Littleboy has made it clear that while the last decade of Brood War was great, the next ten might be even brighter.
Mandu dreaming of a final where his Nami isn't banned - Photo by inven.co.kr
The Unsung Heroes
When you talk about SK Telecom T1 these days, the conversation usually sways to two particular players, but before we delve into the two superstars of the team, let's talk about the three core members of the team. As we learned by Blaze's plane crash down to earth last season, you can't win with one or even two superstars and a lacking supporting cast. For every champion team, you need a good group behind your star players. They might not have the prettiest stat lines, get the MVP points, or have the fan girls holding up signs for them, but without their presence, not even the brightest star can carry a team to a title.
Bengi, also known by his other name Jarvan V, was a player that didn't get a lot of fanfare when he was picked up to be on the secondary SK Telecom team when it came together last season. He had played a few games on a low level team, BBT, but didn't have much luck, dropping out of NLB Winter and going back to irrelevancy. For whatever the reason, kkoma, the coach and mastermind behind this SKT team, saw something in bengi and signed him to be the Jungler for the most prestigious organization in e-sports history. The move has been nothing but good for bengi and his teammates, getting to the semifinals last season and ending up with the KDA award for all Junglers in the Champions Spring season.
When it comes to the champion pool, he loves Jarvan. Having played him in 33% of his professional games all-time, his go to pick will always be Jarvan if he's in a pinch. Surprisingly, even with the high pick rate, it's not his most successful champion. Bengi has only a 9-6 record all-time with Jarvan, holding a much superior record with both Nasus (5-1) and Nunu (6-0). For better or for worse, bengi sticks by his Jarvan no matter what the record.
Meanwhile, if we're going to talk about signature champions, you need to talk about PoohMandu's Nami. Known as the most peculiar and odd Support player in Korea, Mandu has come into his own this season with his continuous pickings of Nami. Paired off with the strongest ADC currently in Korea, Mandu's Nami has been nearly untouchable in his career so far, holding a 10-1 record on the champion. Even with the falling out of Nami in Korea and the professional scene, MVP Ozone took notice of Mandu's expertise with the champion and banned her out for the semifinal series against them. Having drawn ban after ban of his support Fiddlesticks last season after terrorizing Blaze in the first match of the spring group stages, Mandu has proven time and time again he is no one trick pony. Thresh, Sona, Lulu, or even his Heimerdinger, it doesn't matter to him. While he might be stronger on Nami than his other champions, PoohMandu has no fear when it comes to picking any of the champions available. He is truly solo queue's worst nightmare.
Finally, rounding out the core for SK Telecom, we have Impact. If we were to rank the importance of the five players on SKT T1, bluntly, most people would have Impact as the fifth ranked player. That's not to say that Impact is bad -- nowhere near -- but the other four players seem almost irreplaceable. At the end of the day, Impact is the player that gets his hands dirty the most. Starting his career out as a Support, he has moved to the Top Lane position and has even said himself that while he is more of a utility Top, he can still be a carry if need be. He reaffirmed that claim this season by heading into the finals with the second highest KDA of all the Top Laners, only trailing behind the man he will face in the finals, Insec.
His greatest strength is that he can excel in a plethora of situations. If SKT needs him to be a tank for their carries, he'll gladly do it on Zac or Shen. If they need him to carry and be a main instigator in fights, he will play Kennen or Diana. If they want him to play a downright dirty Singed, have him proxy farm, and completely wreck havoc across the map, Impact will nod dilligently, get down to business and laugh manically across the map. The other four players on the team might be superstars or have specialized signature champions that they're known by, but Impact is the Jack of All Trades. He might not be the master of any of them, but he damn will try to do his best for the sake of the team.
The biggest playboy in League, Piglet knows how to charm the ladies - Photo by inven.co.kr
The Ace of Queens
Alright, are you ready for the craziest fact you'll possibly ever hear about a player in League of Legends?
On male champions, Piglet is a below average 4-7 record. He's tried some Twitch, Varus, Ezreal and even some Lee Sin in his time, but he just doesn't get along well with male champions.
On female champions, Piglet is 26-2. Yeah, you heard that right -- Piglet, all-time in professional games, has won twenty six out of his twenty eight games on female champions. With a 13-1 record on Caitlyn, 10-1 on Vayne, and a perfect 3-0 on Miss Fortune, Piglet is truly the Ace of Queens. Some men are only made for one woman, but Piglet is the true romancer of Korean League of Legends, holding the most insane stat in history. Whatever the reason, he just performs out of this world on female champions, but can't do anything when he is paired with a male champion in lane.
Unnoticed for the majority of last season, Piglet had his first major breakout performance in last season's quarterfinals, having a marquee series against Shield's Locodoco. The consistency didn't last, falling to the stronger Imp and Mata combination in the semifinals, but the player that kkoma had chosen from the Korean ladder had shown promise to maybe being a pretty good ADC if everything came together.
If you've watched any of the SKT games this season, Piglet has met and gone past any expectations people could have had for him. He went from a promising, inconsistent rookie last season, similar to his former sister team's Raven, and progressed into one of the best AD Carries in the world. While Raven did the opposite, going under during his sophomore season and getting cut at the end of the season by the Jin Air Falcons, Piglet has only gotten better every game he's entered, having a huge lead in overall ADC KDA and one of the top players in the overall season MVP points standings.
One of the biggest benefits on being with a team that has players with signature champions and another superstar on it, is that Piglet can usually get one of his two ladies in lane. 13-1 all-time on Caitlyn and 10-1 on Vayne, Piglet has played almost nothing but these two champions this season, but can you blame him? The only time he actually picked a male, Twitch, in the semifinals against Ozone, was the only game SK Telecom T1 has lost this entire season. Point being, if Piglet picks a woman, SK Telecom T1 is going to win. If he picks a male, they're going to lose.
Nevertheless, no matter his charm to the female champions of League, Piglet is a certified superstar now. Just as last season was Imp's coming out party as one of the best AD Carries in the world, this season has all been about Piglet picking up the slack that was desperately needed last season and asserting himself as an equal to Faker. Right when teams thought they finally figured out the answers to beat SKT, the Ace of Queens stepped in and changed the questions.
With limitless potential, Faker wants to challenge the world - inven.co.kr
At last, Faker.
Hyped up since his days on the solo queue, fans patiently awaited his debut on the scene. Chosen to be apart of kkoma's brainchild, the top of the Korean ladder turned his sights on the pro scene with all eyes on how he'd perform. Cocky, brash and even sometimes arrogant, his play was marvelous, but it never game respect to his opponents or the opposing team. He would solo his opposition and make them look silly, but he would still overextend in team fights or have an solo queue mentality against players who had been pros for over a year. Still, his explosive talent and pure skill were enough to push him and his team to the semifinals before meeting their end to the champions Ozone.
Throughout his young career, Faker has learned a lot. Although he's still insanely cocky and arrogant in not only interviews, but at starts of games as well by sometimes not even taking a potion to lane, the seventeen-year-old has learned how to trust his teammates and understand that he doesn't need to be the leading actor of every game. He is still the figurehead and best player on the team, but instead of carrying every single game, he now has another superstar in Piglet to help out in crucial games. If teams try to ignore him and pick on his teammates like Ozone did a season ago, it simply won't work anymore, everyone on the team having improved, but no more than Piglet, who has now become a player that opposing teams need to plan for before playing him.
The most impressive thing about Faker is his champion selection. We talk a lot about Piglet's luck with the ladies, bengi's love of Jarvan, and how PoohMandu loves his mermaids, but what about Faker? His biggest strength, outside of his incredible skill, is that he has zero signature champions. He just doesn't have one. The best case you could make is his Orianna, a champion that Ozone banned out in the semifinals this season, but it didn't matter as Faker was able to carry on other champions.
Eighteen champions played in thirty-nine professional games, Faker's greatest strength in game is the number zero. Look at players like Madlife and Flame, two of the best at their position in the world. Madlife is amazing on the hook champions Thresh and Blitzcrank, immortalized on those two champions with fan art of him paired with the hooking supports. So what did the teams do this season? They banned him out. Madlife is still great at gaining vision and playing on other champions like Sona or Allistar, but he just isn't the same when compared to his play making champions of Blitz or Thresh. With Flame, it's the same. He is widely known for his incredible Kennen and Diana plays, so what did Bullets do this season? They banned both out every game, forcing him to play on non-carry instigator champions. He's still an incredible player, but he isn't as good when not on those two champions.
Faker? Everything is pretty much the same. He will kill you on Karthus. He will kill you on LeBlanc. He'll kill you Orianna. It doesn't matter to him what he picks. His level of play is consistent to almost every single champion he plays. While it's an honor to have a champion become your signature, it can also be a player's greatest weakness. When you start playing incredibly well on one or two champions and are a focal part of your team, what do you think is going to happen? They're going to be taken away from you. To Faker, the banning phase is just a way for teams to take off one of the hundred champions that he could play at any time.
People might be scratching their heads and wondering, 'What is Faker's signature champion!?' and thinking if it's Orianna or even his praised Syndra on the ladder, but to me the answer is that he doesn't have one. He's the number zero. He is limitless and can perform at an all-star role at whatever champion he is given. From his days last season where all he did was play heavy roam champions, look at who he played in the semifinals against Ozone. Karthus, Ahri, Ezreal and then Gragas. All four, completely different champions, but he excelled in whatever he was given.
When the finals come, the Bullets shouldn't waste bans on Faker. Against Ozone, he already cemented the fact that there is nothing you can do to deter him from playing a champion he's comfortable on. Your best bet is to take a sheet of paper, write down every single champion in the game, and blindly pick one. In a day and age where more and more player's are becoming renowned for being an ace on a specific champion or two, SKT's sophomore superstar proves that the number zero might be the most powerful of all.
The Finals: Bullets vs. SKT T1
With the conclusion of the semi-final round of Champions Summer as well as the third place match, KT Bullets and SK Telecom T1 remain standing as they chase their first Champions victory as well as the 400 circuit points that will push them towards a berth at the Season 3 World Championship. The Telecommunications War has been reignited as these two giants clash for the first time in a major League of Legends event, and much more is riding on the line than simply pride for their sponsors. Both teams have looked incredibly strong this season, showing not only disciplined, calculated play, but also crowd-pleasing maneuvers and compositions. If Wednesday's third place match between CJ Entus Frost and MVP Ozone is anything to go by, Champions Summer's grand final will be one of the greatest League of Legends matches of the year, if not the greatest so far.
KT Bullets have broken their playoffs curse, finally making it to the grand final that they have been seeking since their inception. They played Group D conservatively, scoring a decisive 2:0 victory over newcomers MiG Blitz, a key tie against the other titan of the group CJ Entus Frost and a decisive tie against Incredible Miracle, mostly throwing away their last game as they had already qualified for the round of 8 (though LG-IM played their best game of the season in their victory over KTB). In what was the most exciting match of the round of 8, a clutch victory in blind pick against CJ Entus Blaze would see them face a vengeful CJ Entus Frost in the round of 4. KT Bullets surely earned themselves the title of 'CJ Slayers' as they dispatched of the second CJ Entus team in a clean sweep.
Each season, KT Bullets have looked remarkably strong on paper. In the group stage, they have always kept up with expectations, performing strongly and making it through to the round of 8 each time. However, in their past two seasons of Champions, KT Bullets have fallen to the eventual winners of the tournament. To Najin Sword, they were unable to cope with the pressure of a semi-final and snowballed to a loss against MakNooN's heavy dives and fast-paced style. To MVP Ozone, they were mentally crushed from hurtful comments made by netizens regarding their shady throw against CJ Entus Frost to avoid playing against Najin Sword again in the round of 8. However, they have looked extraordinarily confident, coming back from losing two games in a row to win two games in a row against CJ Entus Blaze. They showed no mercy against CJ Entus Frost, and for KT Rolster fans, their victory may finally be in sight.
T2: Judgment Day
SK Telecom T1 have continued their great Champions performance with a clean sweep of Group C, driving home just how large the gap that exists between Korea's top teams and second-tier teams is. Najin White Shield, MVP Blue and Incredible Miracle #2 were dispatched with ease. Quarter-final opponents (and former teammates) Jin Air Falcons were next on the chopping block, as they fell in three short games. Falcons mid laner Miso had expressed fear of facing not only Faker, but the entire SK Telecom T1 squad, which had improved greatly from their already-strong state in Champions Spring, and it appears his fears were justified. Dropping one game off the back of dade's insane Zed play to reigning champions MVP Ozone, SK Telecom T1 surged back into form as Faker silenced those who believed he was overhyped.
Like their grand final opponents, SK Telecom T1 scored third place in their first run in Champions. However, rather than dropping out in the round of 8 in their next tournament, SK Telecom T1 have gained a huge following as they have toppled team after team to make it to the grand final of Champions Summer. Undoubtedly the most impressive rookie team in recent memory, SK Telecom T1 have completely shed their image as the rookie project of Impact. They are no longer the reckless, explosive solo queue heroes of spring. No matter the result of this match, SK Telecom T1 have firmly established themselves as a top-level Korean team, and by extension, a world-class League of Legends squad. Hasta la vista, baby.
Seems this is a familiar sight
inSec vs. Impact
inSec vs. Impact
Along with third place top laner Homme, inSec and Impact form the upper echelon of defensive-minded top laners in Korea. The meteoric rise of solo lane Zac in recent weeks have led to two consecutive nerfs on the part of Riot, yet tournaments around the world are currently being played on patch 3.10, where Zac's power has led to his 100% pick/ban rate in competitive games. Though carry laners like Shy and Flame took longer to adapt, the players already comfortable on tanks such as Shen, Malphite or Renekton were able to pick Zac up faster and abuse his power in teams that were already accustomed to solo lane tanks. Now, in the grand final of Champions Summer, defensive top laners will finally have their day as inSec and Impact will test their skills for the final time before patch 3.10a.
When inSec announced his move to top lane, many questioned why the world's best jungler would change positions. After his smooth transition and near-perfect play, it is clear why – inSec is incredibly good at top lane. Immediately jumping on tanks such as Shen and Zac, his solid lane play and even better teamfighting have been a great aid to the Bullets. The previously mentioned king of the top lane Zac has been piloted by inSec seven times (the last three demolishing CJ Entus Frost), while the ever-popular Shen comes in second at a mere two picks. Jayce, Lissandra and Malphite fill out inSec's revealed champion pool. Although inSec was less than convincing on Lissandra (suffering from his usual weakness of itchy trigger finger), his Jayce selection was a pleasant diversion from his usual tank play, where he outfarmed Flame and took on a more passive, damage-oriented role for his team.
The largest factor in inSec's nearly flawless transition to the top lane is by far his playmaking ability. As a jungler, inSec favoured Lee Sin due to his ability to create plays and pick off champions from almost any position. The now-famous inSec Combo is a testament to his uncanny ability to perceive and execute playmaking opportunities for his team, which he has replicated with ease on Malphite and Zac. The champions' abilities to start a fight from literally anywhere around the enemy team fits in perfectly with inSec's inclination to dive backlines. Although inSec is no stranger to damage-dealing champions (his former trademark being jungle Zed), being able to run champions with sustained damage such as Shen and Zac allow him to be a double threat – both in initiation and in damage.
Like his opponent, Impact has also seen his share of position changes throughout his career. As top laner for Xenics Storm, he later switched to support, ultimately coming back to top as he joined SK Telecom T1. Though constantly criticised for his unwarranted arrogance in past seasons, Impact's bark seems to be finally having some bite behind it as he has shown that old dogs can indeed learn new tricks. His improvement has been parallel to SK Telecom T1's improvement – starting out as a stalwart, defensive top laner like Homme, he slowly posed more of a threat even on low-damage tanks like Shen. This allowed for great diversification in SK Telecom T1's compositions, as the team moved from high-octane, objective-based play involving heavy dives towards a more balanced playbook, some even involving AD carry Piglet as the core rather than mid laner Faker.
Impact's champion pool, though not too different from most top lane rosters, contains one interesting component in Singed. Though Shy of CJ Entus Frost has since forsaken the Mad Chemist, Impact continues to select him, becoming a difficult split pusher for teams to deal with. He has not fallen behind in any of his three games on Singed, though a slow start for the entirety of SK Telecom T1 gave him his sole loss of the season. Impact has also favoured Zac, picking him five times and actually showing some carry potential in his domination of the top lane. Shen has been picked twice, while Diana, Kennen and Vladimir were each selected once in double-AP compositions. No real surprises are expected from Impact in the upcoming grand final – Zac will be the first port of call as always, while Shen is more likely to be deferred to unless Impact feels up to the task of pushing inSec in with Singed.
Impact is the kind of top laner that solo queue players would dream of having on their side – versatile both in gameplay and champion pool, not prone to feeding, and even showing some shades of dominance in certain lanes. Alongside Shy, it would not be a stretch to call him the most well-rounded top laner in Korea. His consistency means he probably won't lose outright to inSec, but with the way inSec was able to put Shy down early with the help of KaKAO, the possibility of Impact losing cannot be ruled out. On the other hand, inSec's aggression may be a weak point for Impact to target. SK Telecom T1 may decide to ban out Zac and force inSec into a more high-risk champion. Impact is highly capable of making power plays that place his opponents in checkmate positions, especially on Shen and Singed. Forcing inSec into an uncomfortable situation may be key in the match-up.
Ultimately, however, the current state of the top lane in patch 3.10 makes it a war of attrition. Some lane match-ups will never go favourably for one side, as history has shown us that Shen cannot possibly beat Zac, or that Vladimir will be able to farm freely against most top lane tanks. Drafting remains the most important factor in deciding the match-up, as well as what kind of role the top laners will play for their team. The importance of a head-to-head skill match-up has faded from competitive play, as the current top lane champions have low mechanical floors and tend to be quite tanky. The strength of a player does not solely lie in their laning ability or knowledge, but also in their teamplay and wider decision making. It will be these auxiliary strengths that will see inSec or Impact rise in the grand final.
KaKAO will pop his collar one last time against SKT T1
KaKAO vs. Bengi
KaKAO vs. Bengi
With some distinct jungle styles still in play, such as CloudTemplar's passive, herbivorous style (which even he has been shrugging off as of late) or DanDy's calculated counterjungling, some may wonder where other top junglers like KaKAO and Bengi fall. The truth is that jungle is such a diverse position that players cannot be pigeon-holed into certain playstyles. KaKAO and Bengi have proven themselves to be highly consistent, strong junglers – along with DanDy, few would deny that they make up Korea's top three. While it is difficult to compare their indvidual styles (due to neither of the players really favouring one style of jungling), the universal hallmarks of a good jungler – flexibility, prediction and good judgement are clearly defined, and these skills and attributes will be put to the test in Champions Summer's grand final.
The agony of KaKAO was put to an end as the long-suffering jungler joined KT Bullets, finally finding a team that was worthy of his jungle ability. His aggressive carnivore play has carried KT Bullets through their early game, as he spearheads many early objectives. KaKAO's old favourite of Lee Sin has only made one appearance, overshadowed by five games on Jarvan IV, four games on Elise and three games on Evelynn. A sole Nunu pick fills out his revealed champion pool, as KaKAO has demonstrated greater versatility than any other jungler in Champions with his well-rounded champion pool. With the exception of Nunu, all of his picks thus far have been proficient in diving. It was often said that KT Rolster B's core was the three-man dive combination of ssumday, inSec and Ryu. This philosophy has carried over as KT's marquee team adopted the Bullets moniker - inSec and Ryu are held together by KaKAO and his ability to enable plays by the other two.
KaKAO has demonstrated a great understanding of game flow, as he is almost always where he needs to be. Though not a counterjungler like DanDy, not a heavy ganker like Watch, and not a teamfight monster like CloudTemplar, Bengi fulfils his role within the team by adapting to the situation and being in the right place at the right time. Though he may appear to fall behind on farm due to his heavy roaming, his vigour in taking down objectives gives him enough gold to remain relevant. KaKAO's greatest strength is his on-the-fly decision making, not adhering to any strict methodology but rather playing reactively and limiting the options of the opposing jungler.
Bengi remains one of the more erratic junglers in Korea's pro scene, with the only consistent aspect of his play being his impact on the game. Picking Nunu in six out of nine games leading up to SK Telecom T1's semi-final match against MVP Ozone, Bengi suddenly abandoned the Yeti Rider in favour of other picks. Elise has been picked up twice, while Jarvan IV remains Bengi's most comfortable choice, making three appearances throughout the bracket stage. Rammus and Vi fill out Bengi's champion pool, showing that he is not afraid to go all-in on a heavy diving or ganking champion. It appears that Bengi may treat Nunu as a pick against weaker junglers, as he shied away from Nunu against DanDy, likely out of fear that DanDy would be able to abuse Nunu's weak clear and mediocre ganks to push an advantage for his team.
Though his ability is undeniable, Bengi still remains an enigma and it is therefore difficult to predict what kind of tactics he will employ against KaKAO during the grand final. Study of his games reveal strong confidence in his dueling ability, which may hint at additional Elise picks (especially if it means denying Elise from KaKAO). Bengi has not touched Lee Sin at all, and SK Telecom T1 often chooses to ban the Blind Monk rather than have Bengi face him. The presence of Vi against MVP Ozone suggests that Bengi still has some face-down cards to trap KT Bullets with – perhaps jungle picks that are no longer in vogue, such as Nasus, which KaKAO has picked up in the past. Bengi's Evelynn pick against CJ Entus Frost in Champions Spring may make a return, especially when inSec's ability on Shen is taken into account.
In electronic music, beatmatching is a term used to refer to the process of modifying the upcoming track to match the tempo of the current one, so as to ensure a smooth and effective transition. KaKAO and Bengi may not be DJs, but beatmatching is a crucial skill in the volatile Korean jungle metagame, and one that they have adopted naturally. Smooth transitions from one phase of the game to the next will be crucial for both teams to grasp victory, and KaKAO and Bengi will be at the forefront of such movements. As one jungler shifts the tempo of the game, the other must match up instantly and respond, or small advantages will snowball into larger ones. Future moves by the junglers will need to be predicted, and it remains to be seen if Bengi has picked up a lesson or two in counterjungling from DanDy (who, coincidentally, is almost guaranteed to be his practice partner in the upcoming days due to MVP Ozone's unique standing in the circuit point ladder).
In all his glory
Ryu vs. Faker
Ryu vs. Faker
No shortage of amazing mid lane match-ups exists in Champions Summer, as Ryu and Faker square off for the first time in a Champions match. Both players have been incredibly solid this season, and carrying their teams outright on a few occasions. While Ryu has continued to iron out his over-aggression, Faker has become a much more methodical player, being more calculated in his aggression and scoring CS numbers even higher than last season. Both players have shown proficiency on a wide champion pool this season, showing comfort on the standard Korean picks, but also branching out to favour champions fitting their playstyles. The main point of interest, however, is the players' recent experience. Though scrims are immensely useful in training, the fact remains that Ryu has not really been challenged by any of his opponents this season. As he plays against Faker, his confidence may be called into question for the first time.
Ryu's main strength has always been his coordinated dives with the top laner and jungler of his team – all the way back to StarTale, calculated dives have been the cornerstone of the Ryu playbook. Yet, this season, Ryu has trained on champions that do not really fit his preferred style, evidenced by his three Orianna picks, along with one Ezreal and one Karthus pick. True to form, however, Ryu has still been selecting assassins, with two Ahri picks, three Twisted Fate picks, three games on Zed and one lone game on Kassadin. Against Ambition, Ryu's 100% winrate on Twisted Fate was finally broken, possibly a reason why he did not select Twisted Fate at all against CJ Entus Frost. Though Ryu's strengths lie in his assassin play, no one can stay at the top level in Korea without diversifying their champion pool. SK Telecom T1 may seek to funnel him into non-assassin picks, where he just becomes a solid mid laner rather than an extremely high-impact player like Ganked by mom on Orianna.
Against Faker, Ryu's main objective will be to stop his roam. Though Ryu's roam in itself is devastating, Faker has proven time and time again to be incredibly dangerous given farm, as his impact on the game is most clearly seen in his late-game carry play. Ryu should have no trouble keeping up with Faker in a farm lane, but with Faker's move towards calculated ganks rather than focusing his laning phase on constant roaming, KT Bullets will require Ryu to counter-roam. Depending on champion selections, Ryu may be able to squeeze in a game on a high-roaming assassin such as Ahri or Zed, and indeed, KT Bullets will benefit more from his coordinated dives with inSec and KaKAO rather than his play on a carry like Karthus.
Ever since SK Telecom T1's beginning, Faker has always been the star player of the team. Formerly first on Korea's solo queue ladder, his transition into competitive gaming has been a sight to behold. This season, he has focused on Orianna, with three games on the Lady of Clockwork. Ahri and Gragas are the runners-up, with two picks each, while Faker has played one game on Diana, Ezreal, Karthus, Kassadin, Syndra and Zed. Nine champions out of thirteen games has earned him the award of the season's widest champion pool, and judging by his play on less popular picks such as Nidalee (who recently has been gaining steam in Korean solo queue) and LeBlanc, it seems he still has yet to reveal his full capabilities.
As previously stated, Faker's maturing as a player has manifested itself in his new preferred playstyle, employing heavy farming and calculated roams. Faker seeks to maximise his gold gain, constantly attaining the highest creep score in most of his games. Faker's roams usually result in an objective being taken for SK Telecom T1, as he only leaves the lane when there is a high percentage of a beneficial result. Apart from his champion preferences, Faker's play is starting to remind many of Ambition in his prime, where he would farm safely and destroy later in the game. His move away from the overly-aggressive Faker of Champions Spring has been a huge factor in SK Telecom T1's success, and marks him as one of the most important players in the world to watch.
Though Ryu means 'dragon' in Japanese, the image of the dragon applies better to Faker. Ryu is more like the tiger, employing power plays and aggressive laning to gain an advantage. Faker is more controlled in his play, opting to farm early so that he can play aggressively late. The battle between the tiger and the dragon is well documented in East Asian texts, and it will manifest itself in this telecommunications war, between Ryu and Faker. Though audiences would love a high-paced lane full of action, it is unlikely that either of these players will attempt to make aggressive plays on the other due to the high level of mutual respect. Many teams have elected to 2v1 Ryu and Faker in the past, and a 2v1 could very well happen again.
Not pictured: ssumday
Score and Mafa vs. Piglet and PoohManDu
Score and Mafa vs. Piglet and PoohManDu
Our last match-up of Champions Summer's grand final is one that will require a large shift in thinking to properly assess. The last two televised Champions matches have both involved MVP Ozone's imp and Mata, a highly aggressive bottom lane and perhaps the strongest in Korea. However, we saw them fall to Piglet and PoohManDu, removing any chance of having a volatile, action-packed bottom lane in the grand final. To judge this match-up between the long-time partners Score and Mafa and the match made in heaven Piglet and PoohManDu, we must look at their roles within the teams and playmaking rather than a head-to-head duel in the bottom lane. One player is the cause of this – Score the Immortal.
For the uninitiated, Score is named 'the Immortal' due to a period in Champions Winter in which he did not die, at all. His famous 'Scorki' played incredibly safely through the entire game, dealing the maximum amount of damage possible without dying. Though Corki has since fallen out of favour (which didn't stop Score from picking him into a loss against Incredible Miracle), Score still favours slippery marksmen, as seen through his two games on Ezreal, three on Vayne and four on Twitch. Two picks each of Caitlyn and Varus fill out this well-rounded carry's champion pool. Mafa, the one responsible for turning mortal into immortal, has favoured Korea's big three, with three games on Thresh, four on Nami and five on Sona. Two odd choices in Annie and Fiddlesticks made one appearance each, rounding out Mafa's champion pool.
Apologies go out to whoever was expecting a detailed breakdown of KT Bullets' bottom lane, because there really is not that much to say about Score and Mafa. Regardless of who they are facing, a match is a match and playing against SK Telecom T1 will be just another day in the office. Korea's most consistent, most safe and least killed bottom lane will perform their necessary duties, forming the support system for inSec, KaKAO and Ryu. The only difference is the pressure of playing in front of a large crowd at such a large venue as the Jamsil Supplementary Soccer Stadium – but if KT Bullets can ride the hype of the crowd, nerves should not be an issue.
Piglet and PoohManDu are by far the stand-out bottom lane of the season. While Piglet fulfilled a role similar to Score in SK Telecom T1 in Champions Spring, this season has seen him step up his play (especially on Caitlyn and Vayne) and becoming an even stronger threat to complement Faker. With five victories on Caitlyn and seven on Vayne this season, there are no real secrets as to which champions Piglet will select against KT Bullets. One lone Twitch loss has probably deterred him from selecting the Plague Rat again, but anything goes in a grand final. Mafa has similarly demonstrated an obsession with female champions, playing one game on Lulu, three on Sona and an unbelievable eight games on Nami (unbelievable because MVP Ozone was the first team to ban Nami against him).
However, SK Telecom T1 have clearly demonstrated that picking the same champions over and over is not a weakness. Mafa was able to pull out wins even when his Nami was denied, on three other champions. While Piglet was not so lucky with Twitch, it would be absolute folly to assume that he can only play two champions at a high level. Along with their opponents, the bottom lane of Piglet and PoohManDu is one of the most methodical bottom lanes in Korea. They perform with a great understanding of their roles within the team and how their champions fit into SK Telecom T1's greater strategy.
Unlike teams such as Royal Club, Counter Logic Gaming or MVP Ozone, famous for having their strongest threat in the bottom lane carry position, neither KT Bullets nor SK Telecom T1 put their eggs in the baskets of Score and Piglet. Rather, the two carries fit in like roller chains in the well-oiled machine of the telecommunication giants. Their supports are the gears that turn these chains and keep the machine running along without problems, the enablers for their teams. Outside of heavy roam by KaKAO, Ryu, Bengi and Faker, these bottom lanes should not have too much trouble in farming up and assuming their roles.
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