It has been a long time since the Korean representatives at the League of Legends World Championships have looked so unstable.
Although able to secures victories that have granted passage to the later stages of the tournament, the LCK’s three top seeds have been far from dominant.
The once unbeatable region has never looked as vulnerable as they do today, could this finally be the end of South Korea’s reign over the League of Legends eSports scene?
It is not often that SK Telecom T1 head into a match on the international stage as underdogs, yet ahead of their World Championship semi-final against Royal Never Give Up, the scales have tipped in favour of the Chinese outfit.
Even in the face of their many victories this tournament, SKT is coming off the back of a series of underwhelming performances. However admirable the ability to steal victories in the face of almost certain defeat may be, in the case of the mighty SK Telecom T1, it is a sign of mortality unseen in previous years.
Clutching onto a game with all your might, hiding inside your shell like a turtle – hoping to make it to that last team fight that will decide it all – is not the tactic of Champions, it is the strategic refuge of amateurs. Yet, this is exactly what was required of the Koreans in order to avoid an embarrassing defeat at the hands of Misfits.
If SKT is to have any hope of beating RNG they must display a level of competency they’ve struggled to piece together so far at Worlds 2017.
SKT T1 have simultaneously shown miraculous late game fights and also multiple early game holes – maybe they're mortal after all #Worlds2017
— Chris Smith (@PapaSmithy) October 15, 2017
SKT’s growing list of flaws at this tournament has orientated around the team’s passive approach: their willingness to surrender pressure to stall out the game, to give over towers without resistance to aggressive sieges, to relinquish control of their own jungle and seek shelter behind the walls of their own base.
In most cases it can be said that this tactic has been successful in stalling out the game long enough to allow SKT to do what SKT does best, winning the game even with a deficit, but in some crucial cases it has started a cascade of turrets that has only been stopped by the destruction of the Korean’s Nexus.
These flaws play directly into the hands of RNG. If there is one thing all Chinese teams know how to do, it is how to apply crushing pressure, by fighting hard and fighting early.
In spite of SKT’s glaring failings at this tournament, their greatest asset has been clear and self-evident, that is, their almost supernatural ability to read both the game and the map to exquisite precision.
It is simply unfortunate that in the case of this tournament, that ability is being employed solely to support their tactic of secession.
Yet without an adequate answer to what their opposition is doing and without the willingness to play aggressive or alter their strategies, SKT is may well be doomed to relinquish their grip on League of Legends’ most coveted prize.
The responsibility must then fall to SK Telecom T1’s countrymen and last season’s runners-up, Samsung Galaxy, to fly the flag for the LCK in the 2017 World Championship Final.
Susceptible in Week One to the same inability to cope with enemy aggression that still plagues SKT, Samsung has done what their counterparts still fail to do, fight back.
SSG has learned from every game they have played and despite starting the tournament slowly, the team has grown steadily, almost unnoticeably, as the competition has progressed.
SSG were one game from being World Champions last year and with form like this they just might be able to do one better. #Worlds2017
— Isaac CB (@RiotAzael) October 19, 2017
Will Samsung win Worlds?
— Martin Lynge (@RiotDeficio) October 19, 2017
If Samsung Galaxy can keep their head and continue to not be satisfied with their last performance – regardless of how well they performed – then they are almost guaranteed a spot in the final and have every chance of being crowned this year’s World Champions.
The Korean region has every hope of retaining its iron grip on the League of Legends World Championship, leaving their old rivals, China, in a continual state of longing. The biggest narrative shift this year is that that hope rests on the shoulders of Samsung Galaxy.