For the first time in recent memory, the World Championship Finals are going to be played between two teams that are equally matched. Unlike every other year, no one comes in as an overwhelming favorite and a case could be made or both teams.
Since 2013 SK telecom T1 has won three World Championships including the last two back to back. They’ve never lost a best of five at Worlds, and have far and away the most experienced and proven player of all time anchoring their mid lane. Until proven otherwise, it’s likely best to assume that SKT will win whatever series they are playing. But this one won’t be easy.
The only other team to have won worlds in that time span is Samsung Galaxy, who have played better than SKT in the Knockout Stage of this tournament. Not only that, but Samsung are likely the best team in the world right now at reading their opponent’s strengths and countering them, something SKT has already proven vulnerable to at Worlds 2017.
In the quarterfinals, Samsung took down Longzhu Gaming, a team widely considered to be the best in the world at the time, in a quick 3-0. SSG identified the team’s reliance on top lane carries and adapted their play style to absorb pressure from that lane while attacking the rest of the map. It was a complete change in style from what we saw Samsung do in the Group Stage.
This malleability is a huge part of what makes Samsung so difficult to play against. The team is willing to adjust every aspect of their play style from series to series and each transition is seamless. This is a fact that SKT coach Kim “Kkoma” Jung-Gyun knows well having dealt with it, to a lesser extent, when the two teams met last year in the World Championship Finals.
Throughout this series, pick and ban could turn into just as much of a battle as the in game fights. Each draft phase will look like a chess match between coaches, with each ban and lock in an attack or counter attack. Neither team is ever really going to know if they locked in a particularly powerful champion because they had a good draft, or because it’s exactly what the other team wanted.
The only true wildcard in this whole match will be the constant push and pull of SKT’s two junglers, Han “Peanut” Wang-ho and Kang “Blank” Sun-gu. Neither jungler stands out as a ringer, and the team never seems completely sure which one they should trust to win games early in the series. So far at this tournament, Kang has been the player the team trusted when the series was on the line, but his jungle path is predictable, and was exploited by both his Knockout Stage opponents so far. No one at the World Championships will be better at exploiting it than Samsung jungler, Kang “Ambition” Chan-yong.
In the end, SK telecom T1 may simply decide that jungle doesn’t matter as much, and place their series in the hands of star mid laner, Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok. After all, this will be his fourth World Finals appearance — more than any other player — so no one in the world should be better suited to the unique pressures that this stage can bring.
There’s no doubt that Samsung will have a specially prepared strategy for each member of SKT and Lee should dominate their attention far more than anyone else. But whether or not that’s enough to take down the three time World Champions and cement their team as one of the greatest ever, remains to be seen. Until then, the safe money will always be with SKT.