On October 1st, sixteen teams arrived in Paris, France for the League of Legends World Championship, grinding their way through a two week group stage for the honors of advancing into the playoff brackets. The talents were international, spread among three teams for each of Korea, China, Europe and North America, two teams from Taiwan, and a representative each from Brazil and Thailand.
Now, only two remain.
The story so far
This year's World Championship has been dramatic. In the wake of 2014's mass exodus of Korean pros, including the entirety of last year's world champions and their sister team (along with their coaching staff, analysts, and six or seven dozen of their peers) the playing field was expected to have finally been leveled—at least for China. The LPL teams had tenaciously clung onto the silver medal for two straight years, falling short against their Korean rivals time and again at every international event since 2013. The European and American teams, meanwhile, were desperately trying to figure out a way to break through the Eastern stranglehold on tournament titles—a feat they've failed to achieve since Russia's legendary Moscow 5 was disbanded and reformed as the thus far ill-fated Gambit Gaming.
This year, a breakthrough seemed imminent. China's Edward Gaming dominated not just the domestic circuit, but clinched a longsought victory over SKT T1 during the Mid-Season Invitational in Tallahassee, Florida. America's darlings Team SoloMid took gold at IEM Katowice further back in March, setting the stage for a western revival.
Then, after a triumphant week one, North America fell apart so badly that all three teams failed to make playoffs. China was drawn and quartered, with only Edward Gaming surviving group stages to lose 0-3 to Fnatic. Europe survived the quarterfinals—and was swallowed whole in a collective 0-6 semifinals defeat. A tiger stalks a proud dragon for the world title, and South Korea is assured its third world championship title in a row.
The grand finalists
Members: Smeb, Hojin, Kuro, PraY, GorillA
Origin: South Korea
Kill List: CLG, PaiN Gaming, KT Rolster, Fnatic
The KOO Tigers' Worlds story has been a microcosm of their organization's year-long history. They were originally rejects of NaJin emFire—an organization that's consistently made it to Worlds but failed to accomplish anything particularly interesting. The players that left for the Tigers weren't considered the cream of the crop even within their own team, but nonetheless became one of the vanishingly few nonKeSPA teams to not only make it into OnGameNet Champions but even find success.
Matching their losses to the Taiwanese Flash Wolves, they were also the first Korean team in years to lose an international tournament. But from that position of weakness, they've clawed and scrabbled their way back to relevance. Though they fell in the Korean summer playoffs against KT Rolster, they got their revenge at Worlds with a decisive 3-1 victory to face off against European superstars Fnatic. Fnatic proved no issue at all against a team that's strategically grown by leaps and bounds over the course of the month—Huni was no match for Smeb's terrifying Riven, Fiora and Hecarim.
While their teamplay has been close to immaculate, especially against Fnatic, the KOO Tigers never did manage to put together a game plan versus this current incarnation of SKT T1 over the course of the year. Their best bet might be to suppress top laner MaRin entirely—but even AHQ's Ziv, despite a stellar individual performance, hasn't figured out how to do that with any real success.
Members: MaRin, Bengi, Faker, Bang, Wolf
Origin: South Korea
Kill List: BKT, H2K, Edward Gaming, AHQ, Origen
In the Starcraft scene, the term "bonjwa" is an honorary title given to a player whose dominance over the scene extends across extensive tournament titles and multiple years.
Faker may be the first League of Legends player to qualify for such an esteem—though 2014 was a rough year for the SKT T1 organization overall, as the Samsung twins of Blue and White overtook them in the domestic circuit, Faker himself was still considered the ace of aces. Often, he was the sole reason for SKT's wins, or at least a factor in why their losses weren't quite so crushing. But that slip in fortune proved temporary—a post-reverie drunken stumble after the acclaim afforded to them after winning the 2013 title and securing an incredible perfect season in the world's most competitive regional circuit.
He and jungler Bengi are back, looking to be the only players in League of Legend's five-year competitive history to win a second world title. They are favored by every metric. This may be the first time that a world champion has taken the title without dropping a single game. Until European team Origen managed to snag an opportunity, SKT T1 have never dropped more than the three outer turrets in any Worlds match. And the KOO Tigers are a known element to them.
But hubris has taken them down before. Wolf is sometimes an intemperate player, occasionally wandering too far when roaming for support. Bengi's played almost exclusively tanky Sightstone junglers, and hasn't yet met a player that can punish his defense-oriented play. And Faker's been happy to let his team take the spotlight this year, playing scaling champions like Ryze instead of drawing from his flashier pool of early-game assassins.
Granted, Faker's been killing everybody else's flashier earlygame assassins with Ryze in straight up oneon-one duels. All talks about SKT's weaknesses are only relative. At their weakest, they are still the undisputed strongest team in the world. At his most vulnerable, Faker is still Faker.
The stage is set in Berlin, Germany. On October 31st, All Hallows' Eve, Korea is about to show the world how this game's supposed to be played.
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