Written by James Chen, photos from lolesports.com
The all-China semifinals between team OMG and Star Horn Royal Club commanded the full duration of the best-of-five set – a back-and-forth trade of triumphs as Royal Club wrestled for a means to keep OMG's top laner and captain Gogoing from building to ominous strength, and OMG in turn struggled in the face of Korean expatriate and jungler InSec's maverick picks and plays, never knowing what he was going to choose or how he was going to play.
In the end, only one team advanced – and only one player got to claim the title of back-to-back world championship finalist.
Uzi the Kid
Top Lane — Cola
Jungler — inSec
Mid Lane — corn
AD Carry — Uzi
Support — Zero
Jian "Uzi" Zihao might be suffering from a bad case of deja vu right now. His team's changed sponsors and swapped out four players since last year, but here he is again: standing over a defeated OMG, headed to a world championship grand finals against a heavily favored Korean team. But last time, the dream ended in a nightmare.
For most teams and players, being able to stand as finalists at the most prestigious tournament of the year would've been a victory in itself—a career highlight to round out a year of hard work. Royal Club's humiliation from a total defeat in the finals, however, outweighed those sentiments and lead to the dramatic dissolution of the prior squad. In their place, a new team was formed around Uzi, with the high-profile recruitment of former Korean KT Rolster star InSec playing a significant role. While the language barrier would make for a rough start—as evidenced by Star Horn Royal Club's dismal regular season performance—their potential growth promised to be a lot higher with InSec, once known as the most dominant jungler in the world.
It played out much like it did the year before: a perfectly timed peak coinciding with OMG's plateauing and struggles to maintain a lead. Uzi almost didn't have to show up for work—though his multi-kills throughout the series against OMG were crucial in breaking their will, they were effectively hand-fed to him by InSec's unorthodox Champion mastery and dominance, playing champions that were considered irrelevant to the global metagame for months, if not years.
But the question remains: is it enough this time? Though the non-Korean teams appear to have improved this year, the evidence of Korean dominance still remains. White's clean 3-0 sweep against sibling team Samsung Blue ominously threatens a repeat of last year's anticlimatic finish for Star Horn.
Top Lane — Looper
Jungler — DanDy
Mid Lane — PawN
AD Carry — imp
Support — Mata
Unfortunately for them, Star Horn Royal Club might have preferred to face any other Korean team in the finals: Star Horn's strengths are largely shared, and thus neutralized, by their counterparts on Samsung White. The clearest example would be in the jungle: InSec, former ace for the KT Rolster Bullets, was once known as the single most dominant player in the position, but lost that title a year ago when he decided to switch to top lane, and subsequently fell out of relevance.
To his favor, this year's semifinal set against OMG demonstrated a return to strength, showing the same combination of outright skill and unexpected plays that made him famous in the first place. Unlike his prior career as a Korean jungler, however, he has peers this time. His contemporary, DanDy, might be less willing to surprise his own team with a Fiddlesticks pick out of nowhere, but is as adroit as InSec was at his prime, and has an unmatched understanding of the map-wide pressure his position is capable of exerting.
Meanwhile, Uzi has found a true peer in Imp, White's mad dog of the bottom lane. While it'll take a head-to-head match to see which of the two infamously hot-headed AD carries truly reigns supreme, what is known is that Mata, Imp's support, needs to be nerfed. He's continued the legacy of play-making Korean supports like CJ Entus's Madlife—an incredibly strong play-maker with a talent for exploiting his opponent's slightest mistakes and forcing through even the best-laid defenses.
The games will ultimately be decided by a single position: mid lane, where PawN seems to be unstoppable. As nominal successor and historical kryptonite to last year's mid lane world champion, Faker, PawN has been yet unmatched by his world rivals. Corn has been a competent piece in Star Horn's strategies, but he's lacked that certain grace and dominance that PawN so easily exerted over the course of the preceding weeks. The man that's taken up the mantle of Samsung Blue's leader, Dade, is White's ace in the hole.
Amid the Spotlights
PST — Sat 18th, 11:30 PM
EST — Sun 19th, 2:30 AM
UTC — Sun 19th, 06:30
Seoul's World Cup stadium—host of the 2002 FIFA World Cup and the subsequent home for South Korea's biggest concerts—has space for over 66,000 attendees, and it will be jammed to capacity as China and Korea once again butt heads on their quest for the world title. It looks to be another record-setter for League of Legends, but the community is loudly worried about a repeat of the 2013 finals, which were held in Los Angeles's Staples Center.
While it's not uncommon for the grand finals of any competitive event to be a disappointment, the Korean dominance in League of Legends is contextualized by their predecessors in the StarCraft scene, where "foreigner" is now commonly used as a term for all competitors not originating from Korea itself. Another 3-0 victory over their Chinese rivals, commonly considered the second-strongest region in the world, would cement this sentiment for the young League of Legends community as well—a prospect that sits poorly with Uzi and company. As tens of thousands settle upon the World Cup stadium and the spotlights light up the field, the pressure mounts on the 17 year old savant and his team to realize the hopes and wishes of China's massive player base—and stop the South Korean juggernaut in its tracks.