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How a dynasty was toppled at the League of Legends World Championship

Photo by LoL Esports.

The League of Legends World Championship is the culmination of the year's competitive LoL. Every regional league, from the NA LCS to the wildcard regions to Korea’s LCK leads to Worlds. With a prize pool of over four million dollars on the line, it’s easy to see why teams are eager to claim the trophy. There’s only one thing more important than the prize money: the glory that comes from proving yourself the best team in the world. This weekend, SK Telecom T1 and Samsung Galaxy competed for that honor.

The stage was set. A high budget concert, featuring an Augmented Reality dragon roaring and swooping into the stadium preceded the games. The Beijing National Stadium was packed. All that was left was for the games to play out. Here's how the LoL crown finally changed hands.

The Worlds pantheon

It would seem an impossible task for anyone but SK Telecom T1, the dynasty that rules League of Legends.

SK Telecom T1 represent the standard of excellence in League of Legends esports. They’ve won three World Championships during their tenure as a team. Before this weekend, they held fifty percent of total World Championships during League’s entire duration as a game. This year, they hoped to score another win, picking up the threepeat and earning their fourth World Championship. It would seem an impossible task for anyone but SK Telecom T1, the dynasty that rules League of Legends. There was just one barrier in their way: Samsung Galaxy. 

Samsung has earned a World Championship in the past, with Samsung Galaxy White taking the 2014 World Championship. The current day Galaxy roster had made it to Worlds last year, making it to the finals against SKT T1. Atter dropping the first two games in a brutal brawl, they managed to crawl back and scrape the series to game five. They eventually fell, and SKT T1 walked away supreme. This year, we got a rematch between the two teams.

SK Telecom 1 were in an odd spot. They looked vulnerable compared to last year. They had dropped the LCK Championship to Longzhu Gaming, who would be eliminated in the quarterfinals by Samsung. Despite that, the team looked monstrously strong... largely in part to the legendary Sang-hyeok “Faker” Lee. The mid laner has been there for every one of SKT’s victories, and he is seemingly unstoppable as a player. Even during SKT’s weakest performances at Worlds, Faker would carry his team to a victory.

Taking the crown

While Samsung Galaxy certainly looked strong, there was still a hesitancy to count SK Telecom 1 out. The team has remarkable resilience. When the ROX Tigers broke out the surprise support Miss Fortune and SKT dropped two games, they managed to bounce back. SKT seemingly always wins, no matter how dire the situation looks. For those who cheer against SKT, for organizations like the old ROX, their victories can start to feel inevitable. It’s not dissimilar to a Russian parable: A team rallies on the world stage, hoping to finally conquer their nemesis. They fail. SKT wins. No moral.

Even if you thought Samsung might prevail, no one expected the savage 3-0 series that caught SKT completely off guard. In game one, Samsung maintained a smothering presence over the map, which lead into an absolutely devastating game one for SKT. The defending World Champions went from looking like a pantheon of Gods towering over us mere mortals to, well, an entirely beatable team. Samsung didn’t lose a tower, and inexorably marched forward to take out SKT. 

That confidence continued though the rest of the series. SKT continued to fight, refusing to lay down and die. In game three, SKT pulled ahead, slowly picking up kills and pressure around the map. Unfortunately, it all came to a head at around a Baron attempt. SKT lost the fight, lost the Baron, lost the game, and lost the Championship.

After three World Championships, and the possibility of SKT earning their fourth Championship this year in a threepeat, League fans had started to somewhat resent SKT. While everyone was forced to acknowledge their excellence, many fans felt frustrated. SKT would show up, take the trophy, and leave. You had to respect their skill, but if you cheered for KT, or ROX, or North America as a region, then SKT became a seemingly insurmountable obstacle. The heartbreak only deepened when rosters like ROX would disband after failing to scale the SKT summit.

Which is why it’s shocking that after the dust settled and SSG won, everyone’s hearts shattered for Faker. The legendary talent, the man who has defined success in professional League of Legends, was devastated. Samsung Galaxy hugged each other, cheering and screaming, and Faker sobbed.

If you’re a fan of League of Legends, this may be the best Worlds yet. If you’re not a fan of League, the human stories and displays of emotion make this an amazing entry point for getting into the game. While the technical skill on display is deserving of awe, nothing was more powerful this year than watching gods topple and weep while a new set of victors celebrate.