What a long, strange, wondrous journey it’s been. We’ve gone from the early hype and expectations heading into the 2016 Worlds tournament to just one best of five series remaining. We’ve made some wonderful memories along the way: ANX’s wild ride through Groups, North American favourites TSM falling just one game short of making the playoffs, Samsung Galaxy’s progression from third seed to Worlds finalist, SKT and ROX battling it out in a legendary semifinals showdown, and a ton of trash talking, tears, and emotional moments from our favourite players.
It’ll all end at Los Angeles’ Staples Center on October 29th. SK Telecom T1 will be facing off against Samsung Galaxy in a Best of 5 series, and both teams have shed the initial questions about their performance. Samsung and SKT are both historic teams, and even though the rosters have changed, there’s a historic rivalry between the two teams. While the odds are in SKT’s favour, there’s still a shot for Samsung to take the Summoner's Cup home.
The unstoppable force
There’s a reason that people are rallying behind SK Telecom T1 as we head into the finals; the team has appeared unstoppable on the international stage so far in 2016. They picked up a victory over Counter Logic Gaming at MSI, scored a win at Intel Extreme Masters, and now they have just one tournament left to win: Worlds.
SKT stumbled domestically, falling in the LCK playoffs, which allowed the ROX Tigers to become the Korean summer champions and the favourites heading into Worlds. Now that SKT has eliminated the Tigers, any questions about their strength have been answered. Sure, they dropped two games to the Tigers, but that was based off the surprise support Miss Fortune pick. Every time SKT and ROX played a standard game, SKT were able to control the game and keep a boot on the Tigers’ throat to choke them out.
So much ink has been spilled about SKT’s dominance: their strong lanes, their wealth of experience, their coaching and infrastructure, the legendary mid laner Faker. When Faker was asked how he held up during such an intense series against the Tigers, the only show of strain he allowed was that he needed a chocolate bar in between games 4 and 5. SKT looks like, depending on your perspective, either Gods or Terminators. Unstoppable, unkillable, and unconstrained by mortal concerns like ‘fear’ or ‘tilt.’
The upcoming stars
Samsung Galaxy, on the other hand, very nearly didn’t make Worlds. The team was sloppy when it first started out, and the roster is made up of players who seemed to have either missed their shot or just shown up on the scene. Gone are the glorious rosters of Samsung’s prime. Instead, Galaxy was formed by what seems to be a set of space cadets: Crown has gotten most of the hype and media attention at Worlds, but he was once considered a one trick pony who could only show up on mages like Azir or Viktor. Ambition is a veteran mid laner who never managed to really cut it, but now he’s a jungler on Samsung. Ruler is a rookie who was once critiqued for his shallow champion pool. CuVee has never earned the praises of Smeb or Ssumday. Even CoreJJ swapped roles, going from a North American ADC for Dignitas to a support for Galaxy.
Some teams with this kind of history might be shy, or at least terrified of displaying hubris. They might focus entirely on how lucky they are to make it to Worlds, or on downplaying their achievements. Samsung Galaxy is not one of these teams. The group eagerly plays the role of David to SKT’s Goliath, making bold promises. Their post-game press conference after 3-0ing H2K reads more like a WWE promo in places; they say that Wolf, infuriated at the Miss Fortune pick, will be angry all the way back to Korea. Ambition is eager to face off against two time World Champion Bengi, citing ‘bad memories’ that the SKT legend inspired and wanting revenge for them. CoreJJ has bragged that the true last hope of the West lies in Samsung; as a Dignitas alumni, he has the spirit of NA within him. While SKT are a lean, mean, fighting machine, Samsung Galaxy are firebrands and underdogs.
Samsung Galaxy seems weaker in nearly every category than SKT, except for two possibilities: first, the surprise pick. ROX surprised SKT and the world with support Miss Fortune, and SKT dropped two games in shock. Samsung has faced a much less challenging path to the finals than SKT; they handily won both their series, especially against H2K. It could be possible that they have an ace or two hidden up their sleeve that might allow them to gain an element of surprise.
SKT’s top lane is also a vulnerable spot, as showcased in their battle against RNG. Looper, on Jayce, was able to blow the game open for RNG by pushing hard and picking up an insurmountable lead. Of course, this only lasted for one game before SKT responded by putting them down. A clever team might be able to push on that weakness and create a bigger schism; especially if paired with a surprise pick.
In the end, the Samsung Galaxy crew will have nothing to be ashamed of if they fall at the finals. They’ve already surpassed expectations and astounded fans with their run from a struggling team to an unexpected third seed to Worlds finalists. SKT remains the final obstacle between Samsung and total glory, and it may be impossible to take down the titans. Samsung seems to have removed impossible from their vocabulary, however, and the team is clearly eager to take on the challenge. While SKT is the favourite to take its third World Championship home, there’s always that slim possibility that this is Samsung’s year. I’m eager to see if the squad of upstarts can walk the walk after talking some of the best trash talk of the year.