This article is part of our The Big Game series.
The Final Call: Samsung Galaxy 3-1
The Short Version: SK Telecom T1 has struggled to dispatch teams far worse than Samsung Galaxy on their way to the Finals, while Samsung has shown that they can adapt to meet challenges on every end of the spectrum.
The Long Version:
One of the most tried and true maxims in the competitive League of Legends scene is to never bet against SKT. Time and again they have proven that they are not only the best team in the world, but that they are also the only team in the game’s history capable of defending that title. Their dominance over the League of Legends scene has been so great over the last four years that they even have their own commemorative skin line that comes just short of enshrining them as gods. Meanwhile their ace mid-laner, Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok, has his own music video in which he plays the role of an unstoppable demon king, smashing every challenger that dares challenge him.
Yet, when it came time to place my bets and let the chips fall where they may, I couldn’t bring myself to make what should have been the safe bet. However, I found myself making many of the same logical mistakes that led me to call the LCK 2017 Summer Finals for SKT. I kept telling myself that they had to win simply because they were SKT, and SKT were invulnerable. That logic simply can’t hold up to any kind of scrutiny, however, as the moment you peel the veneer of assumed invulnerability, you quickly realize that this team isn’t the unstoppable juggernaut that we’ve come to expect, and are instead quite the opposite. The SKT that will take the stage tonight is little more than a house of cards held together by one man, a man who will face the largest challenge of his long and storied career tonight. That man is, of course, none other than the vengeful God-King of Summoner’s Rift himself, Faker.
It’s somewhat inevitable that any conversation about these two teams would boil down to the mid lane, but it’s going to be even more critical in tonight’s matchup than it has been in the past. The middle of the map is the greatest – and, debatably, only – strength that SKT has to play around tonight, especially since it’s been the Achille’s Heel of Samsung for this entire tournament. It’s no exaggeration to say that if SKT had literally any other player in the world as their mid laner for this tournament it would be Royal Never Give Up in the finals now, not the defending world champions. Faker was mid laner, initiator, and jungler during the five-game slugfest with Royal, and it has never been more clear exactly how much Faker is the life’s blood of SKT than it was during Game 5 of their semifinals. The fact that both of SKT’s elimination matches have only been won due to a heroic effort from the best player in the world really highlights just how far this team has fallen, and why I believe that Samsung will take the win tonight.
That prediction might come off as a bit strange considering it was proceeded by a discussion about how incredible Faker is playing right now, as well as an acknowledgement that Lee “Crown” Min-ho has looked worse than pretty much every mid laner he’s played against so far, often disastrously so, but there’s a method to the madness. The fact of the matter is that while Faker is performing out of his mind, the rest of his team is playing way beneath the standards that we’ve come to expect from top Korean teams. They’re not winning games via grand strategy, they’re winning games where they scrap their way to a victory against a supposedly inferior opponent.
Samsung, on the other hand, have done a magnificent job of pinpointing exactly how to attack each team they’re played against thus far. Against Longzhu they recognized that attacking Kim “Khan” Dong-ha was a waste of time, and that Khan was simply a tool that allowed his teammates in the bottom lane to play aggressively, and thus Kang “Ambition” Chan-yong ensured that Kim “Pray” Jong-in and Sang “Gorilla” Beom-hyeon barely had an opportunity to play League of Legends. The plan worked magnificently, and Samsung made many analysts question their sanity when they woke up and saw that Longzhu had gone down in flames the night before. Then, against Team WE, Samsung correctly identified that the core strength of WE is their ability to play off of each other, and denied them that strength by splitting the map so viciously that Team WE simply never had a chance to engage in one of their legendary teamfights.
Thus, I acknowledge that Crown is likely to get kicked to the curb by Faker in the 1v1, but I also am forced to acknowledge that if I know that’s the case, then Samsung do as well, and you can be damn sure that they will be coming with 5 different plans to mitigate the damage.
Samsung have proven twice now that they can correctly read their opponents and adapt their playstyle to counter them, and were it not for a, to put It lightly, ill-advised draft in Game 1 against Team WE, I have no doubt in my mind that Samsung wouldn’t just be in the finals right now, they’d be in the finals while having not dropped an elimination game on their way there.
When two top Korean teams clash it’s not the individual players that decide the victor, it’s the strategy. Right now, there’s no question in my mind that Samsung will figure out SKT long before SKT does the same in back and, more importantly, Samsung are also the team with the discipline in every role to correctly execute on their own game plans.
So while my heart might still be saying SKT – which is rather concerning considering my account sports four different Samsung Galaxy icons and exactly zero SKT ones – my brain tells me that Samsung Galaxy simply must be the call tonight. They have the right reads, they have the adaptability to use those reads, and they have the discipline to execute perfectly when they need to. There will be no hat trick for SKT T1 tonight.