Fourteen days of competitions, seventy-two games, all leading up to one last best of five series. Samsung Galaxy, the ragtag group who nobody expected to make it out of Korea, going up against the defending World Champions, SK Telecom. Regardless of the winner, this would be a historic series, ending with either Samsung becoming the second organization to win two World Championships, or SKT becoming the first to win three titles, as well as being the first to win back to back championships. The Staples Center will once again play host to a clash between titans, with both teams looking to make their mark in the record books.
Game One: Winner, SKT
Going into game one, Samsung had all the ingredients for success. They had a strong duo lane of Caitlyn and Zyra, Crown had gotten his prized Viktor, and Ambition was on a playmaking jungler. Unfortunately for them, SKT always seemed to be just a step or two ahead of them. It started around five and half minutes, when Bengi just barely escaped from getting picked off with a clutch save from Wolf. Little moments like that plagued Samsung the entire game, repeatedly losing out on kills by a meager fraction. Every time it did happen, SKT would retaliate with a tower or a kill of their own, snowballing their gold lead to over ten thousand at thirty-seven minutes. Samsung never gave up though, taking kills where they could and even grabbing a few towers around thirty-nine minutes. SKT however took their second baron of the game, as well as the Elder Dragon. With both of the epic buffs, SKT broke into the Samsung base. Samsung put up one last heroic defense, but it only delayed the inevitable, as SKT took the game at a little over fifty-four minutes. Despite the predictions coming into this series, with everyone saying that Samsung had had the easier road to the finals and as such weren’t really that good, they showed up this game. They had some stumbles to be sure, but considering who their opponents were, Samsung played a very impressive game. If they can step up their early game a little more and put SKT on the defensive, Samsung might just be able to take a game off them. SKT played solidly as per usual, but one could argue that they were a little cocky with their draft phase. They opted to ban Ryze instead of Viktor, despite Crown showing a lot more comfort on the latter champion, and also let the Samsung bottom lane get two very strong picks, which almost cost them the game. While it’s undeniable that SKT have the ability to outplay just about everyone at the tournament, they could avoid a lot of those situations by simply taking away problematic champions in the first place.
Game Two: Winner, SKT
Just as I call out SKT’s arrogant draft phase, they execute a very crafty pick and ban. Taking away Olaf and Elise, knowing that Samsung have to ban Nidalee themselves, SKT then grab Lee Sin, effectively shutting Ambition out of all the best junglers. In response Ambition does something very unexpected and take Kindred, a champion that hasn’t been seen since the Chinese Regional Finals. A champion that heavily relies on early snowballing, Samsung got off to a decent early start, with Ambition getting multiple kills and two Mountain Drakes to help with his team’s siege. In a perfect world, this might have been enough to turn things around for Samsung, but unfortunately they were not in said world. They were stuck in a world where Faker had gotten his signature Ryze for the first time this tournament, and he showed the world exactly why this champion had been banned or picked away in fourteen of their last sixteen games. While Ambition was busy getting dragons, Faker was roaming topside, repeatedly diving CuVee under his turret and picking up easy kills. Faker and Bengi became an unstoppable, two-man killing crew, punishing all the members of Samsung any time they ventured outside of their base. With no tank line, Samsung were simply shredded by the high damage SKT composition and fell in almost half the time of game one. While in game play and individual skill are certainly huge factors in determining the outcome of any game, Samsung certainly did not do themselves any favors with their draft. Ambition’s choice of Kindred was especially questionable, as it gave Samsung very little hard crowd control and no tanks to peel for the back line. With things like Skarner being open, a champion that Ambition has found a lot of success on, it remains a mystery as to why Samsung put themselves in a corner like that. Now two games down, it was looking like an open and shut series. Samsung would need to pull out a Herculean effort if they were to get back in this series.
Game Three: Winner, Samsung Galaxy
If ever there was a moment for Samsung’s players to dig deep and play their hearts out, it was this, and that’s exactly what happened. The game began in a similar fashion to the last one, with SKT out rotating and out playing Samsung in almost every way. Taking multiple kills and towers, SKT jumped out to an eight thousand gold lead at twenty-five minutes. The only thing that did go in Samsung’s favor were the dragons, as they were able to take all four of the non-Elder dragons that spawned in this game. With their backs to the wall though, it was Ruler and Ambition who stepped up and played their hearts out. When SKT tried to go for an early baron, they immediately jumped in and got two picks, buying time for the rest of Samsung to collapse and take the baron for themselves. They proceeded to knock six turrets in quick succession and close the gold gap by a whopping seven thousand in the span of about five minutes. All of a sudden we had a real game and both teams were playing much more cautiously as a result. Both teams started stalling, waiting for the big objectives like baron and Elder Dragon to respawn. Baron was fought over multiple times, but neither team could make any headway. Finally around the forty-eight minute mark, SKT were able to take the Elder Dragon and then turn to baron. Even when they had both of the big neutral objectives, Samsung didn’t shy away from picking a fight with SKT. It was truly a fight of inches, with both teams desperately kiting and trying to take out the squishy carries. Samsung’s frontline lasted just a little longer however, between the shields of Poppy and Lee Sin, and Ruler always staying just on the edge of the fight, allowing Samsung to take the fight three for one. Samsung were able to crack the SKT base for the first time in the series after that fight, but couldn’t quite close it out. Both teams went back to the waiting game, neither one willing to make an over aggressive fight. It would take two more barons and Elder Dragon for Samsung to finally bring down SKT and take their first win of the series in a seventy-one minute epic that broke the record for longest game at Worlds. This game should serve as a rallying point for Samsung, as they were able to beat SKT even while being down in gold for the entire game. As for SKT, they might need to start playing a little more seriously and show Samsung the respect that they deserve.
Game Four: Winner, Samsung Galaxy
For game four, SKT subbed in Blank to the jungler, in part to give Bengi a break and to potentially shake things up for Samsung. They also changed up their draft a little, taking away CoreJJ’s Zyra. In return, Samsung left Ashe open for Bang, while taking Jhin for themselves. The game itself started much slower than the last few, as SKT seemed less eager to make overaggressive plays. Samsung on the other hand kept up their immaculate dragon control, always keeping up vision control on that side of the river. Finally, first blood came in the top lane when CuVee outplayed Duke in a straight one versus one, with a second kill following shortly in the mid lane when Faker stayed too long and got picked off by the Jhin ultimate. From there the game went back and forth with both teams trading towers and dragons. Finally at the thirty-two minute mark, the dam broke. While SKT were fighting for vision around baron, they thought they got a pick onto Ambition, but Blank went in too deep and left the backline exposed. This left them wide open for CuVee to come in for a beautiful teleport flank, allowing Samsung to take the fight three for none and pick up the baron afterwards. They took four turrets and two inhibitors with that buff and now had a solid lead. One more baron buff and thirteen minutes later, Samsung closed out game two and were looking to carry that momentum into game five. The key to their success came from their balanced mixture of playmaking and disengage. With Ambition on Lee Sin and Ruler able to start fights with Jhin’s Curtain Call, combined with Viktor’s crowd control and Karma’s shields, Samsung could manipulate fights to best suit the situation. Whether it was kiting back to whittle down the SKT frontline or CuVee flanking to blow up the SKT back line, Samsung showed the strong controlling style that had been their defining strategy throughout the tournament. If SKT don’t want to be reverse swept, they need to respect Samsung’s power picks like Jhin, Viktor and Lee Sin, and either ban them or take them away for game five. Otherwise they could very well fall to an incredible reverse sweep on the Worlds stage.
Game Five: Winner, SKT
SKT opted to put Bengi back in for game five, once again putting their hopes in the veteran jungler. They also executed a very clever draft, leaving Olaf open for Ambition and baiting him into picking The Berserker. In return SKT first picked Ashe for Bang and Viktor for Faker, and later Lee Sin for Bengi. By taking away a lot of the potential playmaking for Samsung, they forced them into a very specific kind of team composition that had to run straight at their opponents, something that Viktor could easily counter. While Ruler did get Jhin again and CoreJJ was able to pick his famed Tahm Kench, it was the Viktor and Lee Sin that would be the key picks for this game. Bengi made sure that Samsung saw the error of their ways immediately, helping his bottom lane pick up first blood just three minutes into the game. Ambition also tried to make an early gank, but he vastly overestimated the diving capabilities of Olaf pre-level six, and ended up trading his own life for Faker’s. From there the game stagnated, both teams showing the immense amount of pressure that they were under. The gold fluctuated as the teams made individuals picks and took down towers, but neither team led by much more than a thousand gold at any time. In the end it was SKT who pulled the trigger, rushing for baron at the thirty six minute mark after seeing that multiple members of Samsung had recalled. Between Viktor and Ashe, they were able to take the objective and even get a pick onto Crown as he tried to stop them. With a large portion of Samsung’s damage out of the way, SKT took the Elder Dragon as well, and now that they had both end game buffs, they were looking to close out the game before Samsung could draw it out. Using Viktor and Trundle to zone Samsung away, SKT were able to siege down multiple turrets and snowball their lead to eight thousand gold. After that it was just a matter of time until baron respawned, which SKT also took and used to break down the rest of the Samsung base and take the series.
The 2016 Worlds Championship was a record-breaking tournament in multiple areas. It had the first wildcard region to make it out of the group stage, the longest game in Worlds history, first final round to go to a full five games, the first team to win back to back Worlds and the first organization to win three Worlds titles. What’s really incredible is that four of these five achievements happened just in the last series, and what a series it was. Coming into the finals, there were many people who didn’t think Samsung would even take a game off of SKT, let alone win the series, and while they certainly didn’t win, Samsung shut those naysayers up. They became one of only four teams to take a game off of SKT throughout the entire tournament, and they were the only team besides the ROX Tigers to push the Korean giant to its limits. It’s unlikely that anyone will forget this final for quite some time, and the players of Samsung Galaxy should be very proud of themselves. They didn’t win, but they came incredibly close and every member of that team can go home proud of what they achieved. As for SKT, they have cemented their place as the greatest organization in League of Legends history. Their record of three Worlds titles is unlikely to be broken anytime soon and it’s impossible for anyone to dispute their dominance. While Faker may still be the flagship player, Bengi and Bang also deserve a huge amount of credit, as both players stepped up to carry their team in times of need. With the end of this series, SKT take home another trophy for their case and we head into the tumultuous off season. With roster swaps only just beginning, it’s anyone’s guess who will make it back to the World stage in one year’s time. For SKT at least, they can take a step back and rest on the laurels for a while, secure in the knowledge that they are the best League of Legends team in the world.