The first of two big clashes between the top teams in Korea and China, RNG is faced with the daunting task of going up against the two-time World Champion, and the team that looked the strongest during the group stage. RNG on the other hand were inconsistent at best, dropping a game to Splyce and only barely managing to rally at the end to beat TSM and advance. If they’re going to even have a chance of beating SKT, RNG will need to pull out the performance of their life.
Game One: Winner, RNG
On the subject of that “performance of their life”, this first game was a good start. RNG came out of the gate swinging, putting a lot of pressure on Duke in the top lane and consistently taking objectives. Their opponent was still the infamous SKT however and they didn’t roll over. The mid game was much closer as RNG’s shotcalling stagnated and they began picking overly aggressive fights, allowing SKT to capitalize and inch back into the game. Still, all credit to RNG as they borrowed a page of Albus Nox’s playbook and snuck a baron at the thirty-seven minute mark. With that they finally had the sieging power they needed to break into the SKT base and finish the game. Still, it wasn’t clean or pretty, and if RNG want to win any more games they’ll need to play even better. As for SKT, it falls on the top and jungle to step up and have a bigger impact on the game. Bengi, while he didn’t play badly, was practically invisible. He had no early game pressure and always seemed to be a step behind Mlxg. Duke on the other hand was once again the weak link, falling to Looper in the one on one in the early game and only dropping further behind. Little things like, small slip ups are what contributed to this loss for SKT. Normally a team known for their impeccable, almost mechanical play, SKT will need to polish up those minor mishaps to regain control of this series.
Game Two: Winner, SKT
For this game SKT subbed in Blank for the jungle and it made quite a difference. Bengi’s jungle pool had been too limited and too easily banned out by RNG. Blank immediately threw them a curveball by bringing out Zac. RNG clearly wasn’t ready for the Secret Weapon, and Blank came at them hard. With his long range initiations, the combined long range control from Varus, Jhin and Zyra, SKT slowly strangled RNG out over the course of forty-three minutes. Despite the rocky game one, SKT showed that they were still one of the best teams in the world. The main reason for this is their ability to control the map and shutting their opponents out of the game. While they’ve been known to do this with a variety of different team compositions, it’s ones like these where they truly shine. A mixture of hard engage and peel, with both consistent and burst damage, a composition with as few weaknesses as possible. Possibly the most important part of this team was the high power, high crowd control bot lane of Zyra and Jhin. RNG played this pair in the first game to similar success and SKT looked to duplicate that. The strength of this pairing comes from their ability to control fights with long range crowd control and disengage, and it was this strength that SKT relied on to direct the course of the game. SKT played their composition to perfect, both at an individual and a team level. They rotated as a team, always one step ahead of RNG, who looked more sluggish than in game one. Without the early lead they had in the first match, RNG couldn’t last against the well-oiled Korean powerhouse. If RNG want to come back in this series, they’ll either need to put more pressure on in the early game or else learn how to play from behind. SKT on the other hand only need to repeat this kind of performance in the next few days to advance.
Game Three: Winner, SKT
Of all the games in this series, this might have been the only one where one team came out with a significant edge in the draft. RNG attempted to limit Blank’s champion pool, but in doing so they let Faker have Syndra. Just like in her previous games, the amount of burst damage that Faker put out was too much for RNG, as they would try to start fights, but would suddenly be down a member. The other person who made his presence known was Duke. His first two games were rough, but he kicked things up a notch in game three. Not dying once, Duke became the rock that SKT needed in the top lane. While the rest of the team was taking dragons and towers, Duke rarely left his position, keeping Looper out of the team fights, even solo killing him on multiple occasions. That solo push in the top lane went virtually unanswered, as RNG had to choose between stopping the split pushing Gnar or the rest of SKT knocking down the rest of the base. Even when RNG did devote serious resources to stopping Duke, he slipped through their fingers, showing a level of mechanical proficiency that he had yet to display in the series. While the control wasn’t quite as tight this time around, SKT didn’t need it. RNG seemed to be coming apart during this game, becoming increasingly desperate as time went on. While they did get a few picks from this aggression, more often it backfired on them, allowing SKT to take over much faster than in game two. This kind of sloppy play is why RNG struggled during the group stage, and it nearly led to them getting eliminated. There is no more room for play like that, not when SKT is one game away from knocking the Chinese team out of the tournament.
Game Four: Winner, SKT
Another unfortunate trade off in the draft phase for RNG, they made sure to ban Syndra for game four, but in doing so they let Elise through. Blank happily took the Spider Queen and while he had a bit of a slow start, his mid game picks were crucial to SKT’s success. Despite letting a power pick like that go, RNG played confidently in the early game and it paid off, for a time. They took early kills, mostly off of Uzi’s mechanical proficiency and Xiaohu’s roams, but were unable to transition those kills into a significant lead. Part of the reason for this is that RNG once again went a little overboard, starting with a dive in the mid lane around twelve minutes. They thought they had the pick onto Faker, but it got turned around and ended up being a three for one trade in favor of SKT. Just a few minutes later, SKT pulled off an incredible dive in the bottom, resulting in an ace and SKT had reclaimed control of the game. Despite this shift in power however, RNG didn’t change tactics. They continued trying to pick fights, only falling further and further behind. One of the players who benefitted most from this was Duke. Going 7/1/4 and having his best personal game of the series, Duke once again applied a monstrous amount of pressure on RNG, split pushing while alone and taking out squishy targets during team fights. His progression throughout the series was quite impressive and if Duke keeps up this level of play, SKT might truly have no weaknesses going into the semifinals. Unfortunately for RNG, this marks the end of their tournament run. They had their bright moments, but in the end it wasn’t enough to break into the top four.
With the end of this series, SKT advance to the semifinals where they will face the ROX Tigers. The two teams have clashed multiple times within the last few years in a struggle for dominance over Korea. While ROX started out a little rough, they’ve cleaned up their game and are looking like a true adversary for SKT. Over the last two regular splits, ROX seems to have had SKT’s number, so if SKT want to break that streak, they’ll need to play at the same level they were during the last two games of their series against RNG. Either way, the semifinals are shaping up to quite the spectacle, on both sides of the bracket.