Here it is, the clash between the two strongest teams in Korea. A rematch of the final from the 2015 Worlds Championship. SK Telecom T1 squaring off against the ROX Tigers, and yet it’s only the semifinals. With how well both teams were playing during the regular season, a lot of people expected this year’s final to be a repeat of last year, but fate had other plans. As it is, only one of these two powerhouse teams can advance, and whichever one does will be the heavy favorite to win it all. Strap yourselves in, because this is going to be one hell of a series.
Game One: Winner, SKT
Coming into game one, there weren’t too many surprises. Ryze, Syndra, and Aurelion Sol were banished from the mid lane, with Jayce, Nidalee and Ezreal being the other three champions to be taken off the table. From the beginning, ROX went on the offensive, executing dives in the top and bot lanes. SKT played smart however, and stayed safe until around the thirteen minute mark when Smeb teleported into the mid lane and ROX were able to get two kills and an infernal drake. From there, the fights went back and forth, with both teams trading kills, but SKT always held a lead due to superior objective control. Whenever ROX would get some kills, SKT would take a return kill and a tower. The trades continued until twenty-nine minutes when ROX opted to take their third infernal drake while SKT got the baron. This let them snowball their lead to nine thousand gold, with ROX desperately trying to defend while looking for an opening. Their patience was rewarded as they were able to take a baron when SKT recalled to buy items. The game stalled for a little bit until Elder Dragon came up and both teams moved to take it. It was a fantastic three-man Orianna ultimate from Faker that swung the fight for SKT and won them the game. Overall both teams played extremely well, with SKT being just a few steps, just a little faster on rotations. If ROX want to break that rhythm, they’ll need to either step up their own game or pull out a trick or strategy that SKT are expecting.
Game Two: Winner, ROX
Remember that unexpected strategy I was talking about? GorillA pulling out Miss Fortune support definitely falls under that category. The theory behind this pick is that she functions as a kind of counter for support Zyra. Miss Fortune is able to harass very easily and shove the lane in to deny her opponents farm. Very specifically ROX also took Ashe as their ad carry, meaning that once she hit level six, they could lock targets down for Miss Fortune and the rest of the team to lay down the damage. The other major factor of this game was Smeb on Rumble. Widely heralded as one of the best players in the world, he showed it this game, going 7/1/8 and running circles around Duke. All of these factors combined to allow ROX to outpace SKT in game two. Unlike in the first match, ROX made the same aggressive plays, but didn’t make as many poor trades. Instead they made smart picks and secured turrets while stopping Duke from split pushing like he did in game one. With that advantage, they got baron and were able to take the game shortly after. Even with this higher level of play, SKT aren’t a team to just roll over. Multiple times throughout the game they were able to capitalize on ROX’s aggression, kiting back effectively and using the zone control of Viktor and Zyra to win fights. While ROX were able to throw SKT off their game a little bit with the Miss Fortune pick, they’ll need to do more than that if they want to win the entire series.
Game Three: Winner, ROX
Coming into this game, SKT must have decided that the Miss Fortune support wasn’t that big of a problem, as they didn’t ban her. In fact, they didn’t ban any of ROX’s champions from the previous game, allowing the team to take the exact same team composition, with the exception of Kuro getting Viktor instead of Karma. This change ended up working heavily in ROX’s favor, as they now had even more area of effect damage to stack with the Miss Fortune. The game started off much like the last with ROX jumping out to an early lead, this time focusing even more heavily on the bottom lane. Once they had enough pressure, ROX used their strong poke to siege down turrets and keep SKT from getting back into the game. There was one fight around twenty-four minutes where SKT got three kills and a tower off of an overly aggressive dive from Peanut. Unfortunately, that success didn’t last long, as ROX got a pick onto Faker, took baron and boosted their already substantial lead by another three thousand gold. One big team fight and a second baron later and ROX was now one game away from knocking SKT out of the tournament. After losing two games in a row to the same team composition, SKT should re-evaluate their draft and decide whether it’s worth it to leave power picks like Miss Fortune, Ashe or Rumble open. As for ROX, they can’t expect to pull off the same strategy a third time in a row. They’ll need to pull out something new, but equally as effective in order to close out this series.
Game Four: Winner, SKT
Looking to change things up for game four, SKT immediately banned out Miss Fortune and subbed in Bengi at the jungle position. ROX on the other hand, made a serious mistake in their draft phase, opting to ban out Cassiopeia instead of Nidalee. While Faker’s Cassiopeia was strong, he hadn’t played it since the first week of the group stage and it didn’t seem to be a high priority for SKT. Nidalee on the other hand has been the most banned jungler at Worlds for good reason and on top of that she is a comfort pick for Bengi. He put this pick to work immediately, helping Faker to secure first blood at the five minute mark. From there he was all over the map, paying particular attention to the mid and bottom lanes to get Bang and Faker snowballing. Unlike ROX, who made small mistakes while ahead in games two and three, SKT were nearly immaculate in their control. Only giving up five kills and two towers, SKT strangled ROX out of the game in just under forty-three minutes, using the long range of Nidalee and Jhin to siege down turrets. This game marks a serious warning sign for ROX as they lost badly even with such power picks as Olaf, Ashe, and Zyra. They’ll need to find some way to break up SKT’s control, and it can’t be with Miss Fortune. If they want to try for the aggressive style that worked in games two and three, they’ll need to execute even faster and more efficiently so that they don’t give up free kills to SKT and fall behind.
Game Five: Winner, SKT
While a lot of people predicted that this series would go to a full five games, I don’t think anyone could have foreseen just how we got here. Once again, SKT made sure to ban GorillA’s Miss Fortune support that had given them so much trouble in games two and three. They also choose to ban Nidalee to keep it away from Peanut, giving up Jayce in the process, who was picked up by Smeb. Looking to jump out to a lead early, ROX struck first with Peanut getting first blood onto Bengi. From there the match fluctuated for a while, with both teams playing more cautiously than in previous games, fully aware of how much was riding on this last game. The dam broke open at twenty-two minutes when ROX went for baron. They secured it, but at the cost of four members. The play was facilitated by a great ultimate from Bengi’s Lee Sin to knock Peanut into the Ashe ultimate. Even without their smite, ROX still got the baron, but couldn’t do anything with it. SKT on the other hand finally had the advantage they needed to retake control of the game. With the gold lead, they were able to execute their normal game plan, slowly grinding ROX out over the next twenty minutes. ROX’s long range composition couldn’t find a way back into the game once they found behind and SKT never gave them an opening. With this win, ROX was eliminated from the tournament and SKT advanced to the final round where they will look to make history.
Although they had a few rough games during the group stage, the ROX Tigers stepped up and showed a level of play unmatched by the majority of teams at Worlds. They showed aggressive early game strategies, controlled siege compositions and of course the surprise Miss Fortune support that will surely be terrorizing solo queue for weeks to come. Unfortunately, they came up just a little short, falling to their longtime rivals SKT. Even so, a semifinals finish is very impressive, and ROX can still easily claim to be one of the top three teams at this year’s World Championship. As for SKT, they’ll be looking forward to the finals, where they have a chance to be the first team to win back to back championships, as well as be the first team to win three championships overall. We’re almost at the end of the 2016 World Championship and it’ll come to an end next weekend when SKT squares off against Samsung Galaxy in a best of five series.