League of Legends’ World Championships tournament is about to reach its 2016 conclusion with the Grand Finals in Los Angeles’ Staples Center. The finalists comprise two of the LCK’s top teams (that’s the Korean domestic league, in case you’re new to professional LoL), SK Telecom T1 and Samsung Galaxy. They will be playing for over $2m* as well as the “best in the world” title, and the stupidenormous Summoner’s Cup trophy.
So what do you need to know about the two sets of participants?
The big thing about SKT is that they’re considered the best team in the world. That’s an assessment which also bears out if you look at their trophy cabinet. I mean, they’ve already won two of the previous five Worlds tournaments and they’re consistently incredibly strong, even though they’re definitely not infallible. Their lineup boasts big names like the mid-laner Faker, formidable bottom lane duo Wolf and Bang, and the jungler Bengi, who swaps in and out of matches with his alternate Blank.
Occasionally they have off-days or off-matches, but when it comes to a best-of-five situation their typical performance sees them maybe drop a game or two at most but you see them learning as they go, working out how to exploit their opponents’ weaknesses and methodically dismantling them. I have seen them lose at big events – I’m thinking of the Mid-Season Invitational in Tallahassee where they came second to an on-form Chinese team, Edward Gaming. But generally speaking you see them doing this hideous boa-constrictor thing to their foes, just strangling them out of the game in terms of objectives and map control, as well as showing off fantastic team communication. They’re very much a reactive team who specialise in punishing mistakes.
Samsung Galaxy is a relatively new team which might sound weird considering Samsung fielded two teams (Samsung White and Samsung Blue) at the 2014 Worlds tournament, but the KeSPA ruling which left organisations only able to field a single team meant those two previous rosters essentially got purged and a new lineup was drafted for Galaxy. So in that sense it’s the first time this Samsung team has made it to Worlds.
Samsung feel more unfamiliar to me than SKT and not just because they’re the less established side. It’s partly because I wasn’t keeping as close an eye on the LCK this year for various reasons, but also because of their route to the finals.
Their semifinal matchup was against the European side, H2K, and it was a pretty straightforward 3-0. H2K did have their moments in terms of particular fights or kills or whatnot, but Samsung were the superior team with far better control and better understanding/ability when it came to taking the game-winning objectives and directing their energy around the map. When something like that happens it can be harder to see how they match up against their upcoming opponents because the disparity between their previous foe and SKT is so sizeable.
If you turn to previous domestic league results, Samsung fare badly against SKT. Obviously Worlds is a different kettle of bees than the regular Korean league so those previous performances don’t take into account oddities like pocket picks or the effects of intense practice/experience against other teams, but at the moment SKT are the favoured side.
That said, Samsung used the matches against H2K to prove they could play the oddball Ashe/Miss Fortune champion combination which SKT hadn’t worked out how to beat against ROX without just banning it during the champion draft. Perhaps, if SKT still haven’t figured that out and Samsung prove to be sufficiently strong with it, the reigning champs will need to spend bans to get rid of that combo again and it’ll let through some other champs and change the game a little to give Samsung some more options in their play. But, as the saying goes, if “ifs” and “buts” were candy and nuts we’d all have a merry Christmas. And by “all” I mean “Samsung Galaxy” and by “merry Christmas” I mean “Summoner’s Cup trophy which we can barely lift and $2m”.
There’s also been that situation this year where there was a semifinal which felt like a secret final. SKT vs ROX Tigers last weekend was pretty much the best series of professional League of Legends I’ve ever seen and had everything you’d ideally want in a grand final – a rich narrative in terms of the teams’ histories against one another, unexpected champion picks, a full best-of-five punch up and that feeling that the match could truly go either way before that last game when SKT took the lead. It was the sort of match you stay up late for, sit on the edge of the sofa for, make excited gasps over, and turn to Twitter to make sure everyone’s seeing what you’re seeing for.
It’s always hard for a grand final to come in on the back of that in terms of spectator emotional investment and the build-up for this particular match-up isn’t having much success creeping out of SKT/ROX’s shadow. When I’ve listened to people talking about what they want from this year’s final, mostly I’m hearing that they just don’t want the result to be a quick 3-0 stomp for SKT. That’s how I feel too.
It’s not intended as shade for Samsung Galaxy – it’s not impossible for them to win this but it would be a monumental upset.
SKT vs SSG pre-show coverage begins at 2.30pm PST (10.30pm BST) while the event itself starts at 4pm PST (midnight BST). There is also a newcomer stream with intro-level commentary as well as some other viewing options if you fancy switching camera angles or peering at the venue.
*It might be a bit more or a lot more depending on how much the fan contribution to the prize pool turns out. Currently purchases of particular in-game items have pushed the prize pool up by several million to $5.07m but the final total won’t be confirmed until the November 6 cut off point. The winners will get 40% of that prize pool so at the moment it’s standing at $2.03m.