The first set of League of Legends MSI 2016 semi-finals are done and dusted. I'll wait until after the jump to talk winners and losers in case you're skim reading the site and don't want to know how SK Telecom T! vs Royal Never Give Up played out!
The first game marked a promising start for the home team at the Shanghai Oriental Sports Center as Royal Never Give Up dominated the map. Their aggressive playstyle, strong teamfights and a fantastic performance from top laner Jang 'Looper' Hyeong-Seok meant SKT were often fodder for the Chinese side.
RNG applied map pressure, taking dragons, countering ward placement and bagging other objectives to help force the advantage well into their favour. Looper also deployed a really tanky Trundle which helped distort play by forcing SKT to devote multiple team members in order to take him down, giving the rest of RNG freedom to push their advantage elsewhere. The doesn't mean SKT didn't take some good fights but they weren't able to skew the game back into their favour as RNG had soon gotten too big for their aggression NOT to pay off.
The reigning world champions weren't going to let their nexus go down uncontested so the destruction of their base was accompanied by an avalanche of spells, abilities and wizards punching other wizards in the face. But at the end, RNG just chucked everything they had at the final objective: that nexus. SKT managed to clear the rest of the squad but couldn't take down Looper. The top laner was too big and just whacked SKT's glowing red crystal until it shattered.
RNG - 1, SKT - 0
The second game showcased the downside of RNG's aggression and lack of strategic finesse as well as an improvement in SKT's co-ordination. SKT went with a more waveclear-y lineup, adding Lee 'Faker' Sang-hyeok's Azir to Bae 'Bang' Jun-sik's Sivir. Accompanied by better communication their superior strategic awareness and some fantastic Faker initiations pushed the Korean side ahead.
RNG's solution was to throw bodies and aggression at the situation, trying to brute force their way back into the lead. When you're up against SKT and when they're co-ordinated, ahead, and developing a far better map presence than you, that's not a great strategy. Wolf's Soraka was particularly helpful here, allowing SKT to absorb RNG's aggression. She's kind of like an airbag or a shock absorber because her healing abilities gave them a lot of power to shrug off the damage being inflicted.
Speaking later on to SKT's coach, Kim 'kkOma' Jeong-gyun, he tells me "After losing game one I was talking to the team players and I told them there's four more games and how to not make the same mistakes in game two. We prepared a lot of champions for this series so since the first set of champions didn't work for game one we had new champions for game two."
RNG - 1, SKT - 1
Game three saw SKT confirm that second game win was no one-off. RNG couldn't make their early ganks work, doing damage but not being able to secure the kills they needed to start snowballing. SKT, however, did. A teleport by Faker to top lane resulted in first blood as well as a double kill as he took out Looper and the jungler Liu 'mlxg' Shi-yu.
SKT were far closer to the SKT people fear in this game, better able to dictate the pace and control the objectives. It was not a total wash and for a while it looked like RNG might have a chance to turn the game around given enough time. But SKT put a stop to that, asserting themselves once again.
You can get an idea for the broad thrust of the match from the following exchange - Faker gets killed, which is nice, but only after he takes down opposing mid-laner Li 'xiaohu' Yuan-Hao and the Korean team then go on to take their third dragon of the game. So a "hooray" sandwiched between two "oh dear"s
The match continues in that vein with RNG not able to claw their way back in. They try to contest a Baron at about 28 minutes but when RNG draw them out of the pit they don't have an answer to SKT's fighting power. After a prolonged chase Lee 'Duke' Ho-Seong takes out Looper to complete an ace (that's a team wipe). RNG stop that particular Baron attempt but at huge cost. SKT regroup then take a clean triple kill to set themselves up for a second attempt - one which RNG can't contest this time.
There are still some mistakes from SKT - a prime example is a needless overextension by Faker on the bottom lane towards the end of the match which gets him killed - but the game is theirs. RNG are soon all-but teamwiped and, although their last man standing, Looper, manages to keep Blank and Wolf occupied for a decent chunk of time, Faker and Bang are in RNG's base kicking it to pieces.
RNG - 1, SKT - 2
Game four has SKT back to their familiarly terrifying boa-constrictor style of play. Smart engages, pace dictation and mopping up objectives as they starve their opponents out of the game, crushing and squeezing them until they're kind of aggressive but impotent putty. By 25 minutes SKT are knocking hard on RNG's base. They've taken 3 dragons, 7 turrets, 1 Baron and are 13,000 gold ahead. RNG have precisely nothing. SKT finish their upwards trajectory across the best-of-5 minutes later claiming the series with a perfect game.
RNG - 1, SKT - 3
Tomorrow will determine whether it'll be Flash Wolves or Counter Logic Gaming joining them in the finals. I'm fine with either - it'd be cool to watch North America do well given their existing reputation at international competitions, but I'm also interested in Flash Wolves and wanted them to go further at Worlds than they did. Whether either of them can disrupt SKT will be another matter entirely.