This afternoon marks the start of the semi-finals of this year's League of Legends World Championships [official site]. I can't get there what with it having decamped to Brussels BUT I can definitely give you a recap of the teams and their journeys so far along with a couple of predictions. I'll also be back on Monday to pick through what happened in the matches.
Onward for Origen versus SKT!
Origen are one of two European teams left in the competition (the other is Fnatic) while SKT are one of two Korean teams still in the running (KOO Tigers are the others). Of those four Origen seem the weakest.
They've had a phenomenal first year, forming after Worlds 2014 around a nucleus of players from the old Fnatic lineup, rising to the LCS from the Challenger league (that's the one you need to get promoted from to reach the pro tier), and then qualifying for Worlds 2015. But if you take the European Summer Split into account, Origen couldn't best Fnatic, and looking at the rest of their Worlds games Origen are a little scrappy, apt to make mistakes that the other teams are capable of punishing – particularly SKT.
SKT, meanwhile, came into the tournament as favourites. They followed up a second place prize at the Mid-Season Invitational with a dominant domestic season of play. They dropped just one game in the whole season (it was against CJ Entus in case you wanted to know).
SK Telecom T1's 2013 lineup won the third World Championship (Faker and Bengi are still on the roster this time around). I also watched them win the 2014 All-Star in Paris. But they didn't even qualify for Worlds last year. This year whenever I've seen them play there's that aura effect that you get when an exceptional team plays – it's partly based on fact because there are so many phenomenal players in the current lineup and they're performing so well, but there's also something of a legend effect that's built up around them. It affects how people think about them, Faker in particular.
You'll hear it in the match commentary sometimes, or in how fans talk about them. It has an interesting psychological effect on other teams sometimes too. You'll see them targeting Faker, for example, because he's got this [deserved] reputation as a phenomenal player so they want to keep him under control, but while they're expending those resources, SKT are getting objectives elsewhere on the map. There's peculiar tunnel vision when it comes to taking on SKT sometimes and their presence and reputation can really distort play. Fine, you got Faker, but what were MaRin, Bengi, Wolf and Bang up to?
That said, I spoke to shoutcaster Trevor 'Quickshot' Henry after Origen's quarter-final win and he remarked:
"If any team were to come up against SKT and be able to switch off who they’re playing against this is one of the better teams to do that. They won’t go ‘ohmygodohmygodohmygod’ and freeze. They’ll be able to deliver an Origen-level performance."
Fellow shoutcaster David 'Phreak' Turley had this to say about the match-up:
"SKT are clear favourites to go to the final. It's probably a 3-0 because Origen's really scrappy and that's good and bad, but they will overcommit to things and it sometimes works out and sometimes really punishes them. SKT are so refined and so good at punishing mistakes that the scrappiness will help them pull it apart and Origen won't really recover.
"SKT is especially good at, once they're ahead, winning very soundly. When SKT are equal in game it's actually much slower paced and they're more risk averse. As soon as they're a little bit ahead they're good at cementing their vision lead [that's to do with placing wards on the map to show areas that would otherwise be hidden by the fog of war] and getting behind you at all times.
"Origen likes to overextend for farm [meaning they go further into enemy territory than is safe in search of gold and experience] and they will die from this. So unless they can mindgame the entire map and every single time they invade [the jungle] they guess correctly every time which way SKT goes it's just going to be really rough for the way Origen likes to play. It seems most likely to be one-sided."
Something I will say is that in the time since I spoke to both Phreak and Quickshot, Riot has removed three of the champions – including the jungler, Gragas – from competitive play due to a bug. You can read more about why that matters and how it can make it easier to put a jungle player on the back foot through picks and bans here.
But there's a more obvious point to be made in this instance. Origen have played Gragas in four of their ten Worlds games. SKT have played him once in their nine games, Fnatic picked him twice in their nine and KOO haven't given the booze barrel-tosser a single outing in any of their ten. In short, Origen are the team most likely to be affected by the loss of that character. How they've dealt with his removal and how strong the rest of jungler Amazing's champion pool is will be a huge part of whether they can continue in the contest.
Origen vs SK Telecom T1 takes place at 3.30pm (I believe that's BST) and you can watch it here.