Here's a quick and dirty guide to this week's League of Legends World Championships semifinals match-ups if you've not been following the story so far! The TL;DR if even a quick and dirty guide is too much reading is that there will be at least one Korean team in the finals no matter how the weekend matches play out and Europe's path towards the Summoner's cup is shooting up several difficulty levels. Here's a little more:
The matchups are as follows:
Oct 21, 11pm BST: Rox Tigers vs SKT
Oct 22, 11pm BST: Samsung Galaxy vs H2K
So, yeah. The whole thing has shaken out to leave a final four consisting of three LCK teams (that's the South Korean League) and one European side. Essentially the remainder of the tournament is an autumn edition of the Korean League finals with H2K turning up as a exchange student contingent (or something).
H2K were in the only group not to feature a Korean team for their early Worlds matches and came to the semifinals after facing down the Wildcard team, Albus Nox Luna. Butting heads with Samsung Galaxy at this point is expected to be a total change of pace and potentially a real shock to the system. That's especially likely after ANX's insistence on trying the same thing over and over meant H2K just needed to rinse and repeat a stronger performance rather than really stretching themselves in that quarterfinal. Add in the fact that initial predictions put the two other EU teams as more likely to succeed than H2K and it's looking like a really tough ask for H2K.
Looking at who else has made it to semifinals is a bit of a weird one, though. I hate feeding into the idea that the Korean sides are unbeatable - they really aren't - but there is also still a significant gulf between that region's consistent success and standout performances and those you see in the rest of the world.
ESPN's Tyler Erzberger had a good piece online after Samsung Galaxy's defeat of North American side, Cloud9 which I suggest you take a peek at - it's about how best-of-ones can maybe show a narrowing of that regional gap, but that when you get best-of-more-than-that those teams frequently end up revealing shortcomings in their communication which an on-form Korean side can just pick apart without appearing to even break a sweat. A major point within that feature is about how introducing Korean players into teams in other regions might help elevate mechanical skill in a particular area but it can also disrupt synergy of the team unit.
Anyway, where was I? Ah yes.
So. SKT vs Rox Tigers is a clash of titans of the kind where it makes that particular semifinal feel more like a final. Actually, those two teams met in the Worlds final in Berlin last year. The Tigers came off worst in that particular best-of-five, leaving SKT to scoop the Summoner's Cup for the second time and (following an in-joke regarding his bouffant hair) leaving famed SKT mid-laner Faker munching on a floret of broccoli as the confetti rained down.
Since then the Tigers have slightly altered their roster and recently been on strong form in the domestic league (although it wasn't by their hand that SKT were pushed out of the running in that scenario). Individually, there are world-renowned players on their roster - particularly Smeb in the top lane and GorillA in the support position - and as a unit they can be utterly terrifying. I feel like if there's a team to shove SKT out of the competition, I'd want it to be the Tigers more than anyone else because it would be such a satisfying reversal of their usual performance against SKT in these big best-of-five situations and proof of their own dominance as a team.
What I'm trying to say is that it feels like there's so much at stake here, both in terms of the narrative of SKT and Rox Tigers' intertwining histories against one another and in terms of the Tigers needing this victory as a kind of proof that they can go toe-to-toe with the legendary team and actually win. It would also be a blessed relief for SKT's creaking trophy cabinet if the Tigers they manage to pull it off.
That doesn't mean I'm rooting against SKT, I'm just here in hopes of an interesting story peppered with exciting games. That could happen with either team winning, but, more generally, the narrative where SKT win things is one I've watched unfold (and subsequently written up) many times. SKT deserve their victories, I just have a part of me that's also excited for the moment the story shifts in a monumental way, whenever that may be.
Regarding Samsung Galaxy, the team clawed its way back to the top after a change in KeSPA's rules for the LCK meant Worlds 2014 attendees, Samsung Blue and Samsung White, were force to merge. The merger pretty much purged both rosters and Samsung Galaxy was a work-in-progress for a fair while, finally making its way back to the top tier and bringing best-player-to-not-attend-Worlds, Ambition, to Worlds.
I feel like perhaps I should be more optimistic about H2K's chances than I'm coming across as they've upped their game substantially since a rocky first week but, gosh, I'm so used to this being the point at which EU teams end up going home. Add in the fact that when a team's had a string of wins that didn't seem to necessitate significant struggle they seem to become more vulnerable and I'm really reserved right now. EU going through would certainly make me very happy from a narrative perspective, but Samsung clawing their way back to the top also makes for a good yarn.
Whatever comes from this weekend's activity on the Rift, I'm hoping for exciting games above all else. Imagine staying up late just for a brisk 3-0 pasting.
The first semifinal starts at 11pm BST / 3pm PST / 6pm EST and you can find various streaming options via the official site here.