One semi-finalist has already been decided* so today's League of Legends World Championships [official site] quarter-final is to find out who they'll be facing up against in Brussels next week. Will it be the mighty Korean favourites, SKT, or will it be Taiwan's punchy ahq e-Sports Club? I'll be down at Wembley later to keep an eye on the matches (and maybe help with the nachos) but in the meantime let's take a look at the teams.
*I'm being cagey in case you've not caught up with the matches yet – you can find our interview with the winners here.
SK Telecom T1
SKT came through the group stages of Worlds undefeated – six matches, six ruined enemy nexuses. SKT are the favourites in the competition and have been on form but, having attended the Mid-Season Invitational in Florida earlier this year, I know that the team aren't immune to upsets.
To explain: at the MSI, SKT were the hot favourites. I don't think I met a single person, be they analyst or fan, who predicted a win for any other team. Yet in the semi-finals, Europe's Fnatic were able to get under the skin of the Korean team and force them to a full five games in their best-of-5. The following day China's Edward Gaming walked away with the trophy after a set of 5 games which included an end to famed SKT mid-laner Faker's undefeated run on a champion called LeBlanc.
With SKT and Edward Gaming drawn into the same group during the group stage the assumption was that both teams would go through but that their matches against each other would be an exciting return to the drama of MSI. But I tuned in for the second set of groups matches and almost immediately saw SKT punishing glaring errors on Edward's part. For example, their jungler Clearlove revealed himself on the bottom lane and that let SKT know that the opposite side of the map was vulnerable – no jungler was waiting in the bushes ready to leap to the top laner's defence – and so killing the top laner was a no-brainer for the Korean side. SKT can punish mistakes like that. Hard.
The thing I've particularly enjoyed about watching SKT over the last couple of weeks, though, is how it has definitely not been "the Faker show". Faker is a legendary player but his teammates are talents in their own right. I keep finding myself drawn to the top lane so I can check out what Marin is up to or watching how Bengi's jungle champions are applying pressure to the enemy team.
I'm keen to see how SKT fare now we're at the knockout stage and whether other teams will be able to challenge that current dominance. According to Marin: "We are strong. Definitely a strong team, but only slightly stronger than the other teams. It’s a gap that is easily closed if we make mistakes or if the other team is in a good condition, so it’s not a significant gap."
ahq e-Sports Club
Taiwan's ahq were so close to exiting their group in the number one spot. All they had to do was beat the European side, Fnatic. They almost managed it.
What happened was this: ahq were in Fnatic's base. They'd just taken Fnatic's final inhibitor – those are the buildings which prevent really the enemy minions becoming super beefy so losing them is a big deal. Rather than take the objective, pull out and regroup, ahq continued to push, taking a teamfight in the base. It proved disastrous. Two teammates were dead while Fnatic had only lost their support, then Febiven's LeBlanc obliterated the irritatingly strong support Tahm Kench and the major damage source, Jinx. That allowed Fnatic to clean up the last member of ahq, run up the middle lane and pummel their base leaving only crumbs. It was a thrilling moment to watch but one which left ahq looking utterly destroyed as they sat on the stage afterwards.
Watch from 57:40 (47:10-ish on the in-game clock) if you don't have time for the whole thing:
It reminded me of a number of their games I'd seen earlier in the year – there was a risk-loving element to their play which sometimes resulted in deaths which could so easily have been avoided.
The Fnatic win meant ahq then needed to fight North America's Cloud9 for their spot in the quarter-finals. It was a swift victory in the end – ahq had a frankly disgusting gold lead and completely crushed the blue base in just over half an hour.
So what about tonight?
There have been a number of upsets at Worlds so far, particularly if you look at the first week of the group stages, but I don't think this will be one of them. SKT are not bulletproof but they're a team of superstar talents who can exploit the kind of mistakes ahq make. With that in mind, I'd say it's more about how many games ahq can push the series to.