The last day of quarter-finals decided which of the two Korean teams – KOO Tigers or KT Rolster – would take that fourth semi-final spot in Brussels as part of the League of Legends World Championships [official site].
Spoilers – as ever – are lurking after the jump!
KOO Tigers – the underdogs of the matchup – scored a victory at Wembley, losing the initial game of the best-of-five series but going on to take three games in succession. They will be facing European team Fnatic in the semi-finals.
"Being considered as the underdog and defeating KT, it feels extremely good," says KOO's support player Kang 'GorillA' Beom-hyeon in our interview afterwards, although he does admit to feeling a little shaky after that first game loss.
KOO had great success in their series with Fiora, a fencing-themed character who was played in the top lane by Song 'Smeb' Kyung-ho. "While we were preparing for picks and bans we discovered Fiora is a really good pick so we tried to focus on a strategy around Fiora," confirms GorillA. "Looking at Piccaboo [KT's support player, so GorillA's opposite], his champion pool is very limited so I thought I had an advantage against him and that's another area we focused on as well."
I ask shoutcaster David 'Phreak' Turley whether he thinks Smeb's Fiora will become a priority ban when KOO go up against Fnatic. "Absolutely," he says. He points out that coming into the contest KT's top laner Ssumday was "believed to be the best top laner in the world - that was the general consensus". Ssumday wasn't playing badly but he wasn't able to hold Smeb's Fiora down. Phreak points out that even in the game that KOO lost she never stopped being useful so the top lane dynamic and how confident the teams are in their top laners will be an interesting one to keep track of in Fnatic/KOO semi-final.
Another pick which stuck out was in the final match. Nagne opted to play a champion called Cassiopeia in the mid lane. Cassiopeia doesn't have a lot of mobility but she's great at outputting sustained damage thanks to her poison-centric abilities. She also has a Medusa-style ultimate called Petrifying Gaze which deals damage and slows enemies in a cone in front of her. If you're facing her directly you get stunned instead of slowed.
It was the final champion to be selected and made for an unexpected choice, particularly from KOO's point of view as they had already selected a champion called Alistar for GorillA.
"When we saw Cassiopeia picked from the other side… Actually, people pick Alistar against Cassiopeia," says GorillA. "Alistar can block Cassiopeia from dealing damage because Cassiopeia has to come really close to us in order to deal damage and use her skills. If I remember correctly I picked Alistar before the Cassiopeia was picked so I was like 'Why did they pick Cassiopeia?'"
Phreak goes into a little more detail about how the pick was supposed to work and why it didn't:
"Cassiopeia didn't quite work out," he says. "I think Cassiopeia is strong I think generally good teamfight mages are good in League of Legends. We see a lot of it with Azir and Viktor where they're just kind of there to be mages in a big five-on-five [fight]. Cassiopeia definitely fits that bill. Nagne had a reasonably good start with the champion. KT got pretty far ahead and Cassiopeia is good teamfight insurance. She's not super mobile or dynamic but she's a strong source of damage output. So, as that class of champion, she's totally worth playing and I'm glad we saw her at Worlds, even if only in that one game and never again!"
KOO were fielding Viktor in their mid lane as played by Kuro. "What happened was a key turning point where Kuro showed up and Nagne kinda didn't," says Phreak. "Viktor is at least a little bit more immediate – the only stuns in the kit, Viktor has it as a non ultimate [it's his W ability which lets him lay traps – it has a far lower cooldown time than Cassiopeia's stun and costs less mana]. He's got more burst while Cassiopeia has to chain a bunch of poison together [but] if you ever get into a teamfight where your team doesn't die right away, on the spectrum of burst versus high sustain damage, Cass is very high in the sustain damage. She's probably the literal best typical mid-laner in the game at putting out damage over the course of a fight."
So what happened here? "You would see glimmers of her being useful in teamfights but once you're behind and once your front line dies really quickly you don't have the time to put that damage out anymore," says Phreak. "And with her being relatively immobile and mid-range she could be attacked very easily compared to someone like Azir who could do damage from out of range. If that front line doesn't hold you're done."
Given KT and KOO play in the same league during the main season I was wondering how valuable coming up against them at Worlds was and whether KOO would have preferred to take on a team from outside the region to get a bit more insight or experience once the contest had heated up.
"The quarter-final stage itself by its sheer size – having experienced that is itself a really great [learning] experience regardless of who our opponent was," says GorillA.
So are KOO confident going up against Fnatic next week?
"We actually beat Fnatic a number of times in scrims [practice matches], says GorillA. "But scrims are scrims and they don't really mean much so we're going to be really vigilant. We're going to prepare really hard and I really want to create a game - a very exciting game - to watch and a game I don't want to regret in my pro gaming career."
I should probably have shut up and left the interview booth at that point but I couldn't resist asking whether we would be seeing any jaunty knitwear – perhaps a tank top or five – at semi-finals. It rather throws the translator off and he asks me to repeat the question.
GorillA grins when he sees me trying to hand gesture "tank top" as I momentarily forget the word (look, I'm very tired). "When we were first introduced in LCK [that's the Korean league] we were famous for switching around our uniforms and having a lot of fun with it," he says, "but there are regulations in place so unfortunately we won't be able to change our uniforms!"
Semi-finals begin on Saturday 24 October with European side, Origen, taking on Korea's SK Telecom T1.