The second of the League of Legends World Championships [official site] semi-finalists has been decided after Korean favourites, SK Telecom T1, went up against the LMS's ahq e-Sports Club on the tournament's second day at London’s Wembley Arena.
Spoilers await after the jump!
SKT continued their unbroken run of Worlds success by going 3-0 in their best-of-5 match against ahq e-Sports Club. But that score sheet doesn't really reflect the fact that ahq made SKT work far harder than predicted for their place in the semi-finals at Brussels. (You can find the basic backstory here if you want to catch up first.)
After the games I asked SKT's legendary mid-laner Lee 'Faker' Sang-hyeok about the team's performance. Did going undefeated earlier in the competition make bumps in the road - like the hard-fought third match of this series - harder to deal with, perhaps catching a team off guard?
"Even though it's better to win the games in a clean fashion, if we feel like we're behind we also know how to play around that so it wasn't much of a problem," he replied. That said, when it came to his own performance in the third game Faker added that he "wasn't too satisfied".
Let's go back a little bit.
The basic trajectory of the games from this series was as follows: In the first ahq gave some good early game but couldn't capitalise on it and so SKT took over, punished mistakes and won. In the second game ahq seemed to deflate and SKT took a swift victory. But the third was a far more even struggle. ahq's mid laner Liu 'Westdoor' Shu-Wei picked up a champion he's famous for playing - Fizz - while Faker picked a champion called Kassadin. The match-up didn't go smoothly and Westdoor managed several kills on his opponent and, elsewhere on the map, ahq were nipping away at SKT's other lanes, sometimes outplaying their opponents, sometimes being outplayed. Obviously ahq ultimately lost the game and the series but their final turn on the Rift, making plays and scoring kills, proved they weren't a walkover.
Westdoor was allowed to have Fizz despite being known to play the champion well because, as Faker puts it, "We didn't think Fizz itself is a great champion." He adds, "We thought we could counter it very easily."
It would be easy to read allowing Fizz through as a cocky move on SKT's part but, as shoutcaster Trevor 'Quickshot' Henry pointed out in our now-customary aftershow chats, SKT's bans - the champions they denied from the pool - were still legitimate. "They banned Jinx as the very first threat and that's a big signal they respected [carry player] AN's Jinx. AN on Jinx is the reason [ahq] get to the quarter-finals."
With regards to the Kassadin pick Faker simply said, "I practiced Kassadin during solo ranked in quite a few games and I thought it would be a good pick but overall I think it's not a great pick against Fizz".
Basically that seemed to be the plan - get rid of the big rocket-toting threat that is Jinx in the late game, outplay the Fizz and win. There might have been a touch of bravado or cockiness in letting Westdoor have his best champion but the idea had solid foundations. Putting it into practice was where things got a bit scruffy.
They way the series played out today, ahq performed better than I thought they might, particularly with that third game. It's also offered a bit more information by which to assess the European side Origen's chances - after all, that's who SKT will be facing in the semi-finals.
"I think the gap between SKT and Origen isn't as wide as I expected," says Quickshot. "If Origen had a stronger early game and was slightly more powerful in their laning phase with the same level of intelligence [they have now] they may actually have a shot. But that early game is going to be so important [...] I'm more inclined to think Origen could take a game off them."
In the meantime SKT will be doing their own match preparation. "The most important thing is to keep on practicing as hard as we are right now and not get lazy, " says Faker. When I ask whether the team have concerns going up against Origen he tells me, "I do think Origen is relatively weaker compared to EDG, Fnatic and the two Korean teams on the other side of the bracket. But as today even though we won 3-0 we struggled a lot. I don't want to put my guard down until the game is over against Origen."