It wasn’t supposed to be Samsung Galaxy.
It wasn’t supposed to be Samsung in second place of the 2017 League of Legends Champions Korea Spring regular season. That spot was reserved for SK Telecom T1 or KT Rolster. Perhaps Samsung would drop all the way to fourth depending on how well the Afreeca Freecs’ or Longzhu Gaming’s rosters came together.
It wasn’t supposed to be Samsung last year, either, at the 2016 League of Legends World Championship. Yet, the same core Samsung lineup of 2017 — Lee “CuVee” Seong-jin, Kang “Ambition” Chan-yong, Lee “Crown” Min-ho, Park “Ruler” Jae-hyuk, and Jo “CoreJJ” Yong-in — took SKT to five games in the finals. While that series was not as evenly matched as SKT’s semifinals series against the ROX Tigers, Samsung traded blows with the best team in the world for as long as they could, giving viewers the closest World Championship finals in League of Legends history.
This split, Samsung finished second with a 14-4 record, better than every other Korean team save SKT. In their final six series of the season, Samsung only lost one game — to KT Rolster in an eventual series win — beating both KT and SKT in the last few weeks of the split. With their 2-0 victory over SKT, Samsung, not SKT, appeared to be the best team in the region.
It wasn’t supposed to be Samsung Galaxy in second place, but there they were. Samsung’s spot in the finals was near-guaranteed.
KT Rolster had looked shaky all split. Even their wins across the first half of the 2017 LoL Champions Korea Spring had been brute force victories, demolishing opponents in lane before steamrolling them.
Against MVP in Week 5, KT were exposed. Against SK Telecom T1 in Week 6, KT were demoralized, not in game but outside of it. Losing twice to SKT in one week took its toll on KT, and the team designed to take down SKT — by their own admission — seemed done.
As KT fell, Samsung rose. Their only series loss in the last four weeks of the split was a Week 7 2-1 series to the Afreeca Freecs. They beat KT and then SKT convincingly. Crown took the MVP spot, the first time a mid laner won the award since Samsung’s own Bae “dade” Eo-jin took it in OnGameNet’s Champions Spring 2014.
Former CJ Entus jungler Kang “Haru” Min-seung was tearing into Samsung’s opponents with an early aggressive jungle style that played to the team’s strengths. Crown dominated the mid-lane push and Haru invaded, counterjungled, or killed his adversaries. Ruler spent the majority of the season on Jhin and Ezreal and joined up for 5v5 fights along with top laner CuVee who arrived on tanks like Maokai, Poppy, or Nautilus. They were a team that moved as a unit, enabling their new jungler Haru while closing in on opponents.
KT were five individuals, but Samsung were one team, even with occasional in-game substitutions. Against MVP a few days prior, KT had been sloppy and disorganized. They appeared worse than MVP at times despite coming away with a 3-0 sweep.
It wasn’t supposed to be Samsung losing before the gauntlet finals. It was supposed to be KT Rolster.
KT’s plan for Samsung was made clear from the series’ opening moments in Champion Select: attack Ruler’s champion pool and keep the bottom lane down while facilitating the success of their own AD carry and support duo of Kim “Deft” Hyuk-kyu and Cho “Mata” Se-hyeong. Ruler’s depth has been called into question in the past, before he silenced his critics last season by picking up Jhin for the 2017 Korean Regional Finals.
Since then, Jhin has been one of Ruler’s favorites. He spent 41 percent of his time on The Virtuoso this past split and an additional 29 percent of his time on his career favorite, Ezreal. Ruler played only two champions for a combined 70 percent of his total games in the 2017 LCK Spring regular season. Many presumed that, since Crown was likely to stomp much-maligned KT mid laner Heo “PawN” Won-seok, KT would focus on securing advantageous matchups for PawN, possibly targeting Crown or Haru’s champion pools.
Instead they targeted Ruler and CoreJJ, focusing their bans on Ruler’s best AD carry champions and CoreJJ staple, Zyra. In Game 1, Samsung’s bot lane turret fell at 9:03. It fell at 5:42 in Game 2. By crushing Samsung soundly on the bottom half of the map, KT ran rampant over LCK’s second-place team.
Samsung subbed in Ambition, AD carry Lee “Stitch” Seung-ju, and support Kwon “Wraith” Ji-min. Although their early game was significantly better, it was already too late. In a messy third game, Deft picked a personal favorite, Jinx, adding a few style points to KT’s 3-0 sweep. Samsung were destroyed at the hands of KT’s drafting and strong lanes.
Yet, even in utter defeat, Samsung have still been more favorably matched against SKT this split, and this isn’t likely to change before the latest battle in the ongoing Telecom War takes place on April 22. KT are still the same, disorganized team that they were throughout the split and this drafting strategy is not likely to work against SKT. Although KT devised a similar plan to overwhelm SKT early in both of their regular season series, KT made mistakes in lane that set them behind, or didn’t accrue enough of an early gold lead to make up for their inevitable mid-game errors. Against Samsung, they still made missteps mid and late game on which SKT will pounce. Their strength is punishing opponents for mid and late game mistakes — KT’s season-long weakness.
In a world where the goal of all other teams is still to dethrone SK Telecom T1, it doesn’t look like that hero will appear any time soon. It’s not looking like KT Rolster, and it wasn’t Samsung Galaxy this time.
Emily Rand’s love for the 2013 KT Rolster Bullets will never die. You can follow her on Twitter @leagueofemily