SK Telecom vs Rox Tigers: The final without a trophy
When the group stages concluded at the 2016 League of Legends World Championship a few things were beyond doubt; NA was once again a meme, wildcards are to be respected, Europe has a chance, and the era of the Korean rule is far from over. Samsung Galaxy, Rox tigers, and SK Telecom advanced into the knockout stages, confiscating all ideologies which suggested the Gods had weakened.
Unsurprisingly the best two Korean teams, Rox and SKT, were favourites to win it all. However, instead of playing for the Summoner’s Cup, they clashed in the semis and produced a best-of-five series well worthy of the grand finals. In every way possible SKT are the immovable object and Rox are their arch nemesis.
SKT have stayed relevant longer than any team, winning two world titles in the process, while also yielding the best player in the world, Faker. Rox have lost every best-of-five against them, therefore this enocunter was their chance to finally prove themselves and, most importantly, get revenge.
Within game one, both compositions had strengths in their team fighting. Rox had Poppy and Victor, whilst SKT had Orianna, and a team built for synergy. With Bang on Ashe it gave an answer to the early Caitliyn pick and a source of engagement, which SKT needed. Simultaneously SKT covered Bang and Wolf’s lack of mobility with Orianna's ball and Trundle's pillar, as they both possessed the potential to zone Rox’s damage dealers.
The Trundle pick came in handy again, as Poppy can be dealt with by Trundle by simply clicking R. For me the Trundle pick was huge. Rox couldn't win the side lane push because, as we know, Trundle is stronger than Poppy 1v1, meaning Rox were forced to make picks or find a 5v5 fight to end. However, because of SKT’s picks, Poppy didn't possess a distinct advantage in the 5v5 battle, in comparison to what we usually see in the Poppy-Trundle match up.
But team fighting is just one aspect, even if the picks lean towards it. The 5v5 scenario has less importance for Rox and SKT because of their fast-paced play style. Ending weighs less on a game-winning fight and more on gaining small advantages and pushing to take the upper hand.
Early on Rox failed two ganks, one involving 3 of their members, and as a result, the time and knowledge sacrificed by Rox was punished by SKT, who secured an early gold lead and the first tower. From then onwards both teams were at each other’s necks, with SKT only having a small lead through CS. But the gold lead didn't matter, Rox had taken two Fire Drakes, effectively making it even. The game opened up when SKT snuck a Baron and increased the lead by 4,500 whilst Rox traded it for the third fire drake. SKT had stolen a substantial lead and looked to close it out, then six minutes later, Rox built a perfect ward coverage and took the baron, whilst cleanly peeling away from SKT’s engage.
This is where the team fighting began to matter. Forty-two minutes in, SKT started the Elder Dragon. Faker simply marched into the fight and brushed aside Kuro and GorillA with a two-man shockwave, while Bengi secured the drake, leaving the rest of Rox hopeless to the onslaught. SKT killed four and ended the game.
Game two gave grace to a pick that is now very likely to terrorise solo que, as GorillA brought out Miss Fortune support as a counter to Zyra. It’s important to note that winning lanes is huge in the current meta, as it can lead to better vision, tempo, and control of the game. On multiple occasions Pray fired his Ashe arrow on Wolf while GorillA piled damage onto him. It was the perfect way to punish the immobile Zyra pick that was so strong.
Within the initial stages of Worlds, Rox had suffered from starting games slowly, yet they always came out strong after laning phase. This time they had a 5K lead at 20 mins, but it wasn’t that simple. Their comp fell off hard; if SKT could stall out the game Faker on Victor could easily out-damage Kuro’s Karma.
With one hand around SKT’s neck and one on the throttle, Rox did what they do best: they owned the mid game. The pressure from Ashe gave room for Rox to take vision and make picks. Once they’d landed an arrow on Bang and chucked him out, they turned for the baron. Just like when Blank attempted to steal, the Baron had no chance.
It would be criminal for me not to mention the best Ashe ultimate I’ve personally ever seen. Of course it came from the Ashe master, Pray. As Rox pushed to take the nexus, Duke channelled his teleport to get to the base and stop them, but Pray had magically fired a heat-seeking arrow that predicted Duke’s every move and stopped it. This gave enough breathing room for Rox to finish the last push and tie the series.
As we headed to the third game, I was excited to see how SKT would respond to Miss Fortune. Would they punish the pick or simply ban it? In reality, the teams turned out to be very similar to the previous game, with Rox’s only altering their pick to choose Victor; which meant they had the same setup to secure an early lead, but could also rely on Victor’s scaling if needed to.
SKT failed to punish Rox’s bot lane again, and the reminiscent sight of the Ashe MF combo eliminating Wolf on Zyra occurred once again. Eight minutes in Peanut on Lee Sin approached bot. Pray simultaneously hit level 6 and instantly fired his ult to hit Wolf --goodbye. Bang tried to escape but Peanut followed up with a crisp insec to bag the double kill onto Ashe.
Rox grouped up and demonstrated why Pray can’t be given Ashe. Just by using her ult they nabbed multiple kills, ripped apart three towers, and fortified a 3k gold lead in twenty minutes. Twelve minutes later SKT saw a chance to pounce and capitalised on a numbers advantage in the top lane. The charge started off well, as SKT chased down Kuro for an unpunished kill and Faker later solo’d GorillA. Rox was split resulting in Smeb getting pounced on and removed. Now Peanut and Pray were the only ones left in SKT’s fight. Blank charged in first with Duke and Bang following, their eyes on the ace. But they quickly regretted it, after clearly forgetting who was playing Ashe, as Pray made some of the best players in the world look like casual gamers. He flashed in to kill Bang, kited till Olaf laid dead and then switched his focus to stamp on the best player in history. Duke was the only player remaining and was swiftly dealt with, resulting in SKT looking at five grey screens and the words ‘ace’.
Rox, sporting a gold lead, grouped up like magnets and took the baron with no interference. They took down mid inhibitor by out-rotating and repeated on toplane to push for the win.
In the following game, SKT took MF off the table with a ban, but more importantly they brought in Faker’s right-hand man, Bengi, the source of their only win in the series, and their trust couldn’t have been more obvious as SKT first picked Nidalee. Before this Bengi had zero Nidalee games in professional play -- although it didn’t look like it.
Bengi participated in first blood, granting faker the boost he needed to dominate that lane once again. Something I haven’t highlighted was Faker’s ability to gain a CS lead and greater mid pressure even in the games SKT was losing. Nowadays faker dominating isn’t shocking, it’s nearly guaranteed.
At twenty-five minutes in, Bengi participated in three kills whilst still claiming a 40cs lead over Peanut. The gold he’d gained was inescapable in team fights. Whilst SKT were sieging to take the inner tower, Bengi took out Wolf and then dived to kill Kuro. SKT had the clear advantage and used Duke’s split push pressure on Gnar to push Rox onto the edge. Rox tried to force a 4v5 whilst Gnar was bot but it didn’t matter. Duke took the inhib whilst SKT won the 4v5, ending the game.
Two wins SKT, two wins Rox. We were heading to another game, in what was already looking like the greatest match in Worlds history. As the team prepared for their final encounter, the most important thing taken from the champion select was the fact that SKT withdrew Ashe from Pray, while Smeb received Jayce. Could SKT use Ashe to effect? And what will the first time unbanned Jayce be able to do?
Twenty minutes in and the gold was fairly even, with Rox only possessing a 700 gold lead. Smeb on Jayce gained an extensive CS lead but SKT’s other lanes were also leading. Then one of the craziest baron fights I’ve ever seen occurred.
Initially, Rox started the Baron, before SKT realised and ran to stop it. By the time Bengi arrived the Baron was around 4k HP, but he had no smite. So he set his eyes on taking away Rox’s smite, dived into the pit, kicked Peanut into the arrow and Elise completely disappeared. Bengi jumped out the pit and in an attempt to execute the Baron, Bang flashed in whilst Duke has just arrived and already sent GorillA back to the fountain. Smeb bursted the Baron to stop SKT taking more, as Rox lost 4 and SKT only one. This gave an opening for SKT to ascertain a lead even without the Baron.
SKT were in the driver’s seat. A comp that scaled much better with all three air drakes and a gold lead. SKT got a pick on Pray and pushed top to dive the nexus towers and win.
SK Telecom vs Rox Tigers showcased one of the greatest matchups in League of Legends history, as both team battled across a dramatic five game series. Once again, SKT left the battlefield victorious over Rox, however, they will now face their fellow Korean team, Samsung Galaxy, in the grand finals.
Will SKT be able to secure their third World championship? Who knows? But one thing that is certain, it will take an insane amount of skill to top the quality of this match.
Image source: Esports Heaven, lolesports, ROX Tigers, Game Thanhnien & Mina Seok
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