Friday, November 3, 2017

Worlds 2017 - Semifinal Takeaways and Grand Finals Prediction

Samsung defeat World Elite 3 - 1

       Both semifinals were, to me, really close matchups that were no more than 60-40 matchups even if you felt strongly about one team or the other but ultimately the stronger teams took the longer series. Samsung's player quality and new-found strategic depth really put World Elite in a bind in the drafts and more or less gave Samsung all the leverage making it their series to lose. World Elite showed their curveball earlier in the series and didn't really have any other mixups to throw meaning Samsung had them "figured out." Now those of you that are new to this need to understand that once a Korean team figures you out you're not winning that series. As a matter of fact the only best of five series that Korean teams have lost at Worlds were to teams that they couldn't figure out or that had enough different strategies to really throw them for a loop and World Elite just didn't have that despite having very high player quality and team play.

SK Telecom defeat Royal Never Give Up 3 - 2

       What a series! An absolute slugfest between two excellent teams that weren't afraid to try some new things. This series didn't have the clear difference in strategic depth between the teams like Samsung vs World Elite but it did both teams showed some different looks and played some of their best League of the season which is about all you can ask. Frankly this series was so close that the only difference was that just a matter of one team making more unebelievable plays than the other. The point being that both teams played an extremely high level and when titans clash sometimes the only difference isn't who played worse but who played slightly better.


Finals Predictions

        A rematch of last year was certainly in the cards over the course of the season but I doubt anybody thought it would actually happen. Samsung looked to have fallen behind KT, Longzhu, SKT, and even Afreeca by the end of LCK Summer and had to navigate what looked to be a challenging group and SKT got completely walloped by Longzhu in the LCK Summer Finals which seemingly sat them firmly in the tier below Longzhu but, once again, we arrive at an all-Korean final. No hometown Chinese representative or no Longzhu was not something a lot of people anticipated but now we get to see a rematch of last years' incredible grand final.
       Samsung have impressed me. Going into this tournament I had them as the 4th best team in the world despite defeating KT and firmly behind Longzhu and SK Telecom and while I thought they had larger deficiencies than the other Korean juggernauts and even a couple of the Chinese squads as well as TSM they were still one of the best teams on the planet and perhaps I forgot about that. I thought they were, relatively speaking, predictable and easy to attack after an ENTIRE YEAR without showing any kind of strategic diversity or willingness to even try but they've certainly shown that a old dog can, in fact, learn new tricks. Maybe it was the best slow roll of all time, maybe they were sandbagging, or maybe it was just desparation but Samsung are legit and playing out of their minds right now.

       SK Telecom were pushed to the brink by a feisty and creative Misfits squad and just played an absolute slobberknocker against RNG but guess what guys? They're still here. In another final, with another roster, with the best coach and player in the history of the game. Teams have had literally years to throw their absolute best research, resources, and play against this team and STILL they rise to the top. They battle through adversity, pull wins out of their hats, and while you could definitely say they're weaker than previous iterations (which I feel they are) they're a gritty, veteran team that seemingly clutch it out when the pressure is on AS THE NORM. Heavy lies the crown and SK Telecom are still wearing it.

       In all sincerity I don't know who I want to win or who I think will win this series but here's my thoughts. My brain is telling me that Samsung are playing at a higher level right now after completely demolishing Longzhu and handling a World Elite team that was playing their best League of their careers. They've shown a new level of aggression that was previously lacking, a level of execution on a strategy that seemed so out of their realm of possibilities after more than a calendar year of data, and more than anything else supreme confidence. My heart, on the other hand, finds it so damn difficult to bet against SK Telecom. Has it been as completely dominant as previous SKT teams? Absolutely not but I do think that the rest of the world played at a significantly higher level this year and similar to how I felt that TSM were the strongest Western team in history going into this tournament (not relatively, actual strength of the team) despite having a worse domestic record than previous season for similar reasons I think SKT have persisted despite all the adversity. Simply put, it's too easy to say "SKT look worse than they previously have" because it's out of context. They have shown more weaknesses than any SKT lineup I can think of but as all great Korean teams do, they adapt and use information better than anyone. Samsung made massive adjustments that most thought were not possible to the level they showed so why can't SKT do the same thing?

       Streaking vs struggling. Exposed weaknesses vs new-found strengths. The pressure of seemingly endless perfection vs pure revenge. Every narrative and bit of strategic analysis would lead one to sensibly come to Samsung finally dethroning the kings of League of Legends as a reasonable conclusion but I just can't do it. Hall of Fame and two-time Super Bowl winning coach Tony Dungy once said "I think winners win. And guys who won all the way through high school and college, the best players at every level, they have a way of making things happen and winning games."  As cliche as it may sound I feel this series comes down to one player: Faker.

       He's the best of all time for many reasons but perhaps the most important is that he shines brightest when the pressure is highest. He thrives in it. The famous Zed outplay in Game 5 against KT Bullets in Champions Summer 2013, Season 3 World Finals vs Royal Club where he almost single handedly won a best of 5 with his Ahri and Gragas play, Riven destroying Nagne's Cassiopeia in Champions Summer Finals vs KT Rolster, Ryze against Crown last year in the 2016 World Finals, and even Galio against RNG last week in the semifinals at the 2017 World Championships. I've omitted countless more but the list goes on and on. I'm usually the guy that doesn't put a lot of weight on "being clutch" but the fact of the matter is that the true greats in any sport perform their best when it matters most and I think Faker is the ulimate tiebreaker in League of Legends. I don't see his reign ending this year.

Prediction: SK Telecom defeat Samsung 3 - 2

       Regardless of the result of the final this has been the best World Championship tournament in League of Legends history in my opinion. I hope we get to see one epic series to send it off!