Friday, October 4, 2013

Why SKT T1 Will Win Worlds. No, Why Royal Will Win Worlds. A Point/Counterpoint by Robert Fulkerson and Benjamin Worley

Tonight is the night. The moment fans of the League of Legends the world over have been waiting for. We will find out who is the best team in League of Legends, and who gets to raise that kickass looking Summoner's Cup high. As part of the celebration of the Finals tonight, we asked two of our contributors to take their "Who will win?" debates away from the water cooler and into the blog.

by Robert Fulkerson

League of Legends has come a long way since I was introduced to it at PAX 2010. Back then it was holding small tournaments, with skins for prizes, while piggy backing off the Alienware booth during downtime.  Now their parent company, Riot Games, is blowing up the game into one of the premier titles around the world, and one of the biggest brands in gaming today. Now, when you see a League of Legends tournament, it is a huge and stunning affair that is more akin to a professional sports broadcast than a LAN party. Huge 12 foot displays show champion select over the players heads, there's a grand stage and screen, and bleachers filled with fans in costume, waving team banners and cheering for great plays. (or killing wards. *sigh*) With all of this and now two million dollars on the line as we move into the season 3 finale on Friday League of Legends is poised to be the game to bridge esports and mainstream media in the United States.

All of this seems like it is an emergent scene, one that we haven't seen before powered by streaming of games as well as large prize pools, but in reality this is all old hat to Korea. There, they have had televised coverage of esports for over a decade, with multiple professional and amateur leagues that have cultivated a culture encouraging not just players, but viewers as well. With 24 hour television coverage on OnGameNet in Korea, fans can see play at both the highest level and more casual play, and have a sense that there is a place for anyone to be a part of the established esports scene. From this crucible has emerged the team I believe are on the verge of total victory in the League of Legends season 3 finals... SK TeleCom T1.

While SKT T1 were not one of my favorite teams at the start of Worlds (Those being TSM, Gambit, and Cloud 9) they proved through the preliminaries that they were a team to be taken seriously. Going 7 and 1, they tied for the lead against the only team to beat them during the prelims, China's OMG. In the quarterfinals they faced off against the relatively unknown team Gamania Bears from Taiwain.  SK T1 showed no fear of the unknown and took it easily in 2 games. Once they arrived in the semifinals, they had to play the South Korean champions Najin Black Sword. This always feels like an inevitability at game tournaments, you travel the world only to play the folks you go up against locally. It was an amazing best of 5 that went down to the last game in a back and forth brawl victory during the semifinals.

So what is it about SKT that makes me think they will come out on top against China's Royal Club? Is it the Faker mid lane band wagon? Is it the solid bot lane pairing of Piglet and PoohManDu? Maybe Impact's stellar split pushing from top lane? Could it possibly be Bengi and his super mobile Lee Sin from the Jungle? Is it too much of a cop out to say all of it? Because that is what it really is, SKT has such amazing communication and plays so well as a team. While Korean teams are rather secretive and like to employ strategies that no one else has seen to take a win, I don't see SKT playing this way. Instead they are an incredibly adaptive team that takes cues from all over the world. Be it utilizing a European dual AP composition or taking on a hyper aggressive Chinese tower diving technique and out playing you at your own game, SKT has really impressed me. They don't let anyone else make them play outside their game. They are the ones that cause disruption, they are the team that learns the most from a loss and turns it around into stunning victory. This is why SK Telecom 1 will walk away from Worlds with a million dollars in their pockets.

by Ben Worley 

Throughout the entirety of the Season 3 Championship, certain titles have followed Royal Club. They've consistently been marked as “Unexpected” or the “Underdog”. As they head up the ladder, it seems that they have their newest and exciting label: Unpredictable.

By fine-tuning what many would see as a reckless and dangerous mindset, the team has specialized in throwing enemies off of their footing. Despite having almost 50% more deaths than Fnatic in the semi-finals, their disruptive all-in gambits were so well timed that they still proudly secured their place in the Finals.

The most caustic and beneficial member of their team heading into the final confrontation is WH1T3ZZ. Known for his Zed and Fizz performances, enemy teams are prone to banning his two specialties right off the bat. He is, to put it simply, too dangerous to be allowed his full arsenal. Not only does this burn off two of SKT's bans, it also only stems the bursting dam. Even held back from these picks, WH1T3ZZ has turned in a Kill/Death average of 6.2 with his main of Orianna, even bringing in a 5/1/9 performance in the semi-finals. A large contributor to successes like this is WH1T3ZZ's daring. Given half a breath of thinking, he'd readily dive completely on an enemy, pressing each and every advantage. In advanced League play, it's expected (and usually rewarding) to be cautious, only rarely exchanging and fighting specifically when absolutely necessary. By bucking this belief, one of the world's best mid-laners is prone to shifting his team into victory, even at great cost to himself.

Most emblematic of WH1T3ZZ's unusual, roundabout style to victory would be his most recent match, when he not only played Kayle as the team's carry, but wracked up 10 deaths to the enemy team's combined total of 29... before turning in the very victory that landed put him in the finals. And that's what WH1T3ZZ provides: A wide palette of tactics that are caustic and without self-preservation, forcing the enemy to jump off the tracks or be flattened.

It would be a disservice to imply that WH1T3ZZ is the lone star in the litany of reasons that Royal Club will take the Summoner's Cup tonight. Uzi's AD Carry skills are not only great, they are varied. He has been successful in this tournament alone with Ezrael, Vayne, and Caitlyn. The biggest criticism against Uzi's style has been his over confidence and risky behavior, but it would be hard to say with any sincerity this is entirely a weakness. Even when he gets as forward as his Caitlyn Round 4, it pays off. In this build, you can clearly see that his idea of defense was simply to pack two Cleanses and increase his offense, charging at the enemy like a juggernaut. It worked brilliantly, putting the Sheriff of Piltover's Creep Score far above Varus'.

 These non-traditional strategies are often complicated tapestries that catch conventional thinking (Like that of SKT), too. While Caitlyn insists that the best defense is a good offense, the team's Support of Tabe swoops in with Annie's gorgeous stun-based magic. By constantly keeping one of the game's most potent stuns of the game in the holster as a Support strategy, Varus is forced to allocate his funds into Banshee's Veil and Merc. Treads. Funds already diminished by Caitlyn's “step out and die” brutality.

It's this kind of creativity and surprise that is not only Royal's strength but SKT's downfall. SKT tends to cling to more traditional concepts, such as Zyra, Thresh, and Sona for support or Ahri as mid. While these are certainly powerful champs, they speak to the straightforward nature of SKT. It also does them absolutely no favors that they tend to lose their first game. As Riot itself has observed, SKT's strengths tend to involve building up their momentum over several games and adapting to the enemy's capabilities. Unfortunately for them, Royal's long list of vastly differing strategies may keep them entirely mercurial to SKT's ever-clenching fist.

The nature, strength, and my expectations of Royal tonight can be best summarized in their Jungler Lucky's best champion: Elise. They are ever-shifting, relentless, brutal, and out of nowhere. It is this set of strengths that will have me cheering for them at the Staples Center tomorrow.

Here's to the crazy ones!

 And with that, we head into the finals. Tonight, at 8pm PDT in the Staples Center in LA, and live on, thousands of fans will watch as the two best teams in the world square off. Who is going to take it? Who do you think?



  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. With my name is the line I am so very happy that my prediction was correct and to announce that SK Telecom 1 is the League of Legends Season World Champions.