Who would've thought SKT could make such a spectacular turnaround to appear in grand finals? I honestly thought they would be happy with just 3rd or 4th only a few weeks ago, but their improvement has been amazing, thanks in no small part to the way Blank has exceeded expectations to become the meta jungler SKT so direly needed. The ROX Tigers, on the other hand, dominated the standings, only dropping a few games the entire season. It seems strange to call SKT the underdogs, but this time they really were.
SK Telecom: ROX Tigers:
Top - Lee "Duke" HoSeong Top - Song "Smeb" GyeongHo
Jungler - Gang "Blank" SeonGu Jungler - Han "Peanut" WangHo
Mid - Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok Mid - Lee "Kur0" SeoHaeng
ADC - Bae "Bang" JunSik ADC - Kim "Pray" JongIn
Support - Lee "Wolf" JaeWan Support - Gang "Gorilla" BeomHyeon
Coach - Kim "KK0ma" Jung-gyun Coach - Jeong "NoFe" No-chul
The Faker mind games continued with the Zilean pick! He took it a series or two ago but at the time it looked more like a subtle manipulation; in other words, I don’t think they actually want to pick Zilean, but because Faker plays it so well it can draw bans. Also somewhat unusual is the Tahm Kench pick, as the character has fallen far out of favor due to the movement speed nerf on his W. Regardless, SKT went into the first match of the series looking to skirmish, while ROX wanted to siege with their triple AD.
Right off the bat SK Telecom came out swinging, burning summoners in the first few minutes, and this pretty much set the tone for the rest of the game and even series. After an early first blood by Blank, ROX were forced to stay on the back foot, and even when they had the advantage of engaging a double teleport to the bot lane they just couldn't get anything. It was close for a while at least, until Blank’s phenomenal Kindred ult completely turned the tide of the fight. The final nail in the coffin would be Gorilla getting caught out, which SKT were able to punish and in the process take Game 1 of grand finals.
As mentioned, ROX appeared to be scared of Faker’s Zilean, and promptly banned it for the rest of the series. Similarly, SKT used many of their bans to take away Peanut’s comfort picks, most notably Nidalee. Going into the match SKT would take a well rounded skirmish composition while ROX continued to try to make a multiple AD siege comp work. This was odd, as they normally seem to generally do better with hard engage. Were they scared, and tilted from the first match? Or simply being outdrafted?
That SKT hyper-aggression from the previous game would would be stopped dead this time around. ROX slowed the pace of the match considerably and let Smeb do his thing on Ekko - and do his thing he would, creating early kills and killer pressure across the map. His influence was not limited to small skirmishes either, in a team fight he dove the backline after he caught a flank and decimated the squishies, who didn’t know what hit them.
Immediately afterwards, ROX took Baron, and at the win was just a snowball away. Although Smeb did well, it’s important to note three of ROX’s damage carries had their vital Sheen power spike, which certainly helped them overcome SKT. After this power spike ended, and a bit of misplay from the Tigers brought things closer, SK Telecom tried to claw their way back into the game with multiple picks and objectives.
At one point it even looked as though they could still win the match despite being so far behind, but appearances can be deceiving. In an unfortunate series of events Duke mistakenly ult’d Pray right into Faker; Pray would then annihilate the unsuspecting Azir. With such a huge threat gone ROX chased down the few remaining members of SKT and ended the game. To be fair it was not completely Duke’s fault, as Faker’s positioning could've been better, but it was definitely a misstep they'd want to avoid.
ROX continued to ban Maokai, Sivir, and Zilean. Duke, it turns out, has 5 wins and 1 loss on the former (2016 LCK Spring) with a 10 KDA, which is quite impressive and supports the bans, as well as showing the Tigers had done their research. Then things got weird.
Faker picked Vel’Koz, a the super out-of-meta choice when it mattered the most. If anyone can pull it off when the stakes are this high it’s him, but it still seemed sub-optimal. Maybe he was trying to style on ROX, in the same way Pray does with a Twitch pick, another out-of-meta champion. Regardless of their true intentions, SKT looked to poke, while the Tigers wanted to team fight.
Surprisingly, a huge mistake came from Bang early in the 3rd game. He overstayed despite being low on both mana and health, and all it took was a flash by Alistar to finish the kill for first blood. Wanting to press the advantage, ROX pulled off their composition trump card, the double TP play. As it turned out though, SKT coped well with being outnumbered, and came out ahead with 2 kills, or 3 if you count Faker flash ulting a running Kindred after the engagement.
ROX did what they could to keep from going too far behind but everything they tried ended in them going away worse for wear. For example, Kuro thought he could 1v1 Faker, but turned out to be wrong as Faker lived and Kuro died before the rest of Kuro’s team died trying to save him. To the relief of their fans, Kuro's Twitch finally started to come online about mid way through the game, when he picked off several people and helped his team win a team fight.
They turned onto Baron, as one does after a solidly won team fight, but Bang was able to stop them heroically and stall for time. Pray attempted yet another engage with his Twitch, but this time things would not go to plan. As he approached the vulnerable Ezreal, while invisible, Bang just so happened to land his skillshots on the hidden Twitch, nearly killing him in one rotation.
The rest of SKT swooped in, mopped up the the remainder of ROX, and went to finish the match. There was a moment of tension after they took both nexi turrets but were aced, but SKT simply won another team fight with Bang doing an absurd amount of damage, and Duke’s engage and lock up of Pray was the decisive blow that pretty much won them the game.
SKT banned out Ryze in every single match of this series, which is surprising because Faker can undoubtedly play it better than anyone on ROX,. They could've let it ride and threaten the pick, although they may have calculated it as not worth the risk. SKT came into this 4th match with a team fight composition featuring Rammus and Cassiopeia, while ROX just wanted to skirmish.
This game was full of textbook tactical maneuvers. SKT didn't want to reduce it to mechanics, so instead they baited an early baron, which seemed questionable at first. As it happens, ROX had to check, and the fell into panic mode. SKT is aggressive in general, we know this, but even for them it was brave to pull off such a risky strategy, and it worked as ROX rushed over and were picked off one by one.
Despite this early Baron the kill deficit, the gold was even, but not for long. At the next engagement Faker flash ult’d, locking up key members of ROX for the rest of SKT to collapse onto. It’s incredible how Faker is so confident both in his skills and in his teammates' abilty to follow up. Similarly Peanut played things a bit more on the risky side and stole a second dragon of the match, which was ultimately useless but cool nonetheless. In a last-ditch attempt to change their fate, ROX tried to rush a baron only for SKT to wander in and demolish the Tigers for an ace at the cost of only one. With that, SKT took yet another grand finals 3-1, and added another trophy to their heaving cabinet.
It may seem like a blowout, but in terms of LCK play-offs go this is about as close as it gets, as most LCK finals have been won 3-0. ROX played some close games, but didn't seem in top form. While it goes without saying that SKT played out of their minds, like they did at Worlds 2015 even, ROX just seemed off-color, picking champs/composition they don’t usually pick, and playing much more passively in general.
It was mentioned before but it’s almost as though they were scared into inactivity. They weren’t playing to win, they played not to lose, where SKT weren’t going to accept anything less than the victory. Despite this less than stellar finish for ROX, they have had the best season in their history and I have no doubt they will do just as well during the summer split and beyond. SKT simply reminded us all of something we never should have forgotten, that you should never bet against them.
It’s time for some awards at the end of a long season. You could watch the ceremony, but it’s pretty drawn out and in Korean, so here’s the short and sweet of it along with my opinion.
Greatest KDA per position:
Every award went to the respective member of the ROX Tigers. That’s hard to believe, but Smeb, Peanut, Kuro, Pray, and Gorilla had the best kill/death/assists of any player in their roles over the course of the season. Granted, they played consistently, where just about everyone else was a bit patchy, but it's still incredibly impressive to sweep the entire category.
Most MVP points of the season:
Smeb of the ROX Tigers.
My choice: Bang of SK Telecom. He doesn't really hog the spotlight, he’s more or less in the shadow of Faker, Duke, and previously Bengi, but he has been a rock the entire season for SKT. His consistently above average performances are impressive, and combined with regular moments absolute brilliance make him a truly incredible player.
I don’t believe he gets enough credit for how amazing a player he his. When people think of the best ADCs they think Deft, Imp, Pray, Forgiven, Uzi, but Bang hardly ever gets a look-in. For my money, Bang is the greatest ADC in the world, although maybe not the best ever purely because there have been some amazing players in this position.
Most MVP points of the playoffs/finals:
Incredibly surprisingly: Duke of SK Telecom
I don’t believe Duke deserved this award, he did well, but so did everyone else on SKT. The player I think went above and beyond, even more than Bang, is of course Faker. His aggressive yet safe play gained advantages for SKT that no other team in the world could acquire at this level, and his flash ult’s more than once turned the tide of a crucial match. When they call Faker a god, when they call him the best player ever in League of Legends, or Esports in general, it’s not hyperbole - he’s the real deal.