For the fourth straight year two South Korean clubs will play in the semifinals of the League of Legends World Championships. Samsung Galaxy booked its ticket to New York City Thursday night in a blistering 3-0 sweep over North America's Cloud9. The defending world champion SK Telecom T1 did the same on Friday in a 3-1 victory over China's Royal Never Give Up to take a series that looked closer on paper than it actually was.
RNG took the first victory because of a mismatch in the top lane with Jang "Looper" Hyeong-seok's poke-happy Jayce having his way with Lee "Duke" Ho-Seong's lackluster Poppy play. Looper was able to get first blood after going all-in on the SKT T1 top laner, and the map started to tilt into the Chinese club's favor. RNG have been masterful at getting ahead early with its star-studded roster. SKT did its best to farm into the mid-to-late game and made few to bring the gold total back to even, but the turtling style meant RNG picked up uncontested dragons in the form of two mountain elementals and one infernal.
Luck was on RNG's side in the first game, and a wasted ultimate by Duke's Poppy allowed the Chinese second-place squad to take a much-needed Baron to balloon its gold advantage once more. With Duke not having a teleport to disrupt RNG's Baron take, Royal picked up the ultimate objective and was able to use its dragons from earlier in the game to push forward for a surprising Game 1 victory.
While veteran South Korean jungler and two-time world champion Bae "Bengi" Seong-woong started the match for SKT T1, he was switched out before Game 2 for scrutinized inconsistent rookie Kang "Blank" Sun-gu. Blank would be exactly what SKT needed for the rest of the series, and the mechanically talented first-year put on a flashy performance on Zac in the second game of the best-of-five that helped T1 level the series at one game apiece.
Games 2 and 3 were riddled with mistakes by RNG. A team that has prided itself on smashing teams in the laning phase and cruising from there, the missteps in the middle of the series were what effectively ended the Chinese club's chances of going to the semifinals. T1, like the other Korean teams, is a counter-punching squad that capitalizes on mistakes, and RNG's unnecessary slip-ups brought two relatively simple wins for the Koreans to put them on match point going into the fourth set.
In the final game, RNG decided to go out as it came in: a devil-may-care attitude with guns blazing at every turn. Although the spring champions of China's domestic league did accomplish a few highlight-reel plays on the map and got ahead in the laning phase early, it wasn't enough against the composed style of the defending world champions, merely brushing off each fantastic solo kill with an objective to push the South Korean team farther in the lead come the mid-game. At the end of the laning phase, SKT T1 was in complete control for the third game in a row, and the brash play from RNG was neutralized. Royal would go for a kill, putting all resources into grabbing one member of SKT, and by the end of the game RNG couldn't even get that much, the South Korean side kiting backwards and pulling its opponent into a wild goosechase, while other members of the team methodically knocked towers in the side lanes.
Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok and Co. weren't perfect in their quarterfinal romp, but they got their act together in time to turn a troubling first set into an easy, one-sided series in the end. SKT T1 will now face off with the winner of Saturday's semifinal between South Korea's ROX Tigers and China's last remaining team, and its champion, Edward Gaming. South Korea as a whole has now improved to a record of 21-6 for the tournament, and has a chance to send three teams to the semifinals of Worlds for the first time in history.
Also, since South Korean teams have been eligible to compete at Worlds in 2012, SK Telecom T1 now has more victories (38) than the entire region of North America (34). This is SKT T1's third World Championships appearance.