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League of Legends Worlds semifinals proved that ‘the gap’ is closing … between Korean teams

League of Legends Worlds semifinals proved that ‘the gap’ is closing … between Korean teams

Across six years of  competitive League of Legends, South Korean teams have dominated virtually every tournament they entered. The past three years running have featured a barrage of Korea-vs.-the-world blowouts, with the overachieving  SK Telecom T1 winning titles in two of those three years. This year, the oft-repeated message in the weeks leading up to  the League of Legends World Championship was that “the gap” between regions, measured by skill and infrastructure and results, was closing.

Now, as we head into the finals, it’s clear that narrative was wrong. Of the four teams who played  in the semifinals at Madison Square Garden last weekend, three hailed from South Korea, which is even more impressive when you consider that only three South Korean teams were allowed into the tournament in the first place.

that narrative was wrong

While the gap between the rest of the world and Korea still looks like a gaping chasm, it’s not all bad news. As it turns out, when you make the world’s greatest teams compete for a million-dollar prize that grows as people buy more Worlds-related merch, you get some really damn good League of Legends.

The first series of the weekend, between current top Korean team ROX Tigers and the defending champions SKT T1, was arguably the best series of League of Legends ever played on an international stage. SKT didn’t have a strong season finish, placing 3rd  in the LCK Summer playoffs, but they’re known for bringing their A-game to international LANs, so many saw the winner of this match as the favorite to win it all during next week’s finals.

On ROX’s side, the rising star Yoon “Peanut” Wang-ho put on a masterclass of a jungle performance, riding the mechanically-intensive champion Lee Sin to dominate SKT in games two and three. Throughout the series, the camera would cut away to a smiling Peanut, cool and relaxed, even at the peak of competitive pressure.


Meanwhile, ROX ADC Kim “PraY” Jong-in played early game advantages to maximum effect, kiting his enemies perfectly and outright winning game two for ROX by stopping the enemy Ekko’s recall with one of the finest Ashe ultimates to ever grace League. That game was also notable for ROX support Kang “GorillA” Beom-hyeon’s Miss Fortune pick. Not only is it the first time we’ve seen the champion in the tournament, but MF was practically unheard of as a competitive support until game two of this series, where her range was used to completely counter the safe Zyra support pick by SKT.

But SKT came out strong and played their own tight brand of League. With Faker, the certified best player in the world, in the midlane, they played a tight macro game and came out on top of crucial teamfights when it really mattered. If there are any differences to be noted in the top-notch playstyle of each team, it’s that SKT’s form looked more clinical than ROX’s. Where ROX looked to come out on top of scrappy, death-defying plays, SKT looked to establish and sustain advantages as consistently as possible.

It would come as a surprise, then, when SKT subbed out their jungler, Kang “Blank” Sun-gu, in favor of Bae “bengi” Seong-ung, who came into the series in game four on Nidalee. While it’s not uncommon to see Nid picks at this level of play, this was Bengi’s first ever professional game using the champion, and his success with the character was a nice encapsulation of the poise with which SKT played the entire series. As the series wrapped up with a very tight game five (at least until a decisive Baron fight that blew the whole thing wide open), it felt like no two teams in the world could put on a showcase quite like what SKT and ROX brought to the table.

Samsung was simply playing at a higher level

The next day brought a matchup between South Korea’s Samsung Galaxy and the European team H2K. The European squad put up a valiant effort, and even amassed a couple huge early gold leads, but their eventual 0-3 defeat at the hands of SSG came off as a foregone conclusion; Samsung was simply playing at a higher level, with teamfights and individual mechanics that outclassed those of H2K in every way.

After this weekend’s games, the gap is still open wide, but that might not be such a bad thing for now. The world’s less dominant regions can learn a lot from watching the Koreans play, and the rest of us can look on in amazement as the most skilled LoL players bring their best to the international stage.

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