In a rematch of last year’s championship, SK Telecom T1 and Samsung Galaxy faced off in the Grand Finals at Worlds 2017. The series ended in a stunning upset, with Samsung taking a clean 3-0 victory against SKT.
If you followed Worlds this year, you know that SKT’s shakiness was a recurring theme, particularly with their bot lane. SKT made it to the finals on the back of Faker’s relentless pressure and Huni’s lane dominance. SKT’s quarterfinal series against Misfits, a match that few predicted would make it to five games, ended with SKT barely victorious against Misfits’ 3x Infernal Drake in the final game. SKT’s match against RNG was no cakewalk either, and it was another series that went the full five games. In somewhat unusual fashion, Faker locked in Galio all five games, choosing to play a tank that could impact the side lanes instead of a traditional mage or assassin.
At the start of the group stage during Worlds 2017, Samsung was a bit of a dark horse, at least compared to the other Korean teams. Longzhu was an early favorite to win Worlds, especially since they had beat SKT in the LCK Summer Finals. Three-time World Champions SKT were another strong bet. Samsung, however, got 3-0’d by SKT in the LCK Summer Playoffs. They weren’t even considered to be in the same tier as KT Rolster, a team that didn’t even qualify for Worlds. Expectations for Samsung were not high.
Samsung shattered expectations in the Top 8, dropping only their first game against Team WE. But how did Samsung pull off a clean sweep against SKT? Some of the reasons are simple: Samsung laned better, had stronger team fights, and closed out their leads. They didn’t make the same kind of mistakes that SKT did. Indeed, SKT were sloppy and seemed tilted throughout the series—they didn’t look like a team playing in the grand finals at Worlds, and they definitely didn’t look like defending champions.
Worlds 2017 Finals Game 1: Samsung Win in 37 Minutes
First blood didn’t happen until the Baron fight at 23:38, but Samsung took complete control of the game long before then. Most of the early action took place in mid lane. Faker lost his summoner spells to a gank and a Malzahar all-in, but no kills came of it. Samsung used advantageous lane matchups to push endless waves into SKT’s towers, and SKT had no way to punish them for it. Overwhelming bot lane pressure let Samsung claim the game’s first tower at ~13 min, pushing them to a 2k gold lead.
Two uncontested Mountain Drakes later, the game’s first fight took place at Baron Nashor. SKT attempted to stop SSG from taking Baron Nashor, with Peanut heroically stealing the Baron, but SKT suffered four deaths during the fight. When Baron respawned, Samsung used their superior vision control and three mountain drakes to melt Nashor.
With a large gold lead and plenty of disengage options at their disposal, there was no way for SKT to stop the onslaught, and Samsung ended the game without letting SKT get a single kill.
Worlds 2017 Finals Game 2: Samsung Win in 35 Minutes
On red side, SKT’s plan was to get a good counterpick for Huni or Faker. To SKT’s benefit, Samsung’s pick order allowed both Huni and Faker to do precisely this, and SKT counterpicked Yasuo and Ryze against Gnar and Malzahar. Yasuo exploits Gnar’s weakness against mobility, and Ryze’s Spell Flux one-shots Malzahar’s voidlings while allowing Faker to still affect the side lanes with his ult.
SKT abused their picks to earn a 3k gold lead before 20 minutes. They put the first two kills of the game onto Faker. They had an early Mountain Drake. Then, in an act of extreme bravery, Bang flashed onto the enemy tank. The rest of his team was unable to follow up without Flash, and unwilling to put themselves behind a flanking Mega Gnar.
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Moments later, SKT aggressively steps forward after taking Dragon, but SSG Ambition’s counter-engage with Jarvan allows Samsung to dump loads of free AoE damage in response. This was an ugly fight for SKT, a clean ace from Samsung and a triple kill for Gnar. Goodbye Yasuo. SKT’s lineup was too fragile to afford the earlier mistake by Bang, let alone getting aced and losing Baron. Samsung closed out the game, giving SKT nothing and taking everything.
Worlds 2017 Finals Game 3: Samsung Win in 40 Minutes
In the third game of the Grand Finals, SKT secured an early lead with first blood onto Huni’s Trundle, and Faker followed it up with a kill onto Crown. After taking Dragon, SKT found three more kills. Things turned around a bit after Faker forced a roam botlane and died after using his Flash, but during the early game, Samsung was playing from behind with Trundle maintaining side-lane pressure. SKT won another fight and gets Baron around 22:00, and they demolished a few more turrets, but failed to claim an inhibitor.
While SKT had four Dragons and a 7k gold lead, the disparity didn’t seem to matter to Samsung. CuVee’s Cho’Gath assassinated Bang to initiate a team fight, giving Samsung an easy Baron. This was the moment that seemingly tilted SKT out of Worlds, or perhaps that moment came when Faker walked into Cho’Gaths silence range and died before he could use Flash. The untimely death onto Faker cost SKT both of their Nexus turrets. Although SKT was able to take Elder Drake in the ensuing push-back, they were unable to break into Samsung’s base. As SKT backed off, Faker got Flashed on by Ruler’s Varus and was stunlocked. Samsung was able to end the game off this play. Moments later, a sobbing Faker was pulling himself together to shake hands with the victorious Samsung roster.
While Samsung played tremendously throughout the tournament, the magnitude of their win might have been eclipsed by SKT’s loss. The image of Faker crying will forever be seared into my brain. Personally, I think Faker has plenty of good years left in his career, and I’d like to see him play in another region.
We’ll have to wait until next season starts to see what happens.