Cloud 9’s dominance in the North American professional League of Legends scene dates back to last season, and their sustained success comes in large part to their internationally focused approach to regional competition. They pay attention to the world metagame, but incorporate their own strategies based on local influences as well. The emergence of solo lane Soraka in the North American solo-queue challenger scene is one such influence, which the team has incorporated into the highest level of professional team play. Over the course of the past few weeks, Cloud 9’s mid-laner, Hai “Hai” Lam boasts a 3-0 record with Soraka, earning a target ban status heading into their regional playoffs.
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With two weeks of preparation and absolutely nothing left to lose, the bottom-feeding underdog of group A, Prime Optimus, went into their final match against SK Telecom T1 S with a solidly-executed strategic game plan. They took two decisive games away from an SKT organization mired in distractions following a loss by T1 K against a similar underdog in KT Rolster Arrows. The combination of both SK Telecom losses resulted in a two-way tie between T1 S and T1 K, requiring a tie-breaking match that will surely raise eyebrows, regardless of its outcome.
The last time SK Telecom T1 K lost a best-of series was on October 16, 2013, during the semifinals of the World Cyber Games Korean Qualifying tournament. They lost to Samsung Galaxy Blue, an up-and-coming team with young talent, an established organization supporting them, and a veteran sister team that has experience beating the World Champions from previous events.
Like champions that fall in and out of favour in League of Legends, professional teams have changed over the course of the lifespan of the game, and tonight’s Legend match between CJ Entus and NaJin e-mFire is a fantastic reminder of how far the game has come, particularly in Korea. For NaJin e-m-Fire, their history is as storied and as fascinating as they come, made even more dynamic by its original team’s split into the two entities known today as NaJin White Shield and NaJin Black Sword.
A comparison between the two teams over the past year is almost as black and white as their names imply. For NaJin Sword, their up-and-down season 3 is reflective of their incredible individual talent, but inconsistency and a lack of direction has resulted in disappointing performances and initial inability to adapt to season 4. NaJin Shield, ever the opposite, has grown steadily in their teamwork and impeccable strategy, but has yet to taste victory at the highest levels due to merely average individual mechanics and playmaking potential.
The KT Rolster organization flexed their strategic muscle over the past weekend with impressive wins in IEM Katowice and OGN Champions Spring 2014 by the Bullets and Arrows, respectively. While the former, more senior, team accomplished a flawless run en route to the world championship, they employed an interesting team composition in the semifinals against Gambit Gaming, one which was used mere hours earlier by their sister team, KT Arrows, in their own 2-0 sweep against Prime Optimus.
The composition centres around Kha’Zix in the jungle, a champion that will surely see an incredible spike in usage in most of the major pro leagues. A recent buff to his Evolved Active Camouflage enabled an incredible amount of mobility that allows the Voidreaver to slip in and out of teamfight situations and do considerable amounts of damage while taking barely any in return with the help of Void Assault and a number of other abilities offered by specific champions, namely Karma and Shen.
In spite of the interesting goings on in OGN Masters as well as the seemingly endless barrage of games supplied by both the North American and European LCS, it has felt like an eternity since the conclusion of Champions Winter 2014. As Doa and MonteCristo put it, it’s as though as followers of the Korean scene have experienced a sort of Champions withdrawal. With the 2014 Spring fully kicked off with the first day of matches between the SK Telecom teams, as well as CJ Entus Frost and Midas FIO, it certainly feels great to not only be able to watch some high quality Korean League of Legends play, but to write about it as well. The groups have been set, and it seems like the road to the finals of Champions Spring 2014 will go through SKT T1 K once more, but don’t discount the capabilities of their sister team, T1 K, and a few other re-emerging upstarts like Samsung Galaxy Ozone and CJ Entus Frost.
There’s no pair of teams more intriguing as of late than NaJin em-Fire’s Black Sword and Samsung Galaxy’s Ozone; both teams, having won respective OGN Champions tournaments as recently as last year, have since fallen rather curiously, due to a combination of factors such as shifts in the metagame and the rise of SK Telecom. Roster turnovers have been a constantly looming threat, and in the wake of LoL Masters, both teams have brought in fresh faces and have revamped their strategic philosophies, which has so far paid off dividends all around. Game 1 of NaJin vs. Samsung Galaxy’s Masters match is an incredible display of how far these two teams have come in their understanding of the game as well as turning prior weaknesses into strengths.
This year’s Champions Winter final features a pair of starkly contrasting storylines featuring past winners of the prestigious Korean tournament. On one side, we have SK Telecom T1 K, who have been on a rampage since early 2013, only dropping sets to both Samsung Galaxy Ozone and Samsung Galaxy Blue in Champions Spring 2013 and the 2013 World Cyber Games Korean Qualifiers, respectively, en route to a 1st place finish in Champions Summer 2013 and the LCS Season 3 World Championship. On the other side, Samsung Galaxy Ozone has faced an up and down year since their victory in Champions Spring 2013, where they defeated an overwhelming favourite in CJ Entus Blaze, but has shown inconsistent finishes ranging from a respectable 3rd in Champions Summer 2013 to a paltry elimination from the group stage at Worlds.
The much-hyped semifinal matchup between SK Telecom T1 K and KT Rolster Bullets fell across a wide range of different outcomes ranging from heavily contested and exciting in game 1 to a yawner of a stomp in game 3 in favour of the Season 3 LCS champions. Despite much discussion and speculation as to whether or not the Bullets could make the next step or whether SKT would continue to be their gatekeeper to a 1st place Champions finish, there wasn’t any particular doubt that SKT would end up winning the series. What probably surprised most was the convincing extent in which they won, but regardless of the second and third games, the back-and-forth opening match proved to be the best window into both teams and the state of their play. As expected, the outcomes were decided by early lane dominance and failure on KT’s part to apply jungle pressure, as well as the two crucial fights over Baron, both of which could have ended up in either team’s favor.
There is truly nothing more exciting in League Legends right now than watching OGN’s PANDORA.TV Champions Winter 2013/2014. An unlikely playoff seeding putting SKT T1 K, SG Blue, KT Bullets, and CJ Blaze into the same half of the bracket resulted in a very crowded quarterfinals that has led to a semifinal meeting between two of the undeniably best teams in all of Korea, and perhaps the world. It’s quite remarkable that both organizations of such high stature in SKT and KT could possibly meet in non-finals contexts twice, the first of which eventually sent SKT to the Season 3 World Championships; had Bullets been able to best their foes in the regional qualifier, it may very well have been them hoisting the trophy at the Staples Center last September.