On June 28, 2017, Lee "CuVee" Seong-jin sat across from OnGameNet casters Lee "CloudTemplar" Hyun-woo and Kim "Dangun" Eui-joong, grinning ear to ear. The lone MVP of Samsung Galaxy's 2-1 victory over Longzhu Gaming, CuVee had just finished 5/2/2 on Camille, stymying Longzhu's carry split-pusher Kim "Khan" Dong-ha.
Just before nine minutes into the third game, Samsung mid laner Lee "Crown" Min-ho died a second time, giving another kill to Gwak "Bdd" Bo-seong's Zed. Yet CuVee and jungler Kang "Ambition" Chan-yong were ahead, and Samsung played the map steadily. The end result was one of four total series losses that Longzhu had all 2017 LoL Champions Korea Summer regular season.
"Mid lane was having it really tough, but we tried to hold and hold," CuVee told CloudTemplar. "We couldn't get out of the first game, but I think we did a pretty good job in the second and third game."
Nearly four months later, not much has changed for Samsung. The team pulls wins out of improbable places by stalling out the game until Samsung knows that it can win. An unlikely representative of Korea at the 2017 League of Legends World Championship, Samsung had a startling repeat performance of the team's upset 2016 Regional Finals victory over KT Rolster in the 2017 gauntlet.
"Getting this far and having to beat so many teams to get here we felt like we had nothing to lose," CuVee said after the match. He added that this gave them a positive mindset, which helped the team while behind in gold and map pressure. By 42 minutes in Game 3, KT Rolster had taken all three of Samsung's inhibitors down. At 58:46, Samsung won the game.
If any team at the League of Legends World Championship knows how to effectively freeze a game until the time it wants, it's Samsung Galaxy.
Last World Championship the meta shifted in Samsung's favor at perfect time and support Jo "CoreJJ" Yong-in, a dubious substitution at the time, was just the strong laner that Samsung needed. Once out of groups, Samsung didn't drop a single game en route to the finals against SK Telecom T1. There, Samsung unexpectedly took SK Telecom T1 to all five games, losing 3-2. Most counted Samsung out of the running for the 2016 Summoner's Cup before groups began. This year, Samsung is in a similar position to prove its detractors wrong.
Yet, Samsung's path this year is far more difficult since the team isn't performing nearly as well. Crown stole the show at the 2016 World Championship, dazzling audiences on Viktor and Ryze. His ability to push out the mid lane allowed for Ambition to get away with riskier invades, and have a better vision net to track his opponents in their jungle. This year the tables have turned. Crown has struggled to control mid without Ambition's help and the rest of the map has strained to stem the bleeding from this loss of pressure.
Samsung's most recent performance, a loss to Group C opponent Royal Never Give Up, showed that the team was attempting to break out of its rut. CuVee brought out the split-pushing Camille again to split RNG on the map. AD carry Park "Ruler" Jae-hyuk eschewed Samsung's preferred Relic Shield start -- the Ardent Censer rush tactic picked up from the Afreeca Freecs -- for a stronger lane with Doran's Blade alongside poke from laning partner CoreJJ's Lulu. Yet the map still collapsed back towards Samsung, and Ambition had little support from Crown in stopping Liu "Mlxg" Shi-yu's Lee Sin invades. If the lack of communication and pressure from Samsung's jungle/mid duo continues, Samsung will have no chance against Longzhu.
Little may have changed for Samsung from the 2017 LCK Summer Week 5 matchup, but Longzhu has significantly improved as a team. Jungler Moon "Cuzz" Woo-chan is no longer as much of a liability as he used to be, growing into the position with more experience and unstoppable mid lane pressure from Bdd. It's near impossible to unseat Bdd from mid, and this will create a concave effect on the map against Samsung, with the already-struggling Crown likely shoved in under his own turret. Longzhu draft champions that can push early, unlike Samsung which has favored scaling into late-game teamfights.
Top lane could still be explosive, with the two best tops at this tournament clashing once more. Both CuVee and Khan have bested each other in lane, and this will likely rely on jungle attention or overall map pressure. Due to these teams' drafting throughout this tournament, CuVee will presumably be at a disadvantage here when the map collapses inward from the mid lane.
Kang "GorillA" Beom-hyeon and Kim "PraY" Jong-in, or PraYrillA, as they call themselves, are the most fearsome bottom lane at this event. Both players, especially PraY, are playing better than they ever have in their careers. Even if Samsung decides not to handicap Ruler and CoreJJ's 2v2 laning potential with the Relic Shield start, it's a tough matchup for the Samsung bot duo.
On Sunday, Oct. 15, CuVee stood opposite GorillA as Samsung was drawn to face Longzhu Gaming. Laughing, the two representatives hugged each other on the Wuhan Indoor Sports Gymnasium stage, hiding their chagrin at drawing each other so early in the bracket. A Samsung performing at its best, with Crown getting the early push or going even without jungle attention in the mid lane, would have a surprisingly strong matchup against Longzhu. Longzhu's few weaknesses have appeared in their teamfighting as five, and the team had to rely on exemplary performances from PraY and Bdd to earn a second victory against the Gigabyte Marines in groups. Although Samsung could still lose to individual all-star performances from the Longzhu carries, it would have a strong chance if the team could balance early pushing with late-game scaling and rely on a superior 5v5.
Unfortunately for Samsung, the team is hardly playing at a level where it can rely on early laning, especially against the dominant lanes of Longzhu. Longzhu has become a favored juggernaut to take the 2017 World Championship. As it is now, Samsung isn't likely to stop them.