SK Telecom T1 added another incredible series win to its legacy with a 3-2 League of Legends World Championship semifinal win over Royal Never Give Up on Saturday at the Shanghai Oriental Sports Center in China.
As they were two of the strongest teams to enter this tournament, it was only fitting that these juggernauts went toe-to-toe in a five-game bout that went down to the wire. Showing just why it is the two-time defending champion, SKT displayed its championship grit to grind out yet another close series win.
RNG got a boost from a raucous home crowd at the beginning, and SKT struggled early. From the first blood kill picked up by RNG jungler Liu "mlxg" Shi Yu's Sejuani to the jungler's perfectly timed Smite to steal away the Elder Dragon in the final sequence of the Chinese team's Game 1 win, the crowd was deafening in its support of RNG.
While SKT managed to fire back in Game 2 with a strong showing to avoid the dreaded 0-2 deficit, it wasn't long before RNG retaliated with a gusto that few expected in the face of the vaunted SKT. This came in the form of a lightning-fast 23-minute win for RNG in Game 3. RNG's star AD carry, Jian "Uzi" Zi-Hao, brought out his infamous Vayne and wreaked havoc on the Korean side with a flawless 6/0/3 KDA (kills/deaths/assists). At that point, RNG was one win away from the grand final in Beijing, but SKT didn't win back-to-back titles by giving up.
With SKT jungler Kang "Blank" Sun-gu not performing up to snuff in a surprise start for SKT, the team opted to bring in the struggling Han "Peanut" Wang-ho for the final two games. Despite coming in with a less-than-stellar string of performances lately, this move turned out to be the turning point of the match for SKT. In conjunction with this lineup switch, SKT finally wised up and adjusted its draft strategy, banning Sejuani from mlxg to give Peanut breathing room in the jungle.
Throughout the final two games, SKT looked more like its championship self than we've seen all tournament long. SKT came out ahead in the drafting phase of both games with a team composition that seemed to come straight out of the League of Legends Pro League playbook, giving SKT a strong late game composition. This playstyle gave RNG fits for two straight games, and SKT walked away with the 3-2 series victory.
For as big of a win as this is for SKT -- the team remains a perfect 9-0 in elimination games at the World Championship -- it has to be a tough pill for RNG to swallow. Uzi has gotten to this point time and time again only to come up short on every occasion, collecting more silver in his trophy cabinet than any other player in professional League of Legends history. Even with SKT looking historically weak coming into the series, he wasn't able to bring his team the win yet again.
SKT will now await Sunday's series between Samsung Galaxy and Team WE to determine who it will face in the grand finals. Will the world get a rematch of last year's finals, or will Team WE overcome the odds and become the first Chinese team since Star Horn Royal Club in 2014 to make the grand finals?
The series begins at 3:30 a.m. ET on Sunday.