Stage set for DWG KIA-T1 showdown in LCK finals
The 2021 League of Legends Champions Korea Summer Split playoffs are winding down, with only the finals remaining to be played. Here's what happened over the first four matches of the postseason, all of which took place last week.
1R: Nongshim vs. Afreeca
On Wednesday, Nongshim RedForce took down Afreeca Freecs 3-1 to advance to the semifinals.
While the match was expected to be close, fans and experts alike had generally predicted a victory for the RedForce, who were far more consistent over the regular season and would enjoy a huge advantage in the bottom lane thanks to the powerhouse duo of Seo "deokdam" Dae-gil and Kim "Kellin" Hyeong-gyu.
Such assessments were proven accurate; despite dropping the first set, Nongshim were able to win the next three games following just a few adjustments to their approach to the draft.
"Heading into the game, I told our players that all we needed to do was keep our heads clear because Afreeca would be far more nervous than us," Nongshim coach Lim "Comet" Hye-sung told the Korea JoongAng Daily after the match.
Comet believed his team would have the mental edge because "[Afreeca's] chances of qualifying for [this year's World Championship] would be eliminated if they lost, whereas we still would have another chance to make it through the regional qualifiers." He shared that the games "mostly went as expected."
With this loss, Afreeca Freecs were eliminated from Worlds contention.
1R: T1 vs. Liiv Sandbox
On Thursday, T1 took down Liiv Sandbox in a convincing 3-0 sweep to advance to the semifinals.
While LSB was paid due respect, fans and experts alike leaned in favor of T1 in the pre-match predictions. Despite T1's shocker against Hanwha Life Esports in the final match of the regular season, most viewers expected the boys in red to bounce back and recover their recent dominant form — and this turned out to be the case.
The match saw star AD carry Park "Teddy" Jin-sung return to the stage for the first time since the first round of the summer split. Some fans found this greatly worrying, due to T1's recent history of making and suffering from erratic changes to their starting lineup. Teddy, however, quelled such doubts right away by delivering an MVP performance in the first game and playing well throughout the 3-0 sweep.
T1 head coach Son "Stardust" Seok-hee chose not to divulge any tactical details pertaining to Teddy's sudden return to the starting lineup, but said he had been confident that the veteran would perform well despite his recent lack of playtime.
Shortly after the match, DWG KIA, who won the right to select their semifinal opponent by placing first in the regular season, chose to play Nongshim RedForce. T1 was thus pitted against Gen.G Esports.
2R: DWG KIA vs. Nongshim
On Saturday, DWG KIA demolished Nongshim RedForce in a 3-0 sweep to advance to the finals.
DWG KIA were visibly content at having put up a great showing in their last game at LoL Park this year: The world-class duo of Heo "ShowMaker" Su and Kim "Canyon" Gun-bu were instrumental as always, but strong performances from Kim "Khan" Dong-ha were also on display.
Despite the 3-0 score, Nongshim were not entirely toothless in defeat. Particularly inspiring was their gritty performance in the final set, in which they were down by 4k gold at the 15-minute mark yet still somehow managed to claw back into the game through desperation and focus. Even though it eventually ended with DWG KIA successfully quashing the resistance, many viewers lauded the RedForce for giving it their all until the very end.
"This victory means a lot for us because now we won't have to play in the [regional qualifiers for Worlds], which saves us a ton of stress and time," DWG KIA head coach Kim "kkOma" Jeong-gyun told media at the post-match press conference. "In truth, I had expected a 3-1 victory for today's match, but our players and coaches prepared for it really well. I think that's why it went 3-0."
DWG KIA now have a chance to win their third straight domestic title. If they manage to complete the threepeat, they would become the second team in Korean League of Legends history to have done so. The first and only LCK threepeat was achieved by the legendary 2015-16 SK Telecom T1 squad.
Nongshim will be unhappy about their loss, but their season is not yet over — the team remains in contention for Worlds. They still have one last chance to make it through the regional qualifiers, which will take place after the postseason finals.
2R: Gen.G Esports vs. T1
On Sunday, T1 beat Gen.G 3-1 to not only advance to the finals, but also secure their tickets to Worlds.
It will be legendary mid laner Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok's sixth appearance at the tournament; the only other Korean player to hold that record is Faker's former 2013 SK Telecom T1 K teammate Jeong "Impact" Eon-yeong, who made it to Worlds once with SKT then five times with North American teams.
The first game of the series featured T1 pulling out some new picks from under their sleeves, with Faker going for Irelia and Kim "Canna" Chang-dong grabbing Renekton. Gen.G, on the other hand, placed faith in their comfort champions, giving Kwak "Bdd" Bo-seong Azir and Kim "Clid" Tae-min Lee Sin. Gen.G's approach was rewarded; they won many key early skirmishes mostly by virtue of being more experienced on their picks, then snowballed to victory.
The second set saw T1 return to the tried-and-true, with Faker and Canna opting for Ryze and Gwen, respectively. T1's adjustments had an immediate effect. Despite Gen.G again getting off to a strong start, this time T1 were able to keep their heads on, avoid excessive bleeding, and turn around the game thanks to a couple of smart engages from Teddy and Ryu "Keria" Min-seok. Soon, Gen.G were powerless to stop Gwen.
Compared to T1, Gen.G were ineffective in making modifications to their drafts; T1 were in the driver's seat for most of the third and fourth games due to having a relatively superior composition. Individual skill was also a factor, however; Gen.G's Kim "Rascal" Kwang-hee and Park "Ruler" Jae-hyeok did severely underperform, both in comparison to their opponents on the day and their usual standards. Teddy, on the other hand, reclaimed his 2019 glory in full with three straight games of pristine AD carry play.
In the post-match broadcast interview, Canna shared that he was very much looking forward to the finals as it would be his "first time playing in a Summer Split Finals" as well as his "first time playing in a venue other than LoL Park."
The upcoming finals
DWG KIA and T1 are now set to meet in the finals. As Faker and kkOma both currently hold nine domestic titles, the two will face off with a very symbolic record on the line.
"I really want that 10th title," said kkOma on Saturday, when asked how much importance he placed on that milestone. "And I'm really grateful to our players and coaches and staff for making it a possibility."
"I hadn't heard of that. That's pretty interesting," Teddy said in his post-match interview on Sunday, after being told of the 10th-title showdown. "I guess we'll have to help [Faker] win another title, then."
"The old me would have never guessed I'd face [kkOma] in a final one day," Faker said on Sunday, reflecting back on the many years he had with kkOma as his coach. "I'll do my best to prepare. I really want to win."
The 2021 LCK Summer Split Finals will be played on Aug. 28 at the CJ ENM Studio in Ilsan, Gyeonggi.
BY JEON YOUNG-JAE [firstname.lastname@example.org]