The last time the same two NFL teams played each other in consecutive Super Bowls was when Troy Aikman’s Cowboys beat Jim Kelly’s Bills in Super Bowls XXVII and XXVIII. For baseball, the Yankees and the Dodgers were the last two teams to face each other in consecutive World Series in ‘77 and ‘78. In the same two years, the Canadiens and Bruins were the last two teams to play in consecutive Stanley Cup Finals. And while the NBA Finals has had repeats for the past five seasons now (Spurs v. Heat for two and Warriors v. Cavaliers for three), it hadn’t happened since Michael Jordan and the Bulls completed their second three-peat against the Jazz in ‘97 and ‘98. As you can see, consecutive championship matchups are not a common occurrence in professional sports. That’s what makes this year’s Season 7 League of Legends World Finals all the more interesting.
Last year, it seemed fairly obvious that the finals match up would be SKT vs Samsung once the bracket was determined. SKT were the clear favorites coming into the tournament having won it all the year before, and Samsung were drawn into the easier half of the bracket, sweeping both their quarterfinal and semifinal series. The matchup that everyone wanted to see, SKT vs ROX Tigers, whom many considered to be the main challenger to SKT, occurred in the semifinals. It was a close 3-2 series victory for SKT that electrified Madison Square Garden. After it was all said and done, many analysts and fans didn’t expect the finals to live up to the hype of that semifinal match. Most expected it to be a clean sweep for SKT, but Samsung would have something to say about that.
After a close Game 1 win and a dominating Game 2 blowout, SKT was on the verge of the sweep in Game 3. They built a solid lead through the first 25 minutes, but blew it in a sloppy and overconfident play near the baron pit, allowing Samsung to steal the game. Samsung carried that energy into Game 4 and, to many fans’ surprise, forced a Game 5 to decide the Season 6 World Champion. Nevertheless, SKT would regain their footing and beat Samsung in a long 50-minute game to win their third World Championship.
This year, the upcoming SKT vs Samsung finals matchup was a lot harder to predict. Neither team was as dominant in Korea throughout the year as last season, not to mention the fact that both teams would have to be drawn into different halves of the bracket again.
SKT were pushed to the brink by Misfits in the quarterfinals, but pulled through and then had to play one of the hometown favorites in RNG. The series had a volatile start, with each team picking up a decisive victory in the first two games. RNG found the upper hand in Game 3, blowing out SKT and putting them again on the verge of defeat.
SKT responded by subbing in Peanut for Blank at the jungle position in Game 4. The game was close until the 24-minute mark when SKT won a teamfight near the mid lane and translated it into baron. RNG successfully defended their base the first time SKT tried to push in, but the second time around, Bang managed to pick off Uzi, allowing SKT to end the game right there. In Game 5, SKT silenced Chinese fans after they secured the elder drake and aced RNG. By blowing out RNG with a 10-1 kill scoreline, SKT obtained their spot in the finals.
In the other semifinal, Samsung were coming off an upset sweep of Longzhu and had to face another Chinese team in Team WE. Playing off the crowd’s energy, Team WE started off the series with a bang, blowing out Samsung with a 14-1 kill scoreline. Unfortunately, their success was short lived. Samsung answered back in Game 2 with a disengage comp that stopped WE at every opportunity, and then they gave Team WE a taste of their own medicine through a methodical 10-1 blowout in Game 3.
Team WE started off strong in Game 4, but Samsung turned things around after winning a teamfight in the bot lane and then taking baron near the 24-minute mark. After building a lead through the baron power play, they nearly aced WE in a top lane teamfight that allowed them to end the game and the series. Much to the disappointment of Chinese fans, neither of their teams in the semifinals would continue on to the finals.
Now, for the first time in the history of the League of Legends World Championships, we have a rematch in the finals. SKT is looking to pull of the first ever three-peat and win their fourth overall title, while Samsung are looking for their second in franchise history. Contrasting the expectations going into last year’s finals, I expect this year’s to go all the way. Even if Samsung gets off to a strong start, SKT will find a way to pull a rabbit out of the hat again and make the comeback, as they have done against Misfits and RNG. The gap between the two teams has definitely closed, but SKT’s dependability and adaptability is too much to bet against.
Considering that there have only been seven total World Championships, for these two franchises to hold five of them speaks to how dominant the Korean region has been in the sport. The only thing left to decide is if the top spot is to be shared between SKT and Samsung or belongs to SKT. Tune into the finals at midnight on Friday night on LoLeSports, Twitch.tv, and Youtube.