Let me paint you a picture.
It’s 2017 Worlds Semifinals, and SKT T1 find themselves at a 0-1 deficit against the Chinese powerhouse Royal Never Give Up. In the old days, this wouldn’t be cause for much worry. In fact, many SKT strategies revolved around giving up strategic advantages in game 1 of Bo5s in favor of later adaptations. And yet, with how rough their tournament has been up until this point, SKT no longer had the leisure of bleeding free games.
Playing from behind was no longer acceptable.
That’s why game 2 had to be the turning point. SKT needed to clinch the win here. Otherwise, they’d be knocked down to 0-2, a deficit that the current iteration of SKT would struggle to overcome.
With that in mind, let’s see how SKT T1 tipped the scales in their favor.
From first glance at the draft, it’s clear that something weird is going on here. The first ban rotation is fairly straightforward, except for the fact that RNG decide to take away Jayce from Huni—a champion that SKT’s top laner used to great effect in the past. Things get more interesting when SKT secure a very powerful flex pick—Galio—in the first rotation.
At this point, RNG have the carte blanche to seize one of the most powerful duos in the game, Xayah and Rakan. But inexplicably, they take Twitch and Rakan instead. Granted, Uzi has shown that he’s capable of wreaking havoc on Twitch, but SKT still managed to dodge a bullet here because few bot lanes can stand up to the Xayah/Rakan combo. Of course, this was a calculated risk since Uzi has never played a competitive game of Xayah in his life, so it was unlikely that he’d bring out in the Worlds Semifinals.
SKT take away Shen in the second ban phase to make sure RNG can’t deal with Galio’s map presence.
RNG answer by banning Karma and Orianna.
While Karma isn’t a very contested pick right now, the idea of Galio and Gragas running at you under a Mantra + Shield is scary enough to use a ban on her. The Orianna ban makes a bit less sense. Sure, SKT could still move Galio to the top lane, but that setup works best with a carry jungler, and Gragas certainly doesn’t fall into that category.
RNG then take Malzahar for the AoE damage and the added crowd control. The champion also has an innate spell shield, which is great against SKT’s trio of Galio, Gragas, and Varus. What makes this draft stand out is SKT locking in Camille and Leona. The Camille pick can always force a fight onto Gnar and build up a strong splitpushing presence. Meanwhile, Leona is a very strong Solo Queue counter to Twitch and Rakan that’s been reintroduced to pro play by IgNar. Of course, she comes at the cost of Ardent Censer, so SKT have to make something happen in the early game.
With that in mind, RNG’s Nocturne pick is even more polarizing. It’s easy to see that Bang is the only source of consistent damage on SKT, so if Nocturne manages to delete him, RNG will always win fights. The main issue, though, is that Nocturne has a very telegraphed playstyle, making it entirely too easy for Galio, Gragas, and Leona to lock him down once he initiates.
Of course, RNG are already one game ahead, and if Nocturne pops off, they might earn a free ban for the remainder of the series. So in a sense, it’s fine to take this risk. Still, we can’t help feeling that picks like Zac or Rek’Sai would fit better into RNG’s dive comp.
Meanwhile, SKT built a protect the carry comp, but instead of drafting something like Kog’Maw, they went with a more aggressive laner in Varus. Not only that, but they picked Camille for the added splitpushing presence and the long-range engage onto RNG’s carries. The only question is whether the Leona pick is better than Taric or Morgana—two champions that can shut down Rakan while bringing Ardent Censer to the table.
RNG kick-start the game by going for an aggressive level 1. Four of their members stay in the fog of war on the top side of the map while LetMe throws a boomerang into the banana bush—a standard spot for top laners in the beginning of the game. If Huni were to get hit by the projectile or walk up, he’d get ambushed by the enemy goon squad, and RNG would get their snowball rolling. But Huni runs down instead and evades the ambush.
The laning phase isn't kind to RNG either, especially when LetMe allows Huni to walk up and chunk him out for free. Now that Gnar is forced under his turret, SKT pounce at the opportunity to break open the game. Faker quickly pushes in his minion wave and—together with Blank—goes for a 2:30 top lane roam, threatening a 3-man dive onto a level 2 Mini Gnar. Fortunately for LetMe, Xiaohu channels teleport to diffuse the situation, but the ball is already in SKT’s court.
With Gnar losing the top lane standoff and Nocturne power farming to level 6, RNG suddenly find themselves with no map pressure. At 5:00, Faker uses this fact to roam down and help Blank claim a safe Ocean Dragon. The only solace for RNG is that Gnar somewhat regains control of the top lane, but things are about to go very wrong for them on the other side of the map.
At 5:58, Twitch oversteps his limits, and Wolf punishes him with a hard engage. Uzi is a bit slow on the Cleanse, which forces him to flash out. But SKT aren’t about to let him get away scot-free, and Bang flashes forward, dodging Rakan’s crowd control in the process. The result? SKT trade 2 summoners for 4 and take full control of the bottom lane.