Royal Never Give Up (RNG) advance to the Worlds 2017 semifinals stage after sending Fnatic (FNC) back to Europe. Now, RNG faces their hardest challenge yet squaring up against defending champions SK telecom T1 (SKT). After missing an opportunity to play against SKT at 2017 Rift Rivals, Royal’s mid-laner Yuanhao “Xiaohu” Li swore to blaze a path at Worlds. After dominating their group and cinching their quarterfinals match against Fnatic, Royal have tremendous momentum coming into their semifinals match. Let’s take a look at how Royal squares up against Korea’s greatest bastion.
After teetering over the edge of defeat, SK telecom T1 managed to close out a five-game bloodbath against European squad Misfits Gaming. In spite of their 5-1 (edited) group stage and victory in the quarterfinals, doubts continue to circle this iteration of SKT. Unlike in previous years, SKT have not shown the same level of international dominance that fans come to expect. Instead, their group stage performance revealed some possibly glaring weaknesses. Early gold deficits and close brushes with defeat marred their play.
Despite the rough start, analysts still favored SKT to score a dominating 3-0 over Misfits. This was not the case. Instead, SKT found themselves one game from a prompt Worlds 2017 exit. Early aggression from the Misfits support and jungler duo overwhelmed SK telecom’s carries. The SKT bottom lane, of Junsik “Bang” Bae and Jaewan “Wolf” Lee, showed glaring exploitable weaknesses in the laning phase. After struggling in quarterfinals against the rookie bottom lane of Misfits, it will be interesting to see how Royal’s elite bottom duo square up. In a meta dominated by “Ardent Censer,” with massive emphasis on AD-carry microplay, how will a struggling Bang fair against a veteran organization like RNG?
Redemption for xiaohu and Uzi
In his empowering “Chase Your Legend” video, RNG’s Xiaohu recounts his failure at the quarterfinals of Worlds 2016 against SKT. “I still felt that there was a huge skill gap between us,” Xiaohu remarks. This year, the veteran Chinese mid-laner is determined to overcome his rival in Korea, the Unkillable Demon King, Sanghyeok “Faker” Lee. While Faker‘s presence and stature might intimidate many of his lane opponents, Xiaohu is one player who stands unafraid. Coming into semifinals, Xiaohu boasts the second highest KDA ratio (10.3) of all players at Worlds 2017.
Hungry to display his growth, front-and-center for the home crowd, Xiaohu continues to produce highlight reels even on utility champions like “Galio” and “Ryze.” Even on the supportive role, star plays from Xiaohu give room for his AD-carry, the legendary Zihao “Uzi” Jian, to explode in late-game teamfights. Like Xiaohu, Uzi‘s story is a climb toward redemption. A two-time Worlds finalist, Uzi has never earned a single international title, a statistic that haunts him daily. Still, Uzi stands as a paragon of the AD-carry position. With the meta poised to equip him with all the tools necessary to carry RNG to their first World championship, Uzi has come to play.
Uzi continues to demonstrate a level of teamfight mastery that even professionals can only dream of. His acute micro-skill and teamfight awareness have him slated as one of the greatest laning AD-carries of all time. Coming into semifinals, Uzi has his eyes set one SKT’s struggling bot lane. Backed by his team’s willingness to constantly funnel resources his way, Uzi‘s aggressive playstyle can truly shine. As Royal squares up, fueled by hunger and redemption, how will they hope to topple the back-to-back champions of SKT?
Royal: TO FOrge a Warpath
Clearly, the SKT bottom lane seems to be the team’s weakest link at Worlds 2017. Aside from early jungle attention and superior laning, Royal can go further to limit the resources available to Bang and Wolf. SK telecom generally opens their series with jungler Wangho “Peanut” Han. Despite a history as one of the most aggressive junglers in the world, the SKT iteration of Peanut seems lukewarm. At Worlds 2017, Peanut has demonstrated a severe lack of proactive play encroaching on passivity in the early-game. Royal jungler, Shiyu “Mlxg” on the other hand, has played champions like “Lee Sin” and “Rek’Sai,” capable of exerting serious early pressure on the opposing jungle. In the upcoming semifinals match, RNG can punish Peanut‘s passivity by banning out champions like “Sejuani” and pick “Jarvan IV.”
RNG displayed a clever strategy by layering Mlxg‘s “Cataclysm” on “Jarvan” and Ming‘s “Equinox” on the “Soraka” to lock in and silence opposing carries. Strategies that can catch SKT off-guard will pay dividends for RNG as the series progresses. Because of SKT’s demonstrated ability to grow throughout a series, RNG must not default to a single style and expect to roll the defending champs over. Instead, they must especially attack SKT’s fragile jungle and bottom lane in Game 1 of the series. Then, Royal must have a second strategy available to counteract SKT’s back-up jungler Sunghu “Blank” Kang.
To win against a team like SK telecom T1, RNG must be willing to adapt both in between games and in-game. This year’s iteration of Royal Never Give Up stands a strong chance at toppling the team that has ended their Worlds runs so many times before. This upcoming series is not just a shot at redemption for RNG, but for China as a region. As Royal squares up against the titans of Korea, the weight of their home country rests on their shoulders. Can Uzi and Xiaohu carry the hopes of the LPL to victory?
Featured Image: LoL Esports Flickr
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