South Korean League of Legends teams are mortal after all

SKT and ROX Tigers both suffer setbacks in Worlds group stages.

There have been some spectacular results in the initial group stage of this year's League of Legends World Championship, including upsets like INTZ over EDward Gaming and non-upsets like Europe cratering into an ignominious 1-8 record, but two of the most unlikely came on the last day of the first week's play as both SK Telecom T1 and ROX Tigers came undone against relatively unfancied competition.

First, a little context for anyone who hasn't been following too closely: South Korea is the dominant force in League of Legends esports and has been for a long time. Three out of five world championships have been won by teams from the region, whose player exports (and even cast-offs) are sought after by wealthy team owners around the world. Going into Worlds this year, the talk wasn't about who would win, but which of the two top Korean teams - SK Telecom T1 and ROX Tigers - would walk off with the Summoner's Cup.

And if we're honest, that's probably still the big question, but it was pretty interesting to see both teams come undone on the last day of week one. (After all, SKT didn't even drop a game last year until they won the grand final 3-1... against the Tigers.)

First up, ROX Tigers took on Counter Logic Gaming. Crowd favourite CLG were playing on home turf, but any suggestion the setting played a part would be to do them a disservice - this was all about a great draft, strong strategy and execution in the early game and riding the snowball effectively to the finish line.

The key to it all was mid-laner Huhi, whose Aurelion Sol was virtually untouchable for the entire match. Huhi turned a level-one bot-lane roam into first blood, then wasn't killed at all until the decisive team fight inside the Tigers' base after around 35 minutes, finishing 11/1/6 and also benefitting from a strong synergy with Xmithie's Nidalee in the jungle. If you want to know what good Sol play looks like, watch this VOD.

Alternatively, if you want to see what good Sol play looks like, you could always tune into the day's other upset. ROX losing to CLG probably felt a bit unlikely going into the game (especially after CLG managed to lose to wildcard qualifier Albus NoX Luna), but you would have made crazy money betting that SKT would then go down on the same day, but so it proved, and once again it was because a Korean team didn't respect the Sol pick.

This time it was Flash Wolves' Maple who was in line to benefit, picking up side-lane kills after SKT failed to capitalise on their good early-game play. In one particularly flashy play, reminiscent of Aurelion Sol's debut at the Mid-Season Invitational, Maple zoned the entire Korean team off their middle inhibitor using a gigantic Starsurge, signalling the beginning of the end of the world champions' resistance. Flash Wolves put a lot of pressure on Faker throughout the match, only some of which the veteran mid-laner could dodge or repel, and in the end they claimed a deserved victory, as you can see in this VOD.

ROX and SKT going down in consecutive games capped a crazy first week at Worlds, in which anyone could beat anyone. (Or rather: in which anyone except the European teams could beat anyone.) The next round of matches kicks off this Thursday, October 7, and it really does feel like anyone could still win these groups.

If they do, though, they will probably have to do it without Aurelion Sol, who is likely to be banned all over the shop. Farewell, starry prince.

Tom Bramwell

British writer who used to work for Eurogamer and Riot Games. Increasingly obsessed with esports.

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