Behind Jian “Uzi” Zi-hao’s beaming smile and group bow with his team to a roaring Chinese crowd, Kang “Ambition” Chan-yong stared sternly into the distance, packing up his keyboard. Beside him, Lee “CuVee” Seong-jin smiled and placed his hand on Ambition’s forearm in solidarity before walking offstage. Samsung Galaxy had lost both matches against Royal Never Give Up in the League of Legends World Championship group stage. Two days later, CuVee hugged Longzhu Gaming‘s Kang “GorillA” Beom-hyeon on the same stage as they found themselves pitted against each other in the quarterfinals.
Some gave Samsung the benefit of the doubt and called the series a 3-1 for Longzhu. Many predicted a Longzhu 3-0 stomp.
It was a 3-0 stomp, but not at the expense of Samsung.
Fans and analysts alike could cling to myriad reasons to believe Longzhu, the League Champions Korea summer champions, would defeat Samsung handily, and only a few to believe in Samsung. Intangible leadership qualities? Both teams had them, from the stern warmth of GorillA to the demeanor of a perpetually disappointed father Ambition effortlessly embodies. Longzhu had a stronger early game and, more importantly, drafted accordingly for pushing lanes that covered up weaknesses in Moon “Cuzz” Woo-chan’s early jungle routes. Samsung appeared content to wait until the team could execute on one of its excellent Baron setups or teamfight its way out of an early deficit. Lee “Crown” Min-ho still looked shaky, his Taliyah against G2 Esports aside, and the loss of pressure was a problem for Ambition, who often was unable to farm as quickly or efficiently as he would have liked.
Samsung made a few small adjustments in the final group stage match against RNG. Park “Ruler” Jae-hyuk and Jo “CoreJJ” Yong-in abandoned the Afreeca Freecs’ Relic Shield AD carry into Ardent Censer rush for a stronger 2-v-2 lane against RNG’s Uzi and Shi “ming” Sen-ming. CuVee was given Camille in the top lane, presumably with the hope that the team could play around top side a bit more, and eventually split pressure. At 32:32, RNG still took down Samsung’s nexus and claimed the first seed out of Group C.
The story of Samsung’s triumph over Longzhu begins not with Samsung itself, but with Taiwan’s AHQ e-Sports and its second group stage game against SK Telecom T1. Following a surprising AHQ victory, most of the attention went to Liu “Westdoor” Shu-wei and his blind-pick Fizz, but the more important champion pickups were Sejuani for Xue “Mountain” Zhao-hong and Shen for Chen “Ziv” Yi. Mountain farmed efficiently, unpunished by SKT’s Han “Peanut” Wang-ho. AHQ then used the Shen/Sejuani combination, often together with the Fizz, to aggressively pick off members of SKT. It didn’t matter that Westdoor fell far behind Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok in CS. AHQ factored the loss of mid pressure into its game plan and, once Westdoor was in a side lane, the team could rely on Westdoor’s strong game sense, despite his poor laning phase.
Just as AHQ jungler Mountain became the star of his team’s group stage win over SKT, Ambition became the star of Samsung against Longzhu, leading his team to victory on Sejuani in all three games. CuVee picked Kennen into Kim “Khan” Dong-ha’s Jax in Game 1 — serving a slightly different purpose as more of a hard initiator — and spent Games 2 and 3 on the Shen, setting up plays in similar fashion to AHQ. Crown’s poor laning, much like Westdoor’s, didn’t matter once Samsung was able to get him out of the lane.
In Game 1 on Thursday, Crown’s Malzahar was obliterated by Gwak “Bdd” Bo-seong’s Syndra, but it didn’t matter because Ambition was there to cover him. Later in the game, Crown was still able to put his team-fighting skills to good use. Crown managed to get Taliyah in Game 2 and again, Samsung focused on moving him into side lanes, especially when he did get the mid push against Bdd. His walls were used impeccably to set up Samsung neutral objectives and turret sieges.
Then there was the Game 3 Lissandra pick, the perfect choice for Crown to once again focus on affecting Samsung’s side lanes, rather than staying in lane and losing CS to Bdd. Crown was sent to side lanes alone as a split-pusher and synergized perfectly with the Shen/Sejuani combination when locking down members of Longzhu for picks. Ambition’s Sejuani remained a key focal point of Samsung’s composition. He set up vision. He covered for Crown in the mid lane. He set up dives with CuVee and Crown. On top of all of this, Ambition is also cited by his teammates as the brains behind Samsung’s strong Baron setups, which stymied Longzhu throughout this series, especially when Samsung was able to send CuVee to split pressure in the process.
Ambition is an efficient farming jungler — one of the best power-farming junglers in Korea statistically — but he was also granted a lot of leeway because of Cuzz’s inefficiency. Cuzz, despite a presumable early edge with Jarvan IV and Gragas, failed to capitalize on Samsung’s collapsed mid lane. He didn’t punish Ambition, and his ganks for Longzhu’s lanes were often ill-timed. It affected more than just the mid lane, especially when Samsung played more around its side lanes, especially on the bot side of the map.
Samsung’s side lanes were reliable throughout the series. CuVee has rarely had issue with Khan in lane, and was relied upon to hold his own. Despite a miscalculation against Khan’s Trundle in Game 3 that led to a greedy death, CuVee ensured Khan did not become the split-pushing monster that destroyed SKT. In bottom lane, Samsung removed the proverbial training weights of a Relic Shield AD carry start and opted for a stronger 2-v-2. CoreJJ controlled early turret dives well with Taric, and the Taric pick also allowed for Ruler to be more aggressive in team fights on Tristana.
Much like Longzhu against SKT in the 2017 LCK summer finals and Samsung against KT Rolster in the regional finals, Samsung’s 3-0 sweep of Longzhu on the worlds stage points once again to the team’s intelligence and preparation. It’s still a difficult road ahead for Samsung. Crown’s continued lack of mid lane pressure is not ideal, to say the least, but Samsung will at the very least come prepared.