The result of the 2014 world championships was shocking. Not that a Korean team won, but more what happened afterwards. The dominant Samsung teams scattered, with players and support staff joining different Chinese squads. What they left behind was an empty roster and a coach.
“I couldn’t get any established talent, and we had to struggle through the LCK with mostly new talent,” Samsung’s head coach Choi “Edgar” Woo-Bum told Slingshot a couple weeks ago during the group stages of this year’s worlds. “I also had little to no time given for recruitment. I think I was given about seven or eight days to find five to six players, so it was very difficult and I was under tremendous stress.”
The result of recruitment of barely a week didn’t yield the best results. Samsung placed eighth during the League Champions Korea spring split of 2015, barely avoiding relegation. The summer split ended in a seventh place standing.
There was upward mobility, though, as Samsung placed sixth in this year’s spring split and fourth in the summer, securing a spot in the playoffs for the first time since the infamous “Korean Exodus.” But Samsung lost in the playoffs at the hands of KT Rolster, which with a 3-0 win extended KT’s winning streak over Samsung to 19 games.
Samsung’s chances at worlds weren’t finished, as there was still the regional gauntlet and hopes of securing the last worlds berth from the region. Samsung would have to start from the bottom and earn the right to face KT once more in the finals of the gauntlet. This time, it was different. Samsung reached worlds two years after its entire team left.
“I’ve cried a lot during 2016, even very recently. I didn’t expect myself to cry this much honestly,” Samsung’s mid laner Lee “Crown” Min-Ho told Slingshot. “Even during the regular season I cried a lot. I was determined to beat KT after crying, so I clenched my teeth, and it’s still kind of weird to be here.”
At that point, Samsung had already made it. Beating KT resulted in a worlds berth nobody — not even the team — saw coming. Then Samsung was placed into Group D, dubbed the “group of death,” with North American champions TeamSoloMid and Chinese powerhouse Royal Never Give Up. It would be a hard fight at best and a disappointing showing at worst for Samsung, which was once again doubted and give little chance to make a deep worlds run.
It didn’t matter.
By the end of the group stages, Samsung would not only qualify for the quarterfinals but would win the group with a 5-1 record. Samsung looked dominant in beating TSM in its second game and defeating RNG twice, the two teams that appeared to have the best chance of making it to the quarterfinals.
By way of a miracle or fate, Samsung also managed to dodge the two other representatives from Korea entirely by being placed on the opposite bracket alongside Europe’s H2K and the breakout wild card team, Albus Nox Luna, as Samsung was scheduled to face the North American Cloud9 in the quarterfinals.
A brilliant stroke of luck to many, but Samsung was unphased. It swept Cloud9 and then H2K, earning a berth in the grand finals against reigning champion SK Telecom T1.
Keep in mind, this is a team that has been under construction since 2015. Ex-CJ Entus veteran jungler Kang “Ambition” Chan-Ho joined in late November while AD Carry turned support Jo “CoreJJ” Yong-In made his switch in May. Samsung’s top laner Lee “CuVee” Seong-Jin put it best in an interview with OGN after the semifinal win.
“I still can’t believe that we’re going to the finals of worlds when we haven’t been able to go to LCK’s finals yet.”
Samsung is once again the underdog going into tonight’s matchup, and the team is well aware. The head coach unabashedly told Slingshot that he “didn’t think for 1 percent” his team would even get here. Now it’s playing for a world championship. Samsung’s very existence here at the moment is still a mystery.
But one thing is for certain. Samsung has been hitting the ground running, on all fours, clawing its way to the finals — first of the gauntlet, and now the world championship. Samsung’s journey through worlds might have been easier than some, but their journey to get here in the first place has been anything but.
Cover photo courtesy of Riot Games