Neither Samsung Galaxy nor Cloud9 were expected to make the 2016 World Championship. In North America, regular season kings Immortals were favored over the inconsistent C9. Samsung were eliminated from the LCK Summer Playoffs by eventual finalists KT Rolster, and were expected to go down in similar fashion in the Regional Finals.
Instead, through superior drafting, communication and understanding of the meta, Samsung were the ones to make it through the gauntlet. And in NA, it was C9, a talented roster that finally clicked when it mattered, who defeated Immortals twice to earn their spot at Worlds. Now these two unlikely third seeds will face each other in the quarterfinals on Thursday.
Samsung dominated their group, but questions linger from their inconsistent LCK Summer Split. Meanwhile, NA's hopes rest on C9, as the only team to make it out of groups from the region, but they were shaky at best in their group. Here are five questions to ask about Cloud9 and Samsung ahead of their match tomorrow.
1. Will Impact be able to communicate well with his team?
The star of C9's end-of-summer comeback was top laner Jung “Impact” Eon-yeong. With Gnar, Impact suddenly unlocked his hidden carry potential and coordinated far better with his team than he had during the season. Though he'd been criticized early in the summer for poorly timed Teleport play, misguided aggressive engages or showing up far too late to teamfights, Impact ironed out most of these issues in the playoffs. Despite a few communication missteps in the regional finals, Impact’s pressure in top lane was an undeniable force behind their qualification for the World Championship.
In the group stage, Impact’s solo kills still drew pressure and attention top, but he seemed to relapse into his regular season communication problems. After their final game against I MAY, Impact actually apologized to his teammates for several teamfight mishaps. It’s clear that Impact is still an incredible asset to this team, but much depends on how C9 will wield his strength. They have improved rapidly between matches before, but with less than a week to shore up their team dynamic, they will need to put most of their focus on clarifying Impact's role.
2. Will Samsung go for comfort or counter?
Samsung kicked off their Worlds 2016 run with a composition made for them. Jungler Kang “Ambition” Chan-yong played Rek’Sai, Lee “Crown” Min-ho played Viktor, AD carry Park “Ruler” Jae-hyuk got his Ezreal, and support Kwon “Wraith” Ji-min picked up his Nami. They won that game against Splyce handily, but chose not to carry over their focus on comfort picks into their next against Team SoloMid, instead going for a trickier poke composition that didn't pan out.
In an interview at the end of Week 1, Ambition said that after the TSM loss Samsung recognized the importance of comfort picks in a best-of-one situation. "In terms of preparation, we’ve had some shaky components with that poke composition, but we went through with it, because we wanted to see how it went. I think that’s one of the reasons why we lost," he said.
For their final game of Week 1 against Royal Never Give Up, Samsung went back to their comfort picks, which Ambition said was an important factor in that victory. In Week 2, Samsung picked for comfort only, which helped them sweep the back half of the group stage and finish as Group D’s first seed. Crown played Viktor twice more before Splyce banned it in their final game, while support Jo “CoreJJ” Yong-in had fantastic games on Tahm Kench and his pocket Zyra.
Samsung figured out early that best-of-ones were not the place to try more complex compositions designed to counter specific opponents, but the best-of-five match they play Thursday will be a completely different landscape. It’s unlikely that they will lean on pocket picks as heavily as they did in groups. Instead, we'll need to see more of the smart game-to-game adjustments that led them to their gauntlet series win over KT Rolster.
3. Will C9 target-ban Viktor and other Samsung pocket picks?
Crown has spent nearly a third of his professional LoL career on Viktor. Over 45 games played on the champion (30 percent of his total 152 pro games), his stats are middling to good, with a respectable 51.1 percent winrate, 3.56 KDA and 71.2 percent kill participation.
But the numbers don't give any indication of Crown's formidable control with this champion. On Viktor, Crown is a different mid laner. No longer is he content to simply trade and farm until mid game — he’s suddenly aggressive, positioning further forward and solo killing opponents.
Nearly every member of Samsung has at least one champion like this — a pick that somehow inspires a level of play beyond the player's typical performance. This makes banning out Samsung a unique and difficult experience. C9 will have to strike the perfect balance between picking compositions that are strongest for what they want to do on the map — that is, play around Jensen and Impact — while minding Samsung’s slightly off-meta favorites.
4. Who will rule the jungle?
Of all the teams at the 2016 World Championship, only SK Telecom T1 has better jungle control than Ambition and Samsung Galaxy. On average, SKT farms 57.5 percent of the total jungle monsters and minions in their games. Samsung boasts an impressive 56.1 percent, well above C9 who hover in the middle of the pack at 49.7 percent.
He who controls the jungle controls the game, and Ambition has done this better than nearly every other jungler at Worlds. It’s not simply a matter of ganking early for winning lanes, but pushing up and applying pressure so that standard lanes can push up themselves.
Ambition and C9’s William “Meteos” Hartman share a love of early farming. The Korean jungler has the highest gold difference at 10 minutes (334) of anyone in his role at the tournament, but Meteos is right behind him at 262. Meteos has the highest CS difference at 10 minutes (6.8) of all junglers at Worlds, while Ambition has the highest CS per minute (4.9).
With both junglers aiming to steal farm and take over their opponents’ jungle, this match could easily come down to which of them gets the upper hand first. Ambition will not be able to get away with risky early invades like the one that set them so far behind in their group stage loss to TSM. Likewise, Meteos will not be able to get away with applying comparatively little lane pressure in the early game.
5. Which team will adapt first?
Both Samsung and C9 have shown they're adept at adapting in best-of situations. Yet both teams have also failed to adapt at crucial times this year. This series is going to come down to which team is allowed to play more comfortably, both in draft and style. Samsung has a clear advantage, having come out of the toughest group as the best-looking team at the tournament. So far at Worlds, they have left their regular season inconsistency behind, playing a far more controlled style against stiffer competition than what C9 had to fight hard to overcome in Group B.
Now that they’ve both played through groups and seen how the meta has shifted from what was popular in bootcamps to what is strongest on stage, execution will matter far more than insight. Given what we've seen from these teams so far this year, including these past few weeks, it’s difficult to imagine anything but a Samsung victory.
Emily Rand is a staff writer for theScore esports. You can follow her on Twitter.