We're now through the first week of the second half of the Champions Korea Summer season, and we find ourselves in the same position that we were last week: SK Telecom T1 are the best team in Korea.
They're 10-0 with a ridiculous 20-2 map score record during that run, and are on the cusp of being the first team to qualify for the 2015 World Championships if they can clinch the first seed in the regular season.
SKT T1 aren't unbeatable, they've already dropped careless sets to Anarchy and Samsung Galaxy this season, and it's not out of the question that the KOO Tigers or Jin Air Green Wings could pull off an upset. The real trouble for the rest of Champions is the gap that SKT have created for themselves as they are three matches up on their closest competitor, KOO, and have a gigantic map differential advantage.
With SKT's unrelenting reign at the top of the league and the four bottom teams in the league scrapping to stay out of relegation, the five teams in the middle of the pack represent the true battle being waged in Champions — the war for second place. Tearing T1 away from the top spot in Korea seems highly unlikely, but the silver finish in Champions is up for grabs for the quintet of squads bunched together from second to sixth place in the standings.
For a team like KOO, a silver placement in the regular season could be all the circuit points they need to take the secondary straight ticket to Worlds behind SKT. The same can be said for CJ, the team who grabbed third place overall last season after falling to SKT in the semifinals. Aiming for SKT T1 is becoming increasingly impossible for the rest of the field in Champions, so their best course of action is to let SK Telecom T1 qualify for Worlds and focus on grabbing the secondary spot behind them. Either by facing SKT in the Grand Finals and beating them, automatically qualifying as Summer champions, or by accumulating enough points to get the direct seed to Worlds through circuit points.
The War for Silver is on, and CJ, KT, KOO, Jin Air, and NaJin are going to make the end run to Champions Summer an unmissable one.
The Champions Hierarchy
1. SK Telecom T1: 10-0 (20-2)
Faker is back to not just being the most dangerous player in the world, but the best and most influential player in the world. Even with the Cinderhulk meta drifting away, Bengi is keeping up on the new champions being played on the new patches and fulfilling his eternal role as Faker's trusted right-hand man. At 10-0 with an almost comical 20-2 map score record, first place and Worlds are in SKT's grasp.
If they play like they have the past five months, they're not going to let up even if they do clinch a Worlds spot in the next few weeks.
2. KOO Tigers: 8-3 (18-8)
The team closest to SKT T1 in the standings are also the ones who know how hard it is to topple a team who gets off to a perfect start. Last season, KOO were in SKT's spot as the undefeated monsters who went through the first half of the season without a loss. They started to lose matches at the end of the season to teams below them and even to SKT T1, the team right behind them in the standings, but their hot start proved to be too much. KOO, even if they can keep up their multi-week win streak and beat SKT in their upcoming second-half match-up, will almost assuredly finish behind SKT T1 unless for an unsuspected, incredible collapse from the reigning champions.
Still, the Tigers are looking as good as they have in months and are one match up on all their closest competitors for second place. Due to finsihing in second place last season against SKT, if they can meet SKT in the Grand Finals once more they'll also qualify directly for Worlds through either becoming summer champions or for having the second most circuit points behind T1. A second place finish behind SKT T1 would mean that KOO would only need one best-of-five victory in the playoffs to secure their spot in Europe this fall.
3. CJ Entus: 7-4 (15-11)
CJ Entus are attempting something they've rarely done in their three plus years as a LoL organization — replace their veterans with prospects. CJ Helper's debut in the top lane this past week marked only the fifth player in CJ's illustrious history to start at the position between Frost, Blaze, and the combined CJ. Woong, Reapered, Shy, and Flame had been the main four to carry the banner of CJ's long-running dominance in the top lane, and this was the week where Shy watched from the sidelines for one of the first times in his three year professional career.
Helper fared decently in his debut, as CJ Entus were able to shake off an early week loss to the KOO Tigers by sweeping the Jin Air Green Wings to close out the week. In the match against KOO, CJ also shook things up by replacing a veteran for a sub, switching out famed support Madlife for rookie Max. Unlike the trade in the top lane, this didn't work quite as well for CJ, the team getting blown out in the one game they did start the rookie support vs. KOO.
4. NaJin e-mFire: 6-4 (13-10)
We now get to the part of the standings where three teams are tied in match score at 6-4 and are only one game apart in map differential. NaJin are the most talented of these three teams, but are not proving it. They beat KT Rolster two weeks ago to close out the first half of the season and put themselves in a strong spot for qualifying for the playoffs. This week was the rematch where they were expected to widen their lead over the defending Champions Summer winners.
It didn't work out as planned, as NaJin were defeated 2-0 by KT to even their overall season record at 1-1. NaJin, like CJ, will never play like you want them to. They can switch from being the best team in the region one game and then look like they've never played together in the next. The good thing for NaJin this season is they're not touching their roster frequently, overreacting at each loss they have and trusting in the starting five they've played the entire season.
5. KT Rolster: 6-4 (13-10)
KT Rolster's big change last week was the addition of Piccaboo to the second round-robin roster, giving KT the luxury of having two explosive playmaking supports on their roster in Piccaboo and Fixer. Piccaboo's debut for KT was a good one, being the one change in the lineup in their rematch against NaJin. The roaming support made his presence known early and often against the offensive-powered NaJin, getting KT ahead early with his plays on the run with Thresh.
As with Jin Air, KT will need to figure out their starting lineup before the playoffs. Edge has taken over for Nagne recently in the mid lane with mix results, and Piccaboo gives KT a similar support in the bottom lane that could be potentially stronger than Fixer if given the time to acclimate to Rolster's roster.
6. Jin Air Green Wings: 6-4 (13-9)
We're still trying to figure out if Jin Air are a strong team or merely feasting on the bottom four tables in the table. The only top six team they have a winning record against is NaJin, the team that flip flops from appearing like an elite team to throwing away games to the worst teams in the league. Their bottom lane has been a hot potato game this season, Pilot seemingly the starter they placed their future on, and then randomly switching to CptJack in the middle of the first half of the season and keeping with the veteran ever since.
They also have a youngster versus a veteran quandary in the middle lane as well, with challenger standout Kuzan facing off with the experienced GBM. The two players bring radically differing styles, as Kuzan is fast, aggressive, and fearless compared to GBM's calculated, slow moving style. This week will be a telling one for Jin Air's chances at grabbing the silver position in the regular season, first facing off with NaJin to see if they can keep their winning record against the triple threat carry squad. The Green Wings will then end the week with a rematch vs. SK Telecom T1, giving them a possible second shot at the first team to take a match off the region's top dogs.
7. Samsung Galaxy: 3-8 (9-16)
8. Longzhu IM: 3-7 (7-18)
9. Anarchy: 3-7 (10-16)
These three teams are interchangeable at this point. Anarchy have a winning record against Samsung. Samsung have a winning record against Longzhu IM. Longzhu IM have a winning record against Anarchy. This trio of teams are better than the worst team in the league, but they're all three matches behind a playoff spot with only a few weeks remaining in the season. The chances of any of these three teams making the playoffs is slim to none outside of an undefeated streak by one of the bottom trio and two of the top six teams exploding into a train wreck.
Anarchy are still trying to figure out how to win without Mickey carrying. Their ace player is having one of the weirdest statistical seasons in Champions history, having died over 100 times but being the team's clear best player. Teams have figured out to camp him and force the rest of the team to win games, and Anarchy haven't been able to win through other positions on the map more than a couple of times this season.
Samsung Galaxy are still wishing for 2016. They're the best of the these three teams when it comes to building their roster slowly and doing it the proposed correct way of becoming a contender. They believe in their core and are hoping to avoid relegation to make a push for a playoff spot next spring.
For Longzhu IM, they're trying anything at this point to change things around. They brought back known Champion favorites Expession and Paragon, the two veterans grabbing wins in their first games back in Korea's premiere league. While it'd be nice to believe that things are changing and Expession's influence could lead them to a second half push to a playoffs spot, we can't forget that the IM in Longzhu IM stands for Incredible Miracle.
If you think that Incredible Miracle has a happy ending, you haven't been paying attention to Korea the past four years.
10. SBENU Sonicboom: 0-10 (2-20)
This sums up SBENU Sonicboom's inaugural season of Champions in one picture.
The All-Champions Team (Week 7)
Top Lane: Ssumday (KT Rolster)
Ssumday continued his top lane heroics in Week 7, ending the week with a scoreline of 8/1/17 in KT's quick 2-0 victory against NaJin. The win helped Ssumday pick up 100 more MVP points, putting him alone in second place at 800 and only trailing Faker who has 1000 points.
Jungle: Wisdom (KOO Tigers)
It was a tough couple of first weeks for Wisdom on KOO Tigers, but he's rebounded to become a key part to the Tigers resurgence up the standings. The meta is shifting back into his favor of being aggressive early on champions like Evelynn, and he was KOO's star player in Week 7 with a score of 15/8/39 in four games.
Mid Lane: Crown (Samsung Galaxy)
Crown came into this season as a green rookie on a team that already had two other mid laners on the roster. It shows how good of a rookie season he's been having that he's made Bliss and Ace, the other two Galaxy mid laners, afterthoughts this split, playing in every game for Samsung Galaxy. This week was another 1-1 overall for Samsung, but Crown had another strong outing, going 12/6/22 in four games.
AD Carry: Arrow (KT Rolster)
The former Xenics Storm prospect was reunited with his Storm bottom lane partner Piccaboo in Week 7. Arrow was glad to have his old partner back, not dying once in the two games that KT played against NaJin, finishing the round 9/0/13.
Support: Wolf (SK Telecom T1)
Wolf is continuing his pace as the league's best support alongside KOO's Gorilla. The T1 starting support's biggest issue has been consistency and trading off a few weeks of spotless play for huge dives in performance out of nowhere, but this season Wolf's been on his A-game throughout. Week 7 was another walk in the park for SKT's engage happy support, adding 23 more assists to his season total, only facing the grey screen twice.
Until next week, Champions!
Tyler "Fionn" Erzberger is a staff writer for theScore eSports who covers the North American LCS and Korea's Champions.