Four months ago, Team WE entered the 2017 Mid Season Invitational defined as an Elder Drake or Baron objective team. This was a team that would wait until the late game, where it could leverage stacked dragons into a powerful Elder, or rely on jungler Xiang "Condi" Renjie to steal the Baron from his opponents. Condi even earned the nickname "Son of Baron" thanks to his clutch Smite steals.
Over time, this became an oddly viable strategy for WE. It shouldn't have worked, but it did. WE also became known for their first-pick Kog'Maw for Jin "Mystic" Seong-jun, designing team compositions around protecting Mystic with Jarvan IV and Galio so the Kog'Maw could scale late into the game.
Yet, on the 2017 MSI Main Stage, the team's statistics and performances defied pre-conceived ideas of WE. The Chinese squad had the highest first turret rate of any team (64 percent), the second-highest gold lead at 15 minutes (336), and the second-highest first three turrets rate at 64 percent). It developed a strong early-to-mid game that was centered around Condi and holding mid lane. Even with riskier picks for Su "Xiye" Hanwei, like Lucian mid, WE knew how to snowball early and then rely on Mystic's Kog'Maw.
Now at the 2017 World Championship, WE has often abandoned this strategy in favor of losing lanes that scale impressively in the late game. Like the team's over-reliance on Baron steals in season's past, this shouldn't work... but it has.
Cloud9 failed to punish WE for this hubris in their quarterfinals matchup, further rewarding WE for a fairly arrogant scaling draft by pushing wave after wave into WE's carries, unintentionally aiding them in closing the experience and gold deficits. By the time the fateful Game 1 Baron fight started, WE had mostly caught up to C9, despite the fact that Condi was destroyed by C9's Nicolaj "Jensen" Jensen on a roaming Aurelion Sol and Juan "Contractz" Arturo Garcia's Jarvan IV in the early game. Condi invaded with all lanes pushing against him and was severely punished, but this didn't matter once he was allowed to catch up in the mid game.
WE can run smart early-to-mid game compositions. The team has perfectly capable players, and showcased this in some of their group stage games. When facing Team SoloMid for the second time, WE picked a Caitlyn and Jayce combination that mowed down turrets early and set up an impressive siege in the late game. Yet, one of WE's weaknesses is the team's sometimes unbelievable arrogance in drafting all scaling lanes.
After WE's series against C9, Mystic credited WE coach Yoon "Homme" Sung-young for the team's mental fortitude. He said that Homme reminded them that they had won despite a large deficit in Game 1, and if they maintained confidence, could still take the series, even when down 2-1. However, if WE does this against Samsung Galaxy, Samsung will swiftly punish them. Samsung has seemingly learned from its less-than-impressive group stage performances against Royal Never Give Up. Then, Samsung poured all of their effort into late-game scaling, only to be outdone by RNG in the mid game. Against Longzhu, Samsung adjusted, attacking the bottom side of the map and picking lanes that would push a bit earlier.
Samsung made its mark last year around pushing lanes, excellent Baron control, and strong late-game teamfighting. In spring, this was paired this with vision control that allowed Kang "Haru" Min-seung to run rampant in his opponents' jungles. However, the decline of Lee "Crown" Min-ho throughout the 2017 LoL Champions Korea Summer split necessitated the steadier hand of Kang "Ambition" Chan-yong in the jungle to cover for Crown's lack of pressure. Samsung was always a strong 5v5 teamfighting team, but was faced with fewer options once the mid lane collapsed early. Unlike WE, whose late-game teamfighting was more of a preference, Samsung defaulting to slow, scaling compositions was born more from necessity.
Even in Samsung's recent victory over fellow LCK representative Longzhu Gaming, Crown's early game presence was non-existent on champions that weren't Taliyah. This didn't matter because Ambition covered for Crown in the face of Gwak "Bdd" Bo-seong's relentless pressure and Samsung targeted Longzhu's bottom lane. As one of the few teams with a top laner that can stand up to Longzhu's Kim "Khan" Dong-ha, Samsung could leave Lee "CuVee" Seong-jin to his own devices while Ambition covered mid, making up for Crown's destruction at the hands of Bdd. Under Ambition's guidance, Samsung's Baron setups are often a thing of beauty, and will make it more difficult for WE to rely on a chance 50/50 smite steal. These are the two teams with the best Baron control at the 2017 World Championship, so expect to see a large amount of effort come mid game being poured into setting up vision control in the top side river.
Both Samsung and WE have specific mid lane champions around which they can pivot and take over an entire game. For Samsung, it's Crown's Taliyah. Out of lane, Crown is a monster on the champion, easily cutting off opponents with well-placed walls that allow Samsung to set up impeccable turret dives. For WE, it's Galio, the champion that above all else, you should not let WE pick due to the way that Xiye and company play around Galio's semi-global ultimate and crowd control peel for Mystic.
When two teams that defer to late-game scaling compositions meet, the expectation is often a long, drawn-out series with games clocking in at 40-50 minutes apiece. However, much like WE's adjustments against TSM and Samsung's adjustments from facing RNG in groups to taking down Longzhu, this semifinals matchup should hinge on which team adapts their early-to-mid game pressure first.