"Hello everyone, I'm Uzi."
The Guangzhou Gymnasium erupts at these words. Fan cheers of "R-N-G" had just died down, as one of China's best and most popular players was prompted to introduce himself to a crowd that had been cheering his name all day. Uzi sheepishly admits that he had a fever throughout Royal Never Give Up's 3-1 victory over Fnatic. He finished with a scoreline of 31/5/11, an 8.4 KDA.
After the audience gives him another round of applause, Uzi is asked if he has anything to say to former Royal Club teammate Xiao "Godlike" Wang on the Chinese broadcast's analyst desk.
"Bro, what we failed to do in Season 3, I promise to do it for you this year!"
Guangzhou Gymnasium roars with cheers. Chinese fans have waited since 2014 for a Chinese team to return to the Worlds semifinals. Now, with an all-Chinese roster that goes against the grain of hybrid lineups in China's LoL Pro League since early 2015 -- exacerbated by Uzi's own successful 2014 Star Horn Royal Club -- Uzi and RNG have their eyes set on Beijing's Bird's Nest, the glittering national stadium built for the the 2008 Beijing Olympics and upcoming home to the 2017 Worlds Finals.
First, they'll have to face defending champions SK Telecom T1 at the Shanghai Oriental Sports Center. The 2017 League of Legends World Championship semifinals will be the third time that Uzi and some iteration of Royal Club have met SKT at a World Championship. The first meeting was in the Season 3 finals; Royal failed to win a single game, and SKT were crowned champions for the first time. Since then, SKT has won two more Worlds titles, including 2016, where SKT had to go through Uzi and RNG in the quarterfinals to advance. SKT beat RNG 3-1.
Can RNG break the streak? If so, the three following factors will be significant if Uzi and RNG are to represent China at the National Stadium.
The famous Uzi "Worlds buff."
Despite lower lows in his career, Uzi is similar to SKT's Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok in that both seem to come alive on the World Championship stage. This has earned Uzi a reputation for receiving a buff at Worlds, regardless of how shaky his team looks going into the tournament. Throughout it all, Uzi has been relatable. He's despaired at losses, grinned uncontrollably and jumped wildly at wins, and shown nearly every emotion in front of millions of fans.
His semifinals performance against Fnatic was something that fans at Guangzhou Gymnasium should feel fortunate to have witnessed live. Due to his illness, many international fans have already likened it to Michael Jordan's legendary "flu game." There's no one-to-one comparison here - this is not a slight against Uzi, but a nod to just how ill Michael Jordan was - but Uzi's series against Fnatic further proved just how far he is willing to go, and how well the bright lights of international competition suit him, despite a poor physical condition. Uzi is fearless, and together with standout rookie support Shi "ming" Sen-ming, RNG has the best bottom lane left in this tournament.
Avoid focusing Faker in lane
Year after year, teams domestic and international try to focus on containing and destroying Faker in the mid lane. It sounds counter-intuitive to not play around mid lane early, ensuring that Faker doesn't get too much of a lead and stymying any SKT snowball around its best player. RNG is also one of the few teams that has had success using this strategy against SKT. Jungler Liu "Mlxg" Shiyu threw SKT off-balance at the 2016 Mid-Season Invitational with early Level 2-3 ganks that Faker did not expect, punishing his forward lane positioning. This was hardly an SKT-specific strategy from RNG. Mlxg found himself in the mid lane at Levels 2-3 often on DPS champions like Graves and Nidalee because early aggression suited him, and the team, at the time.
Although this could possibly work again against SKT, the jungle pool has shifted so that Mlxg's current options of scaling jungle champions aren't as effective at early ganking. He would have to opt for something like Lee Sin, or take this risk on Jarvan IV (likely to be a highly-contested pick between these two teams). Still, champion pool isn't actually the reason why RNG should avoid camping the mid lane early against SKT.
Keeping Faker down in lane means nothing.
This is the secret that all South Korean teams that have faced SKT have learned at some point or another during LoL Champions Korea, and something that international adversaries learn once they have to face the best player in the game. Faker outside of lane is more impactful and dangerous than Faker in lane. It doesn't matter if you camp him early. He can find a way to singlehandedly turn the tide for SKT in ways that don't appear probable until Faker executes them.
Instead, RNG should spend time keeping down SKT's lagging side lanes. SKT hasn't opted for early-game pressure, leaving weaknesses open in both long lanes that RNG should be able to take advantage of, especially with the duo lane of Uzi and Ming. SKT has had trouble playing around top side all year regardless of whether Park "Untara" Ui-jin or current top laner Heo "Huni" Seung-hoon is starting. Bae "Bang" Jun-sik and Lee "Wolf" Jae-wan have continued to look shaky throughout the 2017 Worlds Main Stage, despite Ardent Censer shifting the support champion pool in Wolf's favor.
Don't solely rely on late-game scaling
RNG and SKT have had their early game struggles at this event. Of all 16 teams in the main stage, RNG is ninth in gold difference at 15 minutes (-54) and tenth in early game rating (47.5) while SKT is twelfth in both gold difference at 15 (-528) and early game rating (45.8). Neither team seems too fussed by working their way back from an early gold deficit, and both draft scaling AD carries like Twitch, Kog'Maw, and Tristana, especially with Xayah and Kalista likely to be banned out.
At this World Championship, only RNG has shown that it can play more towards an early-to-mid game snowball. Against Samsung Galaxy, another South Korean team that often relies on late-game scaling and 5v5 teamfighting, RNG used its early advantages to close out both games and take first place in Group C. RNG needs to keep this in mind against SKT, since strong late-game decision-making and teamfighting with a scaling AD carry is how SKT have hung on in this tournament thus far.
Coupled with SKT's tendency to draft losing lanes, RNG can gain early leads by diving turrets. Despite the team's middling-to-poor early game, RNG have the second-best first turret rate at 70 percent compared to SKT's dismal 36 percent (only AHQ e-Sports Club, Team SoloMid and 1907 Fenerbahçe Esports are worse).
The late-game is where Faker can drag the team across the finish line on Ryze or Orianna with massive plays. Although Uzi can do the same on hypercarries, it would be better for RNG to take a similar approach that it had against Samsung, and focus more on early-to-mid game transitions.