In the first quarterfinals match of the 2021 League of Legends World Championship, T1 speedran the best-of-five series against fellow South Korean squad Hanwha Life Esports, winning in a dominant sweep in under three hours.
While T1 came into the series heavily favored to win against HLE, the one-sided nature of the series was even more dominant than expected. Despite taking T1 to five games in the LCK Regional Final 50 days earlier, HLE never had a chance in today's quarterfinal.
Let's take a closer look at how T1 surgically removed Hanwha Life Esports from Summoner's Rift, which resulted in HLE's elimination from Worlds 2021.
Shutting down Chovy
HLE mid laner Jeong "Chovy" Ji-hoon is his team's best player, and that's not a surprise to anyone. The team infamously dubbed 'Chovy Life Esports' would not have made it to Worlds 2021 without stellar performances from its star mid laner throughout the LCK Regional Final, and throughout HLE's shaky start to Worlds 2021, it was easy to see that Chovy was leaps and bounds ahead of his teammates, even veteran AD carry Kim "Deft" Hyuk-kyu.
T1 immediately went to work in kneecapping Chovy, banning away his LeBlanc in game 1 of the series to not allow HLE its strongest red-side counterpick. T1 mid laner Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok took one of his signature picks throughout time, Orianna, into Chovy's Zoe. While both champions are of the control mage archetype, Zoe's poke and long range allows for skirmish priority in the matchup, especially in the early game before Orianna can scale to a point of relevance.
However, Faker is historically one of the most aggressive Oriannas, often trading his Flash or ultimate 1-on-1 with his opponent not to kill, but simply to limit the options of his opponent. Identifying Chovy as the obvious threat on HLE, Faker built Tear of the Goddess to spam abilities as much as possible and Luden's Tempest to aid in additional lane pushing. Faker also took Ionian Boots of Lucidity for the reduced ability haste to match anything Zoe would try to do in the early game.
Chovy finished the game deathless, but that didn't stop T1 from taking a game 1 win before moving to red side. On red side, T1 was comfortable leaving up LeBlanc for Chovy because it allowed Faker's Lissandra pick. Lissandra is not the complete and total devastator against LeBlanc she was in Faker's heyday, but an even laning phase can lead to an utterly useless LeBlanc in terms of skirmishes, flanks and teamfights due to Lissandra's immense amount of AOE damage and crowd control.
Sure enough, T1 won the second game faster than the first, with Chovy accomplishing very little on LeBlanc. Of course, the speed of these wins was due to other factors around the map as things began to fall apart for HLE bit by bit.
The bot gap widens
It was expected that T1 top laner Kim "Canna" Chang-dong and jungler Moon "Oner" Hyeon-joon would have the top side 2v2 advantage over HLE top laner Park "Morgan" Gi-tae and jungler Kim "Willer" Jeong-hyeon, so it was up to HLE's bot lane to provide a second threat while Faker did his best to contain Chovy. Deft, while past his prime, is still a veteran player who commands respect on any stage, and support Oh "Vsta" Hyo-seong has gone from liability to serviceable, at least.
In game 1, Deft and Vsta kept up with T1 AD carry Lee "Gumayusi" Min-hyeong and support Ryu "Keria" Min-seok, but it wasn't enough to overcome the massive advantage built by Oner's Talon against Willer's Xin Zhao. Looking for a change of momentum, HLE locked in Varus for Deft in game 2.
Varus is one of Deft's strongest champions, and he has plenty of experience on it across his career due to the frequent and flexible viability of the Arrow of Retribution in the competitive meta, but even without hindsight, it's hard to imagine it was the best pick for HLE in that situation, especially into Gumayusi's Aphelios.
When you add hindsight, things look even worse for the Varus. Deft was far from the largest liability for HLE in game 2, but the pick allowed him little agency in lane, and with Chovy being caged by Faker's Lissandra and Morgan and Willer continuously getting outclassed by their respective opponents on T1, Deft's Varus was but a footnote on an even more one-sided win for T1, who took the series to match point.
The salty runback
Down 2-0 and on blue side once again, HLE needed to switch things up. Chovy's LeBlanc was rendered ineffective without wasting a blue side ban on Lissandra, and T1 once again banned Twisted Fate away from Chovy. The accelerated pace of HLE's comp in game 2 only led to a quicker loss, and while it's hard to say the composition was entirely to blame in that loss, HLE clearly needed to bring a new look to Summoner's Rift if it wanted to extend the series.
Instead, HLE ran back nearly the exact same composition as its loss in game 2. Willer was on Olaf instead of Xin Zhao and Vsta swapped out Nautilus for Braum, but the Varus, LeBlanc, and Renekton for Deft, Chovy, and Morgan, respectively, all remained. T1 was fine running it back with HLE, giving Faker Lissandra once again and giving Gumayusi Aphelios for the third game in a row, but a Gwen ban forced Canna onto Gnar while Oner and Keria played Talon and Thresh, respectively.
Sure enough, T1 won in similar time as game 2 but in far more convincing fashion. Deft's Varus went from a non-factor to a contributing liabilty in the bot lane, who went 0/10/0 in game 3 as Gumayusi's Aphelios cruised to a 7/0/6 scoreline. Chovy was once again unable to do anything on LeBlanc, Willer looked just as lost on Olaf as he had on Xin Zhao, and banning Gwen against Canna did little to change the outcome of the game aside from a slightly calmer laning phase than game 2.
Hanwha Life Esports' Worlds 2021 run has come to an end, making it the first team to be eliminated in the knockout stage and the 15th team eliminated at the tournament overall.
T1 will move on to the semifinals to face the winner of DWG KIA and MAD Lions. Should a semifinals victory come to fruition, T1 will be in the World Championship final for the first time since 2017.