DG's match point game—
SLG chose the red side of their own volition, most likely so that they could have the last pick to counter DG.
DG stuck with blue. The pressure on SLG was much greater in this round, so no one would be able to guess if SLG would pull out some incredible new stunts to stun the crowd. Of course, with all that pressure on them, it was just as feasible that SLG would play it safe and choose a very stable team comp.
But DG wouldn't change their own plans because of this uncertainty. DG had been playing well in this match, after all. As long as their players stayed in a good state and maintained their momentum, they would be able to handle everything the other side threw at them.
Both sides banned more or less the same champions as they did in the previous three games.
But SLG did let one pick remain up for grabs—Elise, with whom Lu Zhe had won last year's world championship title.
When the time to pick came around, DG immediately took Elise. SLG had been so courteous as to leave her unbanned. How could DG turn that kind invitation down?
Once DG made that choice, SLG took Lee Sin and LeBlanc.
Everyone in the audience shifted restlessly when those picks came out. Both were popular champions for the jungle and middle lane respectively, and popular choices for all teams to practice with. But each individual player had a different style with them.
Soon, both teams began to take shape—
DG had Mordekaiser, Elise, Syndra, Ezreal, and Nautilus.
SLG, on the other hand, had Lee Sin, LeBlanc, Varus, and Tahm Kench. Only their top lane champion had yet to be chosen.
"Everyone knows champions with a longer range are more effective against Mordekaiser," said one domestic commentator. "Jayce, Gangplank, Kennen, and so on. I think Kennen would be a solid pick. They have Lee Sin and LeBlanc on their side, anyway. If they can't take our top laner on alone, they can force a 3v3. Kennen stuns the enemy, and then Lee Sin and LeBlanc come in for the kill. It would be anyone's game."
The live commentator in the domestic stream earnestly gave an analysis of SLG's options, but this was still only the analysis of an outsider. What SLG would choose in the end depended entirely on their coach's advice.
The cursor skittered back and forth over the big screens at the venue, hovering over Jayce, Gangplank, Kennen, Camille Ferros, and so on. It almost seemed to be teasing the crowd.
With just five minutes left on the timer, a choice was made.
It was a pick that baffled the whole audience.
"Shauna… Vayne… this is… this is a little unexpected. Are they playing by BLX's book? After seeing Lucian in the middle lane, we're seeing Vayne in the top lane in this year's world championship? Although we all know that Vayne can play quite effectively against Mordekaiser, you rarely ever see that outside of ranked matches. It's given us quite a scare."
"SLG still had that trick up their sleeve. They really want to win, huh? Just… how badly does their coach want their own top laner to destroy Wolfy?"
The two commentators were caught between crying and laughing. At the same time, DG's voice chat was silent.
While the game loaded, Qian Bao finally said, "Stay calm."
Old Wo joked, "Man, if I were you, Daddy Wolf, I wouldn't put up with this."'
Er-Hua calmly suggested, "How about this? If we win this one, we'll tell the coach to let our beloved top laner cut loose? Let him pick his long-hidden Soraka or Kalista for the top."
"I see nothing wrong with that," Lu Zhe said.
His voice was filled with a suppressed laugh. It was gentle and soothing as it flowed through his mic, spilling into Shen Qiao's ears. Lu Zhe's words seemed to drown out all the words that had come earlier, leaving only one doting sentiment echoing in Shen Qiao's mind.
"After all," Lu Zhe said, "anything other top laners get to have, our top laner will get as well."
Shen Qiao didn't make a sound throughout this whole exchange. Perhaps his teammates had already said all there was to say, or perhaps Shen Qiao had other things on his mind.
But as soon as the game began, everyone understood what Shen Qiao was thinking—
Mordekaiser set out with Conqueror runes and Doran's Blade equipped. It couldn't have been more obvious that he intended to square up against his enemy top laner, as if that enemy weren't his natural counter Vayne, but some other champion who would tremble under his hammer.
He wasn't panicking.
And Vayne certainly wasn't either.
Using her long reach, Vayne took cover behind her minions and seized every opportunity to fling an attack at Mordekaiser. She continually leveled up her E skill, clearly looking for the chance to pin Mordekaiser to the wall.
And by upgrading this skill, Vayne made it very clear that she was ready for Lee Sin to come over at any time, so that they could team up to take Mordekaiser down early.
Lu Zhe knew all of Lee Sin's strengths as a jungler. As soon as Lee Sin hit Level 2, Lu Zhe warned Shen Qiao, "Watch out for Lee Sin."
Shen Qiao hummed his acknowledgement and very quickly answered, "I know. I have eyes on him."
He'd set wards by the river and in the underbrush behind him. If Lee Sin came over to tear down his wards, Shen Qiao would instantly know where he was.
He knew he couldn't allow himself to be ganked too often in this game. If at all possible, he had to stay on even footing with the enemy Vayne, and he had to do everything in his power to keep Vayne from powering up too much. Otherwise, if Vayne and Varus and LeBlanc all started hitting hard in team fights later in the game, DG's sole tank Nautilus wouldn't be enough to fend off all their damage.
But with Vayne's long range bearing down on him, just trying to farm creeps was already hard enough for Shen Qiao. If he wanted to shoot her down before Level 6, he basically had to execute every single detail perfectly and with extreme precision—
He couldn't relax the pressure on her.
And he couldn't allow himself to be ganked.
Ideally, he would be able to keep his life when Lee Sin came to gank him. If he could keep them chasing him around, he could keep two of SLG's champions from developing too quickly.
Shen Qiao was very clear on his role in the team. When it was time for him to carry, he would carry. When he was needed to just stall, he would stall. In this round, SLG had very deliberately chosen a champion to counter him. He could at least still create opportunities for his teammates as much as possible.
Elise was powerful early on, and Syndra's damage output developed on a nearly smooth curve. Once she got Luden's Echo equipped, she would be terrifying in team fights. Besides pure tanks, no one could stand up against her. Especially if she'd gotten a kill or two more than her enemies. There was practically no one on the field who could survive a hit from her sphere.
And they had Ezreal for additional damage as well. Ezreal had more room for growth than Varus in the early and middle stages of the game. As long as Shen Qiao didn't fall too far behind early in the game, he could start joining in on team fights in the middle portion and just seal away any troublemakers in a place where he could hammer them to death.
That was what Shen Qiao was thinking.
But SLG didn't give him that opportunity—
Vayne was clearly keeping her focus on Shen Qiao, but she deliberately tried to entice Shen Qiao towards the red side's tower with her minions. Shen Qiao mulled it over, then signaled to Lu Zhe in their chat channel.
Meanwhile, Qian Bao and the enemy LeBlanc were duking it out in the middle lane. Crown wasn't much stronger or weaker than her. If he took a loss here, a world of trouble would come for SLG. So when Qian Bao was at low health, he made an aggressive advance with his minions.
Qian Bao relied on her positioning and a potion to continue facing off against LeBlanc, until they were both left with only a sliver of health. However, LeBlanc had stepped into the line of minions, attracting attention from the blue side's troops. When Crown retreated to his own side's tower with a skill, two faint streaks of blue light steadily chased after him.
Qian Bao exclaimed, "My godly little minions! Did you all see that?!"
If it hadn't been for the long-ranged attacks of those two little minions, Crown and Qian Bao would have come out of that bout with a tie. Who could have known that Qian Bao's first kill would come so suddenly? She couldn't resist grinning and pleading for praise in the voice chat.
"Cool, cool, cool," Old Wo chirped.
"Nice!" Er-Hua called out.
Shen Qiao also found a moment to say, "Solo kill on Crown. That'll be a highlight of your life. You can brag about that for a year!"
Qian Bao pushed her minions up to attack the middle lane tower, taking advantage of Crown's absence. She made her way up to the top lane then, while saying, "Since you praised me, Daddy Wolf, I'll come up to the top to help you take care of Vayne."
"Since you're helping him, Qian Bao, I'll acknowledge you as the number one mid-laner in the world," Lu Zhe said.
Qian Bao snorted and threatened, "If you feed me any more dog food, I'm turning around and leaving!"
Inside the domestic livestream, the commentators were getting worked up—
"It's starting, it's starting! DG's mid-laner and jungler are coming up to protect their top laner! Lee Sin and Vayne had no idea they would draw in Elise and Syndra just by bullying Mordekaiser a bit, and Syndra is already at Level 6 with her ult! Plus, Crown used his teleport earlier… he won't be able to get up to the top lane. It's going to be a 2v3!"
"Vayne tried to E the enemy Elise to the wall when Elise came up from the river, but Elise dodged and landed a hit with her web, which locked down Lee Sin. SLG never saw this coming! They couldn't have imagined that DG was coming to take Lee Sin! Syndra throws out all her skills… and Lee Sin is down!"
"Crown is on his way up, and Wolf Cub… Wolf Cub was sneaking in a few shots at their minions! He's hit Level 6 now! LeBlanc has gotten to the top lane now, but Mordekaiser immediately seals her away. Syndra and Elise are taking this chance to go after Vayne, but Vayne's leading them around… Lu Zhe's used his flash now, and Vayne uses hers as well to get back to their tower!"
"LeBlanc's out of Mordekaiser's cage now. She uses her positioning to dodge Syndra's stun, but she falls right into Elise's trap! Vayne's taking this opportunity to restore some HP under the tower, and she's continuing to fire some attacks at Syndra and Elise from behind."
"LeBlanc's ult isn't up. Everyone's trading skills, and DG's in great shape right now. Depending on who Vayne decides to target with her ult… ah, LeBlanc's all out of skills, and her A won't do any damage. Mordekaiser is going after her… and LeBlanc tries to lure him to the tower, but Elise is going for Vayne's head! And with a spiderling aimed at LeBlanc… she's down too! Lu Zhe played beautifully in this fight!"
"But Vayne's still up, she's using her ult! It's aimed at Lu Zhe's Elise! Elise is down to her last sliver of HP! Ah… and as expected…"
"But Money is keeping up with Wolf Cub! This time, Vayne didn't get a chance to retreat to her tower after using her skills. Mordekaiser takes her down!"
"DG's middle laner, top laner, and jungler each got a piece of that pie. This fight… if SLG's Vayne hadn't taken at least one kill, this would have been a one-sided bloodbath."
DG traded one death for two kills.
It wasn't the best outcome they could have gotten.
But Shen Qiao took advantage of Vayne's death to dominate the top half of the map for the time being. He was able to head over to Qian Bao to help her clear some minions, and the two of them went to join Lu Zhe against the Rift Herald after that. Meanwhile, SLG targeted a dragon near the bottom lane, where their Varus still held an advantage over Ezreal in the early stages.
SLG took down the first cloud dragon.
DG, on the other hand, took the Rift Herald. In the grand scope of things, the cloud dragon wouldn't have a monumental effect on the game.
Upon claiming the Rift Herald, Lu Zhe set it loose on the middle lane.
Mordekaiser, Ezreal, and Nautilus all came over to the middle lane, protecting the Rift Herald. Ezreal's gear was nearly ready, and he hadn't fallen behind too much in creep score. Now, when he came to the middle, he was no longer at a marked disadvantage against Varus, and Varus didn't dare face off against him.
In SLG's lineup, only Lee Sin could engage.
Er-Hua moved Nautilus to the front of their ranks, but he didn't rush to attack right away. Instead, he just paced back and forth in front of SLG's champions. SLG didn't break formation; their Tahm Kench stayed in the front as well. No one wanted to be caught by Er-Hua.
Neither side could find an appropriate opening to make a move.
After feeling each other out, both teams settled in to wait for the next dragon to spawn.
The second dragon was an infernal drake, which was a pretty important asset this season.
SLG headed off through the jungle, and Nautilus also set out to place his wards. Lu Zhe and the others also made their way from the river to the dragon pit. Seeing their approach, Nautilus suddenly shot his hook and—
Pulled Lee Sin out from the underbrush.
Mordekaiser went up and immediately locked Lee Sin away.
Varus rained down his arrows from behind Tahm, and Vayne looked for an opportunity to use her skills as well, but she ultimately only managed to impale and stun Nautilus before turning to focus on helping Varus to do damage.
Elise swooped in on Varus, ready to take his life. Syndra pumped all her skills into taking Vayne down. Nautilus returned to the front lines to protect the two of them.
Tahm swiftly opened his mouth to swallow Varus whole, spitting him out in the other direction. He personally tanked the damage from Elise and Syndra, but since he wasn't tanky enough, and since his magic resistance wasn't good enough, he could only bear their assault for a few seconds before losing his life to Syndra.
Elise stunned Varus with her web, not allowing him the chance to fire back at Syndra.
Ezreal took that opportunity to hit Varus hard.
Vayne had been in a pretty comfortable spot at first, but Nautilus's positioning was too good. He always stuck to the front, and even used an ult that knocked Vayne off her feet after the death of Tahm Kench.
Just then, LeBlanc joined the fray!
At the same time, Shen Qiao beat Lee Sin within an inch of his life in their shared prison.
After that chaotic brawl—
SLG's Lee Sin, Varus, and Tahm were killed. Vayne escaped. LeBlanc managed to take the heads of Elise and Syndra. But after expending all her skills, she had no way of escaping when Mordekaiser dragged her over and hammered her down. Nautilus and Ezreal joined in, and all three surviving members of DG teamed up to take her down.
It seemed SLG's carries were all in a decent position, but upon closer inspection…
Vayne was at one kill, one death.
LeBlanc had two kills, three deaths.
And Varus had no kills to show for his one death.
SLG's three potential carries hadn't actually gotten anywhere. Meanwhile, on DG's side, their champions were starting to flourish. Mordekaiser's equipment was ready, and Lu Zhe's Elise had a few kills to her name, increasing her damage.
The most terrifying stat was Syndra's three kills to one death, and Ezreal's set was finished as well.
If they got wrapped up in another team fight over the infernal dragon, SLG would be badly beaten.
They had no choice but to give up the infernal dragon.
And just like that, the game started to tilt in a certain direction…
"Look at this equipment on Money's Syndra—here it comes, here it comes! She's in the underbrush, and SLG has fragile champions on all three lanes. No matter where she goes, she's going to catch someone by surprise."
"Lee Sin! She got Lee Sin! He was killed by Syndra before he got a chance to put up a fight!"
"Syndra's running off to the bottom lane to go after Varus now!"
"Ezreal's sneakily farming some experience in the top lane, Wolf Cub is tearing down towers in the middle lane… huh? SLG didn't seem to make any huge mistakes, and the team fights have been a steady back-and-forth. Why does everything seem to be falling apart for SLG all of a sudden?"
"The difference in gold is already at four thousand."
"If SLG can't do anything during the next fight around Baron Nashor, today's game just might end here."
"DG's champions have actually opened fire on Baron Nashor! They're taking advantage of the fact that SLG don't have eyes on the area! They have the mountain dragon from before, so they won't need too long to take down Baron Nashor… will SLG be able to get there in time?"
"Lee Sin is coming! He's coming! But Mordekaiser's sealed him away again! Without their jungler, how will SLG steal Baron Nashor? LeBlanc has joined the fight, and she's got Syndra down to low health, but DG isn't letting Baron Nashor's HP go back up. There's just ten percent left… five percent… Lu Zhe and Varus are both attacking, what the—"
"Ohhhhhh! Varus was one step too slow! Congratulations to DG for taking Baron Nashor!"
With Baron Nashor's buff, DG pushed all the way up to SLG's base. Shen Qiao was shouting into the voice chat, "Go, go, go! One push, one push, one push!"
Lu Zhe looked over at the SLG players who were regrouping and coming after them. He raised his voice and called back, "Nope, no can do. We can't get off work early today. Fall back, fall back, fall back. Down to the bottom lane, bottom lane now. Go, go, go!"
The two sides duked it out for another five minutes. DG took down two more of SLG's towers without losing any of their own people. Unfortunately, they didn't do much damage to the Nexus. They had no choice but to turn around and go after another dragon, and they stopped by their own base to change their equipment along the way.
They would be ready for the next team fight.
By now, their gold advantage was up to seven thousand.
SLG tried to turn things around—
But DG was playing more carefully, more conservatively.
They didn't give SLG another chance.
After taking their fourth dragon, DG used Baron Nashor to pressure SLG into a fight. After wiping out SLG's entire team, they went to take the Elder Dragon buff as well. Once they were well-equipped with buffs, they stormed into SLG's base, took down their Nexus turrets, and then their Nexus—
The foreign commentators on the scene were whipped into an excited frenzy.
"Congratulations to Team DG for making it to the finals once more! They're taking aim at the throne! They don't want to give up their crown! Who will their opponents in the finals be this time?!"
The domestic commentators were also so excited that they were nearly shouting themselves hoarse.
"They're back! They're still the champions we know and love! They'll have another shot to scale this mountain! Will we see them conquer the world one more time?"
"November 2nd! We'll all be waiting for you then!"
Thunderous cheers rang out through the stadium.
Shen Qiao took off his headphones and turned to meet Lu Zhe's gaze. As usual, the two of them got up and gave each other a hug.
Lu Zhe murmured in Shen Qiao's ear, "Congratulations. We're one step from the finish line now."
They'd defeated SLG.
Only the finals remained.
Shen Qiao had waited for this day. He'd waited so, so long…
And now he could finally see the light.