Image via LeaguepediaThis would be an omen of things to come, but not quite yet. The two mid-laners met again in the first Quarter-Finals BO5 and SKT convincingly beat RNG 3-1. By Summer of of 2016 RNG had set on a core that go down in history as one of the most legendary LPL rosters ever assembled: mlxg, Xiaohu, Uzi and Mata. Looper was their top laner at the time, but was quickly replaced by Letme, who'd stay with the organisation for multiple years. Despite how strong this core was on paper, it wasn't enough to stop SKT's seemingly destined era and Faker's third Summoner's Cup at Worlds 2016. The two teams met in the Quarter-Finals again, and yet again Faker took Xiaohu down 3-1. While the Chinese mid-laner was still looking for his first International conquest, the Unkillable Demon King already had three Summoner's Cups and one MSI title in his trophy cabinet.
Image via Riot GamesIn 2017 the mlxg, Xiaohu and Uzi core remained, but Looper had been replaced by Letme and legendary support Mata was swapped out for Ming, a legend in his own right. The Chinese mid-laner had his rematch against Faker at Worlds once more and, although the roster looked different on both sides, the end result was the same. Another victory for Faker and SKT. But, this time the South Korean mid-laner didn't fly home with the Summoner's Cup, which went to Samsung Galaxy in a shocking 3-0 sweep. This was the moment when tides began to change, leading Faker further and further away from shore, while Xiaohu collected the treasures that he had been seeing glimmering from afar.
Image via Riot GamesAfter two bad years (for his standards) in 2019 and 2020, Xiaohu made his return to the spotlight a little over two years ago, but with a radical change. Cryin joined the team as mid-laner, Xiaohu role-swapped to Top. If winning MSI in an era of utter South Korean dominance wasn't enough to put his name in the annals of history, what about two MSI victories in two different solo-lanes? RNG destroyed LPL Spring 2021 and took then reigning World Champions Damwon Kia down 3-2, giving Xiaohu his second International title. this time as a top-laner. To this day, he is still the only player to win two international titles in two different roles, a feat that might never be mimicked. At Worlds of the same year, though, history would repeat itself. RNG crumble at the most important time of the year, only to see the Summoner's Cup head to China on the hands of another LPL team. By this point, Xiaohu was already in the debate for best LPL player to never win a World Championship, even though Uzi exists. He had been a serious international contender for 5 years already, but could never make it happen at Worlds, the biggest tournament of the League of Legends calendar.
Image via Riot GamesYet, to keep the story interesting, Xiaohu isn't the only one searching for that ever-elusive Summoner's Cup anymore. Although Faker still has three of them in his cabinet, they're by now old and dusty, a reminder of an era where he stood head-and-shoulders above his competition, not only in name and legacy, but in every discernible factor of the game. The Unkillable Demon King hasn't won an International Title in 6 years now. He's attended 6 consecutive finals with this current T1 line-up and has lost the last 5. This World Finals is the capstone that both of these players are searching for, although it means vastly different things to them. Faker is looking to win a World Championship an entire decade after his first victory. If he succeeds, his already unreachable legacy will ascend to godhood levels. How can a player win the biggest tournament in the sport ten years apart? He has reinvented himself multiple times and, the player who was dominating games single-handedly with Deathfire Grasp Leblanc is now leading a team of younger talents in the search for their first World Championship. He is the veteran, calm voice, the seasoned soldier that's gone through all this again in his days of young glory, searching for his first victory at an International Tournament held in South Korea.
Image via Riot GamesXiaohu is finally looking for the one achievement which has eluded him all these years. This is his seventh World Championship appearance and only the first time he's made Grand Finals. He has now left RNG behind after spending nearly his whole career there and his at a touching distance of the Summoner's Cup that he has been eyeing for 7 years. This is a series that will the story of these two legends for posterity. Seven years of history condensed into three to five hours of nerve-wracking, adrenaline-inducing gameplay. Xiaohu is back in Seoul, the city that brought him his first triumph over the South Korean mid-laner. The long, long shadow of the Demon King still looming over him, filled hushed voices whispering "you'll never beat him at Worlds." Faker is back where he was a year ago, a World Championship Finals as the overwhelming favourite. The doubts of his recent failures creeping at the back of his skull, even through his routine of meditations and seemingly stoic posture. Is this his return to glory, or did those days truly end back in 2017? The Road to LoL Worlds Finals 2023 ends here.