The Game Haus
Esports League of Legends

The Fall of SK Telecom T1

2017 World Championship Finals Stage at Beijing National Stadium in Beijing, China on 4 November 2017.

There was once a time when the thought of facing SK Telecom T1 made teams tremble. Every player faltered from the sheer pressure of facing against the former world champions. Not just on the world stage, SKT continually won both internationally and domestically. The League community prepared their wallets for every champion to don SKT skins. Most importantly, there was a confidence, embodied by the Unkillable Demon God himself, Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok, that SKT could never lose. Time and time again, SKT would miraculously come back from seemingly insurmountable gold leads and awful early games. A reality in which SKT consistently lost seemed impossible.                                                            

SKT after winning their first World Championship in 2013 sk telecom t1 loss
SKT after winning their first World Championship in 2013. Photo via Marv Watson

Only last year, during SKT’s 2017 LCK Summer Split, the community was outraged about SKT’s four straight losses in the regular season. Despite playing against strong teams like Samsung Galaxy and Longzhu Gaming, consecutive losses fall short to the standard that SKT upheld. Considered gross underperformance, the players promised to get back up to form. However, SKT continued with less convincing performances, until the undying belief in SKT’s dominance came to an end after the 2017 World Champions, Samsung Galaxy, decidedly ended SKT’s dynasty.

THE RUINS

Today, SKT starts the 2018 LCK Summer Split with four straight losses. The community is no longer outraged by subpar play from the team deviating from their typical path to victory. Instead, they are outraged by the team’s fall from grace. Previously, if any team took a game from SKT, it was considered an upset. Now, it is virtually expected. Strip away the name “SKT,” and all that is left is a subpar Korean team that cannot compete at the highest level of play in the LCK.

SKT debrief after their first loss and game of the season, sk telecom t1 loss
SKT debrief after their first loss and game of the season. Photo via LoL Esports

SKT has failed to adapt to the meta. Historically, they gave up the early game in favor of late game teamfights. However, in the craze of Patch 8.11, it is clear that their previous playstyle is no longer viable. Coach Kim “kkOma” Jung-Gyun now faces criticism about his drafting due to the lack of viable answers to enemy team compositions and picks. While SKT can draft the strong meta champions, they are unable to utilize the champion strengths in a team setting.

The name “SKT” no longer carries the weight it used to have. There is no doubt that Faker shoulders the pressure of bringing SKT back to form. Prior to the beginning of the split, he climbed to the top of the Korean Solo Queue ladder. In every game, he exhibits a drive to bring the only team he has ever known to victory. However, his former immaculate play on stage has been tainted by the need to force big plays in order to carry his team.

THE 0-4 RECORD

Against Afreeca Freecs, Faker played carries in the form of Yasuo and Darius, in mid and bot lane, respectively. In contrast, the games against Gen.G took a different turn. In the first game, Faker brought back his lane dominant Lulu. Although not a carry in the traditional sense, his Lulu has historically been a great facilitator. In Faker-esque style, he took Ignite instead of Cleanse against Zoe. One loss later, and any trace of the Faker the community knew disappeared. In the second game, Faker was reduced to a “slave” to his jungler, in the form of gold-starved Taric with heal and exhaust.

SKT Blossom and Faker after failing to execute the Master Yi-Taric, sk telecom t1 loss
SKT Blossom and Faker after failing to execute the Master Yi-Taric strategy. Photo via LoL Esports

Widely considered to be one of the best mid laners in the world, Faker’s descent into playing an actual support in the mid lane broke the hearts of SKT fans everywhere. Despite Faker playing Master Yi mid as a pocket pick in less favorable metas, Park “Blossom” Beom-chan played Master Yi with the responsibility to carry following a lackluster performance in Game 1. In order to execute the strategy, “Faker Faker Play Maker” froze his lane for his jungler and became a support. Unfortunately, the Taric-Yi power farming strategy was countered, and SKT had no real answers but to watch their Nexus fall.

THE PROBLEMS

In all four games, SKT did not have a jungler that could properly hold up the team. Kang “Blank” Sun-gu played Skarner in both games against Afreeca Freecs and had no presence in either game. Fans angrily called for his removal and accused him as the main reason SKT was failing. Blossom continually went in regardless of actual kill potential and gave away free kills to Gen.G. SKT does not seem to have a jungler that can balance these two extremes. No matter which jungler SKT decided to go with, the eventual losses were inevitable.

SKT Faker emotional after the 2017 World Championships, sk telecom t1 loss
SKT Faker emotional after the 2017 World Championships. Photo via LoL Esports Flickr

SKT also exhibits other problems made apparent through this abysmal start. Team communication has been lacking. Notably, Lee “Wolf” Jae-wan set up great engages, but failed to account for the damage and positioning of the rest of the team. This lack of communication makes three or four man engages a heavy-handed mistake. In addition, SKT’s vision and map control were weak throughout the series. In Game 2 against Gen.G, SKT failed to secure any Scuttle Crabs. With no vision and map control, the team has been caught out in bad positions, making the game harder to win.

CONCLUSION

The community no longer holds SKT in high regard. Perhaps the most painful thing is that SKT is no longer expected to win. Games end too quickly for SKT’s legendary late game team fighting capability to save it. The new patches have removed all traces of the game SKT remembers, and they are unable to adapt. In the past, SKT consistently picked themselves up. But if SKT continues to be so resistant to change, it is likely that SKT will repeat 2014 and fail to make an appearance on the world stage.  

Featured image via Riot Games and LoL Esports Flickr.

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