Experience plays a large role in professional League of Legends. Nothing compares to the rush and the pressure of playing on stage. According to Weldon Green, an esports psychologist who has worked with major teams such as G2 Esports, Team SoloMid, and Counter Logic Gaming, playing on stage gives more anxiety and pressure than skydiving.
Typically, the ability to withstand this all-encompassing pressure is what separates veteran and rookie professional players. Even the best players in solo queue andregional matches can underperform when placed in this type of setting.
LCK Summer Split Week 2: SKT vs GRF
On June 22, 2018, former League of Legends World champions SK Telecom T1 played against the full-rookie team, Griffin. The last time these two teams met on Summoner’s Rift, an already weakening SKT ended Griffin’s attempt at the 2017 KeSPA Cup with a 2-1 victory.
By all accounts, SKT should have had the advantage. However, SKT has yet to find a match win in the LCK Summer Split so far. In contrast, Griffin, albeit having a full-rookie roster and coach, came into the match against SKT with a undefeated match record of 20 wins.
Despite being unable to solve their main problems, SKT initially played Game 1 well, with noticeable improvements to their team play. There were glimpses of the dominant SKT that the League of Legends community had come to expect. The series showed potential to be a close best of three. Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok’s Yasuo seemed to dominate the game. However, Griffin managed to stall long enough until Park “Viper” Do-hyeon’s Kaisa and Choi “Sword” Sung-won’s Dr. Mundo reached their item power spike. Sword’s Dr. Mundo seemed invincible, and Viper’s Kaisa’s damage output completely destroyed SKT’s team.
In Game 2, Son “Lehends” Si-woo cemented himself as MVP with his highlight-worthy Shen plays. Not only did he manage to escape from three members of SKT at level 1, Lehends also stole Infernal Drake. His stellar engages led to Sword’s Aatrox and Lee “Tarzan” Seung-yong’s Master Yi cutting through SKT. In both games, Griffin seemed to draft better than SKT, and executed their win conditions perfectly. Griffin’s 2-0 victory over SKT showcased SKT’s inability to adjust to the meta, and Griffin’s ability to take the meta into their own.
Griffin: The Dominant Rookie Team
Griffin’s rise to the top started in Challengers Korea. Seen as a lesser tournament, Griffin placed seventh in CK 2017 Spring, with a record of 3-11. The team had to defend their place in the tournament against REVERSE Gaming in the CK 2017 Summer Promotion. Luckily, a match win against RGA meant that they stayed in Challengers Korea. This time, in CK 2017 Summer, Griffin placed third, with a record of 8-6. Unfortunately, they lost against APK Prince, and were unable to participate in the LCK 2017 Summer Promotion. Participating in these tournaments were three members of their current roster: Choi “Sword” Sung-won, Shin “Rather” Hyeong-seop, and Lee “Tarzan” Seung-yong.
Griffin clawed their way to prominence starting with their games in the 2017 KeSPA Cup. There, they decisively defeated Afreeca Freecs. Griffin also managed to take a game away from SKT in a close best of three series. In this tournament, the roster consisted of Sword, Tarzan, Rather, Viper, and Lehends, the roster currently dominating the LCK.
Their performance in the KeSPA Cup spurred Griffin’s sudden climb in the rankings. In the Challengers Korea 2018 Spring, Griffin won first place with a match record of 14-0, guaranteeing themselves a spot in the LCK Summer Promotion. Known as “The Kingzone of Challenger,” Griffin destroyed MVP, securing themselves a spot in the LCK.
In an interview with Daily Esports, Griffin’s head coach Kim “cvMax” Dae-ho stated, “I’m so happy our team made it to the LCK. At the same time, my head is spinning with all the things we will have to prepare.” cvMax’s preparations seem to pay off with Griffin’s dominant showing so far. With the win against SKT, Griffin increased their undefeated match record to 21. Only dropping two games, Griffin is first place in the standings with a match record of 5-0.
While Griffin is a promising team, they face more difficult opponents in their upcoming matches. Their next opponents are Kingzone DragonX, kt Rolster, and Afreeca Freecs. Griffin’s playstyle is reminiscent of China’s famed aggression. Combine that with their Korean discipline, and Griffin is poised to continue improving and dominate the LCK.
SKT: Fallen World Champions
While SKT showed a shred of their former selves in Game 1, it is clear that their team is plagued with problems that they cannot solve. Not only have they failed to win any matches. SKT even lost against MVP, who have a record of 6-12 and placed 9th out of 10 last season.
The League of Legends community was in disarray when in the games against MVP, Faker, Kang “Blank” Sun-gu, Bae “Bang” Jun-sik and Lee “Wolf” Jae-wan were subbed out. While SKT historically used their substitution system to cover up the team’s weaknesses, it served as a surprise to many when Faker, the main face of SKT did not play.
Many drew parallels to the NALCS, where Cloud9 subbed out prominent players Nicolaj “Jensen” Jensen, Zachary “Sneaky” Scuderi, and Andy “Smoothie” Ta. However, these players were subbed out due to a perceived attitude problem. They were not taking the game and scrimmages seriously enough. It is hard to believe that Faker could demonstrate the same problems, with him just recently reaching the top of the Korean solo queue ladder. However, it is important to note that SKT has yet to win a game with Faker, whose combined KDA so far is 2/12/8.
In the past, Faker shared his mid laner spot with Lee “Easyhoon” Ji-hoon. However, against MVP, Choi “Pirean” Jun-sik replaced Faker on the starting lineup. Pirean’s history is mainly in North America, where he experienced the NA LCS Promotion tournament twice because of his team’s poor performance. However, he did contribute to taking a game off MVP, which is the only win that SKT has so far this season.
Despite a loss in Game 2, Kim “kkOma” Jeong-gyun did not sub in Faker, Bang, Wolf, or Blank, meaning that he had confidence in the new roster. That, or SKT had bigger problems in the background.
With the original starting roster, SKT has a subpar top laner, an average bot lane, a good mid laner, and problems in the jungle. Until they can find a mesh of players that fit well together, SKT will have to fight for their spot in the LCK Summer Promotion.
The winner of the LCK Summer Split automatically qualifies for the 2018 League of Legends World Championship as Korea’s first seed. Griffin shows the potential to go to Worlds this year as Korea’s first seed if they continue their dominant performance. They could possibly start a legacy that rivals that of SKT’s 2015 Worlds run or Samsung White’s 2014 Worlds dominant showing.
In contrast, it is unlikely that SKT will qualify for Worlds. Three teams represent Korea at Worlds. The first seed is the first place team of the LCK Summer Split. The second seed is the team with the highest Championship Points, the sum of the points gained by every win in both Spring and Summer Split. The third seed is determined at the Korean Regional Qualifiers. As it stands, SKT does not have enough Championship Points to carry themselves to Worlds.
The rookie Griffin embraces the new meta and brings exciting gameplay into the LCK. The veteran SKT needs to find what works for them before they become a team of the past.
Featured image via LoL Esports.