SK Telecom T1
SK Telecom T1 has been the most dominant League of Legends team in the world for as long as many fans can remember. For much of the past five years, they have been the top team in the toughest region in the world. They have racked up 13 first place titles between splits, playoffs, and international competitions. With their recent playoff loss however, they will be missing MSI for the first time, and people are beginning to question whether the stumble that started last season is turning into a true fall for the masters of the Rift.
Although having Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok, who many regard as the best League of Legends player ever, has been a big part of this success, it is far from the only factor. They have consistently had some of the best talent in all positions. This versatility allowed them to rely on their other lanes to carry if the enemy devoted too much of their time to shutting Faker down. Along with long-time Head Coach Kim “kkOma” Jeong-gyun, former SKT T1 players Lee “PoohManDu” Jeong-hyeon and Bae “Bengi” Seong-woong are also part of the coaching team. For years, they had the talent and discipline to take down any opponent, and they looked unstoppable.
Then came the 2017 Summer Split. The same team that easily won the Spring Split, Spring Playoffs and MSI was suddenly losing games. They went 13-5 and finished 4th, their lowest ever, before going on to lose to Longzhu Gaming in the LCK Finals. Though surprising, second place is a respectable finish, and SKT T1 was still headed to Worlds.
SKT T1 and their supporters were hoping to put the Summer Split and talk of their recent struggles behind them. Unfortunately, they faced stiff competition on their way to the finals, beating both Misfits Gaming and Royal Never Give Up 3-2 in the elimination rounds. In the Championship matchup, Samsung Galaxy defeated SKT T1 3-0, and the esports world was stunned.
Shorty after the loss at Worlds, Heo “Huni” Seung-hoon and Han “Peanut” Wang-ho left SKT T1. Throughout the Spring Split, they shuffled their roster for both health reasons as well as in an effort to regain their winning style. Only Faker and Bae “Bang” Jun-sik remained as starters throughout the split. Despite a dismal early season, SKT T1 were able to rally and secure 4th place once again. To the surprise of many, they found a way to make it to the playoffs.
2018 Spring Playoffs
Their first opponent was 5th place KSV eSports, the team that purchased the LCK spot from reigning world champions Samsung Galaxy. Along with their place in the league, KSV kept the same roster. Throughout the Spring Split they fielded the same lineup that won the Summoners Cup only months ago. Despite a strong start, KSV struggled down the stretch, losing both of their match ups against SKT T1 during the regular season. In the first stage of playoffs, SKT T1 completed the sweep, defeating KSV 2-1.
Up next for SKT T1 was KT Rolster, a team that defeated them twice during the split. With names like Song “Smeb” Kyung-ho, Cho “Mata” Se-hyeong and Kim “Deft” Hyuk-kyu on the roster, it’s no surprise that KT Rolster was one of the top teams in the LCK.
Game 1 went well for SKT T1, with Faker, Bang and Park “Thal” Kwon-hyuk each doing impressive damage, and Kang “Blank” Sun-gu dominating the Jungle. Despite being down early, they were able to win an important team fight which led to them taking back the gold lead, several objectives, and soon, the game.
Things turned against SKT T1 in Game 2. Instead of playing Azir, Faker had to face him. Newcomer Son “Ucal” Woo-hyeon more than held his own, going 5/2/3 and dominating the Mid Lane. His Double Kill at 12 minutes helped give KT Rolster a significant lead. Other than for a brief stretch in Game 4, they kept this lead for the rest of the series.
KT Rolster took Games 2, 3, and 4 in a decisive fashion, outplaying their opponents in nearly every way. The disappointment of SKT T1 was clear as they packed up after the game. Falling short of the full comeback that many secretly expected. From 9th place to a playoff run, most teams would be proud of such a turnaround. For SKT T1, though, anything short of a championship title tastes bitter.
Greatest no longer?
For the first time since the tournament’s start in 2015, SK Telecom T1 will not be in the finals of the Mid Season Invitational. In a sport that is seeing so many of its dynasties fall worldwide, this is perhaps the most shocking. Along with his team falling in the rankings, many have been speculating that Faker is no longer the greatest player in the world. While the results of recent competitions may seem to prove this, to watch him is a different matter. He is still Faker. However, the gap is narrowing. Other players are closing in on his skill, opponents are learning how to limit his influence, and he can no longer carry games alone against such strong teams. Times are changing, and new things are coming.
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Featured image courtesy of PCgamesn.com