On July 21, 2018, SK Telecom T1 played against Hanwha Life Esports. Prior to this match, SKT faced a rough season, being seventh place with a record of 4-7. Hanwha, formerly ROX Tigers, placed higher in the rankings at sixth with a record of 6-5.
Despite being only one place apart, Hanwha has nine more championship points than SKT. In comparison, only two to four points separate every other place in the rankings. A win here helps SKT toward their goal of World’s. For Hanwha, a win solidifies the difference between sixth and seventh.
A Brief Overview of SKT vs HLE
Only about a week ago, Hanwha reverse swept SKT 2-1. Compared to SKT, Hanwha receives a lot less scrutiny. SKT carries a legacy with its name. With every game, fans ask whether SKT will make it to the 2018 World Championships. SKT has yet to miss a playoffs. Their worst performance so far is their fourth place finish in LCK 2018 Spring. While SKT has been underperforming, fans still care enough to criticize their lackluster play. It seems that fans are still waiting for SKT to live up to their name.
In contrast, the name Hanwha remains relatively unknown. In LCK 2018 Spring, ROX Tigers placed sixth. After that, Hanwha Life Esports acquired ROX Tiger’s team roster and LCK spot on April 15. Unlike Griffin, Hanwha’s players are established veterans. Sangyun “Sangyoon” Kwon, in particular, is having a good season. Also, Taehun “Lava” Kim, their mid, is tied for second for MVP. However, Hanwha comes into this match after being destroyed by Griffin 0-2. How they respond to those losses will affect their gameplay in the match.
Coming into the match, according to fan vote, SKT is favored to win. However, according to the statistics, Hanwha is more likely to win, with the third highest KDA at 4.1 compared to SKT’s 2.9 ranking of seventh at 2.9. While SKT won almost every series against Hanwha since 2017 LCK Spring, their loss last week and their struggling season makes Hanwhat seem like a more likely victor.
Faker Benched Again
Faker vs Pirean
The first surprising occurrence in this match is Sanghyeok “Faker” Lee being benched once again in favor of Junsik “Pirean” Choi. So far, fan perception favors Faker. Every time Faker is benched, fans question the substitution. Pirean’s ability is always scrutinized, especially since he played on the last place team of NA LCS 2017 Summer, Phoenix 1. In Game 1, Pirean played Galio, and in Game 2, he played Lulu. Faker’s Galio turns the tide of games and saved SKT more than once. His aggressive Lulu enables his team and controls the enemy laner. What can Pirean bring to SKT that Faker, considered the best
League of Legends player, cannot?
Pirean achieved top 8 on the Korean solo queue ladder. Faker and the other players on SKT have been playing less solo queue in favor of scrimmages. According to an interview conducted by Inven Global with Junsik “Bang” Bae, Bang says that “If I’m to describe one of Pirean’s strengths, it’s that he feels a bit more stable in-game [over Faker].”
Possible Reasons for Pirean over Faker
One of Faker’s greatest strengths besides being a clutch player is consistency. If Pirean is more stable than Faker, one is left to ask: is Faker burnt out? Speculation arose about Faker’s mental state. In an interview with Inven Global before the start of the summer season, Faker spoke about how his confidence in himself was wavering. After the games against Hanwha, Faker cancelled a fan meet, citing personal reasons as his rationale. The lack of Faker onstage concerns fans.
Another thing to note is that Faker’s presence on the team brings out different playstyles. Bang tends to play more passive when Faker is on the team, knowing that Faker can carry teamfights. Sungu “Blank” Kang plays more aggressive in the jungle as well. Pirean on the team enables players to play differently and this difference seems to be giving SKT victories. He may be, in the coming weeks, SKT’s new Jihoon “Easyhoon” Lee.
An Entire Roster Swap
An extra break happened between games one and two. Hanwha substituted out their entire team for their B squad. Hanwha conducts internal scrimmages with three scrim blocks. One of these scrim blocks are completely internal, meaning the five players have been playing together since the start of the season. Furthermore, little data is known about the B team. No one knows of their champion pools or how they play. Even the B team gathered experience on stage from prior experiences. A five man substitution has never been seen before, bringing questions about its possibility in the future.
These types of substitution do not seem to be widely applicable outside the LCK. In the 2017 League of Legends World Championship rules, teams are only allowed to have one reserve player, or substitute, and possibly a seventh player if applicable. Having an entire roster swap seems only necessary during the season when coaches are still trying to figure out what works best for their team.
An Overview of the Games
SKT convincingly won against Hanwha 2-0. These victories displayed a glimmer of SKT’s former dominance. In an interview with Inven Global, Blank says “I’m in tears… it has been so long since we’ve taken a clean 2-0 victory.” In the first game, Blank performed particularly well as Taliyah, beyond anyone’s expectations. He even won MVP for Game 1. SKT controlled the game from beginning to end. In the second game, Bang carried SKT to victory. It is important to note that Hanwha’s B squad performed well. In particular, Janghun “Brook” Lee’s Jayce looked extremely dominant. Hanwha gained a massive gold lead early, three barons, and three dragons. However, they failed to end the game. SKT won at a more than 6k gold deficit. Bang indisputably received MVP.
Despite a dominant showing for SKT, fans still wonder about Faker. With Pirean, SKT communicated better. Their plays and performance reflect the more dominant SKT of past. SKT won against ten different players in these games. The situation may return to the Faker-Easyhoon substitution in 2015. Regardless, SKT’s performance improved massively with this 2-0 victory. Hanhwa, however, comes back to the LCK with two back-to-back 0-2 losses. With World’s looming ever closing, SKT needs to continue playing like this to fight for playoffs. Meanwhile, Hanwha needs to reconsider their strategies.
Featured image courtesy of LoL Esports, OGN.