When Gods Bleed: What’s next for SK Telecom T1?

SK Telecom T1 has been the most successful organization in League of Legends history. In situations where other teams lose they come out victorious. This is the reason why they have been in the World Championship Finals four times, and won three of them.

Because of their history, people will always have faith even when they are underperforming. In 2017 despite barely surviving their best of five bracket stage matches, the belief was alive. SKT would go down in history as three-time World Championships against a clearly dominant Samsung Galaxy squad losing only in the final.

The SKT faithful still believed that the squad could only come back stronger in 2018. After all, they were still able to make it to the World Championship final. SKT would address its problems and they would dominate the next season. 2018 would be the year of Faker and SKT’s revenge and redemption.

SK Telecom T1 fans were crushed once again. In 2018, the squad finished 4th in the spring split, 7th in the summer, and were eliminated in the first round of the regional qualifier. This season has been SKT’s historically worst season, and it begs the question. Where does SKT go from here?

End to the endless rotation of top laners

Thal can still develop into a better top laner. (via kenzi Flickr)

SK Telecom T1 has always have a new top laner every season. In the earlier years this was not a huge problem. Jung “Impact” Eon-yeong, Jang “MaRin” Gyeong-hwan, and Lee “Duke” Ho-seong were all capable top laners in their assigned roles. Whether it was to split push or to be a tanky frontliner. The top laners of the team usually get to have the more supportive role, having to usually blind pick a tank to be able to provide a counterpick for Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok in the drafting phase.

Impact, MaRin, and Duke, were capable even on carries situationally in their stay in SKT. The issues with the top lane came with Heo “Huni” Seung-hoon. Huni has historically been a carry player back in his time in Fnatic. It appeared to be difficult to reconcile the difference between Huni’s innate playstyle and the style that SKT wanted to play. That resulted in Huni being put on a 4-1 split push strategy without much vision set up for him.

Park “Thal” Kwon-hyuk is a similar player to Huni. He prefers carries and does better on them than on tanks. Because of this, Thal has received the same treatment that Huni did. Towards the end of the summer split, Thal was on split pushing duty, his teleport plays and team fighting leave a lot to be desired.

On the other hand, Park “Untara” Ui-jin has been absent for the majority of the season, only making appearances at the beginning of the spring split and in the regional qualifier. His team fighting and initiation on a champion like Ornn redeems him from his poor performances earlier in the year.

SK Telecom T1 might be better off improving Thal’s teleport plays, team fighting, and tank play. For a rookie, he shows promise. Untara does not seem to have it in him to exert lane pressure whenever necessary, but he could be kept in the roster in case a more stable tank player in the top lane is needed. Trying to get MaRin back might be a bit of a reach as of now, as he often plays more carry-oriented picks in recent memory.

Filling the Bengi-shaped hole

SK Telecom 1

Blank has shown some brilliance in past seasons, but this year showed that he had glaring shortcomings. (via kenzi Flickr)

The jungle has been a point of discussion since the departure of Bae “Bengi” Seong-woong. Bengi used to have a more supportive style of jungling, providing coverage for Faker in the middle lane. This has been SKT’s bread and butter. To let Faker carry, and to make sure that he gets to stay ahead in the middle lane.

Han “Peanut” Wang-ho replaced him and eyebrows were raised. How exactly he would fit in the team? Analysts couldn’t see how peanut could fit in the side. In the spring of that year, it seemed like SKT was reborn. Peanut retained his aggressive battlewarding ways, picking champions like Rengar and Olaf. SKT played around Peanut’s capability to exert pressure in the early game, leaving the late game to Faker. He would use Orianna. Bae “Bang” Jun-sik would be left to scale.

Upon the arrival of the tank jungler meta in the summer, however, Peanut began to struggle. Non-aggressive early game options did not seem to fit his playstyle, and because of that Kang “Blank” Sun-gu came into his rescue. The strategy of letting Peanut in for a first game to observe the enemy jungler’s pathing and letting Blank counter it in next games seemed to work for the majority of the summer. SKT made it to the finals of LCK Summer after finishing fourth in the regular season. All seemed well until they lost. The same problem plagued them at Worlds. Peanut could not provide supportive coverage for Faker, Blank was not quite Bengi.

In 2018 Blank became the starting jungler. This raised a lot of eyebrows as well as he only seemed to be exemplary when put in after having seen the enemy jungler’s pathing. When the meta had several tank junglers in it in the spring, Blank seemed to be doing relatively fine, even though the team was not so successful. When the metagame shifted to more aggressive early-game oriented junglers, the team struggled further. The team brought in Park “Blossom” Beom-chan, a rookie with a more aggressive mindset. Blossom was, at best, inconsistent.

Blossom can carry games but can also be a liability. In the summer we barely saw much of Blossom. Blank was the one who turned up. Blank’s pathing was shaky when he was with Faker but when Choi “Pirean” Jun-sik was in the roster it opened up more options for Blank to be on more aggressive options.

What SK Telecom seems to need is a better pathing jungler, who would be comfortable on tanks. MVP’s Kim “Yondu” Kyu-seok seems like he could be a possible candidate, and with MVP’s struggles in this year, he might look for another team. Blossom could be kept on since he has synergy with Thal, and is the more aggressive option for a jungler. He could work in the same way that Peanut used to.

Let Faker Shine

Faker must take on the roll of carry. (via kenzi Flickr)

Faker is undoubtedly the best League of Legends player in the world. Playing through him is often the way SK Telecom T1 wins games. Once put in the position to carry, he surely will. Faker was making many more mistakes in 2018 than we have come to expect.

There was a shock in the summer. Faker was benched for Pirean. The more shocking thing was that once Pirean was in, SKT started winning again. While the middle lane was not drawing pressure as much as it would have if Faker was in, the results were there. SKT was on a four-match winning streak, but it deeply divided fans. After all, what is SKT without Faker?

There is not really much to say about this part of SKT but to keep Faker. Pirean is there as an insurance in case Faker slumps once again. While strong playmakers are in the metagame such as Leblanc and Akali, Faker’s mechanical skill is not enough to get them through games. SKT should prioritize red side counters for Faker in the drafting phase, instead of putting him on champions like Galio. While Faker plays Galio extremely well, SKT have been using it as a crutch to mask their macro issues.

Learn to draw pressure from the bottom lane

Bang has been a reliable bottom laner, but his risk aversion might be hurting the team. (via kenzi Flickr)

Bang is counted upon to scale until he comes to a point where he can handle team fights. In the 2018 season, however, the metagame evolved into an early game snowball one. Bang or Lee “Wolf” Jae-wan sitting in lane was no longer having the impact that it used to.

SKT counted on the supports to roam the map and make plays in other lanes. Since AD Carries usually were not able to do much until they got to two or three items. In this regard, SKT was able to catch up early: Lee “Effort” Sang-ho’s playmaking capabilities on champions like Pyke and Gragas quickly established him as one of the better rookies of the 2018 season.

One thing that SK Telecom need to work on is generating pressure from the bottom lane. Picking early game for the bottom game to establish priority in the lane to obtain drakes and influence sieges in other lanes may be one style of play that SKT could look at towards using. Effort and the solo laners need to work on improving their synergy.

Final Thoughts

We’ve spent a lot of time talking about the players, but there is another factor. Choi “cCarter” Byeong-hun left as head coach at the end of 2017 season. His replacements were Kim “kkOma” Jeong-gyun, Lee “PoohManDu” Jeong-hyeon and Bengi. It may be a step in the right direction to expand the coaching staff. After all, the three of them handling SKT’s ten players might be a little bit lacking. With so many changes the game has been going through, there is more to uncover.

2018 may have been SK Telecom T1’s worst year, and we will not see them at the World Championship tournament. However, let us not let recent history tarnish the legacy of what might be the only team to achieve the heights of dominance that they did in this esport. After all, organizations do go through some highs and lows.

The winds of change have hit the LCK and the SKT dynasty, but the SKT faithful still whisper about their return. They have missed another Worlds in South Korea, but the last time this happened, they were able to rise again to silence all doubts about them. Whether SK Telecom T1 regains the throne as the best League of Legends team in the world, only time will tell.

 

Do you think SK Telecom T1 can reclaim the top spot? What do they need to do to get there? Let us know in the comments below.