SK Telecom T1 came out of nowhere in 2013 and won the League of Legends World Championship series. Two years later, they did it again, and even yet again a year later for the lucky third time. They’ve won the most out of any team, holding half of the championship’s titles. Every time SKT made it to Worlds, they won. Until now.
This year’s World Championship Finals was something no one expected. Especially not when the reigning champions were coming into their fourth set of Grand Finals. Not even when they came up against a team they had already wrested a championship from in the year prior. The match was certainly due to be interesting, but somewhere in the back of everyone’s mind was the vision of SKT going home with the Summoner’s Cup yet again, in an unprecedented fourth championship win and third back-to-back.
Instead, Samsung Galaxy swept the finals 3-0, toppling the legacy and taking home the cup they had so valiantly worked for since their defeat in 2016. The upset was unexpected for sure, but looking closely at SKT’s games in this season’s championship revealed a series of mistakes, hitting one domino at a time until the whole thing collapsed.
Too Many Stars
One thing that led to SKT’s downfall were roster changes, something that esports teams are intimately familiar with in the search to field the perfect team. Unfortunately, changing the roster each season leads to a less cohesive group of players. When Samsung Galaxy lost to SKT last year, they didn’t make any team changes. Normally a losing team would be looking to get rid of weaknesses and sign stronger players to compensate. Samsung Galaxy continued working with the same team to solidify the teamwork aspect of game play. Because they know each other through years of practice, it became easier to work together and build their strengths as a group. It’s actually quite similar to how SKT won their first championship, by developing their own talent within a team and building up from there.
This year SKT hired two well-known “star” players, who had established their own methods and play style with different teams and whose styles didn’t really mesh well with SKT’s own methods. As we saw in the Grand Finals, SKT struggled to play as a cohesive unit. Where normally they excel at team fights, they found few opportunities to make it happen and fell under the more coordinated and domineering Samsung Galaxy. Last year SKT got lucky with hiring a star player for their team. This year they doubled down on the star power and lost.
The Inability To Adapt
Another fatal flaw was the meta itself. Mistakes were bound to happen, allowing Samsung Galaxy to take advantage and stay strong. As SKT made their way through the brackets in the World Championship, their early games were off too. The foundation was shaky, but no one was worried. SKT is known for adapting and making a comeback — being behind is nothing new. But they were unable to turn it around this time.
SKT relied too heavily on mistakes and options that never appeared. They were passive, waiting for their opponents to make mistakes that didn’t happen, waiting to take lanes that didn’t free up. When their players couldn’t roam, options disappeared. Normally SKT could adapt, but without the foundation of teamwork they were unable to work with the shrinking game. Instead Samsung Galaxy controlled the map and outcomes, setting up events to push more risky plays that paid off.
A One Man Carry
Last but not least, SKT relied too heavily on their first star player, the one who led them through the previous three championships. Faker has been a prodigy since he was picked up by SKT in 2013 and is widely regarded to be one of the best League players ever. But his individual skill at the game turned out to be a weakness this year for his team. Without being able to work wholly as a team and adapt as they did in the past, performance suffered. Faker was unable to carry the team or hold their opponents’ attention, which would usually allow the rest of the team to move freely. When he was shut down, the others didn’t know what to do and found themselves pinned.
The World Championship may have just ended, but teams are already getting ready for the next season. SKT certainly isn’t taking this loss in stride. There has already been a flurry of roster changes with rumors of the newest stars being cut and old teammates returning to coach. SKT fell from their pedestal this year, but you can bet they’ll learn from their mistakes and come back stronger next year.