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T1 Will Not Be Deterred

Nikhil Kalro

T1’s magical run of form at the spring split of the LCK had everyone imagining prospects of them going unbeaten through the summer. And while that didn’t happen, they still proved to be good enough to make the final and elicit prospects of marching to the title. Then, they were given a bit of a rude awakening by Gen.G, who had an equally outstanding year in League of Legends.

t1 zeus

BUSAN, SOUTH KOREA - MAY 29: Choi “Zeus” Woo-je of T1 competes at the League of Legends - Mid-Season Invitational Finals on May 29, 2022 in Busan, South Korea. (Photo by Colin Young-Wolff/Riot Games)

T1 were handed a 3-0 sweep against the longtime rivals in the final, but don’t let the scoreboard hoodwink you into believing this was a thrashing. It’s a case of the scoreboard actually not giving you a true picture. Each of the games were well-contested, with both sides in with a shout. Where Gen.G cashed in on key moments, T1 showed signs of vulnerability that was enough to break open their treasure chest. Despite the result, T1’s effort reflected tremendous grit and consistency through the year.

In the first and third game, both teams were wheel to wheel in terms of gold. It was simply a case of Gen.G stepping up under pressure and pushing the champions right till the edge. You’d think there was no shame in losing to an outfit that was as determined and played to point precision like Gen.G. With T1, and their legion of fans, there’s this propensity to treat losses, especially in big games, as massive failures. 

Fact is, they wouldn’t have gotten to the final without having done things right. But then, that’s the kind of expectation and aura they’ve built around them that even a loss in the final, a runners-up finish, is treated as a failure. All said, it was an outstanding summer split, where despite their loss they’re still among the top teams to challenge for the Summoner’s Cup at the 2022 World Championship.

But not all’s lost. They have a massive tournament to look forward to and their players, who you’d think are all wallowing in disappointment, have moved on and are looking to channel defeat in a positive way. Lee “Gumayusi” Min-hyeong, who picked up his 600th kill in the LCK, has already spoken of the hunger to build on his achievements. The team’s looking to reinvent the wheel, and some of the ways they want to achieve this is by looking at their early-game drafting and better lane fights. Given T1 has already qualified for Worlds, they can train their energies toward preparation for the event, rather than worry about qualifying scenarios in the build-up.

T1’s win percentage overall this summer has been phenomenal. After their record-breaking spin where they became the first-ever LCK team to have a perfect season, this was a near-perfect follow-up. To have done so with the stakes so high spoke of their ability to withstand pressure and ride expectations as a group. 

Where other teams may have taken success for granted, T1 spoke of valuing each win and fought hard for weeks to earn themselves the second seed heading into the playoffs, where they played some of their best games. Wiggling out of tight spots and turning around impossible situations to squeeze out wins gave them massive satisfaction, which is why their loss in the finale, despite the scoreboard telling you a different story, shouldn’t be looked at from the same prism.

There are certain in-built traits that never go out of fashion, titles or no titles. And that is T1’s adaptive style. Players have had this inherent ability to come in and fit in seamlessly to the grand scheme of things. They aren’t like force-fitted puzzle pieces. Of course we all love to take Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok’s example. But look at Choi “Zeus” Woo-je, who only started with the team at the start of the year. He made a mark within no time and is now a key member of the squad.

“When I previously played in an amateur tournament a long time ago called ‘LoL the Next’, my team got reverse swept,” Zeus told Inven Global in an interview. “I knew that we couldn’t be pushed back by their momentum, so I had to really focus. I’m pretty close with Burdol. While he may not have played during the regular season this split, I chatted with him quite often in solo queue. I know what he likes, and I expected the Azir top lane to come out. I did suffer quite a bit from top lane Azir, but I felt I could survive this series. He’s a scary champion when he gets ahead, and the Azir-Yasuo combo looked really good.

“I didn’t play Jayce at all in recent patches. I think Jayce will be good once I start using him, but we’ll have to see. Jayce can struggle against the current meta picks, so I’m not sure if he can be picked in pro play just yet. It was a counterpick. I felt it was okay to play Gnar into the enemy team comps. Truth be told, there’s no problem picking Gnar blind, as the laning phase is playable. However, if you factor in what you need to do in a certain game and how Gnar plays into the enemy team comp, it’s not easy to pick Gnar blind.”

Also, if you look at the season that just finished, there were good stretches where their dominance was unparalleled, like between weeks four and six where they didn’t drop a single game, even against their fabled rivals. There were several tense match-ups, but there was a sense that T1 always had things under control. The pairing of Mun “Oner” Hyeon-jun and Zeus came to the fore this time as T1 pushed through the nexus. The shades of brutality in their game was a sign that there’s life beyond just their superstar players. And this was an example that played out in real life.

T1 also has this ability to make some unusual picks and make it look absolutely seamless. Like they did in the game against Kwangdong Freecs, when they put the pair of Draven and Ashe in the bot lane when the opponents least expected it. Such moves, out of the box at the best of times, are one of the reasons why T1 are pioneers. Moves that aren’t borne exactly out of necessity, but because of their push to break barriers, catch opponents off guard, and swoop in on kills.

That players derive immense satisfaction from a win over T1 is another hallmark of a champion outfit. Picture this: Seong “Chovy” Ji-hoon’s quip to the media after their LCK win: “I got blocked by T1 a lot in my professional career, but I managed to beat them 3-0. So I feel great,” is essentially the words of someone from a team that has over time struggled to overcome T1, only to keep trying and eventually scale Mount Everest. 

Or, for that matter, Han “Peanut” Wang-ho’s, “Against a team like T1, it’s not easy to go 3-0. We managed to focus and prepare well to do so.” Several players have likened winning against T1 to something of the likes of weight being lifted off their shoulders. For some, beating T1 is a personal gauge; for many, it’s a crowning glory, perhaps second-best to Worlds.

The biggest mistake teams could make at this point is to relax against T1. Ambushed and vanquished, they will be like hungry tigers in the prowl. This makes Worlds that much more exciting in the build-up. The action promises to be compelling too. Maybe T1’s loss would’ve just been one of several new reasons to watch the competition. 

If you were bored of their domination and the predictability they brought to winning and their style of play, the LCK loss couldn’t have come at a better time. This will be a test of their verve to go to lengths possible to try and channel that hurt and win back the crown. Gen.G and the others will need to watch out for these tigers.