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T1’s Return to Form and Faker’s Legacy

Zakaria Almughrabi

One of the biggest stories of the LCK 2023 Summer Split has been the fall of T1. The most successful League of Legends team of all time had an incredibly rough back half of Summer. After returning from their third-place finish at MSI, T1 was hoping to put together a strong split and get back to the LCK Finals. They started off promising, going 6-2 in their first eight matches and sitting in third place overall. However, disaster would soon strike for T1.

T1 Summer 2023

Image Credit LCK/Riot Games

On July 5, T1 released a statement that Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok had to take a break due to health concerns. Faker was having wrist pains and reportedly couldn’t lift his right arm following a match against Nongshim. Fortunately, x-rays and an MRI showed no major damage. Still, Faker would need to step down while he focused on recovery.

A Drastic Slide

In came Yoon “Poby” Sung-won, a 17-year-old rookie from the T1 Academy team making his LCK debut. Without Faker in the lineup, the average age of this T1 squad was now down to about 19. It became apparent very early on that despite the other four members of T1 having at least a full year of LCK experience each, leadership was now a major concern for T1.

The reason that T1 could be so dominant in previous splits stems from top laner Choi “Zeus” Woo-je, jungler Mun “Oner” Hyeon-jun, ADC Lee “Gumayusi” Min-hyeong, and support Ryu “Keria” Min-seok being able to focus on their own mechanics and gameplay. The tenured veteran Faker could bring the team together and shot call while also being an unmovable rock in the mid lane. Since this roster came together, T1 have made every LCK Finals, as well as the MSI and Worlds 2022 Finals.

This would be the first time that Zeus, Oner, and Gumayusi would ever play on the LCK stage without Faker by their side. While Keria was a member of a very strong DRX squad for his first two years in the LCK, his brand was that of a mechanically skilled playmaker. He’s still only 20 years old and has never been a team’s leader. Now that the T1 machine was missing its linchpin, the question was how well this team could do without the GOAT guiding them.

The answer? Not good. Starting in week five, T1 went on a huge losing spree. They went 1-7 over the next four weeks, dropping to a 7-9 record. It was incredibly apparent that without Faker, T1 had no direction in game. They looked so lost that people likened them to a free win during the duration. T1 racked up loss after loss to teams both above and below them on the standings.

Fast forward to a month later. T1 is 7-9 and sitting in fifth seed with two teams on their tails for the playoff bubble spots. Faker’s four weeks of rehab were successful and he was finally ready to get back into the main lineup. There were two matches left in the Summer regular season and T1 needed to show that they had any chance of winning games again to give fans hope heading into the post-season.

The Return of Faker

Sure enough, T1 managed to win their final two games and secure their fifth seed going into playoffs. The most insane stat to come out of this is T1’s regular season record over the past four splits. With Faker they are 58-6; without him they are 1-7. T1 lost more matches in a month without Faker than in two years with him. There is no team in esports history that has had their performance impacted by one player this much.

Yes, this could be seen as a downside overall for T1. If a team actually just can’t function without one player, then that overreliance will cause the rest of the team to fall short. However, it also goes to show just how much Faker does. He’s known as the greatest League of Legends player of all time for a reason. While his mechanical outplays have been less of a focus as his career has gone on, that impact hasn’t just vanished. Now, Faker leads a team of young mechanical monsters. He’s the heart and soul of a team that has stood at the top of both Korea and the world.

When the LCK Summer 2023 Playoffs began, faith in T1 was rising but not restored. The team’s flaws were exposed in the time where Faker was absent. If T1 wanted to secure their Worlds spot or make it back to the LCK Finals, they’d need to show an unprecedented increase in form. Their first match against Dplus KIA would be T1’s first test against a top four team since Faker’s return.

You would never believe that the T1 that showed up to the playoffs was the same one that had lost seven of eight matches in July. With Faker back, Zeus was free to lane as he pleased. Oner had direction in the jungle again. Gumayusi could flex his mechanical carry muscles. Keria had a proper channel to form his playmaking. Together again, T1 were able to take down Dplus KIA 3-1 and move on to the second round.

That’s all well and good, but with the first seed KT Rolster choosing T1 for their upper bracket semis match, many expected T1’s resurgence to stall out here. Every analyst predicted for the 17-1 KT Rolster to win this iteration of the Telecom War. Of course, T1 went into the match saying that KT would regret this choice. The question is if they could back it up and pull off the biggest upset of the season.

Doing the Unthinkable

The thrilling five game series went back and forth. KT took game one in a dominant fashion, followed by T1 absolutely crushing them with Zeus’s Rumble and Gumayusi’s Draven. In game three, T1 outplayed KT in skirmish after skirmish thanks to Zeus on K’sante and Keria on Alistar. After KT tied the series at 2-2, the match game down to a winner-takes-all game five.

In this game, T1 fell behind early. KT held a 500 gold lead and two Dragons by 12 minutes in. A huge fight took place at 18 minutes in. T1 got three kills while only losing two and secured the third Dragon. Most importantly, they killed the enemy Draven making him lose all his stacks and taking him out of the game. From there, T1 controlled the flow by keeping KT at arm’s length.

Between T1’s team fight power and Zeus’s split push threat on Jax, KT were forced to make a move. A fantastic Magnet Storm by Keria’s Rell turned the fight in T1’s favor, allowing them to get Baron and close out the game two minutes later.

T1 now sits in the LCK Summer 2023 upper bracket finals. They will at minimum finish in third place, guaranteeing them a total of 150 championship points at worst. This means that unless KT comes back to win the Split AND Gen.G finish top three, T1 has guaranteed their spot at Worlds 2023. At worst, they’ll be the highest seed in the Regional Finals for Korea’s third Worlds spot.

That said, the season isn’t over yet. T1 has overcome all odds to return to form and upset the best team in the LCK. They sit just two match wins away from an LCK title, one that has eluded them for the last two splits. While their main issue of overreliance on Faker does exist, as long as Faker is there T1 can be the best team in Korea and potentially the world.