Team Spotlight: SKT T1
If you even remotely enjoy League of Legends, you will have heard of SKT T1. After joining the OGN Champions (now LCK) in 2012, the organization established a second team that went on to dominate the Korean scene, and the world, with most notable names like Faker. While the organization changed their rosters here and there, they continued their path to success, and remain one of the more competitive teams in the LCK and the world today.
SK Telecom T1 is a historic organization in South Korea beginning their esports journey in 2004 with rosters in games like Starcraft Brood War, SC2 and more. They decided to enter League of Legends in 2012, as the game began to dominate PC cafes by picking up the Eat Sleep Game roster consisting of Bok “Reapered” Han-gyu, Cho “H0R0” Jae-hwan, An “MighTiLy” Jeong-uk, Kim “Raven” Ae-jun and Han “StarLast” Jin-hui. The teams first international appearance was at IEM Season VII – Global Challenge Cologne in April 2012 where they went on to the IEM World Championship and finished in fourth place.
A year later, SKT picked up a second-team that would act as an academy/sister team, which at the time featured Jung “Impact” Eon-yeong, Bae “Bengi” Sewong-woong, Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok, Chae “Piglet” Gwang-jin, and Lee “PooManDu” Jeong-hyeon. During the 2013 OGN Champions Spring Split, the regions regular season play before international competition qualification, SKT’s main roster finished 5th-8th place while the sister team finished higher at 3rd. In a twist of events, SKT dropped their main roster mid-2013 and promoted their secondary team.
As Summer Season began, the remaining SKT roster shot up the rankings and began earning international notoriety with quality gameplay. The peak of this fame occurred during the Grand Finals of the Summer Playoffs vs KT Rolster Bullets. The winner would become the champions of Korea and head to Worlds 2013. The series went to game five, where the rules changed from draft to blind pick which resulted in the world famous Zed vs Zed.
At their first Worlds appearance, SKT topped their group, going 7-1, having lost only one game to OMG. From there they moved to the Finals after having a dominant best-of-three against Gama Bears and a close 3-2 series vs NaJin Black Sword. They then met Royal Club in the finals and won 3-0. What was truly inspiring about this feat was how much Korea had grown over the year. In the 2012 World Championship, Korean teams were good, but results were not that different from other regions. SKT’s dominant win at World’s 2013 was a sign of the hot talent coming out of South Korean region, and this moment created the foundations of one of the greatest success stories in esports history. The post-Worlds championship set SK Telecom SKT off on a new level. After conquering the world, the Winter OGN series felt the wrath of the World Champions. They went the entire season wholly undefeated and closed the year off as the evident best in the world.
Heading into 2014, the SKT brand seemed nigh unstoppable. The World Champions were still together, and a new sister team had formed. The organizations then moved to rebrand to SK Telecom SKT S and K. K being the World Champions and S being the sister team.
The newest sister team consisted of Jang “MaRin” Gyeong-hwan, Cho “H0R0” Jae-hwan, Lee “Easyhoon” Ji-hoon, Bae “Bang” Jun-Sik, and Lee “Wolf” Jae-wan. Names that players will recognize for multiple reasons now. Despite the hype, both K and S had a terrible Spring 2014. The sister team finished 9-16th, while K finished 5th-8th. The region, as a whole, was on the rise after its prominence in 2013. The disappointment continued to Summer with S finishing 4th and the World Champions, K, finishing 5th-8th. Though K had several shots to make Worlds. First, it was a tiebreaker to take Korea’s second seed against Samsung White (previously Ozone). However, SSW destroyed SKT K 3-0 and went to Worlds. Now there was only one opportunity left. SKT headed to the Gauntlet, but it was not theirs to take. NaJin White Shield’s miracle run destroyed KT bullets and Arrows 3-0, and then took down the World Champs 3-1, thus heading to Worlds 2014 as the 3rd Korean seed. That year, Samsung White took the World Championship, keeping the crown in Korea.
Given the prestige they made in 2013, 2014 was just not the year for SKT. But the 2015 – 2016 period defined their legacy. Following the OGN Champions becoming the LCK, a new rule caused organizations to only own one team in the league. SKT merged their S and K rosters, picking the best elements that would see them head to Worlds for a second time. The merged team signed MaRin, Impact, Bengi, Easyhoon, Faker, Bang, Wolf, and Lee “Piccaboo” Jong-beom. This new formula seemed to be working almost immediately. The SBENU Championship Spring 2015 saw SKT finish first which sent them to MSI. At MSI they destroyed the opposition, showing the world they were back once again.
Moving into the Summer, they continued their reign, finishing first in the regular season and playoffs and headed to Worlds alongside KT and KOO. The narrative throughout the year of KOO vs SKT reared its head once again in the World Grand Finals. Both teams were on a high after taking out both Fnatic and Origen 3-0 in their semifinal bouts. However, SKT once again beat KOO, this time 3-1 in the Finals. To add to how good SKT looked, KOO was the only team to gain a win against SKT all tournament. SKT became the first organization to win the Worlds trophy twice. Not to mention this was achieved with Bengi and Faker once again. But this feat got even more impressive in 2016.
2016 started a little rough for SKT. Weeks after returning home from Worlds they lost early in the KeSPA Cup, but it really came as no surprise given how hard they prepared for Worlds. With the time off, their offseason saw a roster shakeup. Lee “Duke” Ho-seong joined as the top laner, with Kang “Blank” Sun-gu as substitute jungler and PoohManDu heading to coach. The roster did not have great success at the start. By the time IEM Katowice 2016 began, SKT was sixth in the LCK. The roster swapped Bengi out for Blank at the event, and they dominated the opposition. With success at IEM Katowice, the roster continued with that formula and swiftly rose back up the standings. By the end of the regular season, they were just behind ROX (previously KOO) and KT once again.
Things had switched around by the playoffs as SKT found themselves easily beating KT and NaJin too. In the finals they met ROX, who had maintained themselves as one of the LCK’s most consistent rosters. SKT’s victory over ROX showed they had redeemed themselves of their regular season mistakes and won yet another LCK split. This success moved onto MSI 2016, beating CLG in the Finals.
Summer was a bit hectic as a split. By the playoffs, KT Rolster had taken their revenge after reverse sweeping SKT, but it didn’t matter much as they went on to Worlds as Korea’s second seed based on circuit points.
All was redeemed at Worlds 2016 as SKT wrote another page in their history books. They had yet another dominant group stage followed by a 3-1 victory over RNG in the quarterfinals. But it wasn’t all easy as they had to truly work for their trophy from the semifinals onward. The five game series against ROX Tigers is considered one of the best series ever in LoL Esports history. At no point was there ever a moment a clear victor would emerge, which continued right until the nexus had fallen for either side.
After one of the greatest series of all time, SKT met Samsung Galaxy in the Grand Finals and took the title after another 3-2 result. SKT made even more history on that day. Not only were they the only team now with three World titles but the only team to achieve back-to-back victories. Faker was the centerpiece of this accomplishment, as he too shared this feat of three Worlds trophies.
What made this season that much more sweet was Faker’s performance. He played 148 competitive games in 2016, and lost 45, which gave him a 70% win ratio throughout the entire year. Across these wins he played the likes of Support mages, Control Mages, Mages, Assassins and more. At this time in competitive LoL, he truly started to set a standard for high tier play and people began to notice his mastery of the game.
The Samsung Rivalry
If the ROX Tigers vs SKT rivalry was the thing of 2015/2016, Samsung Galaxy vs SKT was the new rivalry of the LCK in 2017. After their defeat against SKT at Worlds 2016, Samsung made it their mission to improve, which is exactly what they did. Samsung was slowly getting better throughout the year, which culminated in another excellent finish at Worlds 2017 vs SKT’s reinvented roster.
SKT’s new starting roster of Heo “Huni” Seung-hoon, Han “Peanut” Wang-ho, Faker, Bang and Wolf worked well immediately. They continued their trend of dominating regionally in the Spring, which carried over to MSI, beating G2 in the Finals. But it was in the Summer where the narrative collapsed: Longzhu, KT Rolster, Samsung Galaxy, SKT and Afreeca were the playoff teams in that order and, once again, SKT fell short of the first seed with Longzhu winning it. SKT did make it to Worlds, however, as the second seed while Samsung won the Gauntlet.
For the first time in SKT’s history, they had troubles against a Western team as Misfits from the EU LCS (LEC) brought them to the edge. They went the full distance and narrowly won after a slow and tense finish to game five. Arguably, though, Misfits could have won 3-1. Perhaps they got too eager on their infamous tower dive in game four. But SKT won the series regardless.
The pressure was still on SKT in the semifinals as they had yet another 3-2 win, only this time against RNG. Their victory here meant 2016’s final was back in play; it was SKT vs. Samsung Galaxy. It was here where SSG did the unthinkable and dethroned the former World Champions. They took advantage of SKT’s battered path to the Finals as they won the series 3-0. At no other point in history on the World stage had SKT suffered such a huge blow. This impressive feat of strength allowed Samsung to become the second team in history to win two Worlds trophies. SKT had finally found an opponent in Korea that could beat them at their own game. Unfortunately, this rivalry ended before it began as Samsung sold the team to Chinese company KSV eSports, which has since rebranded to Gen.G.
The Dynasty Falls
Since the defeat in 2017, SKT has not managed to get to a Worlds Final. Their region became much more robust in the regular split with further rivalries like KT Rolster brewing. Spring was the last playoffs they would see. The roster had a bit of a boost when Park “Blossom” Beom-chan replaced Blank in the jungle, and Lee “Effort” Sang-ho stepped in over Wolf. It was only on circuit points they found themselves in the Gauntlet, although Gen.G beat them in the first round, and continued to Worlds as the 3rd seed.
The nine-man roster in 2018 ultimately failed the organization. This was the first time SKT had not been to Worlds since 2014. But this was not the only surprise at the event. For the first time, Invictus Gaming, a Chinese LPL team, won Worlds and they did so against EU’s Fnatic. Not only was this the fall of the SKT dynasty, but Korea as a whole.
After the disaster of 2018, SKT decided it was time to make a Korean super team with Faker at its very core. SKT signed: Top – Kim “Khan” Hong-ha and Kim “Crazy” Jae-hee. Jungle – Kang “Haru” Min-seung and Kim “Clid” Tae-min. Mid – Faker. ADC – Park “Teddy” Jin-seong and Han “Leo” Gyeo-re. Support Cho “Mata” Se-hyeong and Effort. Most of these members had achieved great status throughout LCK teams. Mata is a famous support player that was on KT Rolsters super team for several years, and Khan was made famous due to his part in the successful Longzhu roster in 2017. With proven players supporting League of Legends most prized player, their only goal for 2019 was to retake the Summoner’s Cup.
SKT’s super team absolutely destroyed the competition in the 2019 LCK Spring Split. Their impressive performance bagged them an LCK finals victory, the first for over two years. SKT was well and truly back to form in the region, but that wasn’t the case internationally. Their attendance at MSI 2019 shocked the world as they failed to win the event for the first time in their history. They finished 3rd-4th alongside Invictus, the 2018 World Champions. In a twist of the tale, it was NA vs EU in the final, where G2 Esports beat Team Liquid in the fastest ever best-of-five series in LoL Esports. It seemed that the super team had more work to do.
SKT returned home to dominate the LCK after their semifinal defeat at MSI. The regular split was a bit of a burner, only finishing fourth. However, the roster had a boost in the Playoffs and took the LCK Summer finals, cementing their domination over the LCK through the entire year. They then continued onto Worlds 2019 with DAMWON Gaming and Griffin. Each of the Korean teams went 5-1 in the group stages, making it seem like the LCK domination had returned internationally. Although the surprise in store meant SKT was the only LCK team advancing from the quarters. They ended up meeting G2 Esports in the semifinals and met their demise 3-1. That year history repeated itself with another Europe vs Chinese Finals as FunPlus Phoenix beat G2 Esports 3-0.
Even when SKT had the opportunity to assert their dominance, they fell short. G2 Esports beat SKT twice in 2019; a 3-2 win at MSI and now a 3-1 win at Worlds. The rise of the LEC and LPL meant that SKT and Korea are no longer the de-facto rulers in League of Legends.
A New T1 era
After Wordls, SKT signed Kim “Canna” Chang-dong, as top laner, Moon “Cuzz” Woo-chan and Choi “Ellim” El-lim as junglers, alongside Faker, Teddy, and Effort retaining their spots on the starting roster. Faker also announced in February that he had signed a three year deal and has become a part owner of the team he built into legendary status. He is now the very heart and soul of the SKT brand.
The rebrand seems to be working for them to some extent. SKT tied with Gen.G for first in the regular season and won the Spring Finals. There would be more context to SKT’s spiritual rebirth, but the COVID-19 pandemic cancelled 2020’s MSI.
History seems to be repeating itself because SKT is mid-table during this season’s live Summer Regular Split. The LCK remains as competitive as ever, but we have seen this time and time again where SKT makes good work of their gauntlet, playoffs or circuit points situation.
Only time will tell how this roster performs as the summer continues. Will this new rebrand be what the team needs to make it to a fourth Worlds trophy? 2020 has a lot in store for the roster as they rebuild their empire under a new banner.