Six-time LCK champions. Three-time Worlds champions. The best team in the history of League, where Faker, the Unkillable Demon King, resides.
These are just a few expressions that sum up SK Telecom T1. Possessing otherworldly records and equally astounding individual talents, SKT has their eye on another prize: the Mid-Season Invitational, which is set to begin with the Group Stage on May 10th. Although nothing is certain in the competitive sphere, it’s hard to deny that SKT is the team closest to the MSI trophy based on past and recent showings.
That said, no team would be complacent in staying second place while bypassing SKT. All players strive to be the best, and only MSI and Worlds can provide teams that opportunity to prove their mettle.
How will the various teams prepare to topple SKT? Also, what kinds of tricks does SKT have up their sleeves to respond to these threats?
Based on the records and plays from the spring split, here are some points of interest for competing teams as well as SKT’s possible response.
Only dropping 2 series out of 18 in the regular season with an impressive game win rate of 76%
After the beloved jungler Bengi left to China for Vici Gaming, SKT filled the spot with Peanut for the spring split. The team’s top lane also changed to be more aggressive with the addition of Huni in place of Duke.
All changes entail uncertainties, but Peanut and Huni proved their worth throughout the spring split with 100% win rates on Lee Sin and Rumble, respectively. Even when the two players weren’t playing at their peak level, the presence of the sixth men, Blank and Profit, turned out to be the engine that would reignite the team in their darkest hours.
Ever consistent, SKT finished first in the regular season with a 16-2 record, winning 32 games out of 42. It’s also worth noting the individual stats, as SKT players earned the best KDA in all positions, truly making this spring split a season of SKT.
SKT’s performance only got stronger in the LCK finals as they more or less dominated their rival, KT Rolster, with a perfect 3-0 sweep and claimed the championship trophy for the sixth time.
Since SKT perfected their new teamwork to be on par with last year’s, it’s not far-fetched to predict a landslide win for SKT. However, studying the 10 games that they lost, as well as those in which they barely managed to win, reveals that the opposing teams repeatedly and precisely exploited minor weaknesses within SKT’s preferred playstyle.
Slow Starter? SKT’s early management with unexpected hassles
In this Spring Split, SKT utilized a rather passive playstyle that strikes back in the mid-late game after enduring the opponent team’s attacks.
The biggest reason why this strategy was successful is the bot duo of Junsik “Bang” Bae and Jaewan “Wolf” Lee, who both levelled up steadily under any circumstances and suppressed the opponents. Bang’s ADC play, which seems to almost ignore champion weaknesses and strengths, showed his immense capabilities numerous times, as he turned many mid-late games around despite losses in other lanes. Top and mid laners would take this opportunity and make a dramatic win quite often.
▲ Bang stuck with Ezreal while Ashe, Varus, and Jhin ran rampant.
However, there were a couple of instances where the 2nd tower was destroyed, or the flow went in favor of the opponents when other champions did not gear up as well as the ADC, or the team did not have a means of initiating.
Of course, SKT’s usual strategy is to turn the tides in a single teamfight and destroy the opponent towers despite some struggles in the beginning. Thus, SKT’s first loss against Afreeca Freecs and the second against Samsung Galaxy proves that an aggressive playstyle that starts early and carries on to the end of the game is an effective strategy against SKT.
Other teams were aware of this and tried to take advantage of it, but SKT players picked champions such as Rumble, Lee Sin, Cassiopeia, Oriana, or Ezreal, who are capable of making various plays during the match. This gave other teams a main objective of “banning champions with good late-game capability” and also “taking leads in the lane”.
This surely is a difficult task. The existence of Sanghyuk “Faker” Lee, who is known to have the biggest champion pool at the professional level, already forces the opponent team to take risks during the ban-pick phase. While they are aware that the game would be difficult if they allow Faker to choose a particular champion that he is good with, they also need to consider banning Lee Sin for Wangho “Peanut” Han and Rumble for Seunghun “Huni” Heo at the same time.
Despite this, teams that claimed a set against SKT managed to do so by using consecutive crowd control and taking a lead during the laning phase, effectively suppressing SKT’s super plays. It is possible that other teams in the group stage of MSI will be aiming to do the same.
The unexpectedness of a single round - Who will destroy the stronghold of SKT?
The MSI Group Stage consists of single rounds, with each team facing one another twice. This means that we might be able to see some unexpected results in the single rounds, as they have much more weight and risk than the usual multi-round matches.
In particular, the Flash Wolves of LMS showed their ability against LCK teams in the international matches, and their growing strength is starting to make some believe they might be able to come out on top against SKT. Gigabyte Marines, the team that put their name on the Group Stage, was also not expected to show their potential before the Play-In Stage, so it is still possible that things will be different this time.
What SKT showed in past LCK matches is surely not their full potential. They already proved that they can endure during the early-mid game with Mid Karma or Lulu, and the team still has a surprise pick that they have never shown, according to the interview with Peanut.
Will SKT absolutely destroy the other teams as they are known to do, or do we have an underdog that will turn the tide in its favor?
We will find the answer to that in the MSI Group Stage coming this week.
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