This time last year, SK Telecom T1 was on the outside looking in. Three other Korean teams were marching through the World Championship, while SKT, who finished 7th in the LCK, was forced to stand on the sidelines. With the greatest player of all time in their back pocket, Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok, SKT knew that their window of opportunity to secure another Worlds title was wide open, and instead of initiating a full rebuild, the team opted for a quick recharge.
The team invested in top level talent at all positions, building around their legendary mid laner with additions in Kim “Khan” Dong-ha, Park “Teddy” Jin-seong, and Kim “Clid” Tae-min. And by slotting Lee “Effort” Sang-ho into the support position during the team’s Summer run to another LCK title, the organization showed that a revamped roster complete with a healthy mix of experienced veterans and budding young talent would prove to be a major part of the formula that would let the team excel down the stretch.
Now, the fruits of last year’s SKT roster uptick are on full display. The favorites to win the 2019 World Championship are certainly playing up to the hype. SKT is back on the Worlds stage – and they’re a force to be reckoned with.
And so far, with the first two weeks of Worlds in the rearview mirror, SK Telecom is looking just as poised as any team left in the field, if not more so, to walk out of Europe with a title to show for their efforts. The team bulldozed through Group C, dropping only one game at the hands of Fnatic, while vehemently sweeping the remainder of their slate. In fact, their average win time hovers around 34 minutes, making them one of the most efficient teams at the tournament.
Needless to say, that roster of superstars is paying dividends for SKT, as the entire team up and down is pulling its weight and topping the charts not only in their own group, but throughout the entirety of the tournament. While Khan is ranking in the top 5 among all qualified top laners in KDA, KPG, GPM, and DPM, Teddy is sitting with the top bot laners at the tournament when it comes to KDA and GPM. And while all of that is going on, Faker is proving why he’s still the best mid laner in the world as he leads his counterparts at the position in KPG, CSM, and GPM.
As we move onto the Bracket Stage of the tournament, it would be reasonable to expect those trends to remain intact. With a first round matchup against Splyce, a team that SKT outclasses heavily on paper, it would be fair to assume that the Korean powerhouse should carry their momentum from the Group Stage straight into bracket.
After that, things a little hairy as both potential semifinal matchups with Damwon Gaming and G2 Esports could pose threats to SK Telecom.
Still, SKT should pray that Damwon walks out of the quarterfinals with the win, as a record of 8-9 against their Korean league-mates is much more favorable than a 2-5 record against the European champions. Experience is key in a best-of-5, and a matchup against a team that SKT swept 3-0 not even two months ago would most definitely serve as an advantage.
While there are certainly teams throughout the field who could make life difficult for the Korean champions, namely G2, DWG, Griffin, and Invictus Gaming – who all either lead or have tied the season series with SKT – it would still be unwise to completely write them off in a best-of-5 format. This season, SKT has won 5 of the 6 best-of-5’s that they’ve played in, with 4 of those wins coming in 3-0 sweep fashion.
The only loss? A 3-2 semifinal defeat at the hands of G2 back at the Mid-Season Invitational.
Regardless of what lies ahead, the goal for SK Telecom remains clear: from here on out, it’s ‘title or bust’. It always has been. A team that completely rebuilt itself into a League of Legends powerhouse overnight is no longer playing with house money. The expectations are on the table and the competition is more intense than ever. All SKT has to do now: prove all the suspicions. Prove that they are the best team in the world.