Oh, How The Mighty Have Fallen – Making Sense of SKT’s Horrible Form

Faker Crying
Photograph taken by: LoL esports

On Wednesday, February 7th, SKT started their week four of the 2018 LCK Spring Season, barely winning against bbq Olivers in a very disappointing style. Despite the win, the team is only 2-5 in the standings and, as insane as it sounds, that the team may not make playoffs if current trends continue. It’s safe to say that the current form of the team isn’t the greatest. But why is that? Well, there are multiple reasons.

Let’s cut right to the chase: SKT’s off-season wasn’t the best. In fact, the team has failed to deliver meaningful changes to the roster and it’s the key reason as to why the formation is struggling right now.

During Worlds 2017 we’ve seen so many members of the team perform poorly, despite SKT making it to the finals. The only player that was on point during the final match was Faker. This brings us to asking the question – why hasn’t SKT contracted substitute or just new players. Why keep the underwhelming botlane of Bang and Wolf, why not go for a consistent, solid toplaner? Why are Blank and Wolf of all people being swapped around the jungle with none of them being able to bring in decent results?

Those questions are the ones that should be asked. The answers are there somewhere – we don’t know all the details behind the scenes, but seems like SKT has found itself in a peculiar financial situation. According to Insight Faker is being paid around 2.8 million USD annually. That is only a rumour, but a popular one and sourced by officials, so even if it’s not exactly correct, the number must be very high anyway. Going further, Wolf and Bang signed two-year contracts in 2016. Those contracts must have been fairly well paid, as at the time both players were competing for the title of the best botlane in the world. Obviously, the numbers on the contracts are unknown, but it makes sense that a two-year contract signed at the peak of Bang’s and Wolf’s careers would have been quite expensive.

SKT signed two-year contracts with Bang and Wolf after a top-notch performance in 2016, limiting team’s budget.
Photo courtesy of lolesports

So how does it all add up in the grand scheme? It seems like SKT has been short on money – the only new players are Thal, Effort and Blossom. All of those three are placed high on the ladder and have little to no previous LCK experience. They are all rookies with good mechanics and contracting them couldn’t have been expensive. The problem with this strategy is that contracting a bunch of inexperienced rookies is not the best idea when the team’s macro, shotcalling and individual performances from the veterans aren’t on point. Thal has shown signs of promise, Effort can’t find a way to be impactful and Blossom has made a lot of mistakes, despite doing better than Wolf and Blank. Unfortunately for SKT, there is no one to guide those rookies with Untara and Wolf both performing very poorly.

What SKT should have focused on, was contracting players to build a solid roster, rather than putting all their hopes on Faker to keep carrying and other members to pick up the pace during the season. And if rookies were SKT’s answer to the problematic money situation, the organisation should’ve focused on giving them as much time and trying to grow them into their roles. Meanwhile, Blossom has only played one series, where he showed high-level mechanics but he struggled to keep his head in the game, as he needs a lot of polishing. On top of that, it seems like maybe SKT’s way to try to repair the budget is taking Faker to many more fan meetups around Taiwan and China than previously, which limits his time to practise and prepare for games.

Despite Faker’s thumb up gesture, things are not going as planned for SK Telecom T1.
Photograph courtesy of lolesports

The problems stated above translate directly into the in-game issues of SK Telecom T1. There is no way to not mention the jungle situation – Constant swaps between Wolf and Blank have meant that the jungle synergy within the team is not strong. None of them was able to control the vision well, and the ganks were unimpressive – the opponents usually can track SKT’s junglers easily, making them fairly meaningless. Blossom has stirred things up a little bit as his performance was much better impact-wise, but he’s a very immature jungler and needs a lot of time to develop properly.

The support position is a total mess. Subbing Wolf into the jungle meant that Effort had to step up to the main roster, but he’s struggling with the same problems that made Wolf vulnerable many times during his career. Getting caught a lot, face-checking brushes and trying to provide vision without pressure from the lanes or help from his teammates are just some of Effort’s faults. The laning phase isn’t pretty either, making SKT’s botlane one of the weakest in the league, but that is also due to Bang’s level of performance. The AD Carry has an effective champion pool of Ezreal and Sivir, making him one of the easiest opponents to play against. He looked abysmal on other champions, which once again brings the question of substitution.

The only member of SKT to perform up to certain standards is Faker. But even in his case, there is a noticeable lack of form – some of the lane matchups which he’d previously do well in, haven’t gone his way.

The situation of the team is dire and it seems like SK Telecom’s problems are much more multilayered than just the in-game issues. The organisation needs to make a decisive call with how it wants to tackle the problem, cause so far it hasn’t achieved success in its approach.

Tomasz Milaniuk
Tomasz Milaniuk is a Polish writer who has been spending his last years writing about the Korean and European esports scene. His ability to analyze games and the abilities of individual players have made him a valuable resource within the League of Legends and CSGO communities respectively.