Last Saturday, the second LCK seasonal split of 2018 concluded at the Incheon Samsan World Gymnasium. And for the second time this year the final was devoid of the team with an oh-so-iconic red and yellow logo: SK Telecom T1
Not only did SKT miss yet another domestic final, but they didn’t even make playoffs, a first for the organization since it first entered League of Legends in 2013. For an organization which has won three World Championships and six domestic titles, SKT’s 2018 season thus far has been nothing short of a failure.
But thankfully for the former World Champions, their 2018 is not quite over. Thanks to the 30 championship points they earned in spring, SKT have qualified for Korea’s World Championship regional qualifier as the tournament’s lowest seed.
On paper, SKT are the worst team in this year’s regional qualifier, with many pundits already counting out the team before any games have been played—and for good reason. Also in the regional qualifier are three teams who were all considered the best team in Korea at different points of 2018.
To prove their naysayers wrong and make their fifth World Championship, SKT will need to conquer all three stages of the regional qualifier, each of which houses a different looming boss.
Stage one – Gen G
The first challenge in this quasi-boss rush, Gen G are perhaps the team SKT would most like to take revenge against. Last year Gen G (then known as Samsung Galaxy), handed SKT their first World Championship defeat, and in crushing fashion. SKT weren’t even able to take a single game against Gen G in the 2017 World Championship finals.
A year later, SKT have a chance to exact their revenge against the current world champions by denying them the ability to even defend their crown.
Although there was a disparity in these two teams’ Summer Split regular season placings, with Gen G finishing in third and SKT seventh, the matchup between the two teams is actually much closer. Throughout 2018 SKT and Gen G have been trading wins back and forth. In fact the 30 championships SKT currently has came from their 2-1 victory over Gen G, then known as KSV Esports, in the first round of the Spring Split playoffs.
The last time these two teams met on Summoner’s Rift in week six of the now concluded Summer Split regular season, it was SKT who got the best of Gen G in a 2-0 sweep.
If there’s any team SKT has a shot at defeating in this year’s regional qualifier, it’s Gen G.
Stage two – Griffin
Unlike Gen G, SKT were unable to take a single map against Griffin in summer, let alone an entire match. Undoubtedly the strongest team in the regional qualifier on paper, Griffin were only one win from taking the Summer Split title away from KT Rolster in the finals last weekend, and in the roster’s rookie season no less.
Sadly for SKT, Griffin have no major weaknesses which could be exploited. Griffin’s entire lineup is composed with strong laners, which when brought together in the mid to late game, have excellent team fighting prowess. Griffin’s only shortcoming comes in their late game, as aspect of the game SKT also has problems dealing with at times.
To overcome such a freighting opponent like Griffin requires an overperformance from SKT in comparison to what they’ve shown this year. Luckily, SKT has a player who is not only capable of overperforming, but has done so countless times in the past— mid laner Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok.
Although he’s seen much more time on the bench this season, SKT’s mid lane superstar has historically been able clutch wins for SKT in matches which looked all but lost. The best examples of this were at the last year’s World Championship, where Faker’s play on champions like Galio and Taliyah brought single handedly pulled SKT from the brink of defeat against both Europe’s Misfits Gaming and China’s Royal Never Give Up.
To be able to take down Griffin and bring SKT to their their fourth consecutive World Championship, Faker will need to once again pull off those same carry performances, reminding fans why he’s considered the best player to ever touch League of Legends.
Stage three – KINGZONE DragonX
If SKT manage to beat both Gen G and Griffin, they will have one test left: The same team that ended their streak of global dominance last year, KINGZONE DragonX.
KINGZONE, then known as Longzhu Gaming, looked almost unbeatable in their 3-1 stomp against SK Telecom T1 in the 2017 Summer Split finals. Not only did KINGZONE’s side lanes completely outclass SKT’s, their fast-paced playstyle did, too.
Nowadays though KINGZONE doesn’t look nearly as infallible as they did a year ago. While KINGZONE’s players are still strong performers in the LCK, they have seen much more competition this year from their peers like Griffin and KT, both teams who have been able to punish KINGZONE’s early macro fumbles.
The chance that SKT even reaches the regional qualifier finals, let alone win the entire tournament, seem near impossible, especially given that SKT haven’t won a single game against Griffin and KINGZONE this year. But there’s no team more apt to make the impossible to make the impossible a reality then the most successful organization in League of Legends history, SKT.