Ever since he made his debut nearly six years ago, mid laner Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok has been the face of SK Telecom T1. But after years of carrying his teammates, the wheels fell off during an incredibly tough 2018. The team committed to rebuilding around Faker in the offseason, which had fans itching to see how the pieces would fit together. The 2019 season hasn’t officially started yet but we’ve had a first glimpse at the new roster in the KeSPA Cup.
The early results are encouraging. SKT finally look like they have the talent and young blood they need to keep up with the other top Korean squads. Of course, this is only the KeSPA Cup—those top teams aren’t really trying as much as experimenting. But SKT fans have to be excited that all five players have done their part in helping the team go undefeated in two match victories.
SKT has done well to make new players fit together so fast. But there’s still one player that’s standing out, and that’s a good thing. New marksman Park “Teddy” Jin-seong has absolutely smashed the competition through every phase of the game. SKT might forever be known as Faker’s team, but if the KeSPA Cup is any guide, bot lane might be the carry going forward.
Before launching into an analysis of how the team looks, it’s important to acknowledge that the KeSPA Cup should be taken with a large helping of salt. Nobody wants to reveal their full strategic hand in a second-tier tournament. But this competition does have special significance for SKT because of the roster overhaul, their biggest ever. Unlike other squads like KT or Gen.G, we simply don’t know what the baseline is for this team.
Of all the team’s signings, the one that many were most enthused about was that of Teddy. And that’s no knock on old bot laner Bae “Bang” Jun-sik, who’s a legend in his own right. It’s just that Teddy has played as the primary carry for so many bad teams, fans were itching to see how he’d look with more help.
So far, he looks pretty damn good. In fact, that’s not going far enough. Teddy has been the team’s MVP pretty much all of the four games they’ve played in the KeSPA Cup so far. In some games, he’s smashing lane and demanding attention. In others, he’s cleaning up teamfights after his teammates have almost thrown things away.
His bot lane with support Cho “Mata” Se-hyeong has been much more aggressive than we’ve seen from SKT in a long time. That’s a credit to Mata too—the man’s a playmaker who is comfortable in nearly every situation. SKT has always relied on the bot lane in late game fights, but Teddy and Mata’s lane pressure is a welcome new development. And Teddy thinks they can still get a lot better.
Holding the solo lanes
That lane pressure has allowed SKT to play the solo lanes differently. One of Faker’s strengths through the years is his ability to play almost anything, from the assassins of his early years, more supportive mids during his run to the second championship, and control mages later on.
Throughout the first four games, SKT has been careful to hide much of its solo lane strategy. That’s worked because of how hard Teddy is popping off. Still, even with Faker and top laner Kim “Khan” Dong-ha relegated to Lissandra and Urgot, respectively, there are things we can learn from their playstyles, even if the players are bored of those champions by now.
They’re playing those matchups correctly. Khan is finding windows to push on Urgot and is working well with the other sides of the map. One issue that SKT tops have faced over the last couple seasons is getting caught overextended with no help and no vision. So far, if anyone’s been caught, it’s been Faker, who has gotten camped a couple times. The competition in the KeSPA Cup is nowhere near top-tier, but so far, that hasn’t really happened.
Even against the best in the LCK, holding the solo lanes is a perfectly viable strategy with a beast like Teddy in the bot lane. We know Khan and Faker can both pop off and carry. The fact that SKT hasn’t needed them to is a bonus.
The mystery in the jungle
More interesting than the solo lanes is what’s happening in the jungle. SKT signed two young, talented players in Kim “Clid” Tae-min and Kang “Haru” Min-seung over the offseason. But in four games so far, Clid has been the only one to hit the Rift.
If there’s one criticism of Clid during his time on JD Gaming, its that sometimes he can be too aggressive. JD Gaming had a penchant for picking—and winning—teamfights with subpar vision. That playstyle just doesn’t fly on SKT.
For his first three games, Clid didn’t show many of those issues. But in the fourth against BBQ Olivers, SKT’s lack of vision got the solo lanes killed time and again. Clid actually had an early pressure advantage in that game, but didn’t seem to respect when things flipped against him. He, Faker, and Khan went all-in on a mid lane dive that went horribly wrong to give control over to BBQ.
SKT has developed a reputation for forcing junglers to learn the vision-centric style of former starter and coach Bae “Bengi” Seung-woong. That’s been successful for them for years. Whether they can teach Clid and Haru to do that while still promoting their individual strengths and styles will be the real test for the team in 2019. They’ll look to continue building on that in the KeSPA Cup playoffs. Their next game is on Thursday, Dec. 27 at 5am CT.