Red, Yellow, and Whitewashing-The Problems with SKT Analysis
Author's Note: This article wasn't particularly enjoyable to write, as I sit here in my SKT branded chair, looking up to a framed signature of Faker and Marin. I do, however, find the lack of criticisms towards SKT to be incredibly suspicious, and I do wonder whats causing people who get paid to analyze teams to avoid criticizing SKT unless you can show 10 more examples of bad play compared to any other team.
One of, if not THE weirdest phenomenon to occur over the past year to year and a half has been the rise of what I like to call the Lolesports Counterculture. As Lolesports power rankings became more popular, the, there was a push by ‘Twitter Analysts’ to correct the perceived mistakes. Luckily, SKT existed as the beacon of hope. Six weeks into the season, they begun to look unstoppable. If you bet on SKT, odds are you were going to win. This success, combined with the overwhelming desire to prove oneself as being smarter than the writers at Lolesports lead to the idolization of the entirety of the SK TELECOM organization. Due to SKT being idoled, there has been a whitewashing of both the history and future prospects in order to hold up Kkoma, L.I.E.S, and the players as gods.
A long time ago...
In order to properly talk about the whitewashing of SKT’s history, we need to go go back to season 3. While yes, the story of Faker coming into the scene and dumpstering everybody is true, the story of K around him has been cleansed of any wrongdoing. Just the fact that K had to go to game 5 to get into Worlds, and then Game 5 in the semis should be proof alone that K was not, at that point in time, in their godmode. However, after their perfect run in 2013 Champions Winter, people retroactively argued that K was just as strong over the past 6 months.
When we look back through the pre-Casper era of K, it's also important to notice that the micro skill of Impact, Faker, and the Hundred Acre Lane were propped up with Bengi acting as the second support of the team. Mandu was able to, if you believe the interviews around this era, control Piglet, because Bengi was able to supplement Mandu’s global play. As the team evolves over the years, much like poetry, the stanzas rhyme.
The Casper Incident
The Casper Incident refers to Mandu’s retirement due to health issues, and then after 6 games his return to the starting lineup of K. This period of time is one of the most misrepresented histories of any team, not just SKT. If you just listen to the analysis of this time, you wouldn’t think that Casper went 5-1 during his tenure with the team. If you’re curious, the 5 wins were vs Jin Air Stealths, CJ Frosts, Najin White Shield, and both Prime Optimus rosters. The one loss was vs the sister team of SKT S. While it is entirely fair to say that these wins were shaky, and the team was playing objectively worse than when they had Mandu, it's disingenuous to say that Casper caused a decline in the team.
An argument can be made, that Mandu was the glue that held K together. Even though Mandu(to be further called Zombie Mandu) was playing through an injury, K noticeably improved, going 23-11 vs teams that were not part of the Samsung organization. Make no mistake, going a combined 2-12 vs the two top teams in the region does not make you good, however Zombie Mandu clearly brought shotcalling that had been lacking during the six games without him. Zombie Mandu’s biggest flaw during this time, was that he still was not at the same form as before his injury. While it’s hard to say if SKT K would have remained as the number one team if they never lost Mandu, at no point, even during the groups of 2014 Summer, was K ever a bad team.
The Modern Era
The next chapter is SKT history is a period of time that hopefully everyone remembers clearly. The beginning of the 2015 season, when S and K combine into the Marin-Bengi-T0M-Faker-Easyhoon-Bang-Wolf-Picaboo squad. The biggest misconception about the beginning of the season, is that the GE Tigers were so far above the rest of the competition that it was a miracle that SKT was able to overcome them and take first at the end of the split. SKT were inarguable at the halfway point the second best team in the region. This lead up to the hype of the second round robin, when the Tigers and SKT met up for the second time. Sadly this matchup has faded away into becoming a distant memory; with opinions either rating SKT as much lower at this point than the team actually was, or much higher than anyone, including the people currently overrating SKT were predicting.
MSI is the one blemish on 2015 SKT that can be written off. Due to the format of LCK Spring, SKT arrived to the tournament jetlagged and with very little time to prepare. As further proof we can disregard the results, KeSPA sent SKT to Hawaii for vacation as an apology for how poorly optimized the LCK schedule was. Other than the one set loss to Jin Air, SKT powered through the summer, and fairly early on into the split they were projected to both win the regular season and the playoff gauntlet. This momentum carries on through Worlds 2015, with SKT dominating every team they come against, and then winning the SKT v KOO playoffs 3-1.
The offseason between 2015 and 2016 will go down as the most heavily debated period of history for SKT. The big loss the team suffered was the loss of Marin, who despite claims after his departure to the contrary, was a major part of the SKT macro gameplay. Without Marin, and even with a competent player as a replacement, the team has rapidly descended. Sound familiar?
See also:Was the loss of Marin predictable?
Lolesports' Last Laugh
Its at this point, after the first LCK Spring round robin, the whitewashing issue come into play. For several weeks, SKT is not playing as a unit, and not making the macro plays that the SKT of 2015 was making at this point in the season. Go through any of the vods from this season, and you’ll see a team of players with some of the best individual micro skill in the game, but be unable to function as a top tier team. In particular, pay attention to Duke. Duke, for reasons we can’t know, tends to hesitate a lot when it comes to making plays on the map. It's impossible to know at this point who is to blame for this, but practically nobody is currently willing to discuss the idea that Marin made up a significant part of the SKT lineup, and that replacing him with a mechanically skilled player would not be enough.
Somehow, as well, Kkoma and L.I.E.S have managed to completely escape criticism. Despite being heralded less than 6 months ago as the “Greatest Coaches” currently in esports, when SKT is sitting in the bottom half of LCK teams, somehow they carry none of the blame. And this isn’t a phenomenon unique to this year. Even back in Season 4, Kkoma somehow managed to escape criticism for not finding a suitable replacement for Mandu over the entire year. Compounded with the fact that Kkoma has gone through at least two jungle replacements for Bengi and failed with both, it calls into question how much either he or L.I.E.S do in terms of talent growth. While the risk of overcompensating for the lack of criticisms vs the pair could lead to unfair critique, the threat of losing Bengi is going to begin to cause fans to sweat, lest the team run into the 3rd manifestation of the Casper Incident.
At a certain point, both fans and analysts alike are going to have to realize that SKT hasn’t had a miracle happen since the formation of SKT S. All of the organization's success has been on the back of the original S and original K rosters. When the top analysts in a region are allowed to be fanboys for a team, everyone loses.