SKT.Phoenix-No, SKT isn't dead
One of the most obnoxious trends within nearly all pre-IEM analysis pieces has been the lack of analysis discussing the strengths and weaknesses of SKT. While the loss to the Freecs and the victory over KT allow for an interesting contrast between the different faces of SKT we’ve seen this year, almost nobody has done so. Instead, statements about how both of those series happening, and then a wistful sentence describing how the author isn’t willing to call SKT dead is all that it takes to do ‘analysis’ on a top 15 team in the world. Instead of parroting the statements of those scared to offend Korean ‘analysts’, this article will examine the three key pillars of SKT’s 2016 identity.
Above:Leaked photo of SKT fans inside the Katowice stadium
Kim “Batman” Jung-guin
Unofficially, Batman’s superpower is that given an infinite amount of time to prepare, he will always win. While it would be a bit of an over exaggeration to say the same for Kkoma, when it comes to international tournaments, it's pretty close. Historically, SKT and other Korean teams have done well at preparing strategies to exploit weaknesses that have either been ignored or improperly addressed by local teams. A great example of this is the KT series. KT had, and still has a problem with really poor drafts being covered up by Score solo carrying games. SKT comes in with two different drafts that both prevent Score from carrying and give themselves winning lanes.
Does this sound familiar SK fans? One of the storylines that history has forgotten, is that SK was expected to not only do well at last year’s Katowice, but also in the spring split. Instead, the then GE Tigers laid out the champ select roadmap to SK’s defeat, which would be replicated by every team they lose to until Forgiven leaves the roster.
The parallels between Spring 2015 SK and Spring 2016 CLG are too large to ignore. Both teams come into the tournament primarily playing one style, which while effective, is the only style they’re proven themselves able to play. It is entirely within the realm of possibility that SKT is able to exploit this, especially considering the fact that purely in terms of individual talent they’ve outclassed CLG at every position. Do not expect the CLG v SKT draft to look like whats been seen in either NA or KR, but instead be tailored to destroy the very spirit of the CLG roster.
The Bengi Dilemma
Possibly the most memetic statement to come up whenever SKT is doing poorly is that Bengi can’t play carries. Most people when they say that they mean Bengi can’t play carries, however historically the truth seems to be that Bengi can’t play carries. Look through the match history of SKT here, specifically at the games he played carries this season. Bengi has been fucked over consistently, but because he's on a carry the circumstances regarding the losses have been ignored.
During the Jin AIr series, he only has 6 seconds to decide whether or not a missing laner means he should peel off of a half HP gromp before death. In the LZ series, Udyr doesn’t have any viable gank paths onto any of the lanes, so he falls behind and then is unable to splitpush effectively.
At a certain point, the draft of SKT has to come into question. Is there a possibility that SKT’s coaching staff doesn’t know how to enable shift resources off of Bang and Faker towards Bengi? Is Bengi being given the same internal tools to succeed that Score and Peanut are? At IEM these should be getting answered to with the usage of Blank. As Blank is a known aggressive jungler, it will become more obvious where the faults lie, and if Bengi is truly to blame for his low professional winrate on carries.
The 4+1 Combo
The biggest flaw haunting SKT this season has been that Duke seems to not fit into the formula from last year. Despite being assured by SKT after Marin’s departure that Marin was not a significant part of the team’s shotcalling, based on the macro failures this year, the statement reads more like a PR statement than an actual issuance of facts. Pay attention to practically any game past the 15 minute mark. Duke is often left confused, hesitating on rotations, and not properly set up for TPs. While it would be easy to blame this on Duke himself, macro game actions like those listed above are 99% of the time a function of teamwork, not individual skill.
If a team at this tournament was able to both survive the early game and have a macro game on par with some of the top teams in Korea, they would be able to cleanly exploit the one consistent flaw in SKT’s play. To do so would require faith in one’s own ability to outperform SKT, and draft a risky and aggressive composition in the style of the ROX Tigers. Even if a team could theoretically outperform SKT, they would need to draft in a manner to allow themselves the opportunities to actually execute strategies consistent with their skill. Otherwise, SKT will win with superior micro, even if the match gets sloppy and full of unwarranted teamfights.
It would be unreasonable to expect SKT to underperform this weekend. Not only have they been handed a relatively easy group, but there is no prior indication that any of the 7 other teams in Poland have both multiple strategies, but the ability to execute these strategies even if they brought them.