Sep 30 2015 - 8:31 am
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The Real FORG1VEN, Part 2: The Rise and Fall of SK Gaming

The Real FORG1VEN is a re-examination of the controversial AD Carry's career. Part 2 covers the extremely quick rise and fall of SK Gaming.
Dot Esports
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Part 1, covering Forg1ven’s time on the Copenhagen Wolves, can be read here.

Introduction

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The fall of 2014 was a difficult time for European League of Legends. Through a combination of ill fortune and inconsistent play, none of the region’s three teams made it to the Round of 8 at the Season 4 World Championships. Europeans prayed that Season 5 would bring a brighter tomorrow for a proud region that had historically sent teams on deep World Championship runs. Several of Europe’s top teams made moves to try and fix the issues that had plagued them at Worlds. Elements tried to double-down on a passive playstyle by exchanging playmaker Tabzz for backline threat Rekkles. Fnatic tore down their aging roster for a rebuild under the guidance of star support and shotcalling YellowStaR. But the most intriguing move was SK gaming’s acquisition of former Copenhagen Wolves AD Carry Forg1ven.

In his rookie split, Forg1ven led an underdog Copenhagen Wolves team to near upsets over European legends Alliance and Gambit, and personally finished with Europe’s All-League second Team AD Carry award behind Rekkles. To most, this would have been a fantastic rookie season. To Forg1ven, anything outside of the top three the team agreed to chase was a disappointment. As a result, he left the team, preferring exile in Greece to wasting away on a middle-tier EU LCS team. In spite of his obvious skill, Forg1ven was nearly unsigned before Season 5. After TL turned him away for ex-SKT star Piglet, the Greek AD prepared for the worst and reached out to Brazilian and Turkish teams. In his second Reflections with Thorin, Forg1ven stated that SK, particularly Svenskeren, had reached out to him just a day before he would have committed to play in Brazil. Instead, Forg1ven returned to his native Europe, which welcomed him with open arms. Rivals spoke up about Forg1ven’s brilliance, with esteemed AD Carry Tabzz praising Forg1ven particularly highly.

Forg1ven has been my most feared and respected opponent since the spring split of S4. It was amazing what he could pull off mechanically in lane and in team fights and I admired it. He'd always find a way to figure out a team fight before it started and then execute it well, putting out more damage than any other ADC. So much that if you played against CW, a lower ranked team in the spring split, you would fear for a loss if you didn't deal with Forg1ven correctly and let him play his game the way he wanted to. He inspired and motivated me to become a better player between Spring and Summer of S4. In the offseason I grinded many soloqueue games with the goal to get my mechanics and teamfight play to his level and it made me into the player I was during Summer Split. I respect his opinion about me and Rekkles and I'm happy and motivated he considers me a worthy opponent. Like he says, your enemies are your greatest motivation :)

Forg1ven was cast away as toxic in Season 4, but fans had grown to miss his skills during his absence, and they were most excited by how he would fit into SK Gaming. Throughout Season 4, SK had built up a reputation as Europe’s brainiacs. In spite of a low-carry potential mid/AD carry pairing in Jesiz and CandyPanda, the team’s intelligent use of lane shoves and ability to execute late-game strategies secured them a bid at the Season 5 World Championships, where Svenskeren’s racist behavior in soloqueue derailed a promising campaign. From Forg1ven’s first press conference, where he brashly stated that he had nothing to prove, fans began dreaming of a true EU superteam that could blend intelligent shotcalling with awesome mechanical firepower. And for a while, the dream came true.

Once again utilizing the tower-focused play style he pioneered on Copenhagen Wolves, Forg1ven’s surgical rotations, dominant laning phase, and well-timed teamfight entrances propelled SK to the top of the leaderboard. When asked by sjokz if he was the best bot laner in Europe, Forg1ven casually answered “by far”. The fans who were once scandalized by his bluntness turned his honesty into a beloved community inside joke. Tearing apart the EU LCS, SK would nearly break Fnatic’s then record 9-game win streak, running up 8 games in a row. Unfortunately, it was not to last. Although they finished the regular season with a stellar 15-3 record, SK fell out of the group stage at the IEM World Championships held in the middle of the season and went on to fall into fourth place during the play-offs. Within a few short fans, Forg1ven’s former fans turned on their idol. Forg1ven was dismissed as a selfish teammate, a “three-trick pony,” and too stubborn to improve. When rival Rekkles echoed one of these sentiments in his AMA, the criticism only intensified. To these fans, SK was unable to fulfill their promise, and their most vocal member was clearly to blame.

Part 2 of “The Real FORG1VEN” will re-examine the outspoken gunslinger’s time on SK Gaming, and his role in the rise and fall of a team once pegged as Europe’s next great lineup.

Rise

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As soon as Forg1ven joined SK, there were expectations. SK had finished last season in 3rd place, and the addition of mechanical stars Forg1ven and Fox were expected to propel the team to the next level. In an article written shortly after the Forg1ven acquisition, Kelsey Moser specifically pointed to teamfighting and tower shoves as area where SK’s acquisitions could take the team to the next level. SK would prove Kelsey right - they wouldn’t drop a single game in four weeks, defeating every team in the league but for Fnatic. With Fox and Forg1ven on board, SK modified their Season 4 strengths to focus on these players. Much like before, SK focused on shoving in lanes to enable Svenskeren’s jungle invades. Where SK changed was that meta shifts no longer promoted Jesiz’s wave-clear champions. Instead, SK would pick assassins or hyper-carries for Fox that Svenskeren would snowball further. At the same time, Forg1ven and nRated adopted the Wolves’s old bot lane strategy of picking lane dominant supports and allowing Forg1ven to strategically shove down towers. Although hypercarries such as Twitch or Tristana had risen to prominence after the AD item reworks, nerfs had pushed these champions down in favor of lane dominant picks such as Graves or utility champions like Sivir. As a result, Forg1ven once again found himself playing in a meta that did not suit AD hypercarries. By focusing on towers and minions rather than champions, the underrated strategist earned an unrivaled amount of map control. On the Wolves, Forg1ven tried to effect the game only through playing. On SK, Forg1ven began communicating more with his teammates, and the true power of his objective-oriented playstyle was unleashed. When asked about SK, Forg1ven explained that his role included some shotcalling responsibilities.

SK is the same story but now i start to lead the team again in game and calling tower sieging, dragon control, lane control, side wave pushes, everything that does not revolve around baron

To make matters worse for their opponents, the lane dominance of Forg1ven and fredy122 constantly baited teams into lane swaps. In the very first game of the season, ROCCAT opted to lane swap rather than feed their side lanes to the wolves. Unfortunately lane swapping against SK was equally dangerous. The team’s strong understanding of minions meant that they would almost never give up waves. Furthermore, fredy’s skill in the 1v2 meant that he could almost always hold his tower up as Forg1ven punished his opponents on the other side of the map. As the season went on, SK began innovating creative level 1 starts to give fredy critical early-game leads. Sven would often outright grant fredy the first jungle camp to give him critical experience leads in the 1v2. On picks like Lissandra, Gnar, and Azir, starting at level 2 gave a critical amount of safety. SK’s bot lane also adjusted well to the lane swap meta. Although Graves was considered the best AD champion at the time, and countered Lucian in lane, Forg1ven constantly prioritized Lucian because his double hit passive helped him take towers faster in the 2v1, a strategy which worked perfectly against Elements. In addition, Svenskeren could always exploit the side where SK had a numbers advantage to further their invade play.

With their lane shoves, their strong understanding of lane swaps, and a marksman hungry for towers, SK was unlike any other in the world. At a time when many of Europe’s teams were still figuring themselves out, playing a single strategy at an extremely high level was more than enough to put SK in front of every other team. During SK’s first four weeks in the league, fans constantly praised all of SK’s members, but the player who received the most praise by far was the team’s dominant marksman. Fans were amazed by Forg1ven’s perfect cs counts and ability to execute teamfights without much peel, if any, from his teammates.

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Even during this period of dominance however, it’s important to note that in spite of the team’s obvious strengths, they had clear weaknesses. MonteCristo berated the team for their lack of warding. Generally, Forg1ven’s bot lane pressure and Sven’s ability to track down his opponents meant that SK generally knew where the enemy jungler was. However, the team’s lane shove strategy and love of lane swaps left them extremely vulnerable to support roams, and if Sven was unable to hunt down his counterpart, SK was also vulnerable to jungler ganks. This same characteristic made them particularly weak against Rek’Sai and her global ultimate. In addition, SK essentially played the same comp every single game, picking high-damage engage top laners, assassin mids, powerful early game junglers, and Graves/Lucian in the bot lane. nRated’s support pool was a particular problem. He played the off-meta Lulu whenever possible, and his performance on back-up picks such as Annie or Blitzcrank left much to be desired.  Another notable area the team suffered was teamfighting. Season 4 SK was an extremely synergistic teamfight unit, rallying around team captain CandyPanda and his hypercarry AD picks. Because ADs and supportive mid laners were both nerfed out of the meta, Forg1ven was usually left to fend for himself as his teammates dove into the fray. Unfortunately, SK struggled without a player to play around. Although they were once known for their daring comebacks, the new SK simply did not have a comeback mechanism. The team rarely played high wave-clear champions outside of the AD position, and in late game teamfights, the team struggled to peel for Forg1ven, in large part due to their non-supportive champion pools. As the game went on, more and more pressure landed on Forg1ven to simply hard carry teamfights by himself, especially as their opponents caught up and it was no longer possible to 1-3-1.

Much like Azubu Blaze before them, SK’s elite execution of the lane shove made them a one-trick warhorse. When they played their game, SK was one of the best teams in the world. Unfortunately, their single-minded strategy left them vulnerable to target bans and meta-shifts. Both would rock the team in the coming months, sending them plummeting from their perch at the top of Europe.  

IEM

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The IEM World Championship is historically considered the beginning of the end for SK Gaming. The conventional narrative is that SK, and Forg1ven in particular, were exposed at IEM as overly reliant on Graves and Lucian. After teams figured out how to beat them, SK were unable to adjust, and fell by the wayside as more versatile teams, like Fnatic and H2k, rose past them. This narrative has truth, but the importance of the IEM World Championships in SK’s downfall has frequently been overstated. While the “GE Tiger bans” of Graves, Lucian, and Lulu would haunt SK for the rest of their time together, issues before and after the IEM World Championship had an equally important, if not more important, effect on the team’s downfall. It’s undeniable that the time around the IEM WC was a critical time for SK, but too much focus is often given to the tournament itself, without enough inspection of the time around it.

Teams qualified for IEM by having the best record in their respective regions, so it’s often forgotten that SK entered the tournament on a poor run of form.In fact, the team only had a middling 3-3 record in the 3 weeks preceding the tournament. A Week 5 loss to Fnatic, ending an eight game win streak, was followed by losses to H2k and Unicorns of Love. In the last two games, H2k and UoL banned Graves, a foreshadowing of the pick/ban strategy the GE Tigers and yoe Flash Wolves would use to get out of groups over SK at IEM. In addition, recent buffs to tanky top laners meant that fredy’s prefered AP top lane carry champions were no longer as powerful. Finally, in two of the team’s losses (Fnatic and UoL), nRated picked engage champions instead of Lulu. His hesitance to engage and his poor play in the laning phase on those champions led to serious problems, especially against roaming supports YellowStaR, KaSing, and VandeR. In all three of those games, SK’s poor warding was punished by roaming supports. It was clear from the start what SK’s issues were, and in their opponents were able to expose their issues in these three games. However, the rest of Europe wouldn’t pick up on these weaknesses until after IEM, and SK were able to enter the IEM WC on a 3-game winning streak after defeating Elements, Fnatic, and ROCCAT.

At the IEM World Championship itself, SK first faced off against the yoe Flash Wolves, who would first ban Forg1ven’s Graves but leave him his Lucian. The Flash Wolves were a quite powerful team heading into the tournament, and would later take future tournament winners TSM to a full 3-game series. In particular, their star trio of maple, Karsa, and SwordArt were some of the best players in the tournament. Their match against SK Gaming was quite close, as yoe  displayed how to abuse SK’s lack of vision control, repeatedly scoring picks with Karsa’s Rengar. SK’s lane dominance and tower shove style, however, consistently keep them ahead of Taiwan’s IEM representative. Of particular note was Forg1ven and fredy’s dominance over yoe’s inferior counterparts. Forg1ven quickly built up a 50+ cs advantage over NL, and repeated botched Teleport plays from Steak cemented a win for SK Gaming.

After defeating yoe, SK moved into the winner’s bracket and faced-off against Korea’s GE Tigers. Fans, now, will remember GE’s botched series against WE, but at the time, nobody expected SK to beat the Tigers, who many regarded as the best team in the world. The Tigers were particularly known for their preparation heading into games, a trait which allowed them to go through Korea’s Best of 3 regular season undefeated up to that point.

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In that fateful champion select, GE banned Forg1ven’s Graves and Lucian and also banned away nRated’s Lulu. Although most teams picked Lulu for Juggermaw compositions, SK used Lulu to bully lanes and compensate for nRated’s mediocre mechanics. In many ways, the Lulu ban was even more important than taking away Graves and Lucian. Taking away these comfort picks forced SK into a Caitlyn-Annie bot lane. Because GE banned three comfort picks away from SK’s bot lane, the remaining team should have been able to pick up OP champions or powerful pocket picks. Instead, SK’s draft was a disaster. Although Svenskeren was able to pick-up his highly contested Nidalee off of those bans, he left up Rek’Sai, who was considered the strongest champion of the entire tournament. Svenskeren could play Rek’Sai, but he preferred Lee and Nidalee, who were stronger duelists. This fit well into SK’s playstyle, but the team’s refusal to deal with Rek’Sai hurt them in their two remaining games of the tournament, especially because Rek’Sai’s global ult made it easy to punish SK’s lane shove playstyle. By first picking Nidalee, who GE did not even play, SK was simply power picks rather than punishing their opponents. To make matters worse, fredy and Fox picked the off-meta Gnar and Diana instead of grabbing OP picks. The ners to Gnar’s rage bar were particularly painful for fredy, especially after his AP champions had already fallen out of the meta. Because of SK’s commitment to their standard team comps, GE were able to pick a dream composition of Maokai, Rek’Sai, Viktor, Corki, and Janna. Even though their opponents had taken the bold step of banning three comfort picks, SK emerged from the draft with one power pick to GE’s five.

In spite of this, the GE game was somewhat close, with fredy122 playing particularly well, but SK was unable to accomplish much outside of the laning phase, especially as SK’s poor drafting shone through. Although Forg1ven was able to bully PraY in lane, the Korean veteran  was able to exploit Caitlyn’s weak mid-game by abusing his Corki’s Trinity Force power spike, even tower-diving Forg1ven once to secure a solo-kill. nRated’s Annie play was another serious issue. While Forg1ven’s limitations in that game were the limitations of his champion, nRated simply did not play Annie properly. Hefinished the game with a 0-8-7 score and did not feel comfortable playing an engage role. His hesitance led to many missed opportunities for SK, and he never survived long enough to help his teammates disengage teamfights.

Knocked back down to the loser’s bracket, SK faced off against the Flash Wolves once again in a winner-take-all series to escape the group stage. Copying GE’s strategy from the day before, yoe banned out Forg1ven’s Graves and Lucian, but left up Lulu for nRated in exchange for taking away Fox’s Zed. Once again, SK ignored Rek’Sai, a decision which would not pay off. Much like the day before, SK picked the off-meta Gnar.This time, however, they opted to pair it with Forg1ven’s Corki rather than trying the unpopular Caitlyn. In the second matchup, yoe seemed much better prepared forSK’s aggressive lane-shove playstyle, by punishing the team with constant roams and ganks. Although Forg1ven once again bullied NL around the bot lane, amassing a 100 cs lead, maple’s steady Ezreal play eventually allowed him to outscale and surpass Fox’s LeBlanc. The gold lead swung back and forth for the first 35 minutes before an over-eager engage by Svenskeren as fredy exitted Mega-Gnar led to a 4-1 teamfight win for the Flash Wolves.This flop allowed the Taiwanese team was able to snowball their first notable lead of the game into a victory, knocking SK out of the tournament.

In the context of Forg1ven, it’s important to note that his individual play on Caitlyn and Corki was still powerful. In all of his games, he would win lane on those champions, and still draw jungle pressure and shove down towers. However, SK as a team struggled to play around Caitlyn. SK was very dependent on setting up mid-game teamfights off of lane shoves, and the mid-game was Caitlyn’s most notable weak point. Meanwhile, Corki’s poor scaling compared to Graves and Lucian meant that SK had trouble in the late game without their primary carry. The GE and FW games were case studies for SK’s problems on these picks, and SK were unable to fix these problems. nRated’s poor champion pool was even more of an issue. He was neutralized by a single Lulu pick or ban, and SK’s future opponents would notice this. It’s crucial to note that while the “GE Tiger bans” gave teams a roadmap to beating SK, a more important issue was that meta shifts and nerfs removed many of the power picks that SK could have picked in response to these bans. fredy’s champion pool would be a problem for the entire EU playoffs, as his impact plummeted from their once formidable heights. Nerfs to Fox’s assassins would similarly hurt the team. It was only because SK was no longer able to punish opponents for focusing Forg1ven that the GE bans became so popular. It’s a common misconception that European teams were simply “too stupid” to try these bans. In fact, these bans were unfeasible in the old meta.

Fans often view the IEM World Championship as the beginning of the end for SK. As mentioned earlier, they’ve often placed too much importance on what happened at the tournament itself, without noting the meta shifts that occurred alongside it. But what’s undoubtable is that SK, a team with international aspirations, had just fallen out of a tournament in the group stages, a tournament which NA rivals TSM would go on to win. Even from their three games, it was clear that SK was a world-class team when they successfully executed their lane shove strategies. But without them, SK often looked lost strategically. Four of the team’s five members had world-class mechanics, but without serious improvement, SK could not dare to dream big once again.

Fall

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Unfortunately, SK would never play another international event. Upon returning home, SK cleaned out the rest of the European regular season, going 4-0 with Forg1ven playing four different champions (Tristana, Caitlyn, Corki, and Lucian.) nRated was able to find success on Nami, playing her in all four games and winning. Entering the playoffs, SK were regarded as favorites, and Forg1ven boldly dared teams to try and ban his Lucian and Graves on Summoning Insight. With the power of hindsight, we could see that SK’s win streak came against CPW, Giants, MYM, and Gambit, all teams which finished in the bottom 5. It’s possible that SK’s run to close out the season undefeated was simply fool’s gold, and that the team could not be trusted to play on other picks in the play-offs. However, a far more important issue soon arose. SK had already somewhat struggled with Svenskeren’s desire to play invade picks rather than first picking Rek’Sai, a champion that inherently countered their low-warding lane-shoving style due to her global presence. To make matters worse, the Cinderhulk patch effectively threw all of his favorite champions out of the meta. Nidalee and Rengar were completely outmoded, and only a few teams continued to play Lee Sin when picks like Gragas and Sejuani were available. For one-trick warhorse SK Gaming, the Cinderhulk patch was the final nail in the coffin. fredy’s carry top lane champions were no longer viable. Many of Fox’s assassins, particularly LeBlanc, had been nerfed out of the meta. With Sven’s invasive picks taken off the table, the “GE bans” effectively removed all the pieces SK needed to execute the lane shove strategy. Even in games where Forg1ven did get Graves and Lucian, SK faced massive pressure to snowball the early game because Cinderhulk tanks were able to resist those champion’s initial burst. Without it, SK was simply a mechanically talented team fighting alongside many other such teams in Europe. It’s important to remember that both of SK’s losses went all 5 games. With Fnatic and UoL also going to 5 games in all of their series, it’s easy to imagine a world where SK stumbled upon the European title. But it’s important to remember that the Cinderhulk patch effectively removed SK from discussion as a world-class team. Even if SK won the play-offs, the dream of international contention effectively died on Patch 5.5.

Without the lane shove strategy, SK was completely directionless. SK simply did not have the ability to run Protect-the-Forg1ven compositions, due to the unsupportive nature of Fox and fredy’s champion pools. SK had strong picks. Fox's Zed and fredy's Shyvana were powerful picks that teams normally may have tried to ban if it weren't for Forg1ven's dominance on his prefered trio of ADs. However, those picks just weren't enough to compensate. Both players would play well on their prefered champions, but they wouldn't become notable enough as carry threats to alleviate pressure from the constant bot lane bans. Forg1ven’s refusal to play Sivir, who had replaced Rek’Sai as the most powerful pick on the Cinderhulk patch, was another notable issue. In addition to her fantastic utility, which could have facilitated a fredy or Fox carry, Sivir also dealt extreme amounts of damage, and constantly topped the damage-dealt charts. However, with nRated’s poor laning phase outside of Lulu, it’s possible that SK simply could not afford for their most powerful laner to play Sivir. What is certain is that without any power picks to compensate for constant bans on Graves, Lucian, Caitlyn, and Lulu, SK simply withered away in the play-offs.

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Their close sets spoke much more to the weakness of EU than their own strength as a team. In the play-offs themselves, SK played a very narrow 2-3 series against UoL, alternating wins in each game before losing a 50-minute decider in Game 5 off of multiple botched Baron calls. In the third place decider against H2k, SK jumped out to a 2-0 lead before being reverse swept. In both Games 3 and 4, SK threw away large leads and allowed H2k to come back into the series. The final game of the set, and Forg1ven’s final game with SK, was a 27 minute stomp that more or less defined SK’s issues as a team. Picking Shyvana, Lee Sin, Kassadin, Jinx, and Morgana into Hecarim, Sejuani, Ahri, Sivir, and Janna, SK simply looked outdated and unable to adapt to strategies aside from the lane shove. What could have been a promising Protect-the-Forg1ven comp was derailed by the lack of peel from every position other than support. At the same time, SK were unable to execute their standard lane shove because H2k banned Graves, Caitlyn, and Lulu. (In Games 3 and 4, Lucian’s inability to break through Cinderhulk tanks led to two come-from-behind victories for H2k.) After this loss, Forg1ven left SK Gaming. The regular season MVP award was not enough for a man who had promised himself to bring his father the EU LCS title.

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Today, few fans remember SK fondly. They simply consider the team limited, and some even consider Forg1ven the most limited player of them all. Because so many bans were targeted at Forg1ven, fans came to assume that the Greek marksman had a weak champion pool. A closer look at SK reveals that a bigger problem was the team’s extremely one-dimensional strategy and inability to compensate for repeated target bans towards the bot lane. Because so many of SK’s favorite picks were nerfed and the team never picked up on new OPs, SK was left completely unable to punish teams for banning out their bot lane. But although these were team-wide problems, of which Forg1ven was only a part of, Forg1ven once again received the brunt of public disapproval. Much as he had on the Copenhagen Wolves, Forg1ven left the team rather than removing his teammates, a decision which seemingly convinced parts of the community that he alone was the problem. Rather than praising Forg1ven for mastering champions to the extent that he could conceal the issues of such a flawed team, fans ignored SK’s earlier success and focused entirely on the Greek AD’s supposed champion pool issues. Little did they know that an entirely different Forg1ven was just around the corner.

Photo credits OnGamers, DailyDot, theScore, na.leagueoflegends.com

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