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Winning Routine: SKT vs. SSG
One team chases their own standard as the other looks to start their own
A crinkled LED “SK telecom T1 Fighting” banner laid on the floor and fluttered in Shanghai. The fifty-plus crowd of fans it came from had largely dissipated by then. They’d congregated at the entrance to the player hotel hoping to lớn catch even a glimpse. In a small corner just beyond that fallen sign was where SK telecom T1 coach Jeonggyun “kkOma” Kim liked khổng lồ take his smoke breaks.
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After a certain result earlier in the tournament, kkOma walked into our player management room & fist pumped the air. He was ecstatic. You will at times find him in the lobby bar or at our after parties. He may as well be an employee with how long he sticks around at international events. And finding him outside is, at this point, as routine as victory for the most dominant organization in the history of League of Legends esports.
SK telecom T1 isn’t just making history — at this point, they are history. Since the advent of the League Championship Series in North America và Europe, SKT has won three out of four World Championships và now are on the cusp of securing their fourth. KkOma has been at the SKT helm for all of them.
kkOma is a jittery man. Not in a hectic manner, but he is a restless and animated speaker. It is almost odd for me to see him up close in a suit (I don’t interact much with him on trò chơi days) — he otherwise wears hoodies & sweatpants. We are in a teahouse in Beijing và Samsung Galaxy is seated on the other side of the room. This is something SKT has a lot of experience with at this point. After I first finish my chat with him, he doubles back within seconds và taps my shoulder.
“There is one thing I really wanted to add,” he says. He sits back down. He wants to showroom to his response on some fans being sick of SKT winning & how some of them just want to lớn see SKT lose. “Players are not machines,” he says.”They’re human beings, but because we win all the time, our fans have higher and higher expectations every year. At this Worlds, we make the comebacks. We go up to the fifth game, và we win 3-2. This is the result of our efforts và practices.”
I don’t think anyone would say SKT doesn’t deserve their titles. Far from it. But there is something unnerving about a three-time champion believing they still have a chip on their shoulder. For the rest of the world, SKT is as close to perfect as it gets. What SKT is chasing, though — having already reached the đứng đầu of the mountain — is the idea that they are immortal.
It feels almost dirty to hotline Samsung Galaxy the underdog. They had an absolutely dominant run through the Knockout Stage in besting Longzhu Gaming & Team WE. Both were considered the strongest team from their respective regions coming into Worlds by many analysts. & yet here we are. Last year’s runner-up finds themselves staring at the same wall they couldn’t scale. The hope, then, is two-fold. Firstly, they’ll hope they developed enough over the last year (having retained their roster) khổng lồ finally climb that wall. Và secondly — & perhaps most importantly — they’ll hope that wall didn’t grow.
“I think it is natural lớn look at SKT
Ambition is the man responsible for leading Samsung’s charge. Just in the past year, he has stepped aside for a younger jungler only khổng lồ be re-summoned because his presence on the team was too valuable.
“I’m not a super mechanical player or the type of guy that can turn a lost fight into a won fight,” he says. “However, I don’t waste time & I know how to win the game. I’m not saying I’m always right (or we’d have won every game), but I try khổng lồ give my teammates direction so there’s a low chance of derailing.”
To me, that summarizes Samsung’s style in a nutshell. It isn’t overly flashy. It’s more lượt thích watching a boa constrictor strangle something to lớn death. Lượt thích how we watched as they siphoned the life out of Team WE in the Semifinals. They’re an incredibly deadly team once they secure a lead, & given the trend of the tournament thus far, they are likely lớn secure early leads over SKT. It’s a matchup that is in favor of Samsung on paper, and every analytical bone in my body says Samsung is in good shape here.
But I have learned lớn not bet against SKT over the years. They have survived this entire tournament even when the situation was stacked against them. It doesn’t help that Samsung hasn’t managed to lớn win anything in their tenure together as a team. They may be lacking the proverbial killer instinct. But every other team in the world would have a historic year by just reaching one Worlds Finals, let alone back-to-back. It’s not enough lớn just get there, though. Not for Samsung.
“I thought about
“Ever since I was preparing to lớn come to lớn Worlds this year,” he continues, “I really wanted to advance to lớn the Finals lượt thích we did last year. I thought about what we did well
It was the kind of game that haunts a player. It’s one thing khổng lồ get swept 3-0. That just means you were mismatched or you failed to show up at all. But to lớn be one game off from reverse sweeping SK telecom T1? That’s different. Instead of remembering an ocean between you và your opponent, you start to remember a stone here or a stone there that could have helped you cross the river.
In the last year, CuVee has developed into one of the most consistent forces in the LCK & has elevated his name into contention for being the best đứng top laner in the World. He has backed that reputation at Worlds by serving as the backbone for Samsung.
He has kept a cấp độ head, though. “I always try not khổng lồ be swept away by those opinions or praises,” he says. “I try to always control my mind because I don’t think I’m the best đứng đầu laner in the world. I am still in the process of becoming one.”
What’s on the line for Samsung is simple. Either win or become another checkmark on the SKT calendar. Where SKT is striving to lớn build upon their legacy, Samsung is trying khổng lồ thwart it. They, too, can build their own legend — a win would be the organization’s second in four years, which matches SKT’s mark over that same time period. It would serve as a signal that SKT doesn’t hold a monopoly on the World Championship.
For the players, though, it may be even simpler. Even if CuVee’s reason is a little selfish. Whenever he struggles, he asks himself, “What can I bởi if I had lớn leave this team và League of Legends?” His response is honest. He says, “There’s really nothing much I can do. So I just want to lớn stay here and do whatever I can and have a really comfortable life after that.”
On the contrary, Ambition got married earlier this year. How long he can continue lớn gaming grind remains khổng lồ be seen — because he needs to lớn stay with the team, he is only able to lớn see his wife during the holidays. But he says she has provided him with renewed motivation and reason khổng lồ play the game.
“While SSG may not be our biggest rival, they are still one of the big ones because we’ve had a lot of matchups against them,” says SKT ADC Bang. “Sometimes we won, sometimes we lost. SSG is not a team we should look down on và we should always stay on our toes against them.”
I found Bang’s response telling. I don’t necessarily disagree with him — it’s hard not lớn look at KT Rolster as SKT’s biggest rival. But facing the same opponent on the biggest possible stage two years in a row has to count for something, right? Bang went on to say SKT considered all their opponents rivals because this was such a close-fought World Championship. I don’t necessarily disagree with that either, but to lớn me it seems it’s more that nobody has managed khổng lồ stick out.
For a long time now, SKT has found their biggest rival in the mirror. They are not overly wary of what other teams are doing. Each và every one of their players will tell you they are only focused on what they did right or wrong and how they can improve their own play. Where every other team is playing PvP, SKT have seemingly taken a PvE approach. They’ve built themselves to be able to handle anything that is thrown their way.
But cracks are now showing. Bang buried his head in his hands in the mix against Royal Never Give Up when they found themselves in a hole. None of SKT ever feel like they’re actually going khổng lồ be eliminated — instead they think about what they can bởi to get out of the hole. It’s always, “What’s next?” instead of “What happened?”
kkOma echoed the sentiment & said other teams become impatient when they go up 2-1, for example, against SKT. The pressure isn’t on SKT. It’s on the other team to close out. Though he admits the only times he takes a smoke break during sets is if his team drops down to 1-2. But, he says, “When I come back, I think about how I should vì the draft phase for the fifth game.”
There is supreme confidence in both of their answers. You might hotline it hubris, but it is hard khổng lồ argue against results. The reason Bang’s head was down, though, is tied to that cpu they carry on their shoulder. It seems the greats in every thể thao are always striving to lớn prove someone or something wrong. For example, Michael Jordan famously held grudges all the way to his Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
And specifically for Bang, he says, “This year was the first time I ever expressed my emotions that much because I really wanted lớn win that series
He continues, “ I know many people have been saying SKT have been struggling for the last three or four months, but when I look back at the results, I don’t think we have been struggling that bad. However, people still criticize us a lot, and our only way to lớn prove that’s not true is by winning. Even small mistakes are criticized a lot, so I want to win to prove it’s not true
This, to lớn me, was fascinating. I bởi think a lot of people have said SKT look weak or that they are struggling. I am one of those people. But that’s only if you contextualize it as SKT. For most teams, what SKT has accomplished in the last few months would be nothing short of remarkable.
This is what the pursuit of perfection actually looks like. As onlookers, anything short of perfection is another mark against SKT. Even something like criticizing their early trò chơi struggles is maybe not looking properly at the picture. If SKT is picking champions for late game, then it should make sense that they would struggle in the early game. And, perhaps, it should make some sense that they tỷ lệ thoát back in the late game.
But not lớn the extremes we’ve seen it. I still think SKT struggled against MSF và against RNG. I don’t think you can call a 3-2 phối anything but a struggle. But I also think Bang’s bigger point is simple — what difference does a 3-2 mix make versus a 3-0 set? At the kết thúc of the day, the 3 advances. Và nobody is more successful at that then SK telecom T1.
“I know many people were thinking, ‘SKT is gonna lose,’ but they
kkOma, for example, doesn’t care about winning or losing once a game starts. He only focuses on the weaknesses of the team & how he can fix them. It is, lớn me, a harmonious balance. The players look forward as the coach cleans up the mess behind them.
I ask him if he found any relief in his team managing lớn pull through. He says, “I’m only happy when we actually win Worlds, and even then, I’m only a little bit happy.”
The long grind of the years have taken their toll on kkOma. “When it comes lớn stress, actually, I have nothing to relieve my stress ever since I started working here,” he laughs. “A lot of fans can tell I lost hair và got really old.
Kien Lam is a writer for Lolesports. You can find more awful great jokes and commentary on his Twitter.
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