SK Telecom T1 is the most accomplished team in League of Legends history. Five League of Legends Champions Korea trophies. Three world championships. Two Mid-Season Invitational titles.
Despite all those accolades, the upcoming Mid-Season Invitational in Vietnam and Taiwan will be the most meaningful tournament for SKT. For perhaps the first time in the organization's history, the team carries not only the honor of the SKT name but also the hope and pride of South Korea and its League of Legends legacy.
This isn't SKT's first time representing the LCK at MSI, but it is the first time that the stakes are this high. For the first time since 2013, South Korea is not recognized as the best region in the world. A surprise loss in the finals of MSI by KingZone DragonX and a shocking exit in the quarterfinals at the League of Legends World Championship made 2018 the worst year in South Korea's League of Legends history.
The failures of KingZone DragonX, KT Rolster, Gen.G and Afreeca Freecs to replicate the impossibly clutch winning power of SKT shook the Korean faithful to the core and pricked the ears of the other regions' hopefuls. Questions had to be asked: was it really the LCK that had been dominant, or had it been only SKT?
Records indicate that historically, it very much was the LCK; before 2018, no Korean team ever went out in the group stage of worlds, and almost never lost a best-of series against non-Korean teams.
But that lingering doubt had taken root in the public mind, and it grew when watered by the LCK 2019 spring split. All three Worlds representatives, who had been the pride of Korea, were in danger of relegation, and the newcomers spearheaded by Griffin looked to establish a new generation of Korean talent. If the old gods had failed, then it was time to pray to new ones.
Except it didn't turn out like that. As the split came to a close, Griffin looked to be teetering on the edge and KingZone DragonX returnied in monstrous form to stomp the likes of Sandbox Gaming and Damwon Gaming.
In the end, it wasn't even close. SKT dismantled KingZone and then arrived at the finals to watch Griffin implode in front of them, with split-long drafting problems rearing their head at the worst time possible and gift-wrapping SKT a dumbfounding 3-0 victory.
해냈습니다. 우승입니다. 오늘 멋진 경기를 보내준 선수들에게 축하의 박수 보내주세요!— T1 LoL (@T1LoL) April 13, 2019
T1 made it! T1 won the finals. Let's send out a big applause to today's winner, T1!
Let's Go to MSI!#T1WIN #T1Fighting #LCK pic.twitter.com/xFf5vsekzT
The manner of the SKT victory makes its upcoming campaign at MSI even more important. With the demolishing of KingZone and Griffin, SKT is inarguably the best team in the LCK. If SKT leaves Southeast Asia with anything less than a trophy, then it will be official: the LCK is not the best region in the world, and the doubters will be vindicated.
SKT has plenty to prove as an organization: after its worst year in 2018. The org went big in recruitment to build a superteam, the likes of which fans could only dream, all in the name of winning it all. Particularly for Sang-hyeok "Faker" Lee, this win will be crucial in proving that 2018 was but a hiccup similar to 2014, that the greatest of all time has plenty of gas left in the tank, and that his reign is nowhere near complete.
The 2019 Mid-Season Invitational is a crucial point in League of Legends history with perhaps even more at stake than the World Championship. . In this tournament, the legend of Faker, the faith in SKT, the legacy of South Korea and the future of the LCK all lie in the hands of the most super of superteams.
Cover photo courtesy of Riot Games