The dream team. That’s what everyone was calling the new line-up back in December. When SKT revealed their new roster, fans and analysts alike were astonished at the talent they’d procured. Mata, Khan, and Faker in the same squad? Who would have dreamed of such a team. Despite the early fanfare, the team was left largely in the shadow of Griffin and SANDBOX Gaming. But none of that mattered, all they needed to do was win. And win they did, consistently enough to finish the regular season in second place.
The playoffs demonstrated that SKT was simply on another level. After a relatively close 3-0 series against Kingzone, the three-time champs spared no mercy on Griffin. The experience and poise of the entire team proved too much for their opponents.
Going into MSI, SKT is looking incredibly sharp and on form. Despite having a fairly deep bench, SKT never made a substitution during the whole split. That primarily comes down to the overall success the main five players had, and the staff not wanting to ruin that. That said, we’re going to talk about those five players since they’ll be the likely starters. Without further ado, let’s get into it.
Top Lane: Khan
SKT’s 2018 was a rough one in the top lane. After Huni’s move to the LCS, the team was forced to settle for Thal and Untara. They regularly swapped between the two until they decided to stick with Thal.
Now SKT has Khan though. The former Kingzone/Longzhu toplaner hasn’t missed a beat since joining his new team. While he may have played a largely secondary role in terms of SKT’s resources, that’s not why he’s on the team. His experience and consistency is where a lot of his value comes from. Additionally, his signature champion class is carries. This is something that SKT hasn’t had a lot of experience with. Huni, Impact, Thal, and Duke generally played tanks, but Khan gives the team another lane to play through. It is therefore somewhat lucky that the toplane meta has focused on carries for this long. Khan’s carry performances thus far have been largely successful. A few hiccups on Irelia, Gangplank, and Viktor are the only negatives in a generally positive match history.
What’s even more surprising, Khan only played a tank on two occasions during the spring split: Sion. He won one of those games and lost the other, but that is the extent of his tank experience. With the recent string of buffs to tanks, one may be worried about Khan’s place in the meta. There’s nothing to worry about though, since his Fiora is legendary, and Fiora can kill tanks just fine.
After spending his entire career in China, most recently on JD Gaming in 2018, Clid has returned home. His style is very analogous to Khan’s: play carries, get kills. His signature champion, Lee Sin, has been a highlight of both personal and team success during the split. With 19 games played and a 73.7 percent win-rate, the champion is a comfort pick for sure.
Clid has consistently been in a position to carry SKT throughout the year. But the same questions we ask of Khan we can ask of the jungler: can he play tanks? In patch 9.8 there was a buff to Cinderhulk, which brings champions like Sejuani and Zac back to viability. There are counters to these champions, some of which Clid himself can play. That fact may give SKT some relief and may not require Clid to learn a new style. Teams that face SKT will be looking out for his Lee Sin, and even his Jarvan IV. Against a team like SKT, though, there are better ways to use bans than on their jungler.
The greatest player of all time returns to MSI after missing the tournament last year. There is no doubt that despite the years Faker remains the heart and soul of the team. While 2018 was a bad year for Faker and SKT, the midlaner was still a standout player for the squad. This season has been no exception. Faker has played 13 champions so far, and some of his win rates are incredibly high: Lissandra at 91% and Leblanc at 100%. Faker likely won’t be playing Lissandra though. Development of strong counter-picks and some nerfs have made Lissandra undesirable so picking Lissandra isn’t an automatic win anymore. The shift to more aggressive picks has let faker show his true skill, as his Leblanc, Zoe, and Galio have all shined in his hands.
But Faker has not played in an international competition in almost 6 months. Is he ready to play at that level again? The world stage is a different place than the halls of LoL Park in Seoul. Luckily for Faker, this time he has a team that can compete alongside him, rather than following after him. No longer has he needed to solo-carry games all the time. Maybe that releases Faker to play his best League of Legends. The world is certainly excited to see Faker in the spotlight again.
Bottom Lane: Teddy
Teddy is probably one of the best ADC players SKT has ever had. Anytime one tunes in to his stream, you can see him making crazy plays and showcasing his insane mechanical skill. He’s been a large part of the early success of SKT and has played consistently well all split.
Before he joined SKT, Teddy was a big reason Jin Air Greenwings managed to avoid relegation in 2018. The guy played many of his team’s matches one-versus-nine, saving Jin Air from many of their own mistakes. During this time that Teddy gained fame for being the “90-minute carry.” If a game went longer than 90 minutes, Teddy was able to win it. Faker remarked on this phenomenon when he reviewed the LCK Spring Finals during a recent stream. He said SKT didn’t need to worry about long games since they had Teddy to win those. SKT’s games didn’t go that long, but the faith the team has in him to win the late game is strong.
Teddy is undoubtedly a prodigious talent, but he has no international experience. Jin Air was never strong enough to reach an international event, so this will be Teddy’s first time playing against teams that aren’t from Korea. He’s going up against JackeyLove and Doublelift, two of the strong botlaners in the world. These players have way more experience in this environment than Teddy, so can the SKT carry keep his composure? We’ll see.
In a recent episode of Listen Loco, PapaSmithy mentioned that the support talent pool in Korea is very small. After Wolf and Gorilla departed to the TCL and LEC, only Mata and Tusin remained as the top tier players. SKT managed to snatch up the former KT Rolster support for their own super team. Deft and Mata together were a large part of KT’s success at World’s last year, so it’s no surprise that teams would want either player on their team.
In the short time they were together, Teddy and Mata showed at the KeSPA Cup that they had strong synergy. Since then, they’ve developed into a seasoned duo.
Mata’s support style revolves around protecting his ADC. He doesn’t tend toward the “playmaking” (Rakan, Thresh) supports, choosing instead to play the “guardians” (Tahm Kench, Braum). For Mata then, not being mentioned is a good thing. As long as he’s doing his job, there will be no mistakes to mention. He brings with him a long list of international accomplishments and experience. His leadership and direction will be crucial to take SKT’s play to the next level.
SKT has a very good shot at winning the tournament. While other teams like Invictus Gaming and G2 are also attending, SKT has come back with a vengeance. The team has upgraded in every position (2019 Faker is an upgrade too), and one can argue they’ve even upgraded over other years.
The biggest test of the team is whether they can match the LEC and LPL in aggression. SKT’s average game time is the second slowest of the top five regions. They are almost three minutes slower than both the LEC and LPL. This does not bode well for their chances. Korea has learned a lot since World’s about swallowing their pride and trying now things. However, they still play the same slow, macro-focused style that got them into trouble. If SKT wants to really compete, they need to start playing more aggressively and take more risks. They have the players to do it too. Khan and Clid both play carries and Faker’s Leblanc can easily take over a game. If SKT wants to play slowly, then they need to assert their will on the quicker teams.
Images Via: LoL Esports Flickr & Comicbook.com