KT Rolster’s recent performances have suffered, and perhaps — for now, at least — the extremely high expectations for this League Champions Korea “super team” have become too much to handle.
SK Telecom T1’s dominance over the Korean — and international — professional League of Legends scene has created a desire to see somebody, anybody be able to challenge the three-time world champions. Fans thought that team might have arrived when KT Rolster formed its current roster in December, a collection of some of the best Korean talent in professional League of Legends.
Heo “Pawn” Won-seok, a world champion mid laner, was one of the few players who stepped up as a legitimate rival for Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok before his departure to China’s EDward Gaming. In China, Pawn took home multiple League of Legends Pro League titles, Demacia Cups, and was part of the the 2015 Mid-Season Invitational championship team.
Kim “Deft” Hyuk-kyu has held the title of “best AD Carry in the world” for some time, showcasing insane mechanical ability that covers whatever weaknesses he might have, and as a teammate of Pawn, was also instrumental to EDG’s success the last two years. He was also acknowledged as the best AD Carry in 2016’s Demacia Cup awards ceremony.
Cho “Mata” Se-hyeong, another world champion, is also celebrated as the most cerebral support in the world, known for his shot-calling ability. He showed remarkable adaptability, still able to make solid decisions for the team in a foreign region, with the most success on Royal Never Give Up, as he took home the LPL trophy last spring and was runner-up in the summer.
Song “Smeb” Kyung-ho was Riot Games’ best player in the world leading up to worlds, and a player who underwent a remarkable transformation. With most players still unable to go toe-to-toe against him, he was a large part of the ROX Tigers’ semifinal finish at worlds. He’s a player who amassed a large collection of followers due to his happy-go-lucky personality, with proper game play abilities to boot.
Go “Score” Dong-bin, the center of the KT rebuild, was the oldest and best player on the team before the rebuild. Although he doesn’t share the same star-studded resume as his teammates, his ability speaks for itself. Even in recent performances, he’s been known to try to carry his team to victory, and though he isn’t always acknowledged with MVP points, he’s held in the highest esteem among players in his position.
On paper, this lineup appears as if it could stack up against the best. Dubbed the “SKT killers,” KT was expected to rival and perhaps topple SKT. KT seemed to be destined for great things, and for a while it looked that way. Heading into back-to-back matchups against SKT, KT Rolster was tied for first place in the LCK and had only one loss. The first game against the reigning world champions would serve as a mid-split tie breaker. Although KT lost, it was a close three game series, and the games themselves were among the very best in the LCK.
Then KT lost again to SKT, then to Samsung Galaxy, then to MVP, and most recently to last place Kongdoo Monster on Sunday. SKT again stands at the top with one loss and KT is tied for third with MVP with a 10-6 record. In a vacuum, third place in the most competitive league in the world seems sufficient/ But not for this team. KT was built to challenge and surpass the best.
So what happened? KT’s players have recently been fallen by fatigue and sickness, as seen when Smeb was rushed to the hospital after skipping out on a fan meet, and Mata saying the whole team wasn’t “feeling that great.” The tight schedule and practice times couldn’t have been good for the players, so perhaps the results are merely a reflection of that.
It’s also possible that the team is having trouble being a full team. Five star players mean five players with strong personalities, which can be a nightmare for a coach to try and wrangle. Head coach Lee Ji-hoon did admit that the players were quite a handful, and whether that is a positive or negative, if it proves to be an obstacle for team play, then the trend also makes sense. Teams KT has lost to so far all have no large changes in structure or roster, which would explain the more cohesive play.
There’s also the idea that simply building a team takes time. Bringing five players — however skilled they may be — from different teams and regions and asking them to topple a well-oiled machine of almost three years running seems difficult in any capacity, let alone when expecting immediate results. It’s possible KT can shake off this tough stretch and turn into the team fans expected it to be without anything changing except time.
Whatever the reason may be, the unifying narrative is one of disappointment. The fans expected a killer team that would match the best in the world, but so far KT has not been able to deliver. There still is time, and for a newly formed team to be this high in the standings should be acknowledged as an impressive feat. However the higher the expectation, the deeper the disappointment, and that seems to be the current state of LCK’s newest “super” team.