The building of the SK Telecom T1 League of Legends dynasty included many struggles, setbacks and yet fascinating tidbits and details, as the coaching staff of Choi “cCarter” Byung-hoon and coach Kim “kkOma” Jung-gyun revealed in a recent interview with Korean press.
SKT demolished rival KT Rolster on Saturday to win its sixth LCK title. Add three world championships and a Mid-Season Invitational, and it is clear SKT has become the dominating force in professional League of Legends. KkOma and cCarter conducted a long-form interview with Fomos’ Park Sang-jin and discussed how it all came to be.
The story of cCarter moving from SKT’s Special Force team to pitching a potential League of Legends team to SKT is now a well-known origin story. At the beginning, though, cCarter said people were skeptical the team he planned to build was actually real.
“Right now we get a lot of attention from all around when we hold tryouts for the team, but at first we might as well not have existed,” he said. “There were even voices that we were pretending to be a team backed by a large corporation. So there were people who flat out didn’t take part in the tryouts. There were a lot of people who didn’t watch StarCraft either. Some even said that we were being financed by some cellphone rental service store and just putting the big company name in front. It was a difficult time.”
Part of the pitch of a successful team to a company was the addition of a coach in kkOma, and on paper it made plenty of sense to transition him into a leadership role, since “KkOma had a long career, he already served his military service, and he was the centerpiece for Korea’s first LoL team,” cCarter said. Another advantage was the fact that kkOma was “well connected” to a pool of players, which would presumably aid in recruitment.
“I was ousted from my team at the time so many people looked at me with pity,” kkOma said, remembering the various news articles from esports organizations that covered his career move.
KkOma’s move away from Star Tale was something of a joke in the community, which waved a narrative a driven player that was removed from the roster due to some clashes in the team. However kkOma said that he “received offers to join another team as a player before I was approached for being a coach,” and he already had a following from his personal streams and various opportunities where he was able to expand his brand power.
The new challenge for kkOma was welcomed, and the building of SKT’s dynasty began with finding the right players. Legendary jungler Bae “Bengi” Seong-ung was one such potential talent, but also one that had a rather interesting route into the team that wouldn’t be expected from a player of his caliber later in his career.
“Bengi failed the entry test process for a number of reasons, but I really wanted to work with him so I added him after another round of tests,” kkOma said. “I also could have added other players with more established names, but Bengi’s talent and growth potential was that much larger.”
Of course one of the talents that kkOma is credited to finding is none other than Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok, the best player in the world. At the time Faker was already known in the community and even had his own following from his streams in Korea, and the tryout process was enough to convince SKT of Faker’s glowing potential.
“Faker’s solo rank points were high, had great mechanics on display during his stream, and made great calls during testing, so we picked him up,” kkOma said. “Even back then Faker was the player that was so good to the point it didn’t make any sense.”