Kim “kkOma” Jung-Gyun and Choi “cCarter” Byung-hoon, the men who built SK Telecom T1 into the best League of Legends team in the universe, recently gave insight into the ups and downs involved in the process.
In a long-form interview with Fomos’ Park Sang-jin, kkOma and cCarter talked about how the early iterations of SKT led to the massive success the team has enjoyed by winning the League of Legends World Championship three times in four years.
SKT T1 K broke through to win its first world title in 2013, and soon great expectations would be levied upon the team. But 2014 told a different story, as both SKT’s teams failed to make it to worlds and also struggled domestically.
Although fans would dub 2014 as a “dark age” of sorts for SKT, the coaching staff saw it as more of a catalyst of change. Considering SKT’s back-to-back worlds championships in 2015 and 2016, it seemed like a mere misstep on the path to greatness. The negative community feedback, however, was never easy to deal with.
“After making the team and winning a world championship in 2013, it became difficult to match the expectations of the fans and our surroundings,” kkOma said. “There wasn’t a moment when things felt easy.”
The overly high expectations of SKT are kind of a tradition now, as anytime SKT loses, even now after three world titles, fans talk of impending demise. When put into context, there is not another LCK team that has been as successful as SKT, and cCarter never lost sight of that fact.
“I think we won one tournament a year,” cCarter said. “However I think 2014 is remembered at the year when we lost everything. It was just one year that we didn’t make it to worlds, but it felt like our team got under-evaluated. It’s not easy to even make it to a finals once a year, so I think the way people look at our team is different from how they look at other teams. 2014 was disappointing, but it wasn’t the worst year possible. Seeing how people reacted to us even though we won a tournament that year, I can see some overlap of how we are viewed nowadays as well.”
KkOma’s reputation for finding and mining talent has become the stuff of legends in the League of Legends space. He is widely recognized as the best coach in the game, and his firm imprint on the team has played a significant role in SKT’s success — a sentiment cCarter echoed.
When speaking of that topic with Fomos, though, kkOma gave most credit to the talented players who have come through the team and said it’s easy to look back on success in hindsight.
“I think I have an eye for people,” kkOma said. “I can say this since everyone’s worked out so far, but I think I’ll make the wrong choice at some point. I think good results always come from developing players with growth potential.”
The expectations have shifted, even for a team like SKT, as its beginnings painted a much different picture than things look today. The goals have moved from domestic success, to international success, to continued international success, and the pacing of these moving goals took even kkOma aback.
“My first goal was to retire after four world championships,” he said. “I’ve won three more quickly than I thought, so I don’t know what I should do if we win a fourth. Originally it was just words when I said I wanted to retire after a certain number of world titles, and I didn’t expect myself to win this many this quickly.”