SK Telecom T1, the once unbeatable League of Legends esports team which formed the first LoL esports dynasty, is in crisis.
Not only have their results been poor since a humbling defeat to Samsung Galaxy in the final of Worlds 2017, the team’s star man, the world’s best ever player, Lee ‘Faker’ Sang-hyeok, could be on the way out.
The speculation has picked up recently after Faker, along with bot lane duo Bae ‘Bang’ Jun-sik and Lee ‘Wolf’ Jae-wan, were benched for their series against MVP this week. Kang ‘Blank’ Sun-gu was also benched after the first series of the split.
Is Faker going to leave SK Telecom T1, or is it all just speculation blown out of proportion?
Adding to this is the report from MVP’s top laner Kang Geon-mo in an interview with Inven, where he said that Faker hadn’t been participating in their scrims with SKT.
Of course, this could simply be a tactical decision by SKT’s staff just for the game against MVP. SKT has split mid lane time between Faker and another player before.
Faker could return to action tomorrow against Griffin, but even if he does so, the speculation of his leaving won’t be put to bed.
Faker has spent his entire career at SKT, but he prides himself at being at the top of the game. It’s now been over a year since SKT last won something.
SKT are now 0-3 in the LCK Summer Split, having won just one game out of the three series. They had arguably had a tough schedule, playing against Spring Split runners up Afreeca Freecs in the first game, and newly branded world champions Gen.G in game two.
But with the quality and experience of the SKT squad, they’d have at least been expected to put up a fight. And they definitely shouldn’t have lost to MVP, who came 9th out of 10 teams this spring.
The one game SKT have won this split so far was with the new look lineup against MVP, with Choi ‘Pirean’ Jun-sik as Faker’s replacement, and the bot lane consisting of Han -Leo’ Gyeo-re and Lee ‘Effort’ Sang-ho.
Faker wept after losing at Worlds 2017, and the team has not been doing well since then
In Faker’s four games so far, he has a combined KDA of 2/12/8. With stats like that, his benching becomes less surprising, even taking into account his preceding reputation.
What is surprising is the player who has replaced him in the starting lineup, at least for now. Pirean has spent most of his career in North America, on teams that were weak even by the arguably lower NA standards.
Pirean had to come through the NA LCS Promotion tournament twice after poor splits with Team Impulse and Phoenix1. Then, Phoenix1 came dead last in the final Summer Split before the NA LCS went to its current franchising model, which P1 is not a part of.
Compare that to three time World Champion Faker who, although his performance has been lacking in the LCK, reached rank one on the Korean LoL server just last week.
So, there’s no doubting that Faker’s game skills have not diminished in solo queue. It’s just hard to see where it’s going wrong in competitive play.
Is SKT giving Faker some time off to try and recover mentally? He’s not used to losing, especially in high pressure situations like at Worlds 2017 to Samsung and in the LCK Spring Split playoffs to KT Rolster. Perhaps the pressure has got to him.
Or is Faker hinting that he wants to leave the organisation? He has spoken about the prospect before, and he’d be an upgrade to just about any team in the world, so if he were to leave, he’d be in high demand.
Faker’s team looks out at the crowd while he only has eyes for the trophy, will he leave soon?
Faker’s SKT contract runs out in November, after Worlds, which SKT doesn’t look like making right now, and just in time to integrate with a new team for 2019’s Spring Split.
Almost unbelievably, Faker is still just 22 years old, so his playing career is a long way from over yet. He could easily join another team in Korea and chase another world championship. He could just as easily chase a big money contract in North America, although wherever he ends up, he’ll probably be the highest paid star in the region.
Or maybe he’ll come back into the team for the rest of the spring split, 1v5 teams with Ryze or Orianna, and all will be forgotten. It’s all just speculation for now.
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