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To viewers of the LCK, the 5 consecutive defeats of SKT T1 can only be shocking. Even in their defeat against Jin Air, they seemed to be the unfortunate losers of an epic series. And while it could be argued that the mental shock taken from the loss continued over to their defeats against determined enemy KT and defending champion KZ, I doubt anyone expected the loss against MVP and Afreeca, both far from top tier teams.
[SKT in 9th? Is this the real life?]
The easiest way to judge SKT’s performance is to rate the players’ individual forms. We can say that Untara became the worst performing top laner in the LCK, Blank has returned to a blank in the jungle, and Faker and the bottom duo are not in their prime anymore and call it a day. It is sad, but it is true. Looking at SKT’s individual performance right now, SKT has neither a carry nor a trusty backup lane.
But it seems so sudden to just declare the 6 time LCK winners the victim of individual slump. We could talk about ban picks all day, but it is a microscopic issue (if we assume KZ or KSV did the exact same ban picks, would they be in 9th place?) and SKT has always adapted to the changing meta with ease. So in this post, I will attempt to look at some overlooked factors as I check over the underperforming team.
“The Rift Herald’s Dilemma” - SKT’s old fashioned early game
If we look at the golden age of the invincible armada SKT, they showed us the pinnacle of the macro style “get advantages with a strong laning phase, then secure the victory with a strong mid/late game teamfight”. To put it simply, they were on another level. The base of that came from the players such as Faker, Impact/Marin, and Bang/Wolf.
As time passed, or more exactly, after Marin’s leave season 5, SKT’s early/mid game begins to lose its edge. They change from a team with a strong laning phase, to a team that tries to go 50/50 until their late game macro kicks in. And that dulled early/mid game reaches a new low starting last summer.
[SKT’s EGR(Early Game Rating) continues to fall]
The EGR, displayed in the above graph, shows the team’s early game strength through analyzing their first 15 minute stats. The creator says 50 is average and 60 is top tier. So starting season 7 summer, SKT’s early game dropped to average, then was worse than average in Worlds.
[The EGR of teams at Worlds last year. SKT was in last place.]
So where did the drop in early game come from? Something happened in League around this time. The birth of the new Rift Herald.
SKT’s 2017 LCK Summer started off with a double header against SSG(now KSV). In this game, Samsung acquires the herald, instantly summons it mid, destroys the outer turret and munches halfway through the inner turret before SKT can stop them. Having lost their mid tower at an unforeseen timing, SKT crumbles before Samsung’s perfect execution.
[SKT’s mid tower was destroyed all too easily with the arrival of the Herald.]
I believe that this game is not just a loss, but a symbol for current SKT. Even though it has been almost a year since the Rift Herald has entered the game, SKT hasn’t shown any notable uses of it. This is converse to KZ with the iconic dancing Herald, or Jin Air’s utilization of the Herald as a way to buy time for their late game (77% possibility Jin Air will take the Herald).
[SKT has not shown any Herald-focused macro since its addition]
Of course, there is a chance that SKT decided that the Rift Herald wasn’t a big help in their playstyle, or that taking a different objective in that time worked out better. Even so, I can’t help but think that somehow, the lack of herald and the lackluster early game are related.
Different macro from teams - no more miraculous teamfights
Another overlooked stat is the laners’ cs per minute. Once upon a time, having 10 cs per minute would be considered a sign of dirty farming, but it is seen at almost every game now.
The CS change(per min) in the last 3 seasons (Top/Mid/ADC)
2017 Spring - 8.7
2017 Summer - 8.9
2018 Spring - 10.0
Number of players with 10 cs per min in the last 3 seasons.
2017 Spring - 0
2017 Summer - 1 (Teddy)
2018 Spring - 18
There are some reasons as to why the cs per minutes have increased. One would be that the minions spawn earlier (it is only six more though), and teams playing the long game mean that champions with good waveclear are favored. However, the important thing to note is that the teams’ macro have turned safer and more effective. The fact that they can farm more minions means they lose less cs, which in turn leads to a more precise care for lane.
So what does this - precise lane control and macro change - mean? It means that that teams have stopped fighting needlessly.
[Season 8 has drastically less kills than other seasons (data 02/05/18)]
Another thing we can say about the golden age SKT is their insane teamfights that keep them in the game despite their gold deficit. Like the game against EDG last Worlds, SKT changes the entire flow of the game by poking holes in the enemy’s positioning. Now, pro teams seem determined not to leave any loose ends, playing extremely safe even while they expand their map presence. Unlike the Ardent Censer meta, which creates fights everywhere as long as the ADC is with you, this ultra late game meta that relies a lot on positioning doesn’t give many angles for opening fights.
I’m not sure how this meta will change, but the fact is that the current meta effectively shuts down the biggest strength SKT had for the last few years. This, for the other teams, is a valuable lesson on how to defeat SKT, as well as a giant mountain for SKT to climb.
The lack of a final punch - where is the vanguard?
This could be too early to say- after all, SKT this season hasn’t had many games where they were in the lead, but we could observe another problem with SKT that arose this year.
What did Bengi, Huni, and Marin have in common? They were all vanguards of SKT for the past few years. Bengi “The Jungle” is known as a player who takes pride in his solid macro, but his signature pics are all champions that shine in aggression. Vi, Lee Sin, and J4 were all reliable champions that would signal the opening of the final teamfight.
[Bengi’s Lee Sin that sent the team to Worlds Finals. While giving a solid macro game, Bengi was aggressive in his closures.]
Huni and Marin were also the final bosses who delivered the punches. Huni’s 4 man Gnar ult and Marin’s backdoor tp are still the stuff of ages talked in the Korean forums. They were the cherry on top, the completion to the SKT macro, the perfect ending to a well plotted story. The dps made SKT a strong team, but the top and jungle took SKT to another level.
If Untara, Thal, and Blank/Blossom don’t take up the role of vanguard, Season 8’s SKT have a high chance of remaining as a colorless team.
Here is a TL:DR-
SKT has been having trouble in their early game since Rift Herald
Since teams began to avoid teamfights, SKT has a hard time coming back with those.
They haven’t been on top much, but even when they were, SKT’s trademark finish seems nonexistent. This is most likely due to the lack of their vanguards like Marin, Bengi, and Huni.
Based on the current performance, it might be that SKT is undergoing their biggest crisis since establishment. There was a time in 2014 when they failed to go to Worlds, but I think the overall quality is worse now.
Of course, I believe that SKT still has a chance to come back. They were always slow starters, they have many rookies to polish, and whatever the case, they are still veterans of many years who have overcome many problems.
However, it is also true that it seems they are at a loss what to do with the current meta, their lackluster early game, and their playstyle. It is hard to argue against the fact that SKT isn’t a top tier team anymore. It will be interesting to see how the team that was the front of LCK for many years will tackle their conundrum.
/* Maybe a little late to post it since SKT edged out BBQ today(yesterday?) in a grueling 2-1 victory, but all the same, its a great read.
I love becker personally -he has some great SC reads- and may get a chance to translate his columns. He sent me a message, I sent one back- we'll see how it turns out.