It’s hard to argue that SK Telecom T1 isn’t the most successful League of Legends team in history. They’ve won every major international event at least once, including the 2016 Mid-Season Invitational, All-Star Paris 2014, IEM Season X, and three World Championships (seasons 3, 5, and 6). On top of that, they’ve won 5 OGN/LCK splits in Korea, one of them undefeated. How did this team become the juggernaut we know today? Lets take a look.
SK Telecom T1’s esports division was originally founded in 2002 as a StarCraft: Brood War team, by Lim “BoxeR” Yo Hwan under the name Orion. BoxeR is widely considered one of the best Brood War players, pioneering micro control and other new strategies. The StarCraft team was made up of players that BoxeR handpicked, including Sigamari, and IntoTheRainbow. In 2003, Orion was sponsored by SK Telecom, and officially became the SKT we know today.
Fast forward to December 2012, when SKT picks up the roster of Eat Sleep Game, made up of UandME, Reapered, MighTiLy, H0R0, and StarLast, and renames it to SK Telecom T1. In their first week as a team, they played at IEM Season VII – Global Challenge Cologne.
Even during their first week together, they were a force to be reckoned with. Going 2-1 in their group, SKT only dropped one game to the European power house Fnatic. In the semifinals, they faced off against MeetYourMakers, defeating them in a convincing 2-0. During the finals, SKT was able to defeat Fnatic 2-1 to take the finals home.
Unfortunately, they weren’t quite as successful at the Season VII – World Championship. After placing first is their group, they fell to CJ Entus Blaze in the semifinals.
OGN Spring 2013
Upon Entering OGN Spring 2013, SKT added a sister team to their organization. The new squad was created around rookie mid laner Faker, and included Bengi, Piglet, Impact, and PoohMandu. The two teams became known as SK Telecom T1 1 and SK Telecom T1 2 for the remainder of the split.
After finishing 3rd in their group, going 0-5-0, T1 1 would once again fall prey to CJ Entus Blaze. Blaze swiftly defeated T1 1, or “Terminator” as DoA and MonteCristo called them, 3-0 , forcing them into NLB for the remainder of the split. After finishing 4th in NLB, the team was disbanded.
T1 2, or “Judgement Day,” had a much more successful season. During the split, Faker and the rest of Judgement Day would become known for their superior skirmishing and rotations. They finished first in their group, with a 3-1-1 record, and swept NaJin White Shield in the quarterfinals. Judgement Day was defeated by the eventual champion MVP Ozone 3-1 in the semifinals.
OGN Summer 2013
During the HOT6iX Champions Summer 2013, SKT only fielded one League of Legends team. SKT T1 further cemented themselves as a top team in Korea when they swept their group. They won all 6 games and easily defeated the Jin Air Green Wings Falcons and MVP Ozone in the quarters and semis respectively. This placed SKT against KT Bullets in the Summer finals.
After losing the first two games, SKT needed to complete a reverse sweep if they wanted to increase their chance of going to Worlds. In games 3 and 4 SKT secured an early lead that they snowball to victory, leaving the teams at a deciding game 5. The blind pick draft lead to both teams having a Zed and Shen, whoever had the most skill on their individual champions would be the victor. The battles start early with a level one team-fight near the mid lane, giving each team a kill. SKT eventually secures a lead through creating picks and winning skirmishes across the map. After securing a Baron while KT Bullets were pushing the mid lane, SKT was able to close out the game.
World Championship 2013
Many considered SKT to be the favorite to win Worlds in 2013, during the broadcasts MonteCristo lead what would become known as the “Korean Hype Train.” T1 2 lived up to expectations when they finished first in their group at 7-1, only dropping a game to the Chinese team OMG. During the quarterfinals SKT easily defeated the now defunct Gamania Bears 2-0.
Their Semifinal match was much more exciting, where SKT faced off against fellow Koreans, NaJin Black Sword. T1 2 was known for not being the strongest team in the first few games of a series, but instead “absorbing” the other team’s powers to defeat them in the latter half of a series. However, this trend was bucked as the two teams traded wins to reach a final game 5. The pick/ban phase that led up to the final game forced both teams onto champions that hadn’t been played yet in the series. After a uneventful early game, SKT had a slight gold lead that allowed them to win a key mid game fight. Upon securing the ace, they went all out and ended the game with a swift mid lane push.
Despite the excitement of the semifinal match, the finals weren’t quiet as entertaining. During the first two games, fights between the two teams were often close, but SKT’s superior objective control secured them both wins. For game 3, SKT T1 2 put the pedal to the medal, and by the 20 minute mark they’d gotten an inhibitor, secured baron, and accrued a 10k gold lead. Not long after, they won the final team fight of the series and became the first Korean team to win a World Championship.
During the World Championship, SKT T1 2, now known as SKT T1 S, was reborn. By picking up MaRin, Easyhoon, Bang, and Wolf, the SKT organization looked primed to have two powerhouse teams in season 4.
OGN Winter 2014
K’s dominance in the League of Legends scene continued, as they tore through Winter 2014. T1 K didn’t loose a single game the entire season, ultimately going 15-0. This made them the first Korean team to not only go undefeated during a split, but win two OGN finals.
T1 S wasn’t as fortunate as their sister team. They tied with CJ Entus Blaze, each going 1-1-1, for second, but lost in the tie breaker match. S would look to improve their game heading into Spring 2014.
OGN Spring 2014
To start their Spring split, T1 K faced an unfortunate situation. Their “leader” and “big brother” Poohmandu would be stepping down from the team. Mentioning chest pain, Mandu decided it would be best for his health to take a break from professional LoL. In his stead, Casper joined Piglet in the bot lane, to mixed effect. K had a disappointing split, going 1-1-1 to tie with their sister team.
As mentioned, T1 S continued to struggle as they lost to the last place team, Prime Optimus during their last match of the regular season. During the tie breaker between the sister teams T1 K overcame T1 S to continue on to the playoffs.
In the quarterfinals, T1 K’s struggles continued. By this time Poohmandu had returned to the team, but looked shaky in the few matches he’d played. Overall, SKT K struggled to adapt to the new meta and it showed against Samsung Ozone. Impact only took teleport in their final game, but failed to use it effectively. Ozone made better objective trades during the series and came out on top of most fights. SKT T1 K’s split would come to an end after losing 1-3 to Ozone.
All-Star Paris 2014
Despite their struggles during the Spring Split, SKT T1 K found a way to regroup for All-Star Paris. K went undefeated the entire tournament, going 4-0 during group stages and sweeping both Fnatic and OMG during the playoffs.
OGN Summer 2014
The SK Telecom sister teams would continue to struggle in the Summer Split. They both placed second in their groups due to them being relatively weak. Despite this, T1 K would lose their quarterfinal match 3-1 against Samsung White, forcing them into the NLB league. T1 S fared a little better, as they were able to make it to the semifinals, where they faced KT Arrows. S barely lost the series with a 2-3 score, but were swept in the 3rd place match against Samsung White.
Since T1 K dropped to NLB, they still had a chance to acquire some circuit points and attempt to return to worlds. They would win their series against CJ Entus Frost, Jin Air Green Wings Stealths, and NaJin Black Sword to secure those precious 75 points. This forced a tie breaker match against Samsung White to see who would get the second seed to worlds. Regrettably, they were unable to beat White and were forced into the gauntlet, where they lost in the finals to NaJin White Shield.
LCK Spring 2015
With the introduction of the LCK, organizations were no longer allowed to have two teams, which forced SKT to change their roster. Their new roster consisted of MaRin in the top lane, Bengi in the jungle, Faker at mid, and Bang and Wolf in the bot lane. Easyhoon and Piccaboo were cycled into the roster on occasion. This new roster fared much better, going 11-3 during the regular season to secure second place, only behind the GE Tigers.
SKT’s playoff match against CJ Entus became known as one of the most legendary best of 5’s of all time. During the regular season, T1 had picked up a rookie jungler known as Tom. He and Easyhoon played in the first two matches against CJ, and T1 fell in both matches. Come game 3, both Faker and Bengi were subbed in to try and make a reverse sweep. True to their legacy, they were the catalyst SKT needed to make the reverse sweep and move to the final round of the playoffs.
The finals against the GE Tigers weren’t as nerve wracking as the match before. SKT used Tom and Easyhoon’s strengths to their advantage to secure a sweep, crowning SKT the LCK Spring Split Champions.
Mid-Season Invitational 2015
MSI 2015 was one of the most exciting international events in League of Legends history. T1 had a great group stage, defeating every team to secure the first seed in the bracket, which proved to be more difficult for them, however. A strong Fnatic team took T1 all the way to game 5, where SKT finally won.
The finals proved to be a much different challenge than the Semis. They faced off against the Chinese team, Edward Gaming. After four games of back and forth and a few subs, the teams reached a deciding game five. During the pick/ban phase, EDG baited Faker into picking his fabled LeBlanc. After counter picking a Morgana, EDG prevented SKT from winning their first MSI.
LCK Summer 2015
During the Summer Split, T1 took their supremacy to another level. During the first nine weeks they didn’t lose a single best of 3. It wasn’t until week 10 that CJ Entus was able to take a match off the titans. Before losing the CJ, they had won 14 best of series in a row, solidifying their first place standing in the regular season.
Due to their placing in the regular season, T1 was seeded directly into the LCK finals where they smashed KT Rolster 3-0 to win the finals. Since they placed first overall, SKT was automatically given the first LCK seed to the World Championship.
SKT continued their dominance from the Summer Split at Worlds. Placed in a group with Edward Gaming, H2k, and the Bangkok Titans, they looked to get revenge against EDG. They accomplished this and more, since up until the finals, they won every single match. If anyone was going to beat them, it would be the KOO Tigers, their opponent in the finals. Unfortunately for non-SKT fans, KOO wasn’t able to defeat them. SKT quickly snowballed all the games they won, and became the first team to win two World Championships.
LCK Spring 2016
Before the Spring Split began, SKT had a small roster change in the top lane. MaRin signed with the Chinese team LDG Gaming, and Duke replaced him in the top lane. Many considered the change a downgrade, but SKT managed to perform strongly despite both the change and Worlds curse. They finished 3rd in the regular season, with a record of 12-6 (26-15 games). This seeded them against Jin Air in the first round of the playoffs.
The playoffs proved to be a snooze fest. Even though they had to go through three rounds, SKT only dropped two games the entire time. One was against Jin Air, and the other against the ROX Tigers. By winning the Spring Split, T1 was automatically qualified for MSI, where they looked to secure the last trophy to escape them.
IEM Season X World Championship
Since they lost in IEM Season VII, the SKT organization only needed to win an IEM World Championship in order to have won every tournament. When they were invited to Season X, they made sure they came prepared. SKT didn’t have many strong opponents at the World Championship, so they were easily able to sweep the entire thing, securing them their first and only IEM trophy.
During the group stage, SKT didn’t preform as well as many people thought they would. The Flash Wolves, AKA the Korean Killers, took two games off of them, and the NA champions CLG also took a game. On account of these losses and another to RNG, SKT was the 4th and last seed heading into the bracket stage.
SKT looked like a different team during the group stage, matching the supremacy of their Spring Split playoff selves. They faced off against Royal Never Give up in the semifinals, once again trouncing them in a best of five series (3-1). In the finals they played against CLG, who had good plays during the series. However, SKT was able to overcome and outplay them when necessary to net themselves their first MSI title.
LCK Summer 2016
After having placing second in the regular season, SKT had a disappointing end to the Summer Split. They were seeded into the second round of the playoffs where they faced the winner of the kt Rolster and Samsung Galaxy match. When kt defeated Samsung, many expected they’d fall to SKT and there would be a finals rematch, but kt Rolster surprised everyone when they defeated SKT and denied ROX their chance to defeat SKT themselves.
By placing third, SKT secured an additional 70 circuit points, automatically qualifying them for the World Championship. This made them the first team in history to break the Worlds curse.
Coming into the tournament, ROX Tigers were considered the favorite. Many believed that SKT wouldn’t be able to repeat. They were placed into group B with I May, C9, and Flash Wolves. Despite the doubts, T1 continued their international dominance, only losing a game to Flash Wolves during the group stages. Placing first in their group seeded them against RNG once again.
Their journey through the bracket staged proved to be their most difficult at Worlds yet. RNG was a fairly easy opponent, and SKT was able to take the match against them 3-1. Their remaining two series both went to 5 games before SKT won. Both the series against ROX and Samsung are some of the most fun best of 5’s you can watch in League. After many tough opponents and close matches, T1 was able to secure their 3rd World Championship.
During the off season, Bengi and Duke decided to leave the team, leaving SKT without their clutch jungler and solid top laner; T1 picked up Peanut and Huni to replace them. Everyone else resigned. With the next split of LCK likely starting in late January, time will tell if they can continue their supremacy.