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Sunday, Feb. 25, 2024
The Observer

Mazurek: SKT cements itself as esports dynasty

The Montreal Canadiens of the late ‘50s. The Steelers of the ‘70s. The Celtics of the ‘50s and ‘60s. The Bulls of the ‘90s. The Yankees of the late ‘90s. Connecticut women’s basketball team of the last decade and the Blackhawks of the last few years.

All are unquestionably great dynasties and they are rightfully remembered to this day. And I’d like to add a team to that list: SK Telecom T1 of the 2010s.

On Saturday night, SKT won the Summoner’s Cup for League of Legends — the organization’s third championship in four years, with the first two titles coming in 2013 and 2015.

Competitive esports is young and the Summoner’s Cup has only been hoisted for five seasons. Yet no team has left its mark on League of Legends quite like the Korean-based SKT.

With its most recent finals victory over fellow Korean team Samsung Galaxy (which was an epic five-game series, by the way), SKT is now the only team to win back-to-back championships. No other organization has even won two, period.

The 2016 victory at the World Championship (Worlds) caps a particularly successful season for SKT. Dating back to 2015 Worlds, SKT has now won four consecutive international events, including the 2016 IEM World Championships and the 2016 Mid-Season Invitational.

With the parody and volatility of League, it is unlikely any other organization will rival SKT’s string of recent victories. Players can change teams twice in a season, new in-game patches change the nature of the game and a brutal practice schedule takes its toll on even the best teams and players.

But despite it all, SKT came out on top, in a tournament it wasn’t necessarily favored in. Many had the winners of the Korean Summer Split, the ROX Tigers, as the odds-on favorites entering 2016 Worlds. SKT only got third in the Summer Split and looked to be fading. But led by mid-laner Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok, SKT proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that it is the gold standard for all esports organizations.

And Faker is truly the linchpin of the team. Just as the Bulls had Jordan, the Celtics had Russell and the Yankees had Jeter, Faker is the engine that makes SKT go. Faker, along with jungler Bae “Bengi” Seong-ung, is the only player to be on all three SKT championship teams. The most accurate description of Faker is a mix between LeBron James and Stephen Curry — he is the most naturally gifted player, à la James, but he innovates the game on the level of Curry. Faker has long been considered the world’s best player, and as long as he feels he is the best, SKT will be a contender.

And without a salary cap, which has been the downfall of many dynasties, SKT’s run of dominance doesn’t have to come to an end. Big money can lure players to other teams or regions, but the whole SKT roster has been offered more money before, and there is no indication they will jump ship for a big paycheck this time around. However, with four players on SKT having two championships or more, maybe they feel like it’s time to cash in.

And maybe the rest of the world catches up to SKT, just as it catches up to every dynasty eventually. But, no matter what happens a year or five years from now, Faker and company have cemented their spot on the growing Mt. Rushmore of esports.