After this week’s League Champions Korea matches, the reigning world champions of SKT T1 have gone 0-8 in the last two weeks. It’s an unprecedented slide for a team that has been the de facto best in the world. SKT T1 is a three-time world champion, whose roster includes not just the god of mid lane Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok, but a long list of superstars.
Though the team delivered a 16-2 record in the spring season, SKT has faltered in summers past. A third-place finish in 2016's summer season was tough, and this certainly isn’t SKT’s first brush with defeat. In 2014, Faker’s team failed to qualify for the world championships in a 3-1 finals against NaJin White Shield. A heartbreaker for sure, but the team recovered, merged into what became the modern SKT T1 and forged ahead.
But at this point of the year, SKT should be gearing up for a potential Worlds four-peat for Faker. A stumble over a top-ranked team is one thing, but eight straight games is worrisome. The sudden losing streak has many questioning what’s going wrong, or if SKT might actually be in danger of not making it to the world championships to defend its title.
In a few tweets, translated via InvenGlobal, SKT T1's own support player Jaewan “Wolf” Lee said he’s been practicing less than other players, and he thinks “that’s been showing up in the results.”
“I’ve actually thought for some time that I fell behind my teammates and other players in terms of practice and performance,” Wolf wrote. “It was just that we had good results and I contributed to victory based on my experience. Before Spring Split, I doubted whether I could keep this up to maintain my form and be a pillar on the team.”
Emily Rand, a freelance writer quite familiar with SKT T1, has a different perspective. In her piece, she compared the woes of 2014 SKT to today, and sees that in both cases, the team was struggling to meld together.
Mental pressure mounts after each consecutive loss, especially for a team like SKT that simply isn’t accustomed to losing. Right now, the components of SKT just don’t seem to add up to a cohesive unit, and that prior flexibility will now be pushed once more.
In the LoL Esports-produced series The Breakdown, color commentator Aidan “Zirene” Moon broke down an individual teamfight from Samsung Galaxy’s match against SKT, highlighting a number of individual mistakes in the middle of a hectic battle. In the heat of the moment, little issues are snowballing into big problems. That perfect Sejuani ultimate from Kang “Ambition” Chan-yong doesn’t hurt either.
Be it cohesion, individuals falling short, or something else, the presumptive giant of SKT T1 is in danger, maybe not of missing a chance to defend its title, but losing its indomitable appearance on the eve of a world championship run.