The last time SK Telecom T1 K lost a best-of series was on October 16, 2013, during the semifinals of the World Cyber Games Korean Qualifying tournament. They lost to Samsung Galaxy Blue, an up-and-coming team with young talent, an established organization supporting them, and a veteran sister team that has experience beating the World Champions from previous events.
It wasn’t until March 29, 2014, 164 days later, that T1 K lost a series once again, though this time it was in a 2-game set in Champions Spring 2014. In familiar fashion, they lost to KT Rolster Arrows, an up-and-coming team with young talent, an established organization supporting them, and a veteran sister team that has experience
beating playing against the World Champions from previous events.
It’s easy to take for granted the difficulty of achieving the success that SK Telecom has with their T1 K team during this long undefeated streak, and it’s even easier to forget that the team itself only founded around this time last year during Champions Spring 2013. The team’s list of achievements are staggering: 3rd place at Champions Spring 2013, 1st place at Champions Summer 2013, 1st place at Season 3 Korea Regional Finals, 1st place at the Season 3 World Championship, and 1st place at Champions Winter 2013.
With those wins, T1 K has earned their sponsoring organization a considerably large amount of prize money that, compared to the financial performance pressures of other teams, has afforded them a rare sort of flexibility that allowed roster decisions such as letting Lee “PoohManDu” Jeong-hyeon take an extended break for health reasons. Unlike other organizations who made roster moves to bolster performance, T1 K’s moves have been entirely out of performance longevity.
As such, T1 K has absolutely nothing tangible to play for in this tournament. They’ve already won Champions Winter, and as a result, they have enough circuit points to qualify for the LCS All-Star event in May. And not only that, they certainly have enough points to cushion themselves for a strong run in Champions Summer, with enough points from NLB Spring to qualify for Worlds in the same manner as NaJin Black Sword the year before. Their pride is a bit shaken, since this is a world-beating team looking expectedly human when trying to re-integrate Pooh back into the lineup. But this is a decision made for the future, and while this forward-thinking from the SK Telecom Organization seems counter-intuitive, it certainly hurts the organization in the short run. They were fortunate in this case to have both SK teams in the same bracket; with Prime Optimus quickly eliminated from contention by both SKT T1 K and KT Arrows, a spot in the bracket stage would be guaranteed for either K or S, which is gravy for them.
It would be a folly to think that match fixing would be involved here, though it’s very easy to fall into that trap due to the recency of the AHQ/Promise scandal. First, SK Telecom is too big and too successful of an organization to even feel the need to make a profit from gambling when they can make money simply from winning games. Throwing a series to guarantee SKT T1 S getting through to the quarterfinals is also a poor hypothesis at this point, since S would be nearly guaranteed to move on. Of the 9 different outcomes between the two remaining matches, T1 S would proceed in 7 of 9, and tie for second in the other 2. With a 50% outcome for one tie and 33% for the other three-way tie, S has an effective probability of 87% to advance prior to SKT T1 K’s match, assuming that each team has an equal chance to win a given game. That probability goes up even higher assuming that S has a stronger probability to win a given game against Prime Optimus.
All things considered, SK Telecom T1 K still lost convincingly 2-0 to KT Rolster Arrows, and a number of chance instances broke perfectly in Arrows’ favour. They caught a slumping T1 K who still needed more time to gel with Mandu back in the lineup, and they played their best games ever in a series that was essentially do or die for them. Due to incredible plays early game in set 1 and forcing SKT T1 K to play to their chaotic pace in set 2, Arrows capitalized on T1 K’s mistakes with beautifully executed plays in order to win their series. Ha “Hachani” Seung-chan played a perfect Thresh in the first set and made some incredible plays in the early game to snowball his lane and his team towards a victory.
Hachani’s Lucky Thresh
Hachani’s play on Thresh this game is a microcosm of how his team has performed as a unit overall. He’s up and down with different supports; he gets picked apart as Annie in a game against Samsung Ozone, but looks like a world-beater with Karma against Prime Optimus. His heads-up play on Thresh capitalizes on some lucky breaks, but requires a considerable amount of skill to execute.
Barely 3 minutes in, Corki and Morgana attempt to capitalize on hitting level 2 first by walking up to Hachani’s Thresh. Hachani takes a huge risk, knowing that he’s only a single minion death away from hitting level 2 himself, and flays Piglet’s Corki back to extend the sequence and force T1 K’s lane to commit to the all-in fight. Mandu’s Morgana lands a Dark Binding onto Thresh, but Thresh hits level 2 just in time to skill up Death Sentence. At such a close range, Mandu decides to put Black Shield onto Twitch, and Hachani patiently waits for the shield to expire.
Hachani is now in a fantastic position to juke out a Death Sentence to either of the two T1 K players. Mandu is forced to flash, but Piglet, having already used Valkyrie to move away from Thresh, is the higher-risk, higher-reward target, and is thus successfully hit by the Death Sentence. Hachani goes in and sets up the kill onto Arrow on Twitch. Because of the timing the engage itself, KaKAO happens to be in the area anyway for the 3-minute gank, so he comes in as well to cut off Mandu’s retreat. A flash-flay secures the 2 for 0 exchange, setting up another fantastic reactive follow-up fight for the Arrows bottom lane duo.
Merely 2 minutes later, Hachani sets up another beautiful play. He lands a Death Sentence onto Piglet, who manages to use Valkyrie to fly away from the fight thanks to Black Shield; while the shield prevents the stun, it still allows Thresh to follow-up with the jump-in. Both Hachani and Arrow make a split-second decision to follow the Corki for the kill.
Arrow goes into stealth to allow the attack speed to kick in when he is uncovered, preparing for the dive.
Hachani drops the lantern while he’s mid-air and following the Corki back to the tower, and Arrow follows behind. Mandu can’t possibly catch up; even the Dark Binding can’t even reach far enough.
Both Hachani and Arrow end up right on top of Piglet while Mandu is hopelessly out of position. A quick flay sets up another kill. Mandu manages to retreat back to the tower, but Arrow is so far ahead on twitch at this point that they can affect the rest of the game.
Unlucky Breaks for Impact and Co.
While KT Rolster Arrows’ gambles pay off in game 1, the same cannot be said for SKT T1 K. Arrows’ Baron attempt in the later part of the game is gutsy, yet prone to counterplay by SKT T1K. They have an opportunity to seize the Baron and reverse the momentum that their opponent has built up to this point.
However, when Impact goes in with Renekton for the Slice and Dice, he gets knocked up by Baron Nashor’s Fluid Knockup ability, after the Baron is already dead. This is the exact amount of time to allow Arrows to spread out to minimize the area of effect damage from Dominus, allowing the entire team to narrowly survive the Requiem at the end of the teamfight. Had Impact not been hit, the fight could have easily swung in K’s favour.
Arrow’s team composition is not ideal for fights, particularly due to KaKAO’s gank-oriented build on Nocturne, but they manage to execute the teamfight well enough to make use of the seemingly randomly free cc given to them. KT Arrows has a perfect teamfight despite the limitations of their comp, and every single member does their job; Hachani positions a perfect box with Thresh to delay the engage and force an early smite from Bengi; Ssumday saves Arrow with Stand United; Arrow kites Renekton beautifully and flashes out of the pit to avoid further damage; Rookie patiently waits until the end to clean up for the perfect ace.
This series shouldn’t take away anything from either of the two teams. The stars aligned perfectly for such an outcome to happen, and the better team clearly took advantage of their opportunities and perfectly executed a high-risk game plan against a superior team still trying to mesh together once again. This is the very same Arrows that can win against the best players from Samsung Galaxy in Masters, but still lose against other up-and-coming teams like SK Telecom T1 S. Their high highs and low lows result in incredibly inconsistent results, but that’s what makes Arrows very exciting to watch. You don’t know which outcome will happen, but their team identity is hardly ever in question.
For SK Telecom T1 K, it’s important for them to experience a loss here and there, even if it means falling as low as they have during Champions Spring. It’s a wake-up call that will probably require them to force themselves to buckle up and correct their complacency in vision control and to stop relying solely on their mechanics to win games. They have PoohMandu back, which helps them immensely; a victory at All-Stars will be the re-affirmation of confidence that the Bullets had in IEM Katowice. As for KT Rolster Arrows, they may very well ride a lucky streak with their risky approach to a high finish in Champions Spring, and possibly earn a seed in Champions Summer, and it will be entirely to their credit. They’re not a consistent enough team to hop on their bandwagon, but it’s incredibly easy to root for such an entertaining team with such silly personalities like KaKAO in them. Fortune doesn’t favour fools, but in this match, it surely favoured the goofy.