T1’s Near Perfect LCK Spring Run Brings Back Hope for Win at Worlds 2022
On 11th March, T1 set a new record in the League of Legends Champions Korea (LCK) beating their own 14-0 win streak from LCK Summer 2015. They even with a win against Fredit BRION and are all set to make history with a perfect regular season in LCK Spring 2022. The former world champions will face off against Liiv SANDBOX and DRX in Week 9 and perhaps close out the Spring season with a perfect 18-0 record. T1’s run this season has given their fans renewed hope as the young squad, led by veteran Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok avenged their defeat against DWG KIA in the 2021 Worlds Semi-finals. While DWG put up a fight, they lost 1-2 to T1 in Week 3 of the ongoing split.
The rise and fall of T1 at Worlds
T1, then known as SKT Telecom T1, had been dominating not only the LCK but even Worlds since 2013. The team has pioneered the Korean domination at Worlds with three World Championship titles under its belt, two of them were back-to-back in 2015 and 2016. During their tenure as SKT, the roster led by legendary mid laner Faker also bagged two Mid-Season Invitational Championships, and nine LCK Championship wins. T1’s roster has been pretty stacked over the years with players like Jang "MaRin" Gyeong-hwan, Bae "Bengi" Seong-woong, and Bae "Bang" Jun-sik supplementing Faker under the eye of coach Kim "kkOma" Jeong-gyun.
Due to changes in the meta in the following seasons, support and jungle became more influential, leaving less room for a solo hard carry. Earlier Faker was known to play carry champs like Ryze, LeBlanc, Zed, Azir and Orianna. Since Season 7 he has transitioned into playing more utility based champions like Karma, Lulu and Galio to assist other laners. T1’s loss in the 2017 Worlds finals to Samsung Galaxy was a tough one to bear, even for the usually composed Faker.
The team continued having a bumpy run after their 2017 Worlds loss. 2018 was a particularly bad year for the squad, with poor performances in the LCK Spring and Summer Split, T1 didn’t qualify for MSI nor for Worlds. They bounced back in LCK 2019 picking up both the Spring and Summer Split titles. However, the Koreans lost to G2 in the Worlds 2019 Knockouts.
In 2020, T1 fans saw a ray of hope for another Worlds run when they won the LCK Spring Split but the team failed to keep the momentum going into the Summer Split. T1 lost the LCK 2020 Regional Finals to Gen.G and ended up not qualifying for Worlds 2020. T1 would go on to lose another LCK Semi-final to Gen.G in the 2021 Spring Split.
A new challenger approaches
For a long time, Korea had no real competition from other regions on the Worlds stage. While Chinese teams like Royal Club reached the Worlds finals, they couldn't take the trophy home. The 2015, 2016 and 2017 Worlds Finals saw two Korean teams clash for the title. China truly arrived on the Worlds stage in 2018 with Invictus Gaming taking home the Worlds Championship title. While Korea reasserted its dominance against China in 2020 it wasn’t T1 who brought the cup home. Damwon Gaming’s (now DWG KIA) victory against China’s Suning during the 2020 Worlds Finals not only earned them a name on the World Stage but established the team as a powerhouse in Korea. DWG KIA would later go on to defeat T1 in the finals of LCK Summer 2021 as well as in the Semi-finals of Worlds 2021. After several roster changes, the departure of head coach kkOma and talented new contenders, T1’s supremacy had taken a hit.
Historically, T1 has had a better track record in Spring Splits compared to Summer Splits, especially since 2017. But even if T1 continues its spectacular run into the Summer Split, it’s going to have some serious competition from the League of Legends Pro League (LPL) teams in Worlds 2022. LPL’s hyper aggressive playstyle and immaculate mechanics have helped China bring home the 2018, 2019 and the 2021 World Championship titles. T1 will have to beat out heavy weights like RNG and EDward Gaming along with old contenders like Victory Five who are on top of the LPL leaderboards this year with the talents of former Worlds winner Song "Rookie" Eui-jin and previous Top Esports and RNG jungler Hung "Karsa" Hao-Hsuan.
Is Faker past his prime?
A child prodigy, Faker has come a long way since his debut in 2012. The mid laner is considered the greatest player of all time in League of Legends and has several Worlds titles and records under his belt. With newer talent like Heo "ShowMaker" Su beating the once ‘Unkillable Demon King’, some of T1’s recent failures coupled with , leave some in the community to wonder whether Faker can still be called the best player in the world. T1 fans feared that the GOAT would quit after T1’s loss to G2 in 2019 Worlds or their 2021 Worlds loss against DWG. However, in the joint statement made by Faker and T1, , and he officially became one of the part-owners of T1. So regardless of when Faker finally decides to step down, he will continue to remain a part of T1 and the Korean pro scene. Some T1 fans want to see him coach the next generation of T1 players, like Bengi did.
When it comes to his legacy, there is still no close competition. In a 2020 interview to , the mid laner responded to the question of whether some rookie would overtake him one day, “The history of mankind has proven over and over that nothing lasts forever, so I believe that such a player will emerge one day. If such a rookie does emerge, I would be indifferent about it, because it’s the natural order of things. However, as long as I remain a pro player, it’ll be hard for a player to overcome my career. I still believe that I am the best in the world, so I’m not too worried. I’m just focused on self-development.”
Despite the odds, the younger members of T1 have gained some experience in the Worlds arena. The team synergize a lot better and while Faker may have been in the game for almost a decade he still has new tricks up his sleeve.
The road to Worlds 2022 is long but this year looks promising for the team. Over time, T1 has depended less on Faker to hard carry them. With what is currently considered one of the best ADC-Support duos in LCK, Lee “Gumayusi” Min-hyeong and Ryu “Keria” Min-seok anchor T1 at the bot lane. Add Moon "Oner" Hyeon-joon's control over objectives and map along with Keria's shotcalling and you get a solid roster that is noticeably stronger, reminiscent of their glory days in Season 5 and 6.
Will this iteration of T1 go all the way and bring back the World Championship once again? This is something we'll look forward to watching.
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