Up until a few months ago, calling SK Telecom T1 the best team in the world wasn't a controversial statement. But with their long run of mediocre performances in the LCK following their second place finish at Worlds 2017, that long time assumption has been called into question.
Yet, looking back, SKT's results aren't anything new. In fact, the last split of the LCK saw a very similar outcome as 2018's recent spring split: A fourth place SKT with a first place Longzhu Gaming (Now branded as Kingzone DragonX.) So why the sudden somber tone around the team's future?
To compare the past of 2017's summer LCK split to its most recent spring split, one has to look at the details.
While SKT finished in the same spot as the previous split this spring, they didn't get there with near the same efficiency. 2017's summer split saw SKT finish in fourth with a 13-5 record. A close finish in the top 6 teams meant that it wasn't the easiest task to distinguish the best teams from the mediocre, much like the NA LCS's 2018 spring split finish which showcased seven tiebreakers out of the ten teams.
All that means is that SKT performed better in 2017's summer split than they did in 2018's spring split, despite ending up in the same position, and most people will see the differences in their 9-9 record vs. a 13-5 record just a year ago.
Another factor to consider is the style of play SKT have been largely successful with vs. the style of play that is becoming meta this year.
Despite every player on SKT being top tiered in a collective teamfight setting, most people pay attention to their aggressive solo lane play style. The likes of Faker, Bang, and ex-SKT top laner Huni all had the chops to turn a losing fight into something special on their own.
But as popular picks will tell you, the game is morphing into the old-fashioned 'protect the carry' meta that it once was long ago. Champions like Karma, Malzahaar, and Shen have made their way into the mid and top lanes simply because they offer some form of simple support for the ADC.
This means that the usual powerhouse of the team, Faker, has his influence drawn away from him in favor of SKT's ADC Bang. This shift in power could very well be creating an adjustment period for SKT that they haven't quite dialed in on yet.
Whether or not the problem is timing, one thing that can be ruled out as an issue is Bang. It's obvious from the statistics that he's coped with the changes in the meta quite well, and actually stands as the glue keeping SKT from performing like a bottom-tiered team.
His performance in 2018's spring split earned him the #1 spot in the LCK's KDA list, being placed just above Kingzone's jungler, which leads us to another potential problem.
It was clear that Peanut's transfer to Kingzone was a result of his seemingly awful performance through the summer split and Worlds. The jungler finished on the split on the bottom half of the KDA list and didn't show any signs of brilliance that a team like SKT need, and that he had shown in the past.
It has to be asked, though. Since he's been doing so well at Kingzone, is it possible that his influence on SKT was much more subtle than a statistic like KDA could show?
This first split of 2018 had SKT swap their junglers further moving Blank and Blossom around in an indecisive mixture of near equal playing time. Both junglers ended the split hovering around the middle of the KDA table, though both still finished above SKT's top laner Untara, another weak point of the squad.
There's a lot of questions to be had in that fact alone, but what's clear is that whoever made the decision to let Peanut go might have to face the harsh consequences, as the jungler continues to wreak havoc on his opponents on both the international stage and domestically.
It remains to be seen if we see this cycle repeats itself, but for SKT, there's plenty of symptoms to diagnose and little time to fill out the prescriptions before it's back on the Rift.
What do you think of SKT's 2018, and future in the face of a fluctuating roster? Let us know in the comments below!