SK Telecom T1 sit atop Korea's League of Legends scene as victorious kings, and KT Rolster want to kill them.
That's how it's been for over a decade between the two most accomplished teams in Korean eSports. Every time that SK Telecom pick up an accolade, KT come right back by signing a big name free agent of their own. KT get the upper hand, and SKT T1 do everything in their power to make sure that their rivals never have the satisfaction of beating them again. The never-ending Telecom War that began during StarCraft: Brood War's glory days has now spilled over to League of Legends and will continue long after the game is dead.
Currently, no team in Champions can touch SKT. They've been undefeated (in matches) for five months straight, haven't dropped a map in two months, and are barrelling towards qualifying for Worlds before most of the other regions know what their domestic playoff brackets will look like. KT, as usual, are on their heels, sitting in a tie for second place alongside the KOO Tigers, eyeing a seat next to SKT on the trip to Europe later this fall.
In 2013, the summer Champions season culminated in a finals matchup between Faker's SK Telecom T1 and the KT Bullet's all-around powerful lineup. Even today, that match is still seen as one of the game's marquee matches as the two rivals battled it out over five games before T1 completed an 0-2 comeback by winning three game straight to lift their first domestic title.
KT's revenge on SKT T1 came in 2014, as the blitzkrieg Arrows went on to become the most unpredictable champions in the league's history. They won each of their matches in the knockout round by a score of 3-2, with a semifinal victory over SKT T1's secondary team, SKT T1 S, to get them to the finals. Ssumday and Arrow, the only two remaining remnants of that team still on the current KT Rolster roster, still didn't go to Worlds that season,as they were upset by NaJin White Shield in the qualifier gauntlet.
For the third straight year, the summer feels like it could once more come down to a brawl between the two teams that have defined eSports in Korea. Right now, no team in Korea seems capable of handling T1.
KOO are strong, but seemingly have a mental hurdle against SKT as they've lost nine games in a row to the team they faced last split in the Grand Finals.
NaJin, while pound for pound comparable to SKT on paper, lack the communication, synergy, and overall team play that make them true threats to the defending champions.
Jin Air are a team that have proven they can mix it up with SKT and be a late-game monster themselves, but it's Jin Air. They're currently out of a playoff spot with only a few weeks remaining and are still an organization that continually fails when the tensions are highest.
What can you really say about CJ Entus? They're wildly unpredictable. They've been the closest to beating SKT T1 in the past five months on their unbeaten run through Korea. But when they finally look ready to be an elite team, they falter and look terrible.
KT Rolster are a team, that when everything clicks, can beat SK Telecom T1. They're the only team in Korea with a laning phase that can really compete with T1's monstrous early-game. If Ssumday can get a lead in the first ten minutes, he is only second to Faker in Korea when it comes to snowballing a small advantage into an unstoppable avalanche.
Don't get me wrong, KT aren't the clear cut best team to take down T1. That could very well still be CJ Entus if they can get their act together. But, when all teams have hit their full potential this season, outside of T1, KT have looked like one of the only teams with a chance of slaying the behemoth that is SKT.
The Champions Hierarchy
1. SK Telecom T1: 13-0 (26-2)
What can we even say about them anymore? They'll kill you in the laning phase. They can comeback in the late-game. They'll overwhelm teams and make it hard for them to move around the map.
Oh, and if all else fails, they have the greatest player of all-time who has proven that he can put his foot down and carry games if need be. A win against KT Rolster (if Champions still directly puts the No. 1 seed into the Grand Finals) will qualify SKT T1 for the 2015 Worlds. If that happens, it will officially become the world's problem to figure out how to stop SKT T1.
Faker will be waiting, Pawn.
2. KOO Tigers: 9-4 (20-10)
There is both good news and bad news for the Tigers this week.
The good news? They're still, even though they're tied record with KT, the second best team in Korea coming into the week. They have a ton of circuit points, are in a good spot heading into the playoffs, and have the tools to make a deep run at Worlds if they qualify.
The bad news? They can't touch SKT. It's been nine straight losses against SKT, and the games are becoming less and less interesting between the previous split's finalists. Even if the Tigers get to the World Finals and make it far into the tournament, a meeting with SKT T1 would be the worst possible outcome for them. KOO might be strong enough to even beat China's top teams and Fnatic, but SKT are currently a team that they have no answer for.
3. KT Rolster: 9-4 (19-12)
KT Rolster are the last team to stand in T1's way from clinching first place in the Champions regular season and clinching a spot at Worlds. With the recent addition of Piccaboo, a former T1 support himself, to the lineup, Rolster has been on a roll of late to get back into the playoff picture following a rough mid-season and be only a few match wins away from clinching a spot in the top five.
Piccaboo, like KT as a whole, is a boom or bust type player. He'll either come up big, make gigantic individual plays, and steamroll into the late-game, or he'll try too hard to pull something off and put KT Rolster behind. He's one of the few supports in the world that have the feeling of a player that can win a game by himself if he's in a good condition. When he's not, when we saw him have a few off games last week, he can get his team into trouble and extend games that Rolster should handily win.
4. CJ Entus: 9-5 (20-15)
For the first time in almost three years, CJ Entus are looking towards the future. They've added three full-time subs to the team in Helper (top), Trick (jungle) and Max (support), having used all three in the past week during games against SBENU Sonicboom. Not surprisingly, they're subs for the team's three longest tenured players (Shy, Ambition, and Madlife).
CJ Entus are in a weird position of rebuilding for a potential future without their long-time legends and also trying to do everything in their power to make Worlds. They're still in a playoff spot with a 9-5 record, and their third place circuit points will help them with their chances of getting to Europe if they place well in this split's playoffs.
5. NaJin e-mFire: 8-6 (19-16)
NaJin are NaJin, as per usual.
The only real comparison I can make with them is that they're a talented boxer with all the innate talent to become a world champion. They have incredible punching power, lighting fast speed, and the potential to knockout an opponent in the first minute of the bout if they can get behind a punch.
Thing is, even with all that natural talent, they can get pushed around and made a fool of versus smarter fighters. It's great that they have all these strengths that can beat up lesser opponents, but it's an immense gap in experience and brains when you see NaJin try to fight against SKT like they can against SBENU.
6. Jin Air Green Wings: 7-6 (15-14)
Another split and another letdown season for Jin Air. The beginning of the year looked to be the rebirth of Jin Air as a franchise. No longer would they be the joke of Champions along with Incredible Miracle. They were going to come into 2015 as a team that could compete for Worlds, and they did well to make the playoffs last season over NaJin and KT Rolster before rolling over in the quarterfinals against CJ Entus.
We are now at the point where Jin Air are only a few match losses away from getting passed up in the standings by Samsung Galaxy, a team that was a laughingstock the previous season due to their awful results. The roster for Jin Air is solid, and they have topflight players like Trace and Chaser on the top side of the map, but roster indecision at the middle and bottom lanes have crippled Jin Air's ability to stabilize this split.
7. Samsung Galaxy: 5-8 (13-18)
8. Rebels Anarchy: 3-10 (12-22)
9. Longzhu IM: 3-10 (8-22)
We are nearing the point where it might be time to separate Samsung Galaxy from their bottom table brethren. They picked up a big win against Rebels Anarchy to move them up to a respectable 5-8, a position that would have looked like a godsend after last split's awful performance. They're in a spot where they can likely clinch a spot into next year's Champions with one or two more match wins.
Then we get to Anarchy and Longzhu IM, two teams that are stagnant in play and position at the cellar of the competition. Rebels are simply a solo queue team that still hasn't matured or grown into anything that resembles a top team. They still have a lot of talent on their roster and are pretty much a poor man's NaJin with their firepower and lack of coordination.
Incredible Miracle are a lost cause. They've been at the bottom of Champions now for almost four years, and it doesn't look like it'll change anytime soon. They can bring in new players, look amazing in qualifiers, and beat up on Challenger teams, but until they finally go one half of a season as a playoff team, it's time to stop giving IM the benefit of the doubt in their potential.
10. SBENU Sonicboom: 0-13 (5-26)
I'll say this now: if SBENU Sonicboom continue to play well in the next week, I'm ready to move them up in the rankings over IM. At least with SBENU there is an excuse to their awful record. They're a brand new team with no players that have any professional experience. At least with Rebels Anarchy, Lira and Mickey have played in China before and know what it takes to be a pro. For Sonicboom, it's been an entire season of getting roughed up and learning from mistakes.
Incredible Miracle? They really haven't improved record-wise in three years. SBENU, for all their losses, have gone from a team that people walked over in the first round-robin to now being a team that can put a scare into the top teams. They're going on the same path of Samsung Galaxy by starting out as a terrible inexperienced team and work their way up into relevancy. Sasin and Nuclear are two players that have gotten better and better as the season has gone along, and they could be the pair that helps Sonicboom stave off relegation in the offseason and return to Korea's premiere league.
The All-Champions Team (Week 9)
Top: Shy (CJ Entus) 17/9/47 in 5 games
Shy is not done as a professional just yet, Helper. Wait your turn, young man, the top lane legend still wants another crack at making the World Championships. The addition of Helper has only seemed to motivate the long-time Entus top laner, turning up the jets in his play in Week 9 to get CJ Entus into a comfortable fourth place position.
Jungle: Score (KT Rolster) 9/4/36 in 5 games
Keeping on with the theme of veterans still getting it done in 2015, we have KT's Score. It was a weird transition when Score moved from his position of AD carry to jungle, but it's worked out to benefit Rolster now that he's gotten a hang of his new role.
Mid: Coco (CJ Entus) 40/11/44 in 5 games
CJ Entus will go as far as Coco can carry them. He's affirmed himself as the team's star player and is acting like it, putting in work in pretty much every single game CJ have won this season.
AD Carry: Arrow (KT Rolster) 21/2/24 in 5 games
Arrow is rounding into form with the addition of his old friend Piccaboo on the squad. The two made an elite tandem during their time on Xenics Storm along with Coco and Swift, and they're a main reason why KT Rolster are a few wins away from locking up a top three spot in the postseason.
Support: Wolf (SK Telecom T1) 5/1/34 in 4 games
There are three MVP candidates for this season's Champions: Faker, the best player in the world. Ssumday, possibly the strongest carry top laner in the world. And Wolf, who does a little bit of everything for SKT T1, and is playing the best League of Legends for his career. Wolf had his worst moments as a pro-gamer during the MSI Grand Finals where he fell flat on his face in the climactic map versus EDward Gaming. Since that failure, he's done everything in his power to make sure that he never loses like that again.
Tyler "Fionn" Erzberger is a staff writer for theScore eSports who covers the North American LCS and Korea's Champions. You can follow him on Twitter.