The Retrospective: SKT T1 vs. KT Bullets

by theScore Staff Aug 28 2015
Thumbnail image courtesy of OGN

This is the Retrospective, where we will take you through some of League of Legends' greatest matches. We will relive these classic clashes by discussing the lead-up to the contest, analyzing the historic match itself, and then looking at the careers of the players that competed in them and what they're up to today.

The Lead-up

August 31st, 2013 -- The biggest final in professional Korean League of Legends history.

On one side, we have the KT Bullets, the squad that play the beautiful game. When you look at their roster, they have top tier players across the board, but don't have a single all-star that stands out above them all. The last player KT had at that level was inSec, but the former jungled has recently switched to play in the top lane which allowed KT Rolster A member KaKAO to rejoin the team

There are a lot of teams in the world that have star studded lineups or monster carries, but the Bullets define the word team. There is no group of players today that coordinate better than the current KT B team, everyone on the roster sacrifices personal gain for the good of the entire organization. They've had games where they're down in kills by seven or eight, but they're still in the lead in gold and being the aggressors on the map.

The Bullets do this by being the best objective team in the world. They know the precise timings to sneak a Drake, go for an early Baron that can catch the other team off guard or pressure certain towers on the map to get the advantage in the gold totals. They'll allow you to take out one of their player or make an incredible outplay that gets the fans excited, and then turn your small victory into a nightmare — before you know it, your fans cheers turn into stunned silence. That one insignificant kill has been turned into two towers and a Drake for the Bullets, with the entire map now under their full and unwavering control.

Game over.

The Bullets' opponent also happen to be KT Rolster's long-time rival. SK Telecom T1, formerly SKT T1 K, are in their second season of Champions. If the KT Bullets play the game to its fullest in terms of teamwork, then SKT T1 are five individuals who play the game beautifully. Each one of them is mechanically sound, anchored by two carries who made their pro-gaming debuts last split, AD Carry Piglet and Faker, their crown jewel in the mid lane.

While the Bullets are unbeatable when it comes to controlling objectives, T1 are unmatched when it comes to playing in the lane. Impact (top lane), Faker, and Piglet are all capable of winning the game as a carry through the lane phase, and their jungler, Bengi, provides the necessary vision and protection needed to play upfront and aggressive in the lanes. PoohMandu, the team's support, is possibly the least support-like player you'll ever see at the role, even more overzealous than his AD Carry partner in his never-ending quest to cover the map in his enemy's blood.

The upcoming final will be a test to see which team philosophy is better in the end: the Bullets' all for one, and one for all ideology in objective control, or T1's unstoppable individual talent that can crush any player one-on-one in the world.

The Match

Two years later, this final is arguably the greatest match in the game's history.

The hype going into it was already at a fever pitch, the Champions summer finals being the first time that the two historic rivals would meet in such an important match in League of Legends. KT Rolster and SK Telecom T1 were no strangers to finals in other popular South Korean eSports, the two teams fighting with each other for almost a decade during StarCraft: Brood War's untouched reign as the country's No. 1 eSport.

On the day of one of the biggest matches in the country's eSport history, the weather decided to rebel against the narrative. As the teams came out to begin the opening ceremony in front of a packed crowd on the beach, the rain fell down from above, the MC of the event screaming his welcome to the fans as the water poured over him. Some of the fans retreated from their seats to try and find some cover until the rain stopped, although others stayed in their seats despite being drenched, yelling for their favorite players and team as they entered the booths to begin the Telecom War for the Champions summer split title.

The first game of the series was quintessential KT Bullets. If you want to look at a team that knew how to make Summoner's Rift their home, then go back and watch how the Bullets took over this game. It started innocently enough, the Bullets getting the first blood of the game off a nice exchange in the top lane between the opposing bottom lanes. But that's when the real magic happened — KT took that single kill and snowballed their advantage into objectives, opening the map even more for their vision control and ability to sneak either Drake or Baron if need be.

T1, although an incredibly adept team at skirmishing and winning in the early-game, couldn't keep up with the Bullets' movement around the map and their fast tower pushing strategy that forced SKT out of the lanes and into a place where they had to play as a team. While T1 would eventually get to the level where they could play an all-around game that led them to the 2013 world championship title, this was still a period where they were maturing as a team.

When people look at this game, they'll see why the Bullets are still considered one of the greatest teams in the game's history even without ever making a World Championship. Score, a player that was known for his safe and cautious ways, came out of his shell on the first map in the series, leading the team through his wave control on Ezreal. Not only was he able to push lanes and continue on the Bullets' path of controlling all the lanes, but he also was grabbing kills, playing more forward than usual, and sniping T1 members from across the map with his ultimate.

The game itself was a one-sided massacre on paper. The Bullets' style overwhelmed T1, broke them down early, and Faker went on to one of his worst games in his career, not grabbing a single kill in a game where he died repeatedly.

If you watch the game again, you'll see Piglet play the best game of his career. Often seen as Faker's sidekick during his tenure as T1's AD Carry, this game was essentially Piglet playing against one of the strongest teams we've ever seen by himself. On Vayne, Piglet was down in CS and gold for a majority of the game as the Bullets kept an unrelenting grip on the map, barely surviving in uneven team fights where he'd be one of the only surviving members. Still, even if the Bullets won the team fights, Piglet was grabbing one or two kills in every fight, going back to base to heal, and then tumbling back to one of the waves pushing towards his Nexus to split-push.

By the time the Bullets ultimately broke into T1's base to end the game, Piglet was still the only T1 member that could put up a fight, putting every last drop of effort into trying to kill everyone on KT. Unfortunately for him, the Bullets locked him down in the final push towards the victory, with Score cutting him down before he could eliminate the rest of the team.

Piglet finished the game 9/2/1 on a map where his team could only muster 11 kills all game. It was one of the best individual AD Carry performances in League history — and it ended in a one-sided, dominating defeat.

Game 2 was even worse for SK Telecom T1. Piglet's Vayne, their only saving grace in the first game, was completely neutralized on the second map as the Bullets pinpointed him before he could do anything as inSec's Zac kept taking him out. The script went the same way as Game 1, with Bullets getting the early lead, opening the map with their objective control, and choking the life from T1's body.

Even down 10k gold and on their last legs with super minions crashing into their base, T1 proved that they could still mechanically duel with the Bullets head-on, holding them off with technical outplays at the front of their Nexus. It was all for not though as the Bullets' control of the map helped them crack the Nexus. Super minions constricted SK T1 to simply watch as KT Rolster steamrolled their way to another blowout victory and a 2-0 lead in the finals.

To get back into the series, T1 adapted from their style in the first two games. With everything on the line, they went with a starting five of Malphite, Vi, Zed, Vayne, and Zyra. If the Bullets were getting leads early and opening up the game through small advantages they accrued in the early-game, SK Telecom T1 needed to stop their strategy the best way they knew how: crush the safe Bullets with immense, unstoppable offensive pressure.

It worked, as SKT T1 amassed a 5-1 kill lead in the first 10 minutes (Faker's Zed and Piglet's Vayne combined for four of those kills). When Faker and Piglet, T1's two star carries, got kills in the early-game, it was almost always over for the opposing team. Comparable to Bullets' ability to win games early through fast pushing turrets, controlling objectives, and eventually choking out their opponents, SKT T1 couldn't be given any kills in the first 10 minutes of a game. Above all, though, you could never, under any circumstance, give Faker an early kill.

In 2013, when it was easier for one player to carry a game by himself, giving a kill over to Faker early meant nothing but pain (and certain death) for the opposing side.

That's what happened in Game 3, and T1 rocketed to a 24-4 kill lead at 20 minutes with their all-in composition that broke through the Bullets' methodical, distinguished style. Knowing there was little they could do with Faker and Piglet already fed heavily in the mid-game, the Bullets tapped out right after getting deleted off the map, falling back on the fact they had two more shots of taking the title.

From their big win on the third map, SKT T1 would then use the Bullets' tactics against them in the fourth game. T1 played an all-around game that didn't hinge on them blowing KT out in the early-game. This time they played the same safe, slow-pace style that the Bullets had closed out many teams in the past. With Impact on Shen, SKT T1 stretched the map with the ability of having Shen come in at any time with his Stand United ultimate to team back up with the rest of the squad.

In a 40-minute game, the Bullets were only able to knock down two towers and SK Telecom T1 controlled the map. As I said before, the T1 from this series was still evolving into their ultimate form that would eventually win Worlds and take home the following Champions split without a single loss. This was a game that proved how far they could come in a single series — starting out as confused and blown out in two straight games, and then coming back with an adaptive formation to bring the series back to a 2-2 deadlock.

Yes, I know, the fifth game is the one where Faker's Zed beats Ryu's in one of iconic moments in eSports history. Faker wins the duel, T1 finishes off the reverse sweep in amazing fashion, and they eventually go on to win the world title and become one of the best teams we've ever seen in League.

But, if you look at the game outside of that single play, Faker actually played a pretty average game on Zed up to that point. He made some flashy plays and grabbed some kills in skirmishes, but he also was caught out a few times, overextended to his demise on a few occasions, and really didn't overpower Ryu until the end of the game when the result was already out of reach.

As with the first game, the hero of the finals set was Piglet. With the rules of the fifth set in Champions, the final map comes down to a Blind Pick match where there are no bans and a team can pick whichever champion they want. The Bullets, who won the first two games through fast pushing turrets and rolling over T1, put Score, their reliable AD Carry, on Caitlyn. T1 countered the safe, tower pushing Caitlyn by putting Piglet back on his Vayne, the champion that he shined with already in the series.

The outcome of the series came down to Piglet outperforming Score in the clutch, outmaneuvering his adversary in skirmishes and avoiding death at the hands of the Bullets. Piglet was able to split-push and do what he intended, while Score was never able to fast push turrets early or get into the late-game where Caitlyn could become relevant in team fights. SK Telecom T1 knew when to punish the Bullets' strategy, exploited the weak mid-game, and took home the championship in a masterful series that showed them go from an individually talented team into a flexible squad that could change their strategies on the fly.

KT were too stuck in their tactic that got them up 2-0 in the match, and T1 passed them right by to a championship victory.

The Aftermath

SK Telecom T1

Jung "Impact" Eon-yeong played for SK Telecom T1 through their world title run like the rest of the summer split winning roster. He would eventually leave the team at the end of 2015, traveling to North America to play with the rebranded LMQ squad, Team Impulse. He will try to make it back to the World Championships for the second time this week in the North American Regional Final.

Bae "Bengi" Seong-ung is still on the current SK Telecom T1 roster, playing as the starting jungler. He will make it back to the Champions summer split finals this Saturday against KT Rolster in a rematch of this historic final. He has already qualified with T1 to make his second Worlds this October.

Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok won the MVP award following the victory over the Bullets, and then went on to win the MVP of the World Championships a month later in Los Angeles. Following that, he had an up-and-down 2014, winning the winter split with the rest of the members from the 2013 summer final before the team went into a slump in the second-half of the year. He's come back to life in 2015, leading the new SK Telecom T1 (and Bengi) to a spring title earlier this year, and he'll return to Worlds after a years absence to try and recapture the Summoner's Cup.

Chae "Piglet" Gwang-jin, like Impact, played with T1 up until the end of the 2014 circuit, and then was removed from the team before moving to North America to play in the LCS. He won the regular season title with his new team Team Liquid during the NA LCS summer split, and he will battle with former teammate Impact this weekend in the NA Regional Finals for the last North American spot at Worlds.

Lee "PoohManDu" Jeong-hyeon played for SKT T1 until the middle of 2014, leaving the roster due to health issues. He would return later that year to reunite the old championship team, but his play had decreased, and he eventually retired at he end of the year to become a coach. He now resides in China, coaching the LSPL team Young Glory.

KT Rolster Bullets

Kim "ssumday" Chan-ho was on the bench during the Bullets' loss to SKT T1 in the 2013 summer split finals, but he and Score are the only returning members from that team to try and get revenge against Faker and Bengi this weekend. He eventually became when he was moved onto the KT Rolster Arrows, and he won a Champions title alongside KaKAO last summer against Samsung Blue. Ssumday won the MVP during the regular season of the current Champions summer season, beating out Faker by 100 points.

Choi "inSec" In-seok is the only member from the 2013 summer Bullets team to make a World Championship before '15, advancing to last year's Worlds with Starhorn Royal Club from China. He went all the way to the finals of the tournament before eventually getting eliminated by Samsung White one step away from the Summoner's Cup. His most recent team was King in the LPL, but he was relegated from China's premiere league a few weeks ago and is currently in the secondary league if he stays with the team.

Lee "KaKAO" Byung-kwon left the Bullets shortly after the 2013 year, moving over to the KT Arrows alongside Ssumday. He won the 2014 summer Champions title on the Arrows, yet wasn't able to make Worlds due to losing to NaJin White Shield in the Korean Regional Finals. He currently plays for Invictus Gaming in China, and KaKAO's team has finished third the past two LPL splits. iG will play in the upcoming Chinese Regional Finals against EDward Gaming, Snake, and the Qiao Gu Reapers, with the top two teams going to Worlds.

Ryu "Ryu" Sang-wook would play on the Bullets until the end of 2014, afterwards moving to Europe to try and play in the LCS. He played with two European teams, Millennium and Roccat, before finally finding a home on H2k Gaming. H2k recently qualified as the second seed for Europe going into Worlds, meaning Ryu will make his first appearance in the game's biggest tournament. He might even get a return meeting against Faker, who's already qualified with the current T1 team.

Go "Score" Dong-bin is still in the KT organization as captain, and he will make his second summer finals this Saturday against SK Telecom T1. Score has changed his position from AD carry to jungler, moving to his new role at he beginning of 2015 when KaKAO decided to leave Rolster for iG in China. If he can win against Faker this weekend, he, like Ryu, will also make his debut at Worlds this October.

Won "MaFa" Sang-yeon retired from being a pro-gamer in the middle of 2014, and is now currently coaching KaKAO on Invictus Gaming in China.

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.