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Black & White: the historic rivalry of SK Telecom T1 and Samsung White

by theScore Staff Nov 6 2015
Thumbnail image courtesy of Riot eSports Flickr

Black uniforms. Black commemorative hats. Black t-shirts to showcase their new world championship to the thousands in the Mercedes-Benz Arena in Berlin. The kings of darkness conquered Europe throughout the month of October. After 16 games played through four different rounds, SK Telecom T1 became the first two-time Summoner's Cup winners and had only dropped one map in the process. Their lone loss, which came in their third game against the KOO Tigers, was quickly forgotten when the world champions followed up with a flawless performance in the Cup-clinching game.

From top to bottom, SK Telecom T1 exemplified what it meant to play gracefully. Whether it came to their positioning on the map or decisive play calls, T1 dissected the game on a different level from their opponents outside of a few games where they got off to lackadaisical starts — most notably in their first three games against KOO. Facing off against SK Telecom T1 was like taking on a poker player with the quintessential nondescript face. Even when you felt like you were ahead and pulling away from them, SKT never flinched or showed any tells that anything was wrong.

Cold and relentless in their play, Origen and the other teams that were able to get unexpected leads against T1 were forced to play a seemingly flawless game from beginning to end if they hoped to claim victory. Regardless of how well they played up to a certain point, it all came crashing down when they made that fateful mistake that allowed T1 to strike and undo all of their tireless work. When the Tigers were finally able to take a game off SKT T1 with one of the best early-games they could have asked for, their momentum was anticlimactically halted in the fourth game. Faker silenced the pro-Tigers crowd by stopping a two-on-one gank with Ryze that resulted in KOO giving up First Blood. The rest of the game went downhill from there for the eventual runners-up.

Whenever it felt like SKT T1 were about to slip up or get caught off their game, they slammed the door on the opposing team. Two-time world champions; four-time domestic winners; and, through their unparalleled play, the first undisputed dynasty in League of Legends.

One year prior to SK Telecom T1's blackout in Berlin and in-between their two Summoner's Cup victories, there was another Korean team that became world champions. Samsung White celebrated their title victory in front of their home fans in South Korea, hoisting their prize in the air as over 40,000 people applauded their dominant performance. As Imagine Dragons played a closing musical set, Samsung White shined brightly in their white baseball caps and commemorative t-shirts, reveling in their accomplishment that saw them go from a semifinal loss in the summer Champions Korea season to a world title only a few weeks later.

White's run to the championship was equally as commanding as T1's victories in 2013 and 2015. But, unlike their rivals, Samsung White didn't enter the World Championships as South Korea's reigning champions. Although Samsung White had finished in the Top 3 of every Champions Korea season in 2014, they never took home the top prize. They fell to SK Telecom T1 in the finals of the winter campaign during SKT's still unmatched perfect season, and then fell to their sister team, Samsung Blue, in the semifinals of the spring and summer tournaments. White were considered pound-for-pound the most talented team in their region, but were criticized due to their sometimes apathetic play style and sluggish transition to new patches. Whenever a new patch would shake up the meta, their kin, Blue, would be the first team to create the new best tactics or compositions to get ahead in Korea.

Everything came together, though, as Samsung White shook off an entire year of misfortune and reckless play to dominate on the world's largest stage. Led by Dandy and Mata, the strongest jungler/support tandem in the game's history, White were unstoppable from their first World Championship match. With the extra practice time to get acclimated to the Worlds patch and the necessary preparation, White became the team that people thought they would be all year. Their overconfident, aggressive play was still there at times, however, even with their somewhat carefree way of getting things done, Samsung White steamrolled the rest of the field en route to a 15-2 record and a nearly unblemished tournament.

The kings of light. The charismatic, trash talking champions from South Korea. Playful in nature both in and out of the game, Samsung White were the stars of their nation as they beat Star Horn Royal Club in four games to win League's greatest treasure. On that night in Seoul World Cup Stadium, it felt like the beginning of a new empire.

Samsung White may not have had anyone that could've stopped them from defending their title in 2015. The only issue was that they were world champions who consisted of elite players that, comparatively, were being paid peanuts. The fact that the Korean/Chinese hybrid better known as Royal Club made it all the way to the 2014 finals opened the floodgates known as the Great Korean Exodus. China's top teams were not afraid to offer gigantic contracts to the best Korean players, and Samsung White's roster was at the top of their wish lists. Before they could even attempt to win their first domestic title in over a year, the world champions left Korea for the greener pastures of China's LPL.

Dandy and Mata, the team's backbone, signed with Vici Gaming. PawN, the junior of the team, decided to pair up with Samsung Blue's Deft and joined EDward Gaming. And Looper, the sturdy utility top laner, teamed back up with former teammate, Dade, and went to the newly rebranded Team WE secondary team now known as Master3.

Their departure from the Korean scene and the subsequent Chinese signings of other Korean talent left the region in flux. On top of that, a new rule was handed down that restricted each organization to one professional team, effectively putting an end to the sister team dynamic. As the splintered Samsung White fought in China with varying degrees of success, SK Telecom T1 were the one team in the country that kept their core players during the offseason.

The 2015 World Championships were supposed to be a battle between China's money and Korea's infrastructure. When the best Korean players asked for more cash from their teams, the organizations shrugged and let them go to China. In their minds they felt like they could replicate the success of the former players by using their topnotch infrastructure, scouting and coaching staff to breed the next generation of superstars by the end of 2015. China, on the other hand, were putting everything into beating Korea: investing millions of dollars to sign the best players and coaches.

In Europe, it was going to be China's incessant desire to win against South Korea's prideful confidence in a war to see which ideology was in fact the correct one.

But, combining both money, infrastructure, and history of winning, SK Telecom T1 actually held onto their best players. This meant by the time the team synchronized fully, they combined the strengths of China and Korea's philosophies without any of the weaknesses. As Imp and PawN fell in the group stage and quarterfinals respectively (being White's only players to make it back to the World Championships), SKT T1's march to the Cup was unperturbed.

While T1 won the Summoner's Cup in a systematically proficient manner, the men clad in black had no real rivals to face. The Korean teams couldn't match them. The Chinese squads couldn't keep up with them. The only squad that could have stopped them were the men dressed in white, and they were broken apart, leaving us with a future wondering who could possibly stop the ongoing dynasty of SK Telecom T1?

In Faker's two-and-a-half year history as a professional player, only one team has a winning record against him: Samsung White.

Out of the seven Champions Korea tournaments Faker's SK Telecom T1 (K) teams participated in, he's won the championship four times. The three times that they didn't win the championship? Samsung White (MVP Ozone) beat them.

MVP Ozone beat Faker in his rookie campaign during the semifinals. Ozone, who would get picked up by Samsung at the end of the year, won their only domestic championship that season with one of the biggest upsets in League history, beating CJ Entus Blaze 3-0 in the finals.

The second elimination would come in the spring of 2014, as SK Telecom T1 were matched up against Samsung White in the quarterfinals and White took out the defending champions in four games to exact revenge for their their finals loss to them the previous season. This same procedure would be replicated the following season, as White once again took out Faker and co. in the quarterfinals before losing to Samsung Blue in the semifinals.

Throughout their history, SK Telecom T1 (K) and Samsung White played in 27 games. In that time Samsung managed to go 18-9 against the reigning world champions. No other team during SKT T1 K's run had a winning record against them. The closest were the KT Arrows and Samsung Blue, both of who were around the .500 mark. But White, the one true rival to Faker and SKT T1, completely owned them throughout their run as a squad.

White's dominance over SKT didn't stop at Champions Korea. In the OGN Masters series, Samsung White (with Blue) swept SK Telecom T1 K (and S) in the Grand Finals to take home that trophy. And, in the last match the two teams would have before White split up, Samsung beat SK Telecom T1 in a tiebreaker match before the World Championships to see which team would claim Korea's No. 2 seed. Samsung White won in convincing fashion, sending SK Telecom T1 to the Regional Finals where they were beat in the finals by a red hot NaJin White Shield team. For all intents and purposes, Samsung White killed the SK Telecom T1 K squad that won the Summoner's Cup in 2013 and went through a season of Champions Korea undefeated.

SK Telecom T1 would rebuild after their defeat to Samsung White. In the end they became a stronger, wiser, and more powerful unit. Without Samsung White pushing them to their limits and ultimately burying them, we would have never seen the fluid, chess-like play we saw from SKT T1 this year at the World Championships.

Samsung White would fracture. The best team in the world was not defeated by new enemies, a rebuilt SKT, or internal reasons between members. White's only loss was that they couldn't pay their plays what they were worth. With how short a pro-gamer career's can last, no one could blame their five members and head coach, Homme, for wanting to make the most money possible after showing the world how good they are at their craft.

So when the 2016 season starts, SK Telecom T1 (who've already announced they will do everything possible to keep their team together) will sit on their throne, awaiting for someone to challenge them for their crown. They'll be glaring into the darkness, anticipating the footsteps of a team that can help them grown even more.

Maybe one day the light will return to face them.

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.

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