SK Telecom T1 are, basically, the best team in the history of eSports. They’re a Korean (obviously) team, currently focusing on League of Legends, though before that they had an equally powerful StarCraft house. At last month’s LoL Worlds they took first place for the third time in four years, becoming the first team to win back-to-back before anyone else has even won twice. Dominance doesn’t even really cut it, and while rivals Samsung Galaxy came close in the five-game finals and SKT don’t win every tournament they enter, they will never be underdogs again. Is it a problem and should – or can – anything be done about it?
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“I think that there’s extreme danger to being reactive to excellence within a sport,” says Riot’s co-head of eSports, Whalen Rozelle. “It’s extremely dangerous. Ideally every series goes to five games and everything’s competitive – that would be the dream, but it gets very dangerous when we ask organisations who operate leagues and tournaments to begin doing something about dominance.”
While it might be more exciting to have fairer competition, that’s not the point, explains Rozelle, “It’s not worth stacking the deck and creating ‘a show’ when League is really about the spirit of competition.” But what he does want to see is other League of Legends teams look at SKT and emulate what makes them excellent.
“The real question is what the other teams trying to learn from an organisation that’s been incredibly dominant? What can they do? Whether it’s to mirror them, to mould their organisation like SKT, or learn from them and figure out what the next stage of evolution is. That’s really what I hope teams out there are trying to do.”
As for Riot, it’s not their place to do anything but give everyone a chance to win. “Our goal is to ensure that there’s a fair playing ground and ensure that organisations are investing and evolving. Sure, I love [that the final went to five games], but SKT wins because they’re better in the sport. You’ve got to tip your cap and respect it. SKT is one of the most popular teams in the world and that’s because people respect excellence. People respect the fact that in a world of a really immature, growing sport, where sustained success is challenging, these guys have had it.”
In recent days, with the Korea-only Kespa cup running, SKT have fallen to the ROX Tigers, the pre-Worlds favourites for the title. As noted, their dominance is not complete – at least, until Worlds 2017.