The whole point of esports, presumably, is to win. That’s why they set up the massive arenas and stadiums, lay out stages, set up teams, bring players out, and have them go against each other. They don’t make the trophies, rings, and medals for fun! They’re to celebrate the best and brightest of League of Legends. Let’s not even get started on the increasingly large prize pots. The point of League of Legends is to win, but how is it possible to win too much?
Meet SK Telecom T1. The Korean titans are seemingly unstoppable, especially after picking up another Mid-Season Invitational win. They’ve picked up wins in the Korean region, the last two MSIs, and three World Championships. As we barrel through Summer and towards Worlds, they seem poised to pick up a fourth. It’s enough to drive some fans mad, and it’s starting a discussion about whether it’s possible for one team’s domination to lead to a stagnant scene overall.
SKT’s wins are impressive at face value, but it's important to underline just how unprecedented it is. No other team has approached this level of dominance. They’ve won half of all World Championship titles to date. They’ve lost players (although Faker remains the crown jewel of their lineup), they’ve had new challengers approach, and they had one year since season two where they dropped the ball. This is something that is impossible to achieve with luck: this is all skill, hard work, dedication, and determination.
Not only is this a meritocratic accomplishment, but SKT T1 being so good has given us some incredible series over the years. They raise the bar merely by existing, and even if other teams can’t win, their attempts are legendary to watch. ROX Tigers against SKT T1 was an extraordinary series to watch live, and it’ll go down in legend. The new KT superteam built to take down SKT have given us some great games. SKT’s existence raise the quality of League games as a whole. This is the main, and most convincing argument, as to why their constant victories are a good thing, and they must be noted before we address the opposite side of the argument. That’s because there is no logical counterargument. Every problem SKT has produced seems to come from the emotional side of the League fandom.
There comes a point where it’s painful to see the teams you’ve fallen in love with run into the SKT meatgrinder. The ROX Tigers struggled, throwing themselves against SKT, and finally succeeding in the LCK. They headed to Worlds as summer LCK champions, and they seemed poised to win in the semifinals. Their Miss Fortune support threw SKT off balance, and for once, SKT looked mad and scared.
And then SKT won anyway.
Imagine you watched a Disney movie where a plucky band of heroes came together and played against the preppy team of unstoppable rich kids, and in the finale, the rich kids won. Okay, in fairness to SKT, they seem like a bunch of really nice young men, and not at all like Disney villains... but when you see them win again, and again, and again, it gets to you. The ROX Tigers ended up disbanding, spreading to the winds. They couldn’t beat SKT, and then they disbanded. It’s a sad fate for a team who talked about each other like family.
Samsung Galaxy also had a fascinating, emotionally compelling story. They had fought their way down from the lower rankings of the Korean bracket, a team of players who slowly built synergy and scraped their way into Worlds and then made it all the way to the finals. They even fought SKT to five games after losing the first two in a stomp. Samsung Galaxy fought valiantly, Samsung Galaxy fought honorably, and Samsung Galaxy also fell to SKT.
At this point, fans don’t even bother mustering hope for an underdog like G2 Esports. We’re just happy it wasn’t a slaughter.
Changing the standard
If we agree that the point of League of Legends is to win, and that teams should be focused on winning, and there’s only one team that has a viable chance of winning every time they enter the arena, it shifts the discussion around the event. Every series with SKT becomes “this team made Gods bleed” or “drew blood against legends”. The narrative, and the way that we talk about games, warps when exposed to the gravity well of SKT.
On one hand, they’ve earned this level of respect. A team like SKT likely will not enter League for the rest of the game’s lifespan. On the other hand, it can become stifling, and we see great stories buried under the same tale again and again. Fans who are watching solely for the spectacle of great games are pleased, but it’s lonely at the top, and SKT’s eternity in the limelight has created a legion of fans who are actively rooting against them.
Maybe Riot are aware of this. After all, the new international tournament, Rift Rivals, creates multiple battlegrounds. SKT will still be competing in the Korea, China, and Taiwan Rift Rivals tournament, but other regions will be given their own arenas. Maybe more international competition, even if Korea isn’t in the mix, will allow other regions to grow and challenge SKT’s iron grasp on every League championship they can contend for.
Or, just maybe, it’s time for us to stop worrying and love SKT. Huni and Peanut have both brought a healthy dose of pure likability to SKT’s roster, and it was downright adorable watching Bang on stage accepting his award from Ronaldo at the MSI. We’re living in the era of legends—perhaps it’s simply time to sit back and enjoy it.