Every major region in every major esport has its defining rivalry and in Korean League of Legends — in fact, in Korean esports in general — this has always been SK Telecom T1 versus KT Rolster. Dubbed the “Telecom Wars”, the two franchises have waged battles on old and new battlefields alike. It started in StarCraft: Brood War, where KT rose as the one worthy challenger to topple the SKT empire created by Lim “BoxeR” Yo-Hwan. Their rivalry developed on both team level over five Proleague Finals (3-2 in SKT’s favor), and individual level as well with rivalries like Flash vs. Bisu and Flash vs. Fantasy.
Once Brood War died out, the rivalry found new home in League of Legends and for years it has been the one match-up to watch every OGN Champions/LCK Season since 2013 when SKT and KT met for the first time in a LoL grand final.
Since then, SKT and KT have faced each other in two more LCK/Champions grand finals and even if SKT always came ahead, fans didn’t miss to tune in to the new chapter of the Telecom Wars.
As of today, the rivalry is decisively in SKT’s favor, with a series record of 18-6 and game regard of 46-26. In its six and a half year history in League of Legends, it has seen Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok’s iconic Zed outplay versus Ryu “Ryu” Sang-wook, to the formation of KT’s year 2017 super team, to that same team losing every single Telecom War of that year, despite playing arguably the best game of the entire season.
In Korea, the Telecom War is a special event and an entertainment constant. When it’s on, you tune in. But the upcoming chapter of the rivalry, scheduled for Thursday, June 27, is slated to be one of the most underwhelming ones in history.
A battle that means nothing
Not every SKT vs. KT face-off has been high stakes, but there’s always been a significance to each episode of the rivalry. Even outside years where both teams have been top form (like in 2017), there’s always been a reason to watch an SKT vs. KT match, even if just for the historical aspect and track record between the two organizations.
But when the two teams enter the stage for the battle on Thursday, one will be hard-pressed to find a reason to care.
2019 LCK Summer Split has been harsh for SKT and KT alike. KT’s woes actually began the split prior when the off-season roster change broke down the KT super team which was considered early Worlds favorite, and left a husk of a line-up whose strength was difficult to gauge. KT kept franchise veterans like Go “Score” Dong-bin and Song “Smeb” Kyung-ho, who have been with the org since 2014 and 2016, respectively, but lost their star bot lane of Kim “deft” Hyuk-kyu and Cho “Mata” Se-hyeong.
With much of the firepower gone, KT ended up second to last in the regular season, which meant a ticket to the off-season relegation. Despite surviving the pits and saving their LCK life, KT gave fans little assurances that they will be a stronger team come summer.
SKT had a better spring, but a terrible entry into summer. After beating Griffin in the Summer Playoffs finals, SKT headed for an MSI 2019 campaign which ended with a 2-3 quarterfinal loss by G2 Esports and another international loss for South Korea — something it really needed to avoid.
Since they’ve been back, SKT have won only on best-of-3 (against Jin Air Green Wings, LCK’s worst team) and lost the last five. They’ve been losing to teams from all corners of the standings: from top placing Griffin and Sandbox to middle-of-the-table Afreeca Freecs.
Today, SKT are where KT were last season: second to last, only better than JAG.
As a result, the upcoming Thursday battle has little to offer. None of SKT and KT can be considered a good team in their current form. In a world without JAG, together they’d have one win out of 10 games.
There are no individual match-ups that are exciting either. Kim “Clid” Tae-min, who was easily the best player in MSI 2019 groups, has had much less impact on his team’s early game (5% lower kill participation then his MSI/LCK Spring stats). Neither Faker, nor Gwak “Bdd” Bo-seong are playing well either and in the bot lane, one can expect it to be the Park “Teddy” Jin-seong show, given the recently un-retired Kim “PraY” Jong-in ranks as the worst ADC in the league in terms of KDA, GPM, average deaths, average DPM, and DMG%.
However the match developers, there’s hardly a scenario where it gets interesting, unless the two teams show completely different colors. The two most optimistic scenarios are: 1) Teddy takes over the game through bot and right-clicks KT Rolster into their fifth loss; or 2) Score outjungles Clid and snowballs KT’s solo lanes into victory.
But in reality, what’s most likely to happen is that in pursuit of a much needed victory, SKT and KT play a cautious, LCK-esque macro game with single-digit kills scoreboard that bores LoL fans so much that they switch to the EPICENTER Major instead.
In previous years, there would be a number of reasons to watch the latest installment of the Telecom Wars.
This Thursday, the only reason to watch it is because the LPL has a day off.