[LCK COLUMN] A Crumbling Dynasty - 3 Years of T1
There's a lot of discussion and frankly, a lot of hate being thrown around in Korean communities regarding T1's projected coaching staff roster. It might be helpful to understand how fan perception of SKT changed through the course of it's rebranding to T1 and track the changes made that resulted in the fiasco we see today.
SKT T1. Their name in League of Legends requires no further introduction. 3-time Worlds champions, 2-time MSI champions, 9 LCK titles, T1, along with their superstar mid laner Faker, were once considered so dominant, they were hurting the esports scene. But what once rose must also fall, and SKT fell hard after their 3-0 loss in 2017 Worlds finals against Samsung Galaxy. Faker's performance dropped off and he was subbed out for Pirean who famously went 0/9/2 against BDD, Untara was so non-existent SKT were forced to call up their rookie Thal to the top lane, and Blank and Blossom were both so bad at jungling that support Wolf went to jungle. SKT failed to make Worlds in 2018, losing against Gen.G in the regional qualifiers.
2019 SKT T1 - The "Dream Team" half-fulfilled After T1's abject failure of the 2018 season, 2019 promised something much greater, with star head coach Kkoma personally contacting and recruiting high-value players like Khan, Mata and Teddy, as well as picking up young and fresh talent like Clid. 2019 also marked SKT's transition into T1, with Comcast becoming a major shareholder of the team, with CEO Joe Marsh promising to generate the brand value that T1 should rightly possess. However, while the brand T1 gained traction rapidly with increased sponsorship and better streaming environments, the team only found domestic success, being eliminated from both MSI and Worlds in the semifinals by the LEC champion G2 (G2 would go on to win 2019 MSI and make finals in 2019 Worlds, losing to the LPL 1st seed FPX).
The end of the 2019 season marked the end of T1's "Dream Team". The players under 1-year contracts all left T1 - Khan to FPX, Clid to GEN.G, and Mata retiring to become head coach of RNG. Even the dreamer could not escape the fallout, and Kkoma left T1, the team he founded in 2013 as SKT T1 K and stayed on as coach, then head coach for 7 years, to go to Vici Gaming in the LPL. Fans devastated by the departures of both core and star players (with Clid going to a rival LCK team, stating the reason as a better playing environment with fewer distractions, seen as a grave error of T1's management) and the failure to sign World champion top laner TheShy were only partly consoled by the signing of jungler Cuzz and prominent head coach Kim for 3 years (a first for Kim, who previously only stayed with teams for 1 year). T1 ultimately called up most of their rookies to fill in the 10-man roster.
2020 T1 - Rebrand, Recover, Regress? T1's 2020 spring season was therefore seen as a stopgap period, so head coach Kim could adjust to the team and (hopefully) feed enough gaming experience to the rookies so they could be an asset to the team in summer. Coach Kim even went on the record stating that he viewed the current roster, especially the top lane as "failed" and he didn't have high hopes of winning the split. Kim seemed to be proven correct during the Kespa Cup, with rookie top laner Canna making costly mistakes and the main laner Roach faring no better.However, the team ramped up massively during the regular split, handily beating the much-hyped Gen.G in finals to win 2020 LCK Spring. There were still several issues to be solved, such as Canna's weak laning phase or the lack of synergy between Cuzz and Faker, but this result was a pleasant surprise to both fans and coaching staff (Kim's interview after finals quoted him saying the win was "a fantastic present" from the players). Coupled with a much more prominent media presence, better memes in their Twitter and Youtube, and several photoshoots, T1 seemed poised on the brink of a resurgence, combining the hard-work ethic of the East with the exuberance of the West. T1's new management also received much acclaim from fans, with their promise to upload more team content and protect players from toxicity during streaming, to move to a larger and fancier clubhouse in Gangnam, and to create an event tournament instead of 2020 MSI that was cancelled due to COVID being heralded as the positive effects of including western corporations in esports management. It is darkly appropriate that all these played a part in the confused mess that T1 seems to be now.
T1's 2020 LCK summer was brief. After coming in last in their group for the Mid-Season Cup, they struggled from the start of the split, with coach Kim resorting to benching Faker for rookie Clozer, stating "shot-calling issues" and that he had to "scold" Faker for his performance. Even as the team's standings dropped, their social media exploded, as the team seemed to film as many ads and photoshoots as possible, with Kim stating he was worried the players were fatigued from going to a photoshoot directly after matches. Faker himself shot at least 9 ads and starred in 3 reality tv shows during the summer season. Other, minor issues such as T1's team car illegally parking in disabled parking spots, or toxic donations on Twitch being shown unfiltered also plagued the team.
With the combination of an overburdened schedule, reactive and uncertain roster changes, and individual performance decline, T1 finished 4th in the regular split and lost in playoffs to Afreeca Freecs, a team that they were favored against. They were slotted in the regional finals, where coach Kim showcased a brand-new roster (Canna-Ellim-Faker-Gumayusi-Effort) that had only scrimmed together for 7 days. Funnily enough, these "1 Week Warriors" beat Afreeca Freecs, but then lost 3-0 to Gen.G. It was then that posts criticizing Coach Kim's interviews during summer and roster changes started to surface, and a media leak that Kim would be fired was confirmed by T1. This controversial decision split fans between those who thought Kim failed to utilize the players properly and created unnecessary drama through his interviews, and those who argued that the management should have given Kim more chances, considering they approached Kim with a 3-year contract and persuaded him to accept, even after he refused them many times.
2020 LCK "Stove League" For non-T1 LCK fans, 2020 Worlds was festive and bright, with Damwon Gaming beating both LEC champion G2 and LPL's Suning Gaming to take home the Summoner's Cup. For T1 fans, which coach would commandeer T1 for 2021 was the main concern. The main candidate was the return of coach Kkoma, who left Vici Gaming after winning more games than VG had in the past 2 years, but failing to make playoffs. Kim's abrasive interviews had made many a fan long for the wishy-washy but protective interviews that Kkoma had made, always giving credit for victory to the players and putting the blame of losses on himself. Another growing concern was the (perceived) continued drop of Faker's individual ability, seen as due to the "aging curve" that esports players seemed to find themselves on faster than any other sport. Although the exact age an esports player declines is different for every game (with some FPS and combat games having significantly older players dominating the scene), 24~25 seems to be it for League of Legends, with only 8 players in the major leagues (LCK, LPL, and LEC) 24 and older making it to Worlds. Of them, 4 are supports (SwordArt, LvMao, Hylissang, Vander), 3 are ADCs (Rekkles, Deft, Kramer), and 1 is Jungle (Jankos). Even worse is that arguably only Rekkles and Hylissang were not the weak point of their teams, with all other players visibly outclassed by their opponents in the games they played.
It was therefore quite obvious to fans that 2021 season isn't one when T1 can safely hunker down and focus on rebuilding, at least not without writing off Faker. Many hoped this sentiment was echoed by the management, and therefore expected a major coach signing (Kkoma or Homme, or even Reapered) and an upgrade to the support position (Lehends or Keria). Then one fan found a Douyu VOD where Effort was in a Discord server titled "2021 T1" with Polt and LS, with LS requesting feedback on his review of DRX's game against TES. The rumor that Polt would be head coach of T1 in 2021, and LS the main coach, was seen to be confirmed by a FOMOS reporter's tweet that referred to them as "future" head coach and coach, respectively.
Why the Backlash? Two Reasons Both Polt and LS are better known in the western esports scene than in Korea, but that Polt was a former Starcraft 2 pro, new to the League scene with no coaching experience and a lackluster solo queue tier (Gold 2), and LS obviously being held in low esteem due to his support of former BBQ jungler Malice against former SKT top laner Untara was enough to enrage T1 fans. Even the more level-headed of them were against Polt/LS as head coach and coach, stating the lack of experience leading a top-tier team as the main reason. This stance was supported by DWG's Nuclear saying that their coach Daeny had a lot of trouble adjusting to their team and being taken seriously because he wasn't a League of Legends pro player, despite Daeny being a former PUBG pro and currently Grand Master on the ladder.
Due to the strict embargoes and general lack of leaks regarding sports star signings in Korea, most information is obtained via anonymous posts from involved personnel, which fans choose to believe or disregard based on whether the poster had given accurate information before. One of these anonymous posts stated that the reason behind T1 signing Polt and LS was that they wanted a head coach who would not argue against increasing external photoshoots and videos, and that they planned on filming more ads in 2021. This incredible discrepancy between expectation and result angered T1 fans further, and LS filming himself wearing a Nike jersey/in a location similar to the sauna room in T1's clubhouse as early as in September gave ground for suspicions that T1 were planning to hire LS as soon as they fired Kim, without considering other prospects.
The backlash over Polt/LS was then twofold - one, fans did not think Polt and LS had shown any sort of coaching skill in the capacity that a team aiming for the Summoner's Cup requires, and two, T1's management preferred to consume Faker's remaining career as a figurehead for ads, not as a competitive player. T1's management's steadfast ignorance of fan outcries, from blocking comments on their Instagram and ignoring emails to banning users on twitch who mentioned Polt or LS during player streams (which also was seen as management protecting their own when before, the players were exposed to all sorts of toxic hate without any oversight) became the trigger for stronger outbursts, such as sending funeral wreaths mourning the death of SKT T1 as a gaming org, to mass-sending emails to the sponsors of T1 decrying the hiring of Polt and LS as a severe case of mismanagement.
Concluding Remarks The rebranding of SKT to T1, and the influence of the new co-owners was initially hailed as a positive aspect. Fans welcomed the inclusiveness of T1, and looked forward to more merchandise and online content. They also believed that T1, although faltering, would rise again to greatness, richer and stronger than before. However, the several media/marketing issues created by T1, the forced meme-ing on Twitter, CEO Joe Marsh's tweets about wanting to make "Faker pursue a music venture" or his controversial "Baby Yoda" tweets were viewed as the negative aspects of a western presence, and the prospected signing of Polt and LS, as well as the consistent refusal to address or attempt to explain the rationale behind the signing, is now seen as the culmination of Comcast's influence on turning T1 from a respected, elite gaming org to a gaudy and profitable media product. Some are going as far as to predict Comcast will milk Faker for all he's worth then sell off their shares, leaving T1 in shambles.
submitted by Hektor_Ekhein