How much time do T1 have left?

Mush 2023-04-19 03:55:37
  GEN.g won the LCK Playoff Finals 2023, taking down the overwhelming favorites in T1 to earn the back-to-back regional titles. They cement themselves as the best LCK team in patch 13.5 and the first seed from the region as we head to MSI in London. The point I want to focus on in this article, though, is the opposite side of the coin: T1 lost their 4th final in a row as this 5 men line-up.   

The best team ever?

  A little more than three weeks ago the conversation surrounding the LCK, and the international LoL landscape in general, was clear: T1 are the uncontested best team in the world. Pundits like Montecristo, Wolf, Thorin and others were claiming that this might be the most dominant the team has ever been, even counting the 18-0 Spring Split of last year.  This wasn’t a controversial opinion back then, mind you. It was logical. T1 finished the regular season 17-1, with their only loss being a 1-2 versus HLE in the end of the first round robin, with some miraculous performances by HLE as a squad and some “happy-gaming”on the side of T1.   

All-LCK TeamT1 were the first full roster to make All-LCK First team (courtesy of LCK)

They dominated the region in every sense. They defined the bot lane meta and essentially forced Riot to patch the game until Ryu "Keria" Min-seok had to stop playing half a dozen Marksman champions as Supports. Lee "Faker" Sang-yeok’s form was the best we’d seen since the years when he was being crowned World Champion. Choi "Zeus" Woo-je was winning top-lane matchups isolated while Mun "Oner" Hyeon-jun incessantly dove bot turrets, regardless of if the enemy jungler was there to defend. T1 looked truly transcendental.   

The first signs of what was to come

  As you can see, that entire paragraph was written in the past tense. A little more than a week after, the narrative was already shifting. T1 showed up in the playoffs against KT Rolster, who they’d smashed in two sub-30 min games at the end of the regular season, and were pushed to their absolute brink in a grueling 5 game series. T1 looked unprepared and lost. The reliable Zeus was smacked around by Kiin, despite playing his signature Gnar in 4 out of 5 games. The dominant bot-lane was drafting and playing differently. Three games of Xayah/Rakan despite the likes of Caitlyn being available in 4 out of 5 games. They were the worst team on the rift in this series, but some miraculous plays by Faker and Keria, aided by the classic KT throws, still managed to net them the win. Was this overconfidence from T1? And overperformance from KT? Are GEN favorites for the upper-bracket finals? “It’s only a series, after all. They’ll bounce back.”  

T1A fully packed Jamsil Arena (courtesy of LCK)

Bounce back they did. A week later T1 convincingly beat GEN in the upper bracket finals. A relatively clean 3-1 win that was a couple throws away from being a straight 3-0. Regular season T1 was back. The drafts are different, but the game plan isn’t. Zeus top-gaps Choi "Doran" Hyeon-joon for the entirety of the series, Faker’s clutch-factor shows up big, especially on his Lissandra and Lee "Gumayusi" Min-hyeong is looking better than ever.  They’ll win everything, right?  

The self-fulfilling prophecy

  Another week goes by, and the decisive day comes. The Jamsil Arena is packed to the brim with fans. “GEN.G fighting” chants can be heard, but they sound like whispers when compared to T1’s. The Seoul crowd came to watch T1 return to victories after a full year of second places. They’re not just the crowd’s favorites, though. As the LCK talent predictions come up on screen, it’s red all around until you get to Jonnastrong, who literally votes GEN everytime. The overwhelming majority of people predict 3-0 or 3-1 for T1. Business as usual. After all, this team hadn’t lost a series since the ending of the first round robin.   

PredictionsLCK Talent predictions for the grand final (Courtesy of LCK)

However, a completely different, yet familiar form of T1 showed up on stage that day. This wasn’t the T1 from the regular season, it wasn’t even the T1 that barely beat KT. It was the T1 from Worlds 2022 Finals, MSI 2022 Finals. It was the T1 that heads into a tournament deciding match as the overwhelming favorite, and crumbles under the pressure.  Zeus, T1’s biggest advantage in this match on paper, is outperformed by Doran, GEN’s weakest link, in every single game. Yes, Doran overperformed as much as Kingen did in the Worlds finals, but Zeus looked nothing like his usual self. When T1 were faced with elimination as the series reached the 2-0 point, the carry top laner whose marquee picks are Jayce and Gnar, picks Sion. The team simply gave up on what has been a consistent win-condition from them, in the middle of the series.  Faker’s clutch factor and early game impact was gone. He had an excellent Veigar pick in game 1, hard-countering 4 out of 5 GEN champions, yet seemingly made no impact on the entire game. From then on, the drafts got progressively worse and Jeon "Chovy" Ji-hoon outlaned, outroamed and outteamfought Faker in 4 games in a row.  Keria, the best support in the entire World, blind picks Braum in game 4, when T1 are on the brink of elimination. This was his second game on the champion this year. Patch 13.5 did change a lot, but it didn’t change this much. Sion had been viable for the entirety of the Split, Zeus had played it twice in BO3s. Keria was the only support player who picked Braum through the LCK playoffs. This isn’t the meta changing, this is T1 morphing into a team who doesn’t know what to do.   

LCK CupLCK Spring 2023 Cup (courtesy of LCK)

Four games go by in the blink of an eye, and GEN are deservedly lifting the LCK trophy yet again. They were the best team on the Rift, uncontested. They were already looking incredibly dominant the day prior against KT, and they looked so good against T1 that I am sure that even if the regular season dominant version of T1 had showed up, they’d have had a really tough time taking down this GEN.g. 

T1 are chokers

  Regardless of that fact, T1 massively choked. This is the 5th final this roster has gotten to ( LCK Spring 2022, MSI 2022, LCK Summer 2022, Worlds 2022, Spring 2023) and the 4th they’ve lost in a row. They were overwhelming favorites for 3 of those finals (MSI, Worlds, Spring 2023) and lost them all, convincingly.  They changed their playstyle and drafts in most of these (Zeus playing tanks, Keria playing supports with no agency), Zeus has looked much worse in finals than in any other match, and so has Faker. Their shotcalling seems to crumble entirely in these series and, especially as the series get into the later games, their drafts worsen.   

T1 Finals RecordT1 tournament Results with this full roster (courtesy of Leaguepedia)

The debates being had three weeks ago about how dominant this roster is were all valid and logical. They still are. Consider this: if you count the entirety of 2022 (including MSI and Worlds) and the entirety of 2023 so far (Spring Regular Season+Playoffs) T1 played 66 series and lost 8. This is an unbelievable record, and it seems even more unbelievable that a team that is this dominant in one of the strongest regions in the world only managed to win a single title during this period, and the least relevant one too (Spring 2022). 

How much time do T1 have left?

  There are very few excuses for this type of problem in this roster. None of these players are rookies any longer. Gumayusi, Oner and Keria were playing together at Worlds 2021, Keria had already been to Worlds in 2020. Zeus has now been to both international finals and to three LCK Finals.  In the mid-lane, Faker has been playing this game professionally for 10 years. He has been winning World Championships since 2013, never affected by the pressure, even in the 2017 World Finals when he tried his damnedest to carry a faltering T1 roster that didn’t have what it takes any longer. He should be the clutch factor that carries the young’uns through the finish line, just like he did in the series against KT, but he just seems to lose that killer instinct when the pressure is at its peak.  The coaching staff has changed three times since Worlds 2021. From Son "Stardust" Seok-hee and Kim "Moment" Ji-hwan, to Choi "Polt" Seong-hun and Moment, to Bae "Bengi" Seong-woong and Moment and now Bengi and Im "Tom" Jae-hyeon. These changes seem to have no effect in either the drafts or the shotcalling in the finals T1 loses.  This 5 men roster has been together for three full splits now. How much more time will a massive organization with the resources of T1 give them before betting on someone else?  

Bengi T1Current T1 head-coach and former World Championship winning jungler Bengi looks at images of SK Telecom's victories. 

It sounds unbelievable, but we might actually see this roster changed before they win an international tournament or even an LCK Summer title. The clock is ticking, and unless a massive victory is achieved this year, it feels like this roster might become of the biggest what-ifs in LoL history. Is London the stage in which T1 will finally achieve their glory, or will those days remain forever tied to the name SK Telecom?
Featured image courtesy of LCK. Follow the author @Mushwrites on Twitter. Check out our LoL directory for more content like this.

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