When SK Telecom T1 (SKT) announced in November they were releasing two of their own world champions, top laner Duke and jungler Bengi, surely they had a trick up their sleeves. Duke had a great summer 2016 split by most standards, scoring top 3 in his league for kills, KDA, and gold differential at 10 minutes. 3-Time World Champion Benji, who only played 14 games in the summer split was arguably the more replaceable of the two.
Who do you best pair with Faker, Bang, and Wolf other than the most dominant available players? In two separate tweets several days later, SKT announced they had found exactly that with their new acquisitions: Huni and Peanut.
When ROX Tigers disbanded after Worlds, obtaining Peanut was a “no-brainer” for SKT, filling their worst position with a fantastic player, while simultaneously denying anyone in the league from getting him. Huni was a much bigger surprise, partially because he seemed to be settling in nicely with Immortals. He had a monster 2016 season in the top lane, and even signed a two-year contract to play for IMT through 2018. Evidently the allure of playing for the defending World champions in his home country was too great, and IMT graciously voided his contract to allow him to sign with SKT.
Huni is well-known for his aggressive playstyle and preference for playing high-damage carries. Take a look at his historic Summer 2015 Split and you’ll see he didn’t play a true tank like Maokai even once.
Rather than playing tanks in traditional team compositions, Huni leads his teams to victory with damage and kill contributions. In fact, Huni led NA LCS tops in all of 2016 in the following categories: kills, damage per minute, average share of team’s total damage to champions, and average gold difference at 10 minutes. Huni’s aggression can also be his undoing, for one simple reason: he dies a lot. Only P1 Gate (support) died more times than Summer Split Huni.
On a world-class team like SKT, Huni won’t be the main carry anymore. He’s going to have to adapt to a more competitive region with a jungler that doesn’t ward as much as Reignover did. Opponents will predict Huni’s over-aggression and find unforseen ways to punish him. His champion pool, although extensive, is sorely lacking in tanks. With 10 bans in competitive champion select now, players with small champion pools will find themselves getting target banned more often than in the past. One dimensional strategies like Juggerkog are going to be even less viable with bans to target key picks half-way through the draft. Versatility will be more highly valued. (Side note: is anyone else as thrilled as me for the new rules?)
You May Like
As much as Huni needs to adapt to SKT, SKT needs to adapt to Huni. Faker’s aggression gets him ganked a lot, so an equally aggressive top laner will force enemies to choose more carefully which lane they target. Huni getting camped by the jungler should empower Faker to make aggressive plays, and vice versa.
When a team consists of only five players, changing one of them can fundamentally alter that team’s dynamic–remember when TSM dropped Gleeb for Lustboy? Huni/Peanut-era SKT will surely suffer growing pains as they all figure out how to play together, but that’s acceptable during the Spring Split as long as the team is learning and improving collectively.
Success and Failure
2017 SKT will likely win a lot of games by bludgeoning their opponents to death. With lane swaps a distant memory of 2016, standard lanes are now the default meta. This benefits lane specialists like Huni particularly. I can imagine SKT snowballing their early-game advantages into mid-game killfests.
Is this finally the season we see Korea go full team deathmatch? Probably not, but this is how I envision SKT potentially struggling this season: a squad of superstar players forgetting how to play the macro game because they’re too busy solo killing their opponents. This kind of approach might be acceptable against the bottom teams, but it won’t work against top Korean teams that can match SKT’s laning phase and still play with a unified direction in the mid and late game.
SKT: Promising Future?
Huni makes his third debut in a new region for a team on its quest for a third consecutive title. Over the long season, SKT will have to constantly adjust their strategies and adapt to each other, maybe even making roster changes along the way. Will SKT disprove the hypothesis that “superteams” look good on paper, but don’t perform well? Under kkOma’s veteran coaching and direction, I don’t think there is a team better situated for success than this iteration of SKT. There’s a lot to look forward to when the season finally starts.
All of the snow shoveling I’ve been doing lately has me asking one thing: can it be Spring yet?