Yet another rollercoaster ride: A KT Rolster fan perspective

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OnGameNet’s 2013 Champions Summer Finals introduction (OnGameNet/Twitch)
OnGameNet’s 2013 Champions Summer Finals introduction (OnGameNet/Twitch)

I knew of League of Legends before I played it. It was that game my close friend played while wasted, getting at least two accounts permabanned in the process. It had that character (Teemo) who occupied the banner of an anime fansub site that I frequented on occasion. It was that game that looked pretty cool. So I started playing.

“You’re bad,” my friends said once I began to play with them, “So you should watch streams and competitive play.”

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The stream I settled on was Nhat Nguyen’s support stream. Despite being an AD carry main, not only did I learn to be a better support, but I was introduced to the likes of music artists Quantic and Lemon Jelly. This wouldn’t be the last time that League of Legends affected my music tastes.

That August, I watched the IPL Pro League Face-off: San Francisco Showdown and then the Season 2 North American Regionals three weeks later at the beginning of September. In a mildly awkward awards ceremony, a Heartseeker Vayne cosplayer chanted, “TSM, TSM” at the crowd while holding a red mylar heart balloon. Behind her, TSM top laner Marcus “Dyrus” Hill, the tallest member of his team, held up a large celebratory check above his head. Mr. Pillow lay at his feet while the other four members reached as high as they could to match him. It was fun, but I wasn’t hooked.

The Season 2 World Championship was similarly infectious. I enjoyed watching every moment, chatting with friends over Skype and muting Silver Scrapes during the delays — there’s a reason why a subset of people still hate that song to this day, regardless of its now iconic status — but I was still a casual fan. No team had captured my heart.

I didn’t fall in love with competitive play until I watched MLG Dallas in 2013. An unassuming tournament in the grand scheme of things during the awkward transition period into the LCS era. One of my friends said that KT Rolster B was the team to watch in the MLG exhibition matches. I hadn’t seen much past the North American and European League Championship Series, so I didn’t understand how they could possibly beat a team like Gambit Gaming, who at the time were still highly rated as one of the best teams in the world.  

Kim “Ssumday” Chan-ho’s Renekton didn’t have a single creep to his name when he killed Joedat “Voyboy” Esfahani’s Akali after a level 2 gank from Choi “inSec” In-seok.

At six and a half minutes, KT were all over Curse. InSec was back in the top lane while Yoo “Ryu” Sang-ook responded to a Brandon “Saintvicious” DiMarco gank bottom with his Teleport. For everything that Curse wanted to do, KT had an answer. For everything that Curse tried to take, KT turned it back on them and took more in the exchange. At 22 minutes, Game 1 was over.

It was incredible.

For some reason, neither Azubu Frost nor NaJin Sword had captivated me like KT Rolster B. So I prepared. I went back and watched VODs of 2012-13 OnGameNet Champions Winter. My alarm went off promptly at 4:30 a.m. for OGN Champions and I subscribed to OnGameNet’s Twitch channel, gladly paying the money to watch my team live and have access to VODs if I couldn’t make it. I began learning more about the game itself. Where KT Rolster B were strong and where they were weak, the ins and outs of their fast-push turret strategy, and I found a favorite player, KT Rolster B’s AD carry Go “Score” Dong-bin.

When MVP Ozone took out KT Rolster B in the spring quarterfinals, I was sad and surprised, but not devastated. Ozone had been the better team in that series. They later proved themselves the best team that spring, shocking Korean League of Legends fans and analysts by sweeping CJ Entus Blaze in the 2013 OGN Champions Spring finals. This contextualized the loss further. KT Rolster B had been taken out by the eventual finalist, a significantly less shameful loss.

Then came 2013 OGN Champions Summer. Lee “KaKAO” Byung-kwon joined the renamed KT Rolster Bullets, sending Ssumday over to their sister team, the Arrows. inSec rotated into the top lane and KaKAO took over the jungle. It was a one-two punch that few teams could deal with. I had fully adjusted to my 5:00 a.m./7:00 a.m. schedule. I went to work as a retail manager in the afternoon shifts, humming f(x)’s “Rum Pum Pum Pum” and APink’s “NoNoNo” under my breath, even though I didn’t know the words because the breaks in between games were filled with Korean pop music interspersed with the season’s greatest plays.

The 2013 OGN Champions Summer Finals between the KT Rolster Bullets and SK Telecom T1 are still the greatest best-of-five in League of Legends history. It had everything you could want for a narrative coming into the series and within the series itself. After two games, I felt KT’s impending victory. After SK Telecom T1 adjusted in Games 3-5 Chae “Piglet” Gwang-jin’s Vayne, and Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok’s Zed play, I was a wreck. A staunch Boston Red Sox and the Green Bay Packers fan, I had been prepared for a loss. But none of their losses were as emotionally draining as watching the Bullets succumbing to Piglet, Faker, and SK Telecom T1 as a whole.

My friends always ask me why I rewatch the 2013 Champions Summer Finals every year at least once. They wonder if I’m simply a masochist. I watch it because it’s phenomenal. I watch it because the story is still riveting, even though I know the beginning, climax, and ending by heart. I watch it because I love League of Legends.

KT Rolster in the 2015 LCK Summer Finals (OnGameNet/Twitch)
KT Rolster in the 2015 LCK Summer Finals (OnGameNet/Twitch)

No other two teams encapsulate League of Legends like SK Telecom T1 and KT Rolster. On Saturday, April 22 at 5:00 PM local time, these two organizations will clash again, another chapter in this lopsided telecom war.

This particular chapter involves a KT Rolster roster that was completely overhauled save Score — no longer The Immortal and now a jungler — assembling the greatest superteam on paper in Korean League of Legends history. By KT’s own admission, this is the team that will finally take down SKT, keeping them from winning yet another LCK title.

Only, KT Rolster already did this. Last year, they beat SKT in the gauntlet with the less flashy roster of Ssumday, Score, Song “Fly” Yong-jun, No “Arrow” Dong-hyeon, and Ha “Hachani” Seung-chan. The same Hachani known for face-checking brushes. The same Fly who still draws ire for his off-kilter champion pool. This lackluster-on-paper team took SKT to five games and beat them. They then lost in the finals, giving the ROX Tigers at long last their first LCK championship victory.

In a new landscape full of players returning from overseas and a hole where the Tigers should be, KT signed former Tigers top laner Song “Smeb” Kyung-ho, former EDward Gaming and Samsung Galaxy White mid laner Heo “PawN” Won-seok, former EDG and Samsung Galaxy Blue AD carry Kim “Deft” Hyuk-kyu, and legendary Royal Never Give Up and Samsung White support Cho “Mata” Se-hyeong.

As a fan of KT for years, I was conflicted about this new roster. Constructing superteams in the offseason hadn’t been KT’s modus operandi until now. Even their best teams always had weaknesses. SKT proved in the finals that the 2013 KT Rolster Bullets, arguably the best KT Rolster roster through history, were hardly infallible. The 2014 KT Rolster Arrows were prone to reckless abandon, gracelessly diving past turrets at times and promptly lost in the regional gauntlet despite winning Champions Summer. KT Rolster in 2015 made it to the World Championship quarterfinals before being taken out by the then-KOO Tigers. How KT considered these weaknesses and leveraged their strengths was what made them so interesting, strong, and even fun.

KT Rolster mid laner Song “Fly” Yong-jun in the 2015 LCK Summer introduction (OnGameNet/Twitch)
KT Rolster mid laner Song “Fly” Yong-jun in the 2015 LCK Summer introduction (OnGameNet/Twitch)

From the beginning, this new team was messy. Many of their games came through pure laning dominance or mechanical outplays, as expected from the lineup they assembled. But their teamfights were bad, their vision sloppy, and communication was visibly lackluster when grouping in the mid or late game. They lost to SKT in both of their regular season series and finished with a worse record than their previous iteration with Ssumday, Fly, Arrow, and Hachani.

In their two playoff series, KT have evolved. Like their former teams, they’ve learned to leverage their strengths. Strong early-to-mid game lane assignments have been complemented in the past two weeks with smart drafting and increased coordination. It no longer looks like an SKT 3-0 stomp, especially with Han “Peanut” Wang-ho still finding his place on the team and Heo “Huni” Seung-hoon’s itchy trigger finger on Teleport. SKT’s risks don’t always pay off, but they still unfortunately know all too well how to punish KT’s mistakes.

I’m excited for the series itself, but am also comfortably ensconced in my bubble of fan pessimism. From an objective, analytical standpoint, KT don’t match up to SKT quite yet. They’re too disjointed and their communication is still not on par with SKT’s. From a League of Legends fan perspective, I want a good series and for the best team to win. Even the most optimistic part of my KT fan heart knows that team is not KT this time around.

Looking back, not all that much has changed. I’m still bad at League of Legends. Score is still looking for his first Korean championship title. And I still love KT Rolster, win or lose.

Emily Rand’s love for the 2013 KT Rolster Bullets will never die. You can follow her on Twitter @leagueofemily

 

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