Somewhere in Germany, H2k Gaming's Yoo "Ryu" Sang-ook is smiling from the proverbial grave. Three years ago in South Korea's domestic premier league, Champions, Ryu's legacy was indelibly written when his KT Rolster team dropped three games in a row to Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok's upstart SK Telecom T1 in a reverse sweep defeat. The iconic image of Ryu staring blankly into the OGN production cameras after losing a one-on-one Zed duel against Faker has been his long-lasting imprint on League of Legends.
Last week in the semifinals of Champions, the league for South Korea, it was Faker's turn to feel the heartache of losing after going up two games in a series. KT Rolster was down against rival SK Telecom T1 in the first half of the series before turning it around in game three to reel off a trio of victories.
For Go "Score" Dong-bin, the only remaining starter from the team that was reverse swept three years ago, it was revenge not only for himself, but for Ryu as well. While Ryu has gone on to make the World Championships with H2k Gaming in the European League Championship Series, the nightmare of KT's collapse against Faker and SKT T1 has always followed him closely. Even at last year's Worlds, Faker met Ryu in the group stages, and it was the same story told once more: Ryu was eliminated in the first round, and Faker went on to win another title with T1.
Back in 2013, Score was an AD carry and not a jungler like he is today. He was known as the "Immortal Score," a tagline given to him due to his marvelous positioning and ability to survive through the harshest of multi-man attacks. Like Ryu, before moving to jungle position at the start of the 2015 season, it appeared that Score's career would be defined by that devastating loss to SKT T1. It wasn't just that KT lost the domestic title that night, but they were forced to play SKT T1 once more in the Korean Regionals for the final spot at the 2013 World Championships, which KT duly lost.
Score's transition to the jungle was seen as a last ditch effort from Rolster to salvage the career of a veteran seemingly on his last, fully mortal legs. Star jungler Lee "KaKAO" Byung-kwon had left for the greener (read: financially superior) pastures of China, and Score was tried out in the role during the preseason to see if he could make the jump. While there were some rocky starts, Score quickly began to pick up the new role, and he was eventually given full-time starting duties.
Since then, Score has progressed and become the best example of an old dog learning new tricks. As an AD carry, Score was good, but he always lacked the spark and individual flair of the likes of rivals Chae "Piglet" Gwang-jin of SKT at the time, and Kim "Deft" Hyuk-kyu and Gu "Imp" Seung-bin, formerly of Samsung origin. In the jungle role, Score has found his calling as the team's general with the ability to control the entire map from his overarching fingertips. And last week's victory was the confirmation that his choice to become jungler was the correct decision back in the preseason of 2015.
As an AD carry, sure, Score was immortal.
But as a jungler, he will go down as a legend.
Revenge was one side of the story of the KT reverse sweep of SKT, but redemption was the other. When you look up and down the KT lineup, it's filled to the brim with players who are in need of redemption in one way or another.
Ha "Hachani" Seung-chan, to put it bluntly, was a joke before this year. He won a domestic title with KT Arrows in the summer of 2014, but he was considered the friend that was simply dragged along by his more talented comrades. He would constantly get caught out, walk into unwarded bushes to his sudden doom, and follow up impressive performances with equally terrible ones. After apparently retiring from pro gaming, he became head coach of the future Afreeca Freecs, and there was even discussion of him possibly becoming one of the NRG Esports coaches to begin the 2016 year.
Hachani returned, however, to KT when newly-signed supposedly-starting support Lee "IgNar" Dong-geun failed to mesh with the team. The once-retired support picked up his keyboard and mouse once more to play alongside his friends on KT Rolster, and while the first few months were a far cry from the days with Lee "Piccaboo" Jong-beom, he started to gradually improve. When SKT T1's Nexus was smashed in the ultimate game of last week's best-of-five series, it was not Score or even Kim "Ssumday" Chan-ho who was awarded the MVP of the match, but the once-disparaged Hachani, his Taric finishing a perfect 1/0/20.
As for AD carry No "Arrow" Dong-hyeon, he's been a consistent starter in the league, but never a game-changer. You'd find him atop the KDA rankings and other stats, but he was generally the janitor of the KT Rolster starting five, wiping up the kills that the top, jungle and mid lane left for him on the floor.
Arrow's play the last two months might be the biggest reason why KT Rolster are playing like a Summoner's Cup-contending team. His Jhin play the last two postseason matches has been literally flawless, featuring a 36/0/45 scoreline to go along with a pair of match victories. Arrow, maybe for the first time since the days of the aptly named KT Arrows, is a game-changer once again, and that's a scary proposition for any team in the world to face.
Song "Fly" Yong-jun, the "Unorthodox Prince" of KT, like Arrow, has been seen as primarily a cog in the machine instead of a carry for a majority of his time on the team. He left the Jin Air organization at the end of the 2014 year to join Invictus Gaming instead of being the Korean team's starter; his decision eventually left him in the secondary Chinese league struggling to make a name for himself. He returned to South Korea with KT at the start of 2016, and his weird, sometimes even awkward, champion pool has given Rolster the ability to play a variety of different compositions; however, his overall individual play has been lacking. Fly's versatility was on full display versus SKT (playing four different champions in five games). So was his solo play for the most part, being able to withstand the pressure of Faker, unlike last season's semifinals where he was embarrassed in a 0-3 shellacking.
When it comes to revenge, redemption, and even the name Rolster itself, KT's top laner Ssumday represents all three. The ace of the team and former MVP of the league, the top lane star was merely a hair away from tying for co-MVP honors alongside ROX Tigers' Song "Smeb" Kyung-ho.
Ssumday will be looking for revenge against Smeb, the man who almost single-handedly knocked him and his team from the World Championships last year in the quarterfinals.
He'll also be looking for redemption, wanting to finally win a domestic champion as the crown jewel of the team. While he won the Champions crown in the summer of 2014 alongside Hachani and Arrow, it was the duo of KaKAO and Song "RooKie" Eui-jin that got a majority of the praise.
And for Rolster, the only organization that Ssumday has only ever known, he wants to repay the confidence they've had in him as a top laner since he was a rookie player who only knew how to play Renekton. From his early days as a bench player to the utility days on the Arrows, KT Rolster has overseen Ssumday's progress from peasant to possible king.
On August 20, a new South Korean champion will be crowned for the first time in two years. KT, who has made it now to all four summer Champions finals, believe that the past has finally been overwritten, and it's time for a new chapter in the club's history.