CHICAGO -- SK Telecom T1 has been here before; whether it's Los Angeles, London, and now Chicago, the two-time World Champions have been surprised by no quarterfinal opponent, no matter where they were and who they facied. But that changed as the group of five walked into the historic Chicago Theatre, where they met China's Royal Never Give Up.
Much of the audience and analysts thought that the Korean giants are going to slaughter their opponents, walking away unscathed and moving on to Madison Square Garden next week.
Those fans were wrong, at least at the onset.
Royal Never Give Up came out electric. The arena and the press room, which is filled with Chinese media, lit up as RNG slowly beat SKT T1. The game ended after a 47-minute battle and the Koreans walked away after their first loss to a Chinese team in the tournament.
But unlike most teams, SKT T1 was ready to bounce back. With substitute jungler Sungu "Blank" Kang getting the call to step in, he locked in Zac, the bouncing blob of goo who has seen a lot of play within the past month. On the back of Blank, the rest of SKT T1 came back and put down RNG methodically. It's just par for the course for SK Telecom, says AD carry Bae "Bang" Jun-sik.
"Before the game started [against Royal Never Give Up], we were pretty confident that we were going to win," Bang says. "But after losing our first game, we gained more confidence because looking at back Game 1, we were really behind in the early game and we were able to catch up and drag it to late game; we had a chance to come back, even though we lost. But after having that Game 1 experience, we thought that if we just made [fewer] mistakes and have a better early game, we can definitely win the whole series."
Bang's team took the next two games following their first win, securing their ticket to New York and eliminating Royal Never Give Up, 3-1.
For legendary jungler Bae "Bengi" Seong-ung, who has been with SK Telecom T1 in both of their previous successful Worlds campaigns -- where they took first and won the Summoner's Cup and $1 million twice -- he says using Blank has been good for the team, particularly to fill the gaps left by his own weaknesses.
"I feel that this year, I've not performed at my best and I've shown some weaknesses," Bengi says. "Blank is able to fill those weaknesses for our team so that's what I think about -- sharing the role. Blank's strength is that he's younger and he has very good mechanics. Secondly, he also communicates really well. He's more active with talking to the teams and generally a lot of communication amongst the team."
While SKT T1 moves on to their third Worlds' semifinals, this one comes after one of their arguably shakiest seasons. The team didn't qualify for Worlds normally, they qualified via championship points during their impressive spring campaign, mixed with their placement in summer playoffs.
"I admit that we weren't playing that well during [League Champions Korea] summer, but through enough time of preparation, we were able to once again get back to our original game style," says Bang. "Even though we weren't playing at our best conditions, I think we are playing okay compared to other teams."
Moving forward, the team will meet the winner of rival ROX Tigers and EDward Gaming. For Bang and Bengi, they prefer different opponents. Bang tells ESPN he'd like to meet EDward Gaming, because of his friendship with rival AD carry Kim "Deft" Hyuk-kyu. For Bengi, he'd rather meet ROX Tigers, who SKT T1 has played consistently for the last two years and even met in last year's Worlds' final.
"I personally want to play against EDward Gaming in the semifinals," Bang explains. "One, there's a lot of pressure playing against another Korean team (ROX Tigers). I'm personally really good friends with Deft so I think it'd be a really good matchup to play against Deft."
That friendship with Deft comes as both players (Deft and Bang), compete for the title of best AD carry in the world. Deft, who plays in China but once played for Samsung Galaxy Blue in Korea, has had a dominate year as EDward Gaming went undefeated in China's League Pro League. Bang, for the past two seasons, has had great success on SK Telecom.
The last time they met, at the Mid-Season Invitational in 2015, Deft got the better of the two as EDward Gaming shocked the world with a victory in Tallahassee, Florida. But Bang says he's not concerned about a potential rematch.
"I'm not afraid of Deft," he says. "Even though he might be a bit better than me, it won't be a crucial factor to decide the game just because of the ADC difference. I think the skill gap is really small, but in the end, I think I'm better."
If they beat EDward Gaming or ROX Tigers, the team will have their third shot at winning a World Championship, previously winning in 2013 and last year in 2015. Both Bang and Bengi are confident they can do it again and hoist their second and third Summoner's Cup respectively.
"We have so much potential to win the Summoner's Cup once again," Bang explains. "Comparing our performance to other teams, we are never intimidated; we always think we're either better or at the same skill level. We always have a chance to win."
But can SK Telecom do the unthinkable and make history again?
"Of course I do," Bengi says.