LOS ANGELES -- Saturday night inside sold-out Staples Center in Los Angeles, SK Telecom T1 solidified the first dynasty in the history of League of Legends. After a scintillating 3-2 victory that wowed the capacity L.A. crowd, the League of Legends world champions defended their title from the previous year and secured their third Summoner's Cup in four years. And the best video game player today, Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok, was awarded the tournament's MVP award for his stellar play for SKT throughout the month-long campaign.
Three championships in four years. A bona fide superstar in Faker. A right-hand man almost in Bae "Bengi" Seong-woong. And head coach Kim "Kkoma" Jung-gyun who has seen SKT through it all. Clearly these are the makings of a dynasty that can easily be compared to dominant eras in traditional sports. So how does Faker and SKT stack up against the likes of Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Phil Jackson, or the star/coach combo of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick or the dynamic duo of Shaq and Kobe?
The South Korean Kings: SK Telecom T1 (LoL)
Championships: 2013, 2015, 2016
Why not begin with the video game masters themselves? SKT T1 has been in competitive gaming for more than a decade, and its investment into League of Legends has been nothing short of a match made in heaven. Since signing highly-touted amateur Faker in 2013, SKT T1 has been one of the top teams in the world, the amateur-turned-rookie phenom taking his team to a world title in less than a year as a professional.
The only blemish for SKT T1 is missing out on the Summoner's Cup in 2014. After winning in 2013, the team stuck together into the new year. Although the squad found success domestically for the first half of 2014, a slump in the mid-to-end stages of the campaign put SKT out of the Top 3 South Korean teams and out of the 2014 World Championships. Samsung White, the team that consistently thwarted SKT and eventually won the world title that year, would disband after its 2014 championship season to land bigger contracts in the money-infused region of China.
Since 2014, however, SKT T1 has been on top of its game, winning three of the four domestic seasons in South Korea and both World Championships. In 2015, the team went 15-1 in Worlds en route to hoisting the Summoner's Cup for the second time. This year, though, it was a bit more difficult of a road, with SKT T1 needing to go the full five games in both its semifinal and final series to become champions.
The 90's Bulls: Chicago Bulls (NBA)
Championships: 1991, 1992, 1993, 1996, 1997, 1998
Faker's most common counterpart in the world of traditional sports is Michael Jordan, formerly of the Chicago Bulls. Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Phil Jackson can be compared to the video gaming trio of Faker, Bengi and Kkoma, but it'll take at least three for more world championships for the South Koreans and Faker to put themselves on the same tier as the 90's Bulls.
The Bulls would three-peat the NBA championship twice. After the first go around, Jordan would retire from basketball for the first time, deciding to try his hand at professional baseball. Although he would return for the end of 1995 season, the addition of a rusty Jordan wasn't enough, and the Shaquille O'Neal-led Orlando Magic reigned in the Eastern Conference. In 1996, however, Jordan along with Pippen and the defensive savant Dennis Rodman started a new string of titles, defeating the Seattle Supersonics in the NBA Finals en route to their second three-peat.
One of the theories on why Jordan left between the two three-peats was because of the lack of prominent rivals pushing him to be the best. A lack of a challenge. After the rise of Shaq's Magic and the emergence of the John Stockton and Karl Malone Jazz in the late 90's, Jordan was pushed to the brink where he had to play to his peak level to win.
That won't be a factor for Faker's (and SKT's) possible longevity. Moments following his third world championship, he was already thinking about his next trip to the grand stage next year.
"Thanks for cheering for us," said Faker to the packed crowd inside the Staples Center. "But cheer us too [much] because we'll be back [here] anyway."
The Pride of Boston: New England Patriots (NFL)
Championships: 2001, 2003, 2004, 2014
Faker and Kkoma have been the marquee superstar player and head coach combo in League of Legends since they started working together in 2013. New England fans should be able to relate with the partnership between future Hall-of-Famers Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, the braintrust that led New England to three titles in four years during the early 2000's and another in 2014.
In his second-year as a professional and first as a starter, Brady, pulled along by Belichick and a resilient Patriots team, won the franchise's first Super Bowl in unforgettable fashion against the Rams in one of the most memorable championship games of all time. Adam Vinatieri, the team's lauded kicker, hit a 48-yard field goal with no time remaining on the clock to beat "The Greatest Show on Turf" Rams.
Following that victory, Brady would develop into one of the game's strongest leaders and gunslingers, returning in the 2003 Super Bowl to lead the Patriots to a second Super Bowl title with a win against the Carolina Panthers (32/48 completions, 354 yards, 3 TDs/1 INT), and then once again in 2004 versus the Philadelphia Eagles (23/33 completions, 236 yards, 2 TDs).
For SKT, the Patriots are the blueprint that proves a dynasty can outlast its expiration date with the right two men as the centerpieces. It took Brady and Belichick a few devastating losses to the New York Giants in the Super Bowl, including a perfect 18-0 season ending in defeat, yet, a decade after the last title win of their initial dynasty, the duo prevailed over the Seattle Seahawks in dramatic fashion to win a fourth championship together.
The Kobe and Shaq Lakers: Los Angeles Lakers (NBA)
Championships: 2000, 2001, 2002
For any potential dynasty or ongoing dynasty, including SKT T1, the Lakers are a cautionary tale of how an all-time great team, because of some internal issues, was kept away from being possibly the greatest team of all-time. The Los Angeles Lakers anchored by superstars Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant could have won seven or eight championships together if the two could have gotten along as a cohesive unit.
The two worked beautifully together during the team's dominant three-peat in the early 2000's that came right on the tails of the Michael Jordan era. Kobe and Shaq complemented each other as well as any two players could on the court, but the pair's rift outside of basketball led to the team's slow break after failing to win a fourth straight championship in 2003. The team would rebuild around the two with legends Gary Payton and Karl Malone in 2004 for another go at the championship, but by then they had drawn a line in the sand, and Shaq was traded to the Miami Heat for a package deal following the Lakers' loss to the team-oriented Detroit Pistons in that year's NBA Finals.
They would both go on to win titles without the other following the trade, but it will always be a "what-if" between the two if they could have set aside their differences and seen how many titles they could win together as a functioning tandem.
As the offseason officially begins for SK Telecom T1 and the rest of the world's premier LoL leagues, a dynasty is only as good as its chemistry from the top of the food chain to the bottom. Attracting free agents for SKT won't be difficult if one of their starters leaves for a new team, but picking the right person will always be more important than how good a team looks on paper. The Pistons proved that when it struck the final blow in the Kobe and Shaq Lakers in 2004, and SKT did well last year when starting top laner and winner of the 2015 Worlds MVP award Jang "MaRin" Gyeong-Hwan left for a higher salary on a Chinese team by signing stalwart replacement Lee "Duke" Ho-Seong. Although Duke never reached the same highs as MaRin on the title-winning club, he didn't disrupt the configuration of the team and synergized well with the teammates around him.
Unless Faker leaves, regardless of the changes to the roster or structure of SKT, the dynasty can live on. It's just up to Faker and the management around him to pick the correct course of action to keep the team from stagnating and becoming replacement. With Faker at the helm, already working toward his fourth Summoner's Cup and a three-peat, that shouldn't be a problem for anything other than SKT's opposition.