If the goal of this KT team truly was as simple as to beat SKT, then it has failed every single attempt, unable to reach this goal even once.
In the midst of another small wave of South Korean players headed to North America, Europe and China in the 2016-17 offseason, there was the undercurrent of former Korean superstars returning to their home soil. Players such as Jang "MaRin" Gyeong-hwan, Lee "Spirit" Da-yoon and Heo "Huni" Seung-hoon all returned after tenures in other countries and with other teams.
During that time, EDward Gaming's Kim "Deft" Hyuk-kyu, Heo "PawN" Won-seok and Cho "Mata" Se-hyeong all landed on KT Rolster. Along with former ROX Tigers top laner Song "Smeb" Kyung-ho and veteran KT stalwart Go "Score" Dong-bin, they formed what became known as the KT superteam.
From the moment this roster was assembled, KT and team Head Coach Lee Ji-hoon were outspoken about designing this specific team to beat esports and telecommunications rival SK Telecom T1, owner of the best League of Legends player -- and team -- in the world.
Two splits, four regular-season clashes and two playoff best-of-fives later, and this iteration of KT has a worse record against SKT this year than last year's roster, in both overall win rate (35 percent last year to 30 percent this year) and series win rate. The so-called KT superteam has yet to beat SKT in any series, something the 2016 roster managed to do in one regular-season series and, more crucially, in the 2016 LCK Summer playoff gauntlet.
Throughout spring, it was easy to see how KT would fail to beat SKT. KT banked on its strong early game, drafting pushing lanes for its talented laners to bulldoze opponents into submission.
Difficulties arose when members of KT failed to coordinate with one another in nearly all aspects of the game, from Teleport plays to routine vision rotations, and the team became overly reliant on individual outplays from its star players. KT's approach against SKT wasn't incorrect, and it won them a few games before SKT stormed back in Games 2 and 3 of their regular-season series, but execution was sloppy. Mid-game mistakes cost KT dearly against SKT, and by Game 3, SKT had adjusted to KT, whether it was in draft, by substituting out players or both.
This past summer, KT ironed out a few of these issues. At the very least, KT's early game prowess was unparalleled. The team knew its strengths, was aware of its weaknesses and drafted accordingly, leveraging those same strengths to overcome persistent flaws. Of all teams in Korea this past summer, KT averaged the highest gold difference at 15 minutes (1,588), highest First Blood percentage (62 percent) and highest first turret rate (74 percent) and was first to kill three turrets rate (72 percent). This overwhelming early dominance helped cover optimistic late-game engage mistakes, overextensions and objective trades.
But for a team that is fairly simple in playing style, KT Rolster is a difficult team to talk about.
Although it still made simple mistakes and showed cracks in coordination, many of KT's faults against SKT appear intangible. Suddenly, KT might botch an early-to-mid-game objective trade like the recent Game 3 Rift Herald, which donated all in-game momentum to SKT's favorable scaling. A member of SKT might dive ahead of the team and die in an unnecessary skirmish.
These mistakes are visible to outsiders and not limited to the SKT series, but the team mentality appears all the weaker against SKT.
From a distance, we can see the crumpled faces of KT members in the booth following another SKT loss. Mata didn't lift his head from his keyboard after the recent SKT reverse-sweep while Deft and Score stared aimlessly into the middle-distance, shocked. We can perceive Score's tilt from suspect item choices or credit PawN's aimless wandering to a poor team mentality, but ultimately, we'll never know how much the individual members of KT allow mounting pressure in SKT series to get to them.
Again, the mistakes themselves are a constant with KT. Yet it comes more quickly and frequently against SKT, and SKT is better at punishing these mistakes than most teams. On top of this, there are the intangibles of in-game tension and stress.
Adding insult to injury this particular summer is the fact that KT might qualify for the 2017 World Championship courtesy of SKT. KT had two chances -- the first in the final week of the regular season and most recently in the latest leg of the playoff gauntlet -- to beat SKT when it mattered most and claim a spot at Worlds on their own. Now that spot, whether it's achieved based on championship points or by winning the 2017 LCK Summer Finals, belongs to SKT. If SKT beat Longzhu Gaming in the upcoming final, it'll send KT to Worlds anyway, even after beating them twice. Should Longzhu take home the summer title, KT will have to fight for Korea's third seed in the Regional Qualifier.
Qualifying thanks to the good graces of SKT would be a fitting bookend to this KT Rolster tragedy. It was the year that KT designed specifically to best its longtime telecom rival -- only to lose every series against them. The only event that could possibly turn this calamity into good fortune at this point would be a World Championship title.