It’s been just over a month since SK Telecom T1 won its latest World Championship. In that short span of time, the team has changed completely. Earlier in the week, SK Telecom announced it would not be renewing the contracts of top laner Ho-Seong “Duke” Lee and jungler Seong-ung “Bengi” Bae, meaning two of the team’s five members from its Championship-winning lineup are departing.
I already wrote about the impact Bengi had during his four-year tenure with the team. But the question of his departure — and replacement — are ones that will loom large for SKT over the next several weeks. First things first, there is no ideal replacement for Bengi. He played a strange style — more on this later — that he helped pioneer. But no one has ever quite been able to figure out the formula he used to make it work. And that’s okay for SKT. After four years with Bengi, the key to continuing their success isn’t in looking back. It’s in moving on. And there is no better jungle prospect in the world than SKT’s newest signing: former ROX Tigers’ jungler Wang-ho “Peanut” Han.
What Peanut’s arrival is going to mean, in practical terms, is that SKT will gain another damage carry threat and likely end up with more kills than in any previous season. A lot more. In fact, of any player at the World Championship with more than ten games, Peanut had the highest average kills per game. Not of junglers. Of all players. For context, no other jungler at a World Championship since Season 3 has even been in the top five.
These facts are likely to be at the forefront of SK Telecom’s game plan as they enter the 2017 season. One of the key mistakes they have made in attempting to replace Bengi in the past was committing to the idea that he is replaceable. Not only has that proven to be false, but it also isn’t the right mentality to use when moving a team forward.
But, the acquisition of Peanut likely means that SKT have committed to letting go of Bengi’s style. Peanut is the best League of Legends prospect in the world. At 18, he will have a long career ahead of him and plenty of room to learn and grow, as well as having already proven his talent helping his team win an LCK Summer Championship and secure a semifinal finish at Worlds.
With a player like that stepping into the jungle role, it would be a disservice to the game as a whole to try to force him into Bengi’s style. Peanut is the kind of player who will develop his own style and is sure to find success with it. That’s likely to mean a team that isn’t built around taking advantage of their opponents’ mistakes, but rather about aggressive plays that create ways for SKT to win. The key for SKT is having the patience to let that style develop.
And develop it may have to, as SKT on Friday December 2nd, finished off their roster with a surprising new top laner: Seung-hoon “Huni” Heo.
The ways this addition will impact the team are quite a bit less concrete than Peanut. But, let’s use this chance before the season starts to take stock of what we know about Huni.
First and foremost, he plays a lane dominant style, favoring carry champions to a fault. Since beginning his professional career in Spring of 2015, he has not played any traditional tank champion more than twice, with Gnar being the only tank-adjacent choice near the top of his champion selection rate. We also know that in terms of raw talent, he may have the highest ceiling of any player currently in competing in professional League of Legends.
The question with Huni has always revolved around whether or not a team could figure out how to transition his talent into something that helped move a team towards sustained victory. And the answer has always been almost. Huni has dominated the regular season in two regions with two teams, and one of them made it to the World Championship semifinals (Fnatic, 2015). But it has always seemed like Huni was just a few steps, a few decisions, or a few champions away from truly hitting his peak.
So, can SK Telecom help push Huni to his fullest potential? Well, probably. If there is one coach in the world worth giving the benefit of the doubt to, it’s Kkoma. He is the most successful coach in League of Legends history and has taken more than a few players on the journey from talented to elite. And who knows, maybe three World Championships is exactly what it will take to convince Huni to play a tank.
The one potential downside for SK Telecom’s new super roster — aside from finding a way to spread gold across four carry players — is going to be experience. While three of the members form the most successful consecutive-year roster ever, the two new members will be moving into a new and unfamiliar system.
A system that may ask them to take a step back on occasion or move into supportive roles now and again, something neither player has been asked to do consistently in the past.
The upside of this is that suddenly SK Telecom is a team with a future. If this roster succeeds it will have the youngest backbone of any World-contending roster, with Peanut and Huni both entering the organization at only 18 years of age.
And perhaps that’s for the best. At the 2016 World Championship, SK Telecom faced challenges it hadn’t before, and twice only narrowly escaped defeat. Both times, the would-be defeats were at the hands of incredibly talented teams who out-aggressed SKT and forced it to play from behind.
It’s time to let the old SK Telecom go. In its place, SKT needs a team built to leverage its new strengths, and allow Peanut to to unlock the aggressive potential of their unprecedented talent at every position.