The Disappointment that has Become SK Gaming

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Back during the S4 Summer Split was when I first got into the League of Legends pro scene. I wanted to better myself at the game and was amazed by how professional and big of a following there was for League. At first, I did some research and just tried to find out which teams my favorite streamers were a part of. For the NA scene, I latched onto CLG because I first played support and had grown with Aphromoo; however, watching the two days of NA games each week wasn’t enough… I was hooked, I needed more.

This caused me to turn to the EU scene and add an additional two days of watching that extended my days with League on to four. It was awesome. I remember watching my first two days of EU not knowing anything about the teams, but I was ready to explore the scene. After my first two days of watching, I immediately fell in love with SK Gaming. I remember being amazed at some of the plays made by their jungler, Svenskeren, which is really what attracted me to the team. That pretty much decided it; I was prepared to support CLG and SK Gaming as the split moved forward.

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At the time, the SK Gaming roster consisted of Jesiz in the mid lane, Fredy in the top lane, Sven in the jungle, and the bot lane duo of Candy Panda and NRated. It was clear that Svenskeren and Fredy were the immediate standouts on the team, and I loved their play-making ability and dominance. I didn’t mind Jesiz, but it was definitely clear that he could not be a carry laner and had a limited champ pool. Being unfamiliar with the scene, players in the Challenger Series, or what a real dominant mid laner could do, I didn’t mind Jesiz at first and was willing to give him a chance because he was new. Then there was the bot lane… I was never against Candy Panda and NRated, but I believed that they were easily the weakest link on the team, and really just never felt like they were pulling through for the team.

SK made it to Worlds that split, and after the Svenskeren debacle, fans of SK and supporters of EU never got an honest showing from the team until their final game when Sven returned. As disappointing as this was, I wasn’t too upset because I was new to it all. During the long off-season, SK made a decent amount of moves; they dumped Jesiz, dropped Candy Panda and brought on a new coach. This thrilled me because I felt as though they were directly addressing the teams biggest needs and were willing to do what it takes to be the best and return to Worlds.

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This new era of SK Gaming, which starts in this year’s S5 Spring Split, featured the relatively unknown newcomer, Fox, in the mid-lane, as well as the much hyped Forg1ven in the ADC role. With the upgraded role of coaches, SK had InnerFlame helping the team with their picks and bans on stage for the split. After reading up on all of the hype about Forg1ven, I was pretty confident in SK coming into the Spring Split and was excited for this new roster. While Fox seemed relatively unknown, I trusted the decisions made.

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As the split began and progressed, SK was dominating, and the team seemed to be in a very good place. Forg1ven was a farming master and seemed to be playing very smart by making an impact in every little place he could. Fox took a little longer to come out of his shell, but when he showed up, it was awesome, because he revealed that he could easily carry as well. SK really seemed to be on top of the world; not only were their newcomers putting on a show, but Fredy seemed to be playing at the complete top of his game with Sven coming through like always. While the team dynamic seemed confident on the surface, it turned out behind the scenes there were some problems.

After some hiccups towards the end of the season and a disappointing showing in the playoffs with a surprising loss to H2K, SK had crumbled on par or worse than CLG. I was really let down as a fan because I thought this was the year for them to establish dominance moving forward. As the season closed out, the news reports began to come out and reveal that the team chemistry wasn’t working out; Forg1ven was unhappy with NRated as a support and wanted him replaced for someone younger and fresher, possibly with a deeper desire to win at all costs.

In the end, it left the organization with the ultimatum decision of Forg1ven or Nrated.  It’s a tough position to be in, because choosing one could easily ruin the entire team dynamic or player’s feelings, it happens all the time in all sports. After discussion with the individual players, management decided to choose loyalty over business, which is the biggest problem I have with the LCS at this point. The team opted to drop Forg1ven and keep NRated due to his history with the team and long time friendship with guys like Fredy and Sven.

As a result of this decision, InnerFlame departed soon after because he saw the team moving into a new era that centered itself around these new, carrying players. I thought that he was correct in realizing the opportunity that SK had right in front of them, and never blamed him for leaving. As the Summer Split approached, SK decided to bring back friend of the organization, Candy Panda, to work with his former support and hopefully give SK the same roster that allowed them to make Worlds with an improved mid laner.

As the Summer Split began, I had a bad feeling that SK would flop and not return to their status in the top three of the EU LCS because of their changes. Through five weeks, it has been a huge struggle, and the team currently sits in a tie for last place with a 2-7 record as they head into the second day of Week 5. While there are sometimes glimpses of completeness and a return to their former dominance, the team somehow discovers a way to drop the ball, which clearly happened in their game yesterday versus Elements.

The game versus Elements was completely controlled by SK; Fredy was confidently playing Shen top lane, they were winning team fights, they had control… but could never close it out. The team seems to have no dominant shot caller and there is no more Forg1ven to either be split pushing or contributing to team fights. It was a mess, and a complete throw as they lost in an extremely long 55 minute or so game.

It really pushed my frustrations over the edge.

You would think that if a team had a superstar talent (Forg1ven), they would want to build around him for the greatest chance at success. If Lebron James tells the Cleveland Cavaliers’ management he doesn’t want this player on the team because they can upgrade to someone with better skill, they aren’t going to say, “sorry Lebron, but player X has been here for awhile now and we are loyal to him, so you can take a walk.” No. These organizations will do whatever it takes to win.

This really struck a sour note with me, because I think throughout all of the NA and EU scene, the biggest problem with organizations is that they are still too young and too close to the players to make good business decisions. While the League of Legends scene is still very young as a whole and learning as it goes, I think organizations are too close to their players to make honest and adequate business decisions. It’s tough right now, because these coaches and managers are all around the same age as their players, and have emotional friendships with them. The scene hasn’t existed for long enough to have established and experienced coaches who were former players.

When you look at some of the top coaches, like Delior for Fnatic, they are older and have experience in another type of strategic game, poker. Fnatic seems to trust and listen to their coach; he understands they are better at the game, but he has great macro strategic knowledge. Whereas as teams like Dignitas and CLG took a chance hiring Scarra as their coach, who is now back competing, young, and good friends with most players.

I think SK falls into the Dignitas/CLG side of that comparison and missed the opportunity to really build their team for the future. I’ve come to fall in love with Reginald from a business perspective, because he founded TSM, realized when younger talent surpassed his skills, and was able to confidently step down so he didn’t selfishly jeopardize the team’s future. It was his team, so he still had ultimate control, but he turned into one of, if not, the best manager in the scene. The reason TSM stays dominant is because they function like a true sports team; if something isn’t working as well as it should, they will replace the player or at the very least, hold a tryout with hopes that it can re-motivate the veteran.

When Xpecial no longer fit in with the overall team chemistry, they replaced him with Gleeb. When Gleeb suffered from lack of experience and personal illness, they replaced him with superstar Lustboy. After their poor showing at MSI, Reginald recognized that their weak points came from long time members Dyrus and WildTurtle. Dyrus became motivated and put in the dedication to show he was still relevant while the team currently finds themselves holding an in house tryout with Keith to possibly replace WildTurtle.

These aren’t easy decisions, and if you watch the amazingly professional and informative videos that TSM releases, Regi doesn’t find pleasure in having to possibly get rid of a longtime friend and player who has done so much for the team; however, he recognizes that business is business, and if something isn’t working, you can’t feel bad and dwell on it for too long or else the team and organization as a whole will be hurt by it.

I understand and respect loyalty and friendship; they are two qualities I love about people, but when it comes to sports and business, those can only exist to an extent. Being a CLG fan, I know everything about “hype,” around a roster, but I always felt that HotShots closeness to his players held the team back. Yet, he seems to get it now. The team dropped Scarra for a more analytical approach with their coaching and replaced longtime mid laner, Link, who many believed was no longer dedicated or focused on the game.

While only time will tell with CLG, it’s sad to see my favorite EU team fall victim to this process. While Forg1ven isn’t finding anymore success with Gambit than SK is this split, at least their team was immediately ready to add the ADC and drop P1noy. There are only nine games left in the Summer Split, which means if SK somehow found a second half surge and won all of them, they would be able to achieve an 11-7 record which would probably land them in the playoffs and the top half of the standings. We know that won’t happen. Realistically, the team will hopefully find their chemistry and at least avoid having to play for relegation.

While SK will always have a place in my heart, I have been following Origen since Xpeke initially revealed his new organization. When Origen announced their roster, I hopped on board and routed for them from the beginning. Although I’ve been more interested in Origen this split, I still pull for SK just as much. Hopefully this will be a wake up call for everyone and the organization can figure things out in the off season. Personally, I think they need a better bot lane, but I’m no expert; but it’s clear something needs to change. There’s definitely a chance SK has to play for it’s spot in the EU LCS, which might help management realize changes need to happen like with CLG.

I won’t stop supporting SK for now, because as I mentioned earlier, I value loyalty; but my interest is definitely waning due to how their management seems to be run, and sooner than later, I don’t know if I will be a fan anymore.

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