Photo by: LCK Flickr
The hardest thing in esports has to be being a KT Rolster fan. No other team in no other game has so often lifted up its supporters high, only to crash and pin their hopes to the ground. The “rollercoaster” moniker is no longer associated with the team’s logo, but with the oscillating emotions of its fanbase. At this point, cheering for KT Rolster only invites the next dose of the perverse let-down.
In 2016, KT Rolster readied to make repeat Worlds appearance but were cut off right at the gates as they lost the LCK Gauntlet grand final to Samsung Galaxy. So when the new year and new season came, KT were determined to never lose track of Worlds ever again. They set out to build a true super team, one that could rival even the dynasty of SK Telecom. KT didn’t want to just be at Worlds. They wanted to win it.
In a rapid succession of off-season signings, KT assembled a hard-hitting fist of players. A Worlds grand finalist, Song “Smeb” Kyung-ho, took the top lane, after having three back-to-back LCK playoffs with the Tigers, the last one a championship run. Kim “Deft” Hyuk-kyu, Heo “PawN” Won-seok and Cho “Mata” Se-hyeong also heeded the call and came home from their Chinese exile. At the time, PawN and Deft were LPL, MSI and back-to-back Demacia Cup champions with EDG, while Mata and Deft had also won Worlds together in 2014 with Samsung White. This was a line-up engineered to win trophies but it got only one — a championship that only made the fall that much more painful.
Instead of carrying home a fat sack of gold that year, KT’s super line-up missed both major international events at the time, while also failing to reign domestically. In Spring, they placed second behind SKT and missed MSI. In Summer, SKT beat them again, denied them an LCK grand final and left them finishing third. In the Gauntlet — KT’s last hope for Worlds — Samsung Galaxy swept them 3-0 in a series that stomped on fans’ prayers. Two of the games lasted a full hour and KT supporters stood through two and a half hours of League of Legends to learn that their team wouldn’t be at Words again, twice in a row now. Lee “Crown” Min-ho and Park “Ruler” Jae-hyuk took turns to kick KT’s dying body and used it as a stepping stone to their world championship titles later that year.
Even after their failure to appear at Worlds, KT kept faith in their line-up and made only minimal changes. They believed that given time, the star power would kick in and would start yielding significant results in international competition.
But the Spring of 2018 was another disappointing one for KT Rolster and the LCK in general. KT finished third in the Spring Playoffs and Korea once again lost Rift Rivals to China. The historically most dominant region in League of Legends watched as the red army, led by Jian “Uzi” Zi-Hao’s Royal Never Give Up, gathered strength. And if that was not enough, the coming of the Korean summer ushered the rise of Griffin — a rookie team that had swept through the Challengers League and was now reaping heads in the LCK. Threats were everywhere, at home and abroad, and the season that was taking shape promised to be the most unpredictable one yet.
And if KT can’t even survive good odds, how can they hope to survive chaotic ones?
With an unbelievable consistency, KT rallied to become Korea’s best team that Split. The race against Griffin and Kingzone DragonX was a tight one and came down to a single game difference, but KT were on top and that was what mattered. They only needed to win one game, beat Griffin’s outstanding 5v5 teamfighting, and they’d be at Worlds.
It wasn’t going to be easy. Griffin came into the finals as the people’s favorites. Park “Viper” Do-hyeon had proven he can play literally everything down bot: hyper-scaling ADCs, mages, bruisers — by the end it was all the same to him, even if he preferred his auto-attackers.
Mid lane wasn’t going to be easy either. There was only one player with higher KDA than Viper that split and it was Jeong “Chovy” Ji-hoon. Even then, half a year before he would achieve his extraordinary 104 KDA, people found it hard to kill him and he averaged less than 1 death a match.
The series’ score ping-ponged with Griffin taking Game 1 in a decisive manner, but KT retaliated and even shut down Chovy’s signature Zoe. They had a little more trouble containing it in game 4 but survived it nonetheless after 45 minutes of gameplay and a 17-17 kill scoreboard, winning it while being behind in gold everywhere but bot.
And then in game 5, KT played the perfect macro game, a defining characteristic of the LCK. By minute 25, KT had only three kills to Griffin’s zero but were two towers, two dragons and 2.6K gold ahead. Their first Baron netted them six more towers. They weren’t dying, they weren’t throwing, they weren’t doing stupid KT Rolster things. They were playing
“Many years have passed, and I finally got my hands on an LCK title,” said Go “Score” Dong-bin, a player whose shelf is heavy with bronze and silver medals, but not a single gold one. “I marched on without giving up, and I feel that I’m finally given my reward. Thanks to today, I’ll be motivated even further to work harder as a professional gamer.”
“I don’t know about the LCK, but KT Rolster will be different, for sure,” Mata said when asked about the World Championship.
Today, we know how the story ends. KT became part of Korea’s worst ever showing at Worlds. They didn’t flop as Gen.G did, nor did they get eliminated by an NA team which just one split ago was absolutely terrible, as Afreeca Freecs did. KT won their group dropping just a single game and then lost a five-game series to Invictus Gaming — the would-be world champions.
And yet, results are results. The KT “super team” won all but one LCK gold (and a KeSPA Cup that most have forgotten since), a tiny yellow drop in the vast sea of let-downs and broken expectations. And after the off-season, the super team was no longer. Deft, Mata, and Ucal all left, leaving the team with no experienced carries. Score and Smeb stayed to salvage what little was left of that line-ups identity, but what can one hope to achieve with a bot lane that’s never played in the LCK, a league ruled by machine-gun killers like Viper, Deft and Park “Teddy” Jin-
With only four wins to their name, KT Rolster finished on the bottom of the LCK table and now await relegation. One of the longest-standing franchises in League of Legends, and Korean esports in general, risks missing the next season.
At this point, KT are like a beloved Game of Thrones character, going through eight seasons of emotional and physical abuse. Every season, there’s one episode where fans are tricked to believe that salvation is coming, but it never does. Instead, what gets closer and closer is only the scaffold. And very soon, KT could get their heads chopped off.