Defeating the reigning king was never going to be easy, and Counter Logic Gaming, in its current form, was not the chosen one to halt the SK Telecom T1 dynasty.
Sunday's final resulted with the Korean king charging its way to a fourth straight major title. Counter Logic Gaming's words of defiance toward the undisputed world champion continued until the final Nexus push. CLG deflected back at everything SKT T1 threw at it in the Mid-Season Invitational finals, but it wasn't enough; the heavy sword of the SKT dynasty put to sleep another contender.
In the past three international events SKT T1 has attended, it's faced a different region's combatant in the final. At the 2015 Riot World Championships, it was fellow countryman, KOO Tigers, who challenged SKT for the throne. Although the Tigers pierced through SKT’s armor to deliver it the first loss of the tournament, it wasn't nearly enough. Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok locked in his infamous Ryze, silenced the naysayers, and lifted his second Summoner's Cup next to his teammates.
A few months ago in Katowice, Poland, it was Europe's Fnatic with a chance to defy the odds and beat a slumping SKT. Seventh in the Korean league standings, SKT was still the favourites to win the tournament, but was seen as an underdog against the rebranded ROX Tigers. The emergence of Kang "Blank" Sun-gu in the jungle and Bae "Bang" Jun-sik as an elite carry helped SKT take home IEM's World Championship in flawless record. A reconstructed and still growing Fnatic was no match for SKT in the finals and was thrown aside in a three game sweep.
Following a three peat of domestic championships, the regenerated two-time world champions set its sights for Shanghai and the only title missing from Faker and SKT's extensive trophy case: the Mid-Season Invitational championship. Two weeks and another sweep in the finals over a North American LCS team, SKT T1 has solidified itself on another tier where no one can reach them. Even teams in South Korea haven't been able to beat it since Samsung White and Samsung Blue disbanded. The Chinese/Korean hybrid teams created by the other regions haven't stood a chance, other than Edward Gaming back in the 2015 MSI finals.
The final piece of hardware keeping SKT T1 from fully controlling the League of Legends landscape was the Mid-Season Invitational. The one international tournament where Faker did not triumph. Instead, he fell on his signature champion LeBlanc, which had become an extension of himself. A flashy playmaker, LeBlanc was everything that made Faker great: incredible solo kills, unbelievable outplays, and otherworldly reversals.
Edward Gaming killed the mystique of Faker's signature champion. Under the tutelage of one of the all-time greatest coaches in esports history, Ji "Aaron" Xing, the Chinese champions had mapped out the perfect strategy to neutralize SKT’s composition and stop the undefeated streak of Faker's LeBlanc. On that day, SKT T1 tasted defeat on the international stage for the first time, and it was a learning experience that led it to its current dominance.
When people think about Faker currently, LeBlanc is still one of the first champions to come to mind, but his signature selection has become Ryze. Ryze is a mage machine gun, and Faker is business-like when he locks in the champion.
KOO Tigers won the third set of the 2015 Summoner's Cup Final versus SKT T1 to make it 1-2, and what did Faker do? He locked in the Ryze, won his lane, and mowed down anyone who got in his way. In the Friday semifinals against Royal, he locked in Ryze once more in the deciding set. The SKT T1 ace nonchalantly walked over the region that defeated his LeBlanc last year to deny him his MSI crown. The set ended in a game perfect game, with Faker's Ryze at the forefront, deleting any player who got in his way.
CLG never stopped putting up a fight. Yet, it was the Ryze who became the closer once again for Faker. He locked in the Ryze against CLG's Cassiopeia-centric composition, and it went as you'd expect. The first two games were competitive, with the North Americans' early-game setup centered around Nidalee, even picking up the lead for a majority of the second game. Neither leads in game one or two lasted into the late-game, however, with SK Telecom T1's stronger macro play and patience leading it to victory.
Game three was not close. Faker's Ryze took on the same role as it did against the KOO Tigers at the last big Riot international event. He won lane and casually rotated his skills to kill any squishy Counter Logic player on the map.
As a rookie, Faker was like LeBlanc: fun, quick, and unpredictable. The best part of playing LeBlanc was the face of your opponent when you pulled off a massive outplay to assassinate him. The epitome of offense and excitement.
Now, he is the embodiment of Ryze. He doesn't care how he does it. He's going to walk up to you and kill you. If you're walking through a dark jungle and he sees you, you're dead. If you're trying to farm, you're dead. It isn't fun to watch. Unlike his LeBlanc plays, you're not going to see thousands of the same magnificent solo kills uploaded to Reddit. Whether he has to play Lulu to support Bang, play a boring farming mid lane champion, or select an assassin, Faker will do it for the good of the team.
In his early days, Faker's name grew with brilliant attacks and natural talent. In the present, Faker doesn't care about carrying by himself or putting on a grand performance. Edward Gaming taught the world's best player the meaning of defeat, and Faker has channeled that loss to a year of nothing but championship victories.
Two Summoner's Cups. Five domestic championships. IEM world championship. All Stars Paris 2014 championship. Mid-Season Invitational championship.
Gone is the 17 year old boy we watched wow crowds in 2012, turning each game into must-see events, never knowing what unorthodox champion he'd unveil next.
In his place stands a 20 year old man, placing the goal of victory above everything else. There he sits on his throne, the King of Games, with all his trophies in place. To unknowing eyes, it would appear like the collection is complete.
"I won several championships, like LCK, world championship, and so on," said Faker in a post-finals interview. "But each tournament is a new tournament, and we'll keep trying to win those tournaments continuously."
The forces from China will bolster in the summer season. The rebellious North Americans and CLG will plan a new attack come the World Championships. Europe's troops will do everything in their power to cleanse the embarrassment of its showing at the event. Taiwan's pillars, AHQ Esports and Flash Wolves, will prepare for battle. And the rest of the Wildcard regions, big and small, will aim to figure out a strategy to make the best team in the world bleed.
Challengers far and wide still exist, the most difficult of which will be deploying in less than two weeks time, with the opening of Korea's Champions summer season. Nine teams will attempt to stop SK Telecom T1 from winning its fourth domestic title in a row, and Faker will be where exactly he wants to be:
Sitting alongside his teammates in the studio, grinning at the new challenger who believes he'll be the one to stop his dynasty.
The Summer Split is coming!