In 2016, KT Rolster hoped to perform better than their quarterfinals finish against KOO Tigers at Worlds 2015. The rebranded ROX Tigers, with the addition of Han ‘Peanut’ Wang-ho, however, took the spot by winning the Summer finals 3-2.
Pushed to the 2016 LCK regional finals, KT Rolster just needed to win their best of five series to get back to the promised lands of the World Championship.
With the same key players – Go ‘Score’ Dong-bin, Kim ‘Ssumday’ Chan-ho and No ‘Arrow’ Dong-hyeon – on the roster from 2015 to 2016, this was their last chance to qualify.
The series with Samsung Galaxy turned out to be closer than many, including KT, had anticipated. Pushed to decisive Game 5, both teams were neck-and-neck in gold for the first 20 minutes.
While SSG was securing fire dragon, Ssumday’s built-up Gnar bar was in a good place to contest. Yet KT did not make a decisive move, and Samsung downed dragon quickly. It was in this moment that KT decided to commit to a teamfight despite a whiffed Bard ultimate and having no objective to fight for..
The rest is history, KT Rolster lost the series and Samsung Galaxy went all the way to the final of the 2016 World Championship.
This is the same Samsung squad that halted KT’s dreams of Worlds for a second consecutive year, with a 3-0 sweep in the recent 2017 Regional Finals.
KT’s fall this time around could be fatal. While the rest signed with NA and EU LCS teams at the end of 2016, Score remained, and the organisation built an even more star-studded roster around him.
Kim ‘Deft’ Hyuk-kyu, Cho ‘Mata’ Se-hyeong and Heo ‘PawN’ Won-seok returned from China’s LPL specifically to get a better shot at winning Worlds – only to be denied altogether.
Rebuilding was necessary for both KT Rolster and Samsung Galaxy. After dominating performances by Samsung Blue and White in 2014 followed by a quiet, forgettable 2015, SSG is now a two-time Worlds contestant.
Unlike KT however, SSG has worked with the same roster since 2016; their narratives could not be more different.
On paper, KT Rolster should have outclassed Samsung Galaxy in every position, given that every star player on KT has a larger champion pool than their SSSG counterpart.
Song ‘Smeb’ Kyung-ho is regarded as one of the best players in the world, especially good with carry top laners, whilst Lee ‘CuVee’ Seong-jin on the other hand, has been on tank duty all season.
While PawN’s most played this champion summer is Galio, with stints on LeBlanc, Lucian, Fizz and Kassadin in addition to meta champions, you can count Lee ‘Crown’ Min-ho’s champions with your fingers.
When Crown tried to expand his reach this summer to Cassiopeia and Lucian, only one worked out, so while he may have a limited pool, it has proven to be reliably effective.
Put together, KT and SSG are polar opposites. In fact, the way SSG swept KT 3-0 was quintessential of their playstyles.
Defined by early game aggression, KT expects to have a gold lead by 15 minutes comprising kills and objectives obtained through 4-man tower dives.
In the first two games however, SSG were the ones who held a slight lead as they out-manoeuvred, absorbed and fended off KT’s assaults.
— LCKDiscord (@LCKDiscord) September 2, 2017
Because KT’s strengths in the early game rely on individual skill and early rotations, the Telecom Wars in particular highlighted their corresponding weakness: Not being able to win late game.
After all, it is in the late game where team work reaches its peak. Without coordinated lane assignments to tackle incoming minion waves and carefully controlled engages or disengages, a single error could mean defeat.
This is where Samsung shines: Patient, defensive and ready to capitalise on mistakes, the regional finals climaxed in Game 3, where SSG put up the most unimaginable turret defence League of Legends has seen. The 58-minute game went back-and-forth till Samsung finally found the right fight down mid lane and won with a gold deficit.
OMG 2015, Longzhu in 2016, kt Rolster in 2017 – with kt's elimination we get the clearest picture yet that super teams dont win in League
— Chris Smith (@PapaSmithy) September 2, 2017
While this year’s star-studded KT did not work, if they stuck it out for another year, perhaps their dynamics would evolve for the better. Building team identities take time and it would be unfortunate if we never see this KT roster again, currently, however, the team stands to provide further evidence to the theory: ‘superteams don’t work.’