After a second straight World Championship in 2016, SK Telecom T1 did the unthinkable – they strengthened yet again in the off-season.
For the majority of 2016, SKT had struggled to find a jungler with the consistency they needed. Both Kang “Blank” Sun-gu and Bae “Bengi” Seong-ung displayed flashes of brilliance, but neither had the day-in, day-out quality of a world-class superstar.
Blank often struggled in high-pressure situations whilst Bengi’s moments of dominance were sporadic and uncertain. During the off-season, Han “Peanut” Wang-ho arrived to solve all their problems and deliver a third consecutive World Championship to the Korean organisation’s trophy cabinet.
SKT T1의 새로운 정글러를 소개합니다.
Peanut 한왕호 선수와 계약을 체결했습니다.
Peanut 선수 환영해 주시고, 2017 SKT T1 많은 응원 부탁드립니다. 감사합니다. pic.twitter.com/2bFWOa3fRf
— SK telecom T1 (@sktelecom_t1) December 1, 2016
Representing his previous organisation, ROX Tigers, Peanut established his reputation as one of the best junglers in the world; his performance on carry champions like Nidalee and Lee Sin carrying his team to the top of the LCK and beyond.
The combined power of Peanut, Song “Smeb” Kyung-ho, and Kim “PraY” Jong-in sparked fear in the hearts of ROX’s unfortunate opponents. By the end of 2016, he was neck-and-neck with Go “Score” Dong-bin for the title of ‘best jungler in the world’.
Unfortunately, Peanut’s time with SK Telecom T1 is yet to ignite the fuse paper as many believed it would. 2017 witnessed a far less dominant SKT than previous iterations, as the squad struggled to maintain the top spot within their own region.
Peanut was identified as a primary source of the problem, lacking the powerful punch he so often delivered last year. The carry presence that defined his rise with ROX soon vanished with his new team, handing the reins over to Blank.
Since the beginning of the Summer Split, Blank has seemed like the far superior jungler on SK Telecom T1. While Peanut may be the more individually skilled player, Blank has consistently outperformed him on this team.
Blank’s synergy with Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok is a major boon for the team. While Peanut can occasionally be seen to wander around the map without purpose, Blank plays specifically around his godlike mid-laner, ensuring the security and safety of his team’s star.
Peanut has simply not developed this synergy during his time on the team.
Peanut’s attempt to fit into this role has largely resulted in failure. As a prolific carry, his transition into a more passive role has felt uncomfortable, but is this the fault of the Korean golden boy or of the meta he is in?
Currently, carry-junglers are very much out of meta; few junglers dare to break the mould of Sejuani and Jarvan. Apart from a few niche picks, the meta is reliant on engage-heavy tanks, a total opposite of Peanut’s style of play. Maybe this is not the wrong team for him, rather the wrong time for him to shine.
While the past few months may have clouded the memory, it’s important not to forget Peanut’s incredible performance at the 2017 Mid-Season Invitational. At MSI 2017, the SKT jungler wiped the floor with nearly every jungler in attendance, dominating in every aspect of the position.
As the Korean organisation retained their title, the MVP award was rightfully awarded to Peanut, having forged his team’s path to victory. Peanut has the ability to shine, provided he is given the right tools to work with.
The 2017 World Championship has been an awkward tournament for SK Telecom T1. While Peanut has failed to provide the results of his last international showing, SKT’s bot lane of Bae “Bang” Jun-sik and Lee “Wolf” Jae-wan has also taken a step down from their career highlights.
This is a serious problem for Peanut, who tends to focus more on the bot lane than his backup. By contrast, Blank often centres his attention more towards the mid lane, reflecting positively on the jungler given Faker’s dominance at Worlds 2017.
If Wolf and Bang had performed at the levels they have reached in seasons past, perhaps Peanut would not face such an onslaught of criticism.
Peanut has the potential to be the star of this SK Telecom T1 lineup, but he needs the right environment in which to thrive.
Perhaps for the remainder of this tournament, Peanut will take a backseat to Blank, whose champion pool and playstyle aligns better with the Worlds meta, but that does not mean that Peanut is the wrong fit for this team or that he won’t seize his moment when the time is right.