“This is unreal. As simple as that. Those were my exact thoughts.”
Alexander Müller-Rodic, managing director of SK Gaming, is recalling how he felt when his team failed to advance through the promotion tournament and make it into the EU LCS in Spring 2016. SK Gaming, one of the oldest esports organisations around, who had been competing at the top of League of Legends esports since the beginning, weren’t going to be in the highest level of European competition.
They haven’t made it back since, until now.
SK Gaming’s League of Legends history has been something of a roller coaster. From early success in tournaments, to falling to the famous Enrique “xPeke” Martinez backdoor at IEM Katowice 2013. From coming first in the Spring Split of the LCS in 2015 to being dumped out of the league entirely that same year. Over the years, there have been many highs, and many lows.
“To be clear, there have been more highs than lows for us,” says Müller-Rodic. “Entering LoL at such an early stage after seeing it for the first time at E3 in Los Angeles, when the game was in beta was quite the adventure for us. In our first international tournament, we made it into the final. Sure, playing two relegation matches was tough, losing the second was one of the lowest lows you can face as an esports team, but you have to accept these situations and turn them into something positive. This is what we did… I believe the lows are just as important for a team to rise and claim titles.”
Now, SK Gaming are back in the League of Legends European Championship. They’ll once again be competing at the pinnacle of European LoL esports, however Müller-Rodic isn’t getting carried away just yet.
“We are not back at the top level,” he insists. “We have a chance to prove ourselves with the teams that did a fantastic job in the past couple of years. We know exactly where we start, at zero.
“We respect the teams that represented EU at worlds this year and the ones that came close. They are a benchmark for us and to be frank, they have the upper hand right now. But we will try to tackle them, compete with them and make it hard for them to claim the title in Europe. That’s our job now.
“We know exactly what we are doing, we are creating a great infrastructure around a team we believe will surprise the fans of LEC. We also ask our fans and the LoL community for some patience. We are a new team for the LEC and we need to find our place.”
Ever since exiting the LCS, SK Gaming have had a hunger to get back. Müller-Rodic describes a “chimp on our shoulder screaming ‘there is unfinished business, do something already!’. Eventually the screaming got so loud, we had to so something.”
So they did: SK teamed up with Deutsche Telekom over 12 months ago, but officially started the partnership in May 2018, and began planning their LEC application.
“The day we got the yes was pure joy at our end,” he says.
Joy enough to match the agony of defeat over three years ago.
In the EU LCS 2016 Spring Promotion tournament, SK Gaming came up against Gamers2. “It was one of those stories,” says Müller-Rodic. “Carlos as the manager of the opponent, Joe as the coach.”
He’s referring to Carlos “Ocelote” Rodriguez, one of the biggest names to ever play for SK Gaming. After leaving, he founded Gamers2, which has now become G2 Esports, one of the most successful European League of Legends teams of the past few years. They’ve won the LCS on multiple occasions, and they made it to the semifinal of Worlds this year. Joe “InnerFlame” Elouassi used to coach SK, then Gamers2, then Team Dignitas, and is now the manager of Misfits Gaming, another LEC team.
“We were down, we came back and it was one baron fight that decided everything in the end. It was brutal for us.”
It’s taken SK three years to get back, which is a long time in esports. But it’s not like they wanted to wait that long.
“We wanted back right away. We could not wait to get a new team going, fight our way back. But we had to accept that the timing was off. Things take time and the whole process of applying for the LEC, preparing for that moment when the league decides whether or not you are seen as a worthy representative for the highest competition in our region as a whole, started 12 months ago. Behind closed doors we set course on this process, made decisions and turned our company inside out, so to speak.
“We are super happy we can start communicating with our fans around LoL again and with our first match in LEC come 2019, we will be even happier, no matter the result.
“We are back, that’s what counts right now.”