SK Gaming finally made their way back to the top of League of Legends esports for the start of the LEC. They had success in the past, but it’s safe to say that for the Spring Split, the odds weren’t really in their favour. It was the first time the organisation had competed at the pinnacle of LoL since 2015. The team had rookies and a player who had never competed in Europe before. It was a multinational team, so communication was another issue to overcome. And yet, SK Gaming secured a spot in the playoffs in their first split back. They pulled off two wins over Fnatic, and even took a game off eventual champions G2 Esports. Oskar “Selfmade” Boderek won Rookie of the Split. All in all, it’s been a fairly successful return, and it’s given them a platform to aim even higher. The new look SK proved they are back, but they want even more.
“SK’s return to the LEC after their last run in LCS and CS back in the day meant we were going to be the image of the new SK,” team analyst Andrei “Realistik” Ruse tells us. “We weren’t feeling pressured, but motivated by this challenge. We established very early on our vision of a long term project rather than a quick success, a vision that directly translated into the roster building process as well.”
SK Gaming built the core of their roster using three members from the successful MAD Lions team from the Spanish local league. They also added Han “Dreams” Min-kook, someone with a few years’ experience in Europe, and Choi “Pirean” Jun-sik, a mid laner with experience in North America and the LCK with SK Telecom T1. From beyond just a simple performance standpoint, Pirean has been Realistik’s highlight of the season so far.
“Coming from a very different culture, with no experience in Europe before, having more of a restrained type of personality and facing a language barrier to some degree, he has drastically improved his social skills and managed to integrate himself within the team,” says Realistik.
“It’s improved his comfort and confidence level to the point that he can lead others as an active shotcaller during portions of the game rather than somebody that only provides information. Pirean’s work ethic is unmatched not just in terms of working hard but also when it comes to working smart and maximising time efficiency.”
However, Pirean isn’t the only member of the team Realistik has been impressed by. He claims that Selfmade “is someone that has probably one of the deepest if not the deepest champion pool on his role in the entire league.” His Rookie of the Split award would appear to back that up.
“In the beginning I wasn’t so sure I would be winning Rookie of the Split,” Selfmade tells us. “But when I managed to secure the most MVPs in the regular split, I was somewhat certain I would get the award.
“The reason I think I won is that I had better individual showings than the other rookies. I would say my top moment of the split was the LEC opening game against Fnatic.”
That first game, in which SK Gaming defeated Fnatic in their first game since the World Championship Grand Final, put the returning team on everyone’s radar straight away. For this team with such little experience on the Berlin stage to overcome the Fnatic juggernaut was a big moment. It appeared the MAD Lions players were bringing their regional success to the big leagues. Although they admit that the LEC has been a big step up for them to overcome.
“My first split in the LEC was for sure something I have never experienced before,” says Selfmade. “It felt much more professional than playing in national leagues. The jump in skill level is very high across all aspects of the game.”
“The Spring Split was pretty fun for me to play,” Juš “Crownshot” Marušič tells us. “It was way more enjoyable than playing regional leagues. The difference in skill level is quite big. All of the players are just smarter and better mechanically, and the bot lanes look and find more openings to punish you for mistakes.”
It was the existing teamwork between Selfmade, Crownshot, and Jorge “Werlyb” Casanovas Moreno-Torres which helped SK overcome some of the early struggles a new team might have. Combined with the experience of Dreams and the skill of Crownshot, SK pulled off a number of upsets in the Spring Split. However, they know that they also lost a few games they should’ve won. There are plans to improve for the summer, of course. One big change is Toni "Sacre" Sabalić moving up from SK Gaming Prime to replace Werlyb in the top lane.
“During Spring Split we made really slow progress in terms of tactical evolvement as we were mostly focused on fixing our internal issues and getting to a working communication and shotcalling system,” says Realistik.
“Obviously there are still tweaks to be made to the system, while developing tactical aspects on the side. As long as we manage to keep an open feedback system in place, time and effort is all we need to consistently put in to achieve greater success.
“I personally don’t like speaking much about goals because once those are clearly known, opponents will try to do what it takes to stop you from achieving them. But, we will absolutely aim higher than last split.”