We continue our “Twelve Days of eSports” series with a comprehensive profile of SK Gaming. Every day between now and the World Finals, we will release one article highlighting each of the teams going to Los Angeles. Don’t forget to check back daily for our new content, and be sure to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
|SK Gaming: Emotion|
Twelve months ago, SK Gaming was one of the strongest teams on the professional League of Legends scene. They featured a lineup of well-known and highly regarded players, and they’d just come off an admirable second-place finish at IEM New York, losing only to Fnatic.RaidCall but edging out the best North America had to offer with ease. It was very early in the season, but analysts and fans alike couldn’t have been faulted had they predicted SK’s appearance at the World Championship.
Two months ago, the community had no idea who even played for SK, nevermind if they belonged on the competitive scene. The once terrifying lineup became a carousel of professionals looking for a new team. The current roster came together little more than a week before the European Challenger Circuit: Poland. But after taking second place at the European Regionals, Ocelote and company have proven this new team is just as capable as the old, and they have their sights set on the pride, the money and the glory of the World Championship.
For Ocelote and Nyph, it’s been a long, long year; the two are the only remaining members of the lineup that found so much success last autumn.
In October 2011, SK built its Circuit Point foundation on a third-place finish at IEM Guangzhou and their IEM NY success. Their lineup then looked shockingly different from the one today, though the names are quite familiar: team captain Ocelote held down mid lane, Snoopeh prowled the jungle, Wickd powered through top lane, and AD Carry CandyPanda and Support Nyph formed the bottom lane dynamic duo. After consecutive strong showings, this team looked poised to continue its ascension up the EU and international circuits. Instead, the roster fell into turmoil.
At the end of October 2011, Wickd left to join Absolute Legends. MoMa left Absolute Legends to join SK… and departed 18 days later. Within a month, Snoopeh opted to reunite with his good friend Wickd, and Absolute Legends was absorbed by Counter Logic Gaming to become CLG.EU. SK Gaming, meanwhile, closed out 2011 with a three-man roster and a slew of question marks about its future.
None of this would derail Ocelote; SK’s captain maintained that his team would find the players to allow SK to succeed at major events. His top lane woes were permanently solved when Kev1n joined, and SleazyWeazy (himself a former member of SK) acted as the temporary jungler going into IEM Kiev. This group found modest success during the Kiev group stage, losing only to North America’s Team SoloMid, but they were immediately knocked out of the winner’s bracket by Moscow Five and ultimately received fourth-place honors after losing to Team Dignitas.
Modest success is still success, but the team maintained Sleazy was only a ringer: SK technically still needed a jungler. Dedrayon seemed the solution after Kiev, but he proved ineffective in an immediate sense when SK was eliminated by Against All Authority in the quarterfinals of the IEM World Championship at Hanover last March. SK hit rock bottom; after this unceremonious exit, they wouldn’t be seen at a major tournament until July’s ECC: Poland.
Every criticism and frustration boiled down to lineup problems; this group never clicked the way the old powerhouse had. Swapping players hadn’t achieved the desired results, so SK underwent a series of drastic lane swaps. Ocelote, bored of the passive farming meta that gripped Europe, moved to top lane. Kev1n went mid. But then he went to AD carry and CandyPanda went top! Ocelote went back to mid. The community stopped taking notes and forgot who played what. CandyPanda and Dedrayon left the team in June. They were unofficially replaced by YoungBuck and Svenskeren, but both were gone before July ended. Kev1n moved back top to make room for YellOwStaR, the AD carry who helped knock SK out of Hanover. In perhaps the most surprising move of all, Araneae, another former member of SK, joined as the full-time jungler. That lineup went on to take third place at ECC: Poland, and shocked the world at Gamescom’s European Regionals by winning the grudge match against CLG.EU and moving on to face Moscow Five in the finals.
If you didn’t pay attention – and I can’t say I blame you – that’s eight different players to rotate through SK Gaming in the last year.
How On Earth Is This Team At The World Championship?
More than anything else, the outright moxie of the players involved propels SK Gaming forward. For the first time since IEM New York, Ocelote has a team capable of picking up the slack when he struggles. Unlike Kiev and Hanover, opponents cannot beat SK just by shutting Ocelote down, which means Ocelote can play the game the way he likes: aggressively. It’s also the first group that’s taken the reins from Ocelote. In the past, Ocelote appeared most interested in looking good and appealing to his fans, and his play reflected this whether he was streaming or competing. The arrival of Araneae refocused the attention and effort of SK’s captain: “When I joined them, I told [Ocelote], ‘If you want me to join, you have to focus on the team.’ Not focusing on the streaming, not focusing on anything else. And now he’s really serious – he’s really a leader. He’s now aiming to win the tournament, not aiming to win the MVP. He’s aiming to get SK into first place.” The result, humorously, has been some of the best competitive play we’ve ever seen from Ocelote. It’s a team effort and always will be, but you couldn’t fault a casual observer for thinking Ocelote’s aggressive Orianna was what kept swinging things into SK’s favor during the EU Regionals.
Aggression is, perhaps, the defining characteristic of SK’s playstyle. See, Araneae and Kev1n are just as aggressive as their captain, and in YellOwStaR the team has a vocal commander who can channel this play into very precise, very effective objective control. Taking a page from the Moscow Five playbook, SK’s recent performances have shown pinpoint buff and objective control: they had secured three of four buffs by 2:30 during their first match versus CLG.EU. SK’s emulation of Moscow Five makes perfect sense, as the two teams exclusively practiced with each other leading up to the EU Regionals. But beyond early tactics, SK’s fearless play transitions superbly into the mid and late game. They’ve been exceptionally coordinated during team fights, due in a large part to the awareness and leadership of YellOwStaR. But even when skirmishes swing against SK, the team’s momentum doesn’t break. This can’t be understated: SK’s moxie, their outright refusal to submit to the odds, reduces the advantage their opponents have and forces their opponents to give second thought to every engagement.
|Araneae’s Interview With ACER|
The Captain: Ocelote
“… He’s really a leader. He’s now aiming to win the tournament, not aiming to win the MVP. He’s aiming to get SK into first place.” – Alvar “Araneae” Martin
It starts at the top, which in this case is the middle lane. Ocelote is the team’s captain, the face of the franchise. He’s well known for his aggressive play as well as his emotion before, during and after games. He’s equally loved and hated throughout the community, which is exactly the type of dynamic player a successful team needs at its front.
For a time, Ocelote was best known for his Cassiopeia play, but these days every SK fan wants to see The Ball and its wielder, Orianna. The many Commands issued during Gamescom made SK’s victory against CLG.EU so remarkable, and those same Commands will likely be the reason Orianna gets banned by the majority of SK’s opponents. The respect ban is nothing new for Ocelote; he’ll be prepared to use equally capable champs like Anivia, Gragas and Morgana. We’ve also seen him break out Kassadin and LeBlanc at past tournaments, and his popular solo queue picks include Ahri, Twisted Fate and Diana, among those previously mentioned.
The champ he plays isn’t important; Ocelote’s team and lane opponent afford him the opportunity to roam between lanes and make plays happen. Like Alex Ich, Reginald and Kanye, the last place you want Ocelote is in his zone. But for the first time in a year, Ocelote doesn’t have to get there on his own.
The Jungle: Araneae
“It just fits having us two on the team.” – Carlos “Ocelote” Rodríguez Santiago
Araneae is equally emotional, equally aggressive and equally fearsome as his team’s captain. There was a point in time where this was problematic; though Araneae was a member of the original SK Gaming, he left due to a personality conflict with Ocelote. For him, however, this is in the past: “I had some problems with Ocelote, we had some differences but we’ve never been enemies. He asked me to join again, and that was a really exciting opportunity.”
Ocelote feels similarly about his new jungler, and in particular has come to appreciate having another very aggressive and emotional player at his side: “I think [the others] like Araneae and me… You’re fighting for a lot of pride, money, in front of many people, your family and friends in the big room at home. It’s a lot of pressure for you. Yelling and pumping your teammates up is always a good thing. For them, even if it’s sometimes annoying, I think it’s extremely good. It just fits having us two on the team right now.”
The combined energy caused a revolution for SK on the Fields, as the team has found success against some of the toughest competition on the scene. What we’ve come to expect from Araneae is very, very aggressive counter-jungling and buff control, even if his champ isn’t inherently good at either. Though common ban choices, Alistar, Maokai and Malphite are some of his favorite picks, and he’s frequented Nocturne, Shen, Shyvana and Udyr during his solo queue adventures. Boots of Mobility are popular shoes these days, and we should expect to see Araneae use them to their fullest; whenever he’s not securing a map objective, he will be in an opponent’s lane.
The Top Lane: Kev1n
“Kev1n doesn’t talk, Kev1n just kills people. Kev1n carries games.” – Carlos “Ocelote” Rodríguez Santiago
At this point in time, Kev1n is one of the most established members of SK, having been with the team since IEM Kiev. He’s also demonstrated his versatility as a player by playing top lane, AP middle and ranged AD, as needed. But it’s top lane Kev1n favors most, and during a pre-Gamescom interview, Ocelote agreed that there’s no one better suited for the job: “Kev1n doesn’t talk, Kev1n just kills people. Kev1n carries games.”
Kev1n also doesn’t care about a champion’s popularity. In a surprising turn, Kev1n broke out Gangplank at Gamescom, possibly because he liked the consonance but likely because he appreciates the utility the Pirate adds to his team. This choice reflects one of the more subtle elements of SK’s strategy: the team prioritizes champions with steroids, ideally steroids that affect multiple champions (Orianna, Nunu and Janna, popular SK picks, fit this concept). That aside, he’s no stranger to many of the conventional top laners – as a regular player of Darius, Irelia, Jax, Riven, Rumble and Yorick, opponents will be banning whoever they feel poses the biggest threat to their team comp. Oh, and per ELOBUFF Kev1n’s given Jayce a very hard look since the calendar turned; it seems Dyrus and sOAZ made a strong impression during their regional events.
It’s worth noting that two powerful top laners are not regular picks in Kev1n’s repertoire: Shen and Vladimir. The former can be jungled, but the latter is a strong champ overall who is difficult to handle during the laning phase. While the EU circuit is less likely to employ Vladimir, this handicap may force SK into banning Vlad out against NA teams at the very least.
The AD Carry: YellOwStaR
“When we get to the team fights, everything is on YellOwStaR. You have to hear him. You have to listen to him and just follow what he says.” – Alvar “Araneae” Martin
YellOwStaR plays the biggest role in setting his team up for victory. His résumé includes the “number one arrow of the world,” but his presence as an AD carry is curiously understated. He seems perfectly content to have his name ignored in conversations that might contain Genja, Doublelift and Captain Jack. Likewise, his responses and behaviors during interviews have always suggested the man isn’t interested in the spotlight – he leaves that for others. We see it in his play, too. Take SK’s first game against CLG.EU at Gamescom: during many, many team fights, YellOwStaR eliminated opponent after opponent by weaving through allies and enemies alike without drawing attention to himself. According to Araneae, it’s YellOwStaR who takes charge of the team as the game progresses: “When we get to the middle of the game, to the team fights, everything is on YellOwStaR. You have to hear him. You have to listen to him and just follow what he says.”
Reportedly, he’s also very vocal during the picking and banning phase, possessing a “clear mind” for the tasks of this stage. His own champion roster leaves little to be desired. As mentioned earlier, his Ashe is his most famous champion, but he’s perfectly comfortable running any of this meta’s “big three” AD: Corki, Ezreal and Graves. And much like his teammates, he hasn’t shied away from less popular or forgotten champs. Vayne and Kog’Maw had their heyday months ago, but YellOwStaR still uses them when the situation calls for it. In fact, Vayne is YellOwStaR’s second-most-played champ in solo queue. She’s a high-risk, high-reward champion, but she just might be the sleeper pick coming into this tournament.
The Support: Nyph
“It’s weird; I’ve been playing with Nyph for maybe a month now, but I feel like we have good coordination.” – Bora “YellOwStaR” Kim
Alongside Ocelote, Nyph is the longest-tenured player on the team. His role is very clearly defined: he hasn’t left the support position since joining the team. Originally playing alongside CandyPanda, Nyph now partners with YellOwStaR. Critics have wondered if this duo can maintain their success, as YellOwStaR has spent most of his career playing with Nrated. He remains unphased: “It’s weird; I’ve been playing with Nyph for maybe a month now, but I feel like we have good coordination. We still have to work, but I feel confident right now.”
The support role fits Nyph perfectly. In his rare interviews, he’s very soft spoken and uses only a sentence or two to answer questions, often deferring to his teammates rather than addressing things outright. Nyph’s background as a support player stems from earlier games like Dark Age of Camelot and Defense of the Ancients, where he preferred champs focused on healing, buffing and protecting. The tradition carried over to League of Legends; his most played champions are Janna, Taric and Sona. That said, he’s become a notable Nunu player, with teams outright banning the Yeti Rider.
As a result of his affinity for true supports, though, he outright ignores popular kill lane champions. He has played seven games total on Blitzcrank this season. He has one game in the last month on Alistar (though that may be related to the Cow’s popularity in the jungle… and on the ban list). Prior to the EU Regionals, Leona was an infrequent pick, but to his credit he’s spent considerable time learning the Radiant Dawn in the weeks following Gamescom. Even so, it’s expected that Nunu and Janna will be his go-to picks; he has 12 and 10 tournament games played on each between ECC: Poland and Gamescom.
“We’ve finally found the team we always wanted to.” – Patrick “Nyph” Funke
Though we’re talking about one of the top competitors of their region, SK Gaming still goes into the League of Legends World Championship perceived as an underdog. One indisputable fact remains: the majority of their opponents have been playing together much longer. It doesn’t matter; SK has shown the drive, the chemistry, the moxie needed to win when it matters most.
But what’s more interesting is how excited these players are for the future. In his Gamescom interview with Sjokz, Nyph hit the nail on the head: “We’ve finally found the team we always wanted to. Before, we always had problem finding a player to complete us. Now I’m confident this team can stick together and win some tournaments.” In other interviews, Araneae, Ocelote and YellOwStaR have echoed the thought.
To continue their recent success, SK will need to bring the same motivation and energy to the table that they brought against CLG.EU at Gamescom. They will have to be on point for every single game, controlling the map and refusing to back down when things look bad. They’ve already done so against top competitors, and it’s not unreasonable to think they can do it again.
What’s scary, though, is that this team isn’t even close to its success peak. Regardless of the outcome at the World Championship, SK Gaming should be one of the most compelling and entertaining teams to watch during Season 3.
|Gamescom: SK Gaming vs CLG.EU Game 2|