SK Telecom T1 won another League of Legends tournament.
The number of people surprised: 0.
The number of people who actually watched the defending Mid-Season Invitational winner and reigning world champion defeat Europe's G2 Esports in a surprisingly close final: possibly millions depending on how many tuned in from China and South Korea.
Following the event in Brazil, we now enter the second split of the 2017 campaign with the newly announced Rift Rivals in July and the World Championship final destination in China getting closer every day. Unless SKT internally combusts in its LCK summer split or Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok decides to quit pro gaming to become a full-time gardener, the three-time world champion and back-to-back winner of the event will be heading off to China in October as the heavy favorite to win the tournament and threepeat with the Summoner's Cup.
We're living in SKT's story. They're all the main characters, and all of us, including their rivals -- internationally and at home in South Korea -- are cannon fodder or side characters at best.
It's impossible to hide the fact we're in the midst of the SKT dynasty, so it's time to ask the question: Is it bad for League of Legends as an esport, or is it a good thing?
Compared to Dota 2 -- with its upcoming world championship in August, The International -- the two scenes could not be any more different in terms of parity. While SKT reign with an iron fist in League, the crown for Dota 2 is wide open as it's ever been, with teams from North America, Europe, China and even Southeast Asia having a legitimate claim to the title.
SKT's dominance can get tedious and, quite frankly, a bit boring. That's the beauty of how SKT has played the game under coach Kim "kkOma" Jung-gyun. When SKT is at its best, the game isn't fun to watch. It's like watching a 30-year-old father playing with his 4-year-old son in basketball. The father will let his son get a couple of baskets, have a few laughs, and keep the score close; but you know, as a bystander, that all the 30-year-old has to do is raise his arm in the air to win.
That's how it has been for teams, especially on the international level. Sure, teams can scratch SKT -- four losses in the group stage last year at MSI, two at the tail end of this year's -- but when the best-of-5 knockout rounds come, SKT, like that father playing basketball, raise their gigantic arm in the air and block the child's feeble attempt at putting the ball anywhere near the basket.
But even though the games aren't always the definition of exciting, SKT's clear place above everyone else is what makes each international tournament more heated than the last. Each team, big and small, wants their shot at SKT, Faker, and kkOma, regardless of how futile it may seem on paper. If SKT as an organization was lazy or simply toying with the competition at all times, it might be an issue, but the reigning world champion is playing for perfection. As others teams chase SKT wanting to overcome the titan, SKT chases something less tangible -- it chases mastery of the game itself and the ultimate feeling of being content with its work.
SKT's search for something that might be unreachable pushes teams to go further in their preparation. Teams across the world are investing more money and resources trying to keep up with SKT, and that's only a good thing for the longevity of League of Legends. Team SoloMid and G2 Esports, champions of their regions, aren't satisfied with being the throwaway villain in SKT's tale of conquest. KT Rolster, SKT T1's biggest rival in South Korea, created a super team for the sole purpose of dethroning SKT. And that wasn't even enough, the star-studded super team falling in a 3-0 sweep to SKT in the spring domestic final. Meanwhile, hundreds of teams internationally break down SKT's games like they're possible cheat codes, learning from them and figuring out ways to best them at the same time.
Around the world, dynasties have helped traditional sports more than hurt them. The NBA was never more popular than in the '90s when Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls won six championships and captured the country's attention. Once again, the league is at that high point where teams are either trying to acquire a group of superstars or bottom out to try and find some potential players in the offseason draft. People want to see narratives grow and greatness personified, and there's no better or simpler storyline in the world of sports than an untouchable champion on top with rivals far and wide doing anything they can to knock them off.
Riot might prefer to have said dynasty in North America, where the dev is based, or in China, where there are the most fans. But SKT T1 has broken through regional pride to become a must-watch whether you live in South Korea or not. At MSI, SKT's English viewership was comparable to Team SoloMid's, the team with the biggest draw in all of the west. Faker has transcended esports and is ever so slowly becoming a name to the general public.
People tune in to watch history unfold in front of them. Like all dynasties, one day, SKT will be toppled. But for now, with each win Faker and the team acquire, the house of cards only gets higher and higher with each possible defeat creating an even greater spectacle than the last. One side building toward something they can only see in the distance, and the rest wanting to see the castle come crashing down.
Maybe the chase for perfection isn't so boring after all.