Earning A Seat At The Table: Understanding Untara’s Place On SK Telecom T1

The story of Ui “Untara” Jin-Park finding residence with SK Telecom T1 cannot be told without Seung “Huni” Hoon Heo. As the only top laner for SKT in LCK Spring 2017, Huni played and did everything.

Rumble, Maokai and Nautilus were the most picked champions for the former Fnatic and Immortals top laner. Despite the tank-heavy lineup, Huni’s KDA in Spring was 5.1 with a 59% kill participation, shelving any initial doubts regarding his infamous ‘carry-only-top’ reputation.

The Spring meta helped Huni to shine. The jungle was frequently populated by carries like Rengar, Lee Sin and Graves and with a crowd control tank top, ganking was straightforward: Maokai root or Natuilus hook followed by burst damage from the jungler.

Huni embedded himself into the SK Telecom T1 roster seamlessly, enjoying success in both the LCK Spring Split and Mid-Season Invitational.

Source: Riot Games Flickr

It was not till mid-June that things started to shift, and unfortunately for Huni, they shifted out of his comfort zone. Changes to items led to the rise of tank junglers, whilst the top lane became a duel between Renekton, Fiora and Camille.

Subsequent buffs to Cho’Gath, Trundle and Maokai with improved tank items hailed the return of monsters: all of whom aim to farm, get gold then pile on items to reach ‘unkillable’ status.

At the same time, Huni’s individual performances served to define an unpredictable summer. One game could be styling it out on Lucian, another he overstays at the tower and gets killed with full information. As the negatives began to outweigh the positives, Untara slowly entered the fray.

Untara gradually filled-in and became the starter next to Han “Peanut” Wang-ho. Reaching rank #1 in solo queue before anyone else on SKT, is Untara simply the better player?

Almost all of Huni’s champions, Untara plays. In fact their most picked is Rumble over Spring/Summer season but with one distinct difference: Untara overall has a lower KDA, lower damage and much lower kill participation, intentionally chosing not to push the lane.

When playing Fiora and Trundle, Untara avoided team fights and went on split push missions: when two or three opponents dive him, his job is to survive and on better days, he turns ganks around and gets a kill in return.

In other words, Untara is SKT’s sponge; there to absorb pressure while SKT’s jungler focuses on the mid and bot lanes. On paper, this year’s SKT draft consists of a carry top, carry jungler, carry mid and carry ADC.

It’s impossible for all three lanes to apply pressure at the same time since pushing up waves means being open to enemy ganks.

Source: Inven Global

In a tank top meta, SKT made the decision for Untara to be on an island. Once SKT’s jungler ganks bot, opens up the map and gains dragon control, top pressure is relieved.

Opponents in a deficit realise they need an extra hand to defend other lanes. In the ebb and flow of map pressure, top is left solo and Unatra completes his first key objective by taking down the tower.

Against Longzhu in the LCK finals, this strategy did not work. Skilled rookie top laner Kim “Khan” Dong-ha bypassed the tank meta, instead of opting for a tank versus tank situation, SKT left Jayce open for Khan’s taking.

Longzhu piled on early pressure top, while SKT found it difficult to apply the same pressure against an experienced PraY/GorillA at bot.

Going into Worlds, SK Telecom T1 can only bring one substitute according to the rules and given current form it is almost guaranteed to be Blank. If the current tank meta persists, we might very well see Untara head to China, denying Huni from attending his desired World Championship.