There's a new sport in town and T1 are its superstars
There are some teams that everybody has heard of, whether they're a sports fan or not.
In baseball there is the New York Yankees, in football there is Manchester United, in basketball there's the Los Angeles Lakers and in American football there's the New England Patriots. Even non-team sports have those big names, the Tiger Woods or Serena Williams of the game.
That sports pantheon just got a little bigger with the arrival of Esports giant T1.
Esports is the new kid on the block in the global sports scene. T1 COO John Kim describes T1 as a start-up, but to the Esports fans — and there are millions of them — T1 is that one team that defines the sport. It's the team to support, the team to play for and, if you're unlucky enough to support someone else, the team to beat.
When the young gamers who make up the T1 League of Legends (LoL) team were given the chance to become professional Esports players, it was no surprise they jumped at the opportunity. Esports teams are fundamentally sports teams, with similar training facilities, fitness centers, coaches, management, agents and sponsorship deals. If you've spent your early teenage years playing games in PC rooms, it's quite the upgrade.
Looking at T1’s achievements, there’s no doubt it’s an elite Esports team, especially when it comes to LoL.
Since the team was established in December 2012, it has won three world championships, two Mid-Season Invitationals and nine League of Legends Champions Korea (LCK), becoming the winningest team in all three events.
Shouting at each other through their headphones at a large stadium filled with T1 fans, communication surely is the key in the game. With five different players playing in different positions, T1’s five players get together as a team to defeat their opponents. It may sound easy, but it really isn’t.
The five stars of the T1 team are best known by their gaming handles — Lee Sang-hyeok is Faker, Park Jin-seong is Teddy, Lee Sang-ho is Effort, Kim Chang-dong is Canna and Mun U-chan is Cuzz. While interactions between players in most sports are fairly private, the site of T1 yelling at each other through their headphones takes center stage at every event. In a sport that involves real life people competing in a digital arena, communication is key and is a crucial part of the players' training.
And that training is important. Although Esports might just look like people sitting around playing computer games to some sports fans, it's an intensive team sport with its own set of mental and physical requirements, roles and positions.
“There’s team practice and individual practice,” explained Effort. “During team practice, we play five-on-five games against other teams, while in individual practice we focus on practicing on our own.”
During training, the T1 squad gets to see the problems the team and individual players have and that’s where the coaches step in. Like in any other sport, the coaches help players identify their weak spots and tell them how they can improve.
Esports also has its version of a free agent market when the season ends, and like sports teams all over the world, T1 has gone through its fair share of heartbreak when players decide it's time to move on.
But the one player T1 has never lost is Faker. The 24-year-old has been with T1 since 2013 and is widely considered to be the greatest LoL player ever. Now a seasoned pro, Faker has been afforded the greatest honor T1 has to offer — he's now part-owner of the team.
Despite a disappointing performance this past summer season, T1 still made headlines in all of their games in terms of viewership. In the Spring 2020 season, the highest T1 viewership reached 1.07 million views in a match against rival Korean team Gen.G.
The summer season wasn’t as hot, but the highest viewership still reached 823,597.
Those numbers clearly prove T1's popularity, and as an elite squad captained by Faker, it remains the ultimate goal for many young gamers aspiring to an Esports career.
In order to reach that level of fame, Faker says the secret is acting like professionals.
“Our team doesn’t have a set philosophy,” Faker said. “But since we’re a professional team, our aim is to act like we are pros. Because T1 is an elite team.”
To make that happen, T1 CEO Joe Marsh and COO Kim work hard to make sure the players feel like they are a part of an elite club, by building a whole new headquarters in Korea.
Along with the facility, Marsh and Kim work to expand the T1 brand. The company has recently signed partnership deals with Nike, BMW, SK Telecom 5GX, Samsung Odyssey and many more.
With all that support, the team is ready to meet the high expectations in the upcoming season.
“As a team, our goal is to win next season,” Faker said. “To do that, our aim is to find different ways to achieve it.”
BY KANG YOO-RIM [firstname.lastname@example.org]