05. seven views from sunday (week 6)
No entry this week because you can’t have feelings if you’re dead.
I’m just joking. Here are seven of them.
kt Rolster lost. This is it, this is SKT, the unscalable mountain, the monster at the end of the book, the final boss, the castle you cannot siege, both the unstoppable force and the immovable object at the same time, and kt failed. Who do we have left to slay this dragon? Afreeca Freecs, who earlier this week played a game so poorly against Kongdoo Monster that it reduced all of us, including the SpoTV casters, to blindly repeating, “I don’t know what I’m looking at?” Samsung Galaxy, again? We can dissolve the rosters, consolidate them into one super-team, bring the Horcruxes back from China, force both teams to play six games in a row in a week, and yet we end up where we started, SKT on top. It’s what all of us expected and what I feared. So now what? What next? What more do you have to show us? What else is left?
I woke up on Thursday morning groggy and congested. I’d been fighting a cold all week and it was collapsing on me, determined to take me out. But I had made a promise to myself to watch kt’s games, and if there was one live series I wasn’t going to miss, it was this one. G. was up too, amused at my excitement, at the way I’d hold my hands over my face, almost cutting off my breathing, when I watched a teamfight go poorly for kt, at the way I’d run into the bedroom to announce loudly the results of each game even though he didn’t care. I went through a box of tissues, 48 ounces of water, and a dose of Dayquil watching kt slowly lose game three. I’d never felt so strongly that most self-sacrificing, most fantastical of chants — take my energy. Each base defense attempt was a wave that lifted me out of my body and into the rift. At the very end, as Blank and Faker chunked down the nexus, I threw crumpled up tissues at the TV as if they could fall into the screen and help Mata in his futile defense of the nexus. It was a loss, but for about an hour, I forgot that I was sick, that I would need to be at work in two hours and work for another twelve, that this was just the first of at least two but hopefully many telecom war face-offs. And like kt, when it was all over, I had no time to rest. I sat up, stretched, and got dressed, just trying to stay alive long enough to do it all over again on Sunday.
In fourth grade I spent a summer in China. Hungry for English of any kind, I went through the bookshelves of my grandmother, a former high school English teacher, and dug up her two remaining English-language novels: The First Wives Club and an abridged version of The Count of Monte Cristo. A stranger to both the concept of older men leaving their wives for younger mistresses and revenge plots in 19th century Italy, neither novel made much sense to me, but even now, I remember little nuggets: two-inch long nails encased in carmine silk, Edmond Dantes’ desperate swim to freedom, a Bulgari pearl necklace, Abbe Busoni and his diamond. Later, recontextualized, these moments still had their own shine, like talismans of my younger self bringing me into adulthood.
On Friday I watched LS’s VOD review of the first kt versus SKT match. For me, an amateur to the game, it was like that summer in fourth grade again. All the words made sense, but put together, and at those speeds, I didn’t understand. (More often than not these days I feel like the protagonist of Kawabata’s Snow Country, writing about “occidental ballet” despite having never seen it.) Jungle-pathing lost me, the consequences of multiple potential trades lost me, the errors in deciding when to push for bottom inhib or to engage in a teamfight also lost me. Re-examining the match in this way, the gloss of Thursday wore off, and I fretted — were kt’s plays really full of this many holes? Was everything truly high-level plays and anticipated plays, or just a series of complicated mistakes? Was kt’s aggressive style really a viable tactic, or just a band-aid to hide their inability to properly handle late-game?
But still, there was that moment in game two, you know the one — when Faker landed Command Shockwave on all of kt and took out four members in a single move. LS, who seemed to have come to this VOD without having seen the whole game, let out a yelp, as if he himself had been knocked back by the force of the wave and had the breath punched out of him. It was pure. It transcended. It was something even I could understand, a thing of perfect timing and perfect execution. I held onto that — and the knowledge that despite all its perfection, kt still ended up winning that game.
In 1932, F. C. Barlett wrote, “Remembering is not the re-excitation of innumerable fixed, lifeless and fragmentary traces. It is an imaginative reconstruction or construction, built out of the relation of our attitude towards a whole active mass of organised past reactions or experience.” As fans and as humans, we can’t resist the narrative, the oversimplified story that glosses over the inconsistencies and organizes the complicated, disorganized world into an easy story we can understand. SKT vs. kt delivered this in spades. Two mirrored matches: kt sweeping through game two in both matches, looking like they knew what they were doing, only to falter and drag out game three to fifty or more minutes simply by the brute-force of their ability to play; a game three pick/ban phase with something interesting to remember; the Blank substitution an echo of Bengi from 2016, and each time kt, one of two LCK teams without any subs, falling to it. We didn’t have to make a story to build up this match-up, but a poetic storyline followed it anyway: history repeating, a second chance, a one-two punch.
I’m a sucker for an extended metaphor, and these two series had metaphor scrawled all over them. kt is their team compositions, all their hopes pinned on the aggressive push, their super-star line-up, and so far coming up just short. SKT’s first game victories is their miracle run in 2013, a gauntlet thrown down that kt tries to answer, and for a while it’s 2014 and game two and it looks like kt can do it. But then it’s game three, 2015 and 2016, and here we are with three-time world champions SKT, looking to pick up a fourth. On and off, I think about game three of the first series, the way kt would slink out of each team-fight with just a sliver of health, regrouping and trying again, only to be cut down and scattered, over and over. It’s overly simplistic, but surely you too can see the arc of the current kt roster in that: Smeb and Score limping away from the bloodletting of their rosters in order to build a new team, Mata jumping from roster to roster in LPL only to come back to LCK. Like cockroaches, they refuse to die — but not dying is not the same as winning. It’s not enough to just survive.
“In chess,” Marcel Duchamp once said, “there are some extremely beautiful things in the domain of movement, but not in the visual domain. It’s the imagining of the movement or of the gesture that makes the beauty, in this case. It’s completely in one’s gray matter.”
(Or, put another way, only some of this is true. The rest of it is just true to me.)
I woke up Sunday starving. My cold was finally breaking, and I’d gone to bed early on Saturday without eating. Do you starve a cold and feed a fever, or the other way around? Unsure of the right answer, and weak to hunger, I wolfed down some noodles and settled in for the long haul. This time, I felt oddly alone as I watched the game, very much chained to my body, which, despite my wishes, was not in Gangnam or on the rift. This time, there were no delusions that I could affect the game in any way, no pretense that my cheers or despair would change the flow of the match. Sense had returned. Me and my feelings, we are just interlopers, silent ticket-less passengers on this journey with no way to get to the steering wheel. It wasn’t that I cared less; if anything, I cared even more — I wanted kt to even the score, I wanted my players to believe they could do this almost impossible feat they had chosen for themselves. But it was a different kind of caring, a kind of conscious blind faith, hoping for the best and knowing I would be disappointed, knowing too that this was their battle, not mine.
When kt lost, I didn’t make a sound. I muted the TV (I still had AFS vs KDM to watch, after all) and stretched out on the couch, as tall as I could make myself. Outside, it had started to rain. I closed my eyes and listened to it fall steadily through the whole half-hour break. I thought to myself, we have so much further to go. Not because there was some bar I had set for kt and they were failing to reach it. No, just that it was only March, only the second half of spring split. It’s only been a week, even if it felt like a year. Win or lose, both teams still have to keep going. Win or lose, we’re not done yet.
kt Rolster lost. This is it, this is SKT, the unscalable mountain, the monster at the end of the book, the final boss, the castle you cannot siege, both the unstoppable force and the immovable object at the same time, and in two harrowing, three-game series, kt Rolster held on, and held on, but then lost. It’s not Afreeca Freecs beating SKT 2–0, but you will remember this week, won’t you? There are so many moments that are a promise of more to come: Talon switching from Pawn’s mid to Smeb’s top lane, Score on Graves, Blank being subbed in for both of the last games, Huni’s perfect equalizers, Bang’s shifting Ezreal, the final desperate base holds at the end of the first game 3, kt’s breathtakingly aggressive lunge forward in the beginning of the second. These were the matches we’ve been waiting for since the spring split schedule was announced, and they delivered, but we have to keep reminding ourselves: this is not the end. Whether you throw your weight behind kkOma or believe in the ability of kt to eventually learn how to not lose late-game, this is not the last time they’ll play each other, and these are not the real stakes. So now what, SKT? What more do you have to show us, kt? I want to know what is waiting in the wings for us to uncover.
I want to know what happens next.