What’s the biggest rivalry in esports? There’s TSM and CLG in League of Legends, and Na’Vi vs. Alliance in Dota 2. But only one rivalry has spanned for decades across multiple games: SK Telecom vs. KT Rolster. For nearly two decades, the two South Korean teams have competed across a variety of esports all over the world. Along the way, they’ve produced some of the best players, teams, and moments that esports has ever seen. Many new fans know these teams from their famous battles in League of Legends. But the history is far richer than that. Here are 5 key facts to know about the biggest rivalry in esports: The “Telecom Wars” started in the real world The rivalry between KT and SKT is so intense because it has a history that transcends esports.
It’s called the “Telecom Wars” for a reason. It started in the business world, where KT Corporation had been South Korea’s biggest telecom for a long time. But with the rise of mobile phones came SK Telecom, which grew into the country’s top wireless carrier. The two now compete ruthlessly for customers. Things spilled over into esports when the telecom giants started sponsoring StarCraft: Brood War teams in the early 2000s. And it’s dominated esports ever since—a span of nearly two decades. The origin of Rolster While SKT’s team name is straightforward, KT’s is pretty unique. And it’s ended up perfectly representing how the rivalry has gone for them. KT started in esports by founding a Starcraft team named in 2001. That team’s name was changed in 2009 when fans voted to switch to “Rolster,” an amalgamation of two English words: roller coaster. The name has proven incredibly prescient: nobody in esports has seen highs or lows like KT. From the high of the Flash era in Starcraft to the perennial disappointment of KT’s League of Legends teams, it’s been a true roller coaster ride. KT’s ride started in 2002 when they signed a slew of StarCraft legends, sparing no expense to create a super team.
Even today, KT prefers all-star rosters. Just look at the League of Legends super team it built to compete with SKT. SKT, on the other hand, loves to build around a singular talent. Their first star was BoxeR, the innovative Terran player known within the Starcraft community as simply “The Emperor.” BoxeR made the KT-SKT rivalry personal via his epic clashes with KT’s YellOw. BoxeR finished his career slightly ahead with a 33-30 record against YellOw, who was known as the king of second place. Falling just short has been another defining characteristic of KT esports. After years of discouragement, KT had to adopt SKT’s one-star formula to finally beat their rivals. In 2007, Flash was an unknown Terran player when he was traded to KT at just 14 years old. But by 15, he had won the OSL, Brood War’s most prestigious individual tournament. Finally, KT had its golden boy.