So I figured I’d put out some extended thoughts on this upcoming LCK split which starts in about eight hours. This is a pretty informal write-up of sorts, different from my past posts. Excitement is palpable regarding Korea this year with names like Mata, Deft, Pawn, Spirit, Marin, and Huni returning to Korea. Lots of talk discussing how it’s the most stacked Korea has ever been; the minor reverse exodus of sorts. I would disagree slightly, I think in broad terms Korea is fairly predictable this year. Looking at each team, there’s a very clear bottom five, a very clear top four, and a wild card in the middle. It’s easy to say come the end of the split, KT and SKT will be the last two standing while BBQ (still laughing at this team name by the way), Kongdoo, or ROX will be landing in relegation territory. So without further adieu, my thoughts on Korea for Spring 2017.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Applies to SKT. They reloaded yet again as dynasties across all sports tend to do, losing Duke and Bengi to free agency while bringing in Huni/Profit, and Peanut to fill out the top and jungle positions. The synergy and resource game popped up when Huni and Peanut were announced – both bringing explosive and aggressive styles. They’re both widely regarded as being “resource intensive” in different ways so coupling this with Faker, who’s on another level from any other mid laner, and Bang, who was arguably the best ADC in 2016, naturally brought those resource questions to the forefront. I think the answer is very simple with this SKT lineup in regards to how they will play and why they’ll be successful.
Think back a long time ago, all the way back to 2015. We’re all two years younger and the exodus is fresh in our minds. It stings. SKT consolidated their two teams into one and largely dominated the year with black marks early on in 2015 and at the Mid-Season Invitational. How they did this was built on the foundation that they would camp the hell out of the top lane and force feed Marin. Marin had a lot of flaws as a player, but one thing he was great at was snowballing a lead to victory. With proactive teleports and hyper-aggressive play (see: overextending), he was a feast or famine player and SKT decided they’d rather feast than… starve. Famine. Huni and Marin are fairly similar players, both cut of the feast or famine mold. 2017 SKT will most likely look very much like 2015 SKT; the top half of the map lit up like a Christmas tree with wards, Peanut and Huni endlessly diving enemy top laners, and the bottom half of SKT’s map back to playing the self-sufficiency game.
Too big to fail.
Much like Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns, and Washington Mutual, this KT lineup is just too big to fail. That was a financial institution joke (please clap). I truly do believe that this KT lineup has so much talent that it is impossible for it to fail in a way that Longzhu did last year. This is a true super team. Not one with Shook or Nyph. The amount of talent on this KT roster is almost worth the destruction of their old roster which was arguably third best in the world.
Comparisons to past super teams are abundant when discussing this KT team, but this KT team is truly unlike any other “super team” we’ve ever seen. Outside of Pawn (who’s still a good mid laner in the context of Korea), this team is truly brimming with top three or top five talent at every other position – something we’ve rarely seen in league. Unless Pawn is so abjectly terrible that he drags the rest of this team down with his injured back, this team is going to meet SKT at the end of the split in the finals.
No one else is good enough.
No other team in Korea is good enough to touch these two. Samsung’s stock rose heavily after a strong World Championship performance, but with no roster moves and a lack of top competitive history it’s irrational to believe this team will compete for first outside of the first round robin. I suspect them to be similar to last Summer’s results – domination of teams below them while struggling mightily versus teams above them.
Longzhu made exceptional roster moves in the offseason, doing just what they needed to rebound from a horrendous 2016 campaign. They still have too many damn players on their roster, but at least this time they picked up someone with a brain. Pray and Gorilla manning the bot lane and likely taking up leadership roles for the younger talent will assuredly do wonders, however it’s doubtful the younger talent in Crash, Cuzz, and BDD will come around quickly enough to contend for first like SKT and KT will.
Afreeca is a Frankenstein’s monster of a roster and it centers on the top and jungle roles. An overextending, overly aggressive Marin in the top lane. Spirit in his usual farm heavy, counter-jungling way. It’ll be exciting to watch how this wild card roster supernovas with the star power they’ve acquired. Unfortunately their bot lane of Kramer and Tusin makes it look like they ran out of money and asked Kuro if he knew any former Incredible Miracle players who were still active. Tusin was the only one who took his phone call (Bbuing and Lasha’s phones were disconnected) and now he’s back to playing support again.
The rest of the league has extremely slim chances of even competing in the top half of the league. Call it my Jin Air bias, but I truly believe on the virtue of Umti and Teddy being total unknowns they have the best chances at unseating Afreeca for that coveted fifth and final playoff spot. Strong solo lanes in Ikksu and Kuzan should provide a framework to play with, and Snowflower brings a heap of experience to bring Teddy along. Call it my Jin Air bias, or a decent explanation of why this roster might be decent enough to squeeze into the playoffs.
MVP made zero moves so improvement on their roster seems hopeless. ROX is neo-Freecs with demonstrable downgrades at top and jungle. Kongdoo made some moves last split (RIP Hipo) to earn their promotion, but it doesn’t look like it’s enough to catapult them to the top five. BBQ lost their two best players in their bot lane – Loken and Key – which was basically their only win condition last split. They’ll be slathered up and promptly eaten by the competition.