Winning their first four sets of Champions Spring 2016 – racking up a match win and loss record of 8-2 – the ROX Tigers appear to be the best team in the world. Coming off a very successful debut season for the roster built almost entirely of cast-off Champions talent, the Tigers only made a single positional roster change during the offseason by replacing retired jungler Lee “Hojin” Ho-jin with former Najin e-mFire backup jungler Yoon “Peanut” Wang-ho.
Widely regarded as one of the most talented prospects in Korea, Peanut’s lack of play on Najin during 2015 was the subject of much debate. While he was incredibly talented, rumors surfaced of him being tough to work with in a team environment – not unheard of from a 17 year old rookie. With the rookie firmly planted on the bench and starting jungler Cho “watch” Jae-geol performing lukewarm at best, much ire was directed at the Najin management. Najin’s roster blew up entirely after the 2015 season, now being rebuilt as a Frankenstein monster of Korean solo queue players and former Champions substitutes.
These events allowed Peanut to find a new home with the ROX Tigers and the World Championship runner-up found a strict upgrade in the jungle position. The results have been phenomenal thus far, knocking off a rebuilt CJ Entus roster, two teams predicted to be contending for first place – KT Rolster, Longzhu Gaming – and, most recently, the reigning World Champions in SK Telecom T1.
What has propelled this roster to being the best in the world? Simple math. The subtraction of Hojin and the addition of Peanut.
The attributes Hojin lacked – early game pressure and play making ability – are the exact attributes on which Peanut carries himself individually. Hojin’s presence on the Tigers led to a wholly lackluster early game throughout the entirety of 2015 which would often lead to deficits being accrued. These early deficits would be made up for in different ways throughout the year. In the beginning of year – where the Tigers appeared to be the best team in the world – it was off the back of mid game centered team comps featuring champs like Rumble, Lulu, Viktor, Leblanc, Kog’Maw, and Corki. Grouping together and daring their opposition to fight them in their main power points allowed the Tigers to take hold of the map in the mid game or steam roll their opponent in team fights.
The Tigers lulled throughout Summer, having periods where they showcased extreme success and periods where they flopped entirely. One of the main proponents of this was Hojin’s inability to properly adapt to the 5.5 Cinderhulk patch which led to the Tigers searching for a replacement in Kim “Wisdom” Tae-wan. Neither panned out particularly well during Summer and the jungle woes continued up until Worlds where Hojin, surprisingly, played at the highest level in his entire career.
Regardless of his Worlds level of play, the Tigers yearned for more out of their jungle position. Enter Peanut. He’s everything Hojin wasn’t and he’s everything the Tigers need. Peanut has unlocked avenues for success that the Tigers have previously been incapable of exploring.
The new Tigers are quicker on the draw and are now placing their opponents on the back foot rather than play as if they’re inherently two paces behind. They are now more decisive in their early play making and Peanut’s ability to find favorable fights has led the Tigers to having the highest first blood rate in Korea at 90% – 9 out of their 10 matches – of which Peanut has been a contributor in seven of those matches. They have the highest first baron and first dragon rate in Korea, 88% and 74% respectively, and, in accordance with their new-found early game prowess, have the highest gold differential at 15 minutes in Korea with a staggering +2,159 gold. This in contrast to their +408 gold statistic through all of Summer split last year shows not just how dominant they currently are, but how ineffective they were at creating plays in the early game last year in a much weaker Korean region.
Peanut’s introduction to the team and his ability to snowball his lanes effectively opens up the Tigers to a more varied style of play. Last year, for the most part, the team relied on late game team fighting or mid game map dominance to carry them to victory. For the first part of this year we’ve seen not just their standard poke composition they leaned on in late 2015, but also a split push composition with Twisted Fate. We’ve seen not just the two threat Lulu composition that they patented in early 2015, but also snowball reliant picks like Leblanc returning to their team comps. The better structured early game directed by Peanut brings about far more options for which the Tigers can choose from.
The jungle change has also seemed to have a profound effect on mid laner Lee “Kuro” Seo-haeng’s play. Widely considered to have over-performed at the World Championship, his level of play has only increased with the introduction of a jungler that knows how to facilitate the Tigers in the early game. His laning statistics have improved, he’s doing more with less overall resources, and he has shown a more active role in their early game play. Below is a comparison of his Summer split statistics matched up against his current Spring split statistics.
Champions Summer 2015
- First Blood Participation : 24.4%
- Average CS Differential at 10 Minutes : -3.6
- Average Gold Differential at 10 Minutes : -34.5
- Average Damage Per Minute : 581
- Team Damage Percent : 28.6%
- Team Gold Percent : 25.6%
Champions Spring 2016
- First Blood Participation : 40%
- Average CS Differential at 10 Minutes : 0
- Average Gold Differential at 10 Minutes : +274
- Average Damage Per Minute : 659
- Team Damage Percent : 29.9%
- Team Gold Percent : 25.3%
The difference – while not massive a la KT Rolster AD Carry No “Arrow” Dong-hyeon’s multi-faceted transition with his supports in 2015 – is still very noticeable and Kuro has been one of the top performers of the mid lane in Korea thus far, sparked by the strong early game pressure Peanut brings.
The question now is if the Tigers will maintain their form through the end of the Spring split, something they were incapable of doing last year. Top laner Song “Smeb” Kyung-ho has shown an incredibly variety of champions to choose from and has been a stand out performer on the Tigers since their inception. Kuro has shown a good champion pool throughout his career and he looks like he’s only improving with superior teammates forming around him. AD Carry Kim “Pray” Jong-in has been trending upwards since he returned from a hiatus in the Summer of 2014, regaining a good part of his form from his world class 2013 performances, and has recently improved on the Kalista pick he struggled with in 2015. Kang “Gorilla” Beom-hyeon was the best support in the world during 2015 and it doesn’t appear like he’ll be stopping anytime soon given his dominant play.
The main force that caused the Tigers to flounder in 2015 was replaced with Peanut. It’s now up to the newcomer to show he too can weather multiple metas and transition properly so that the Tigers can sustain their success through the rest of the year. It’s far too early to tell if this is going to be the Tigers world championship year, but it’s not too early to say they’re the best in the world right now and that they’re almost assuredly going to be contenders come October.
Statistics – http://oracleselixir.com/