Off the back of their disappointing IEM San Jose performance where they exited the tournament against a Counter Logic Gaming squad fielding two new starters, Jin Air entered the 2016 season on a low note. Expected to field rookie top laner Kim “Sohwan” Jun-yeong in place of the steadfast veteran Yeon “TrAce” Chang-dong, along with losing star jungler Lee “Chaser” Sang-hyun to Longzhu Gaming, Jin Air’s hopes for 2016 were more in the vein of rebuilding rather than contending.
To be honest, it would be inappropriate to call ourselves a strong team just because we won one match against SKT. The truth is we ARE a weak team, so I would be very thankful if the other teams could let their guard down and stuff. – TrAce after defeating SK Telecom T1
Despite preseason predictions almost unanimously placing Jin Air on the bottom half of the rankings, they currently stand at 5-2 in sets and 11-5 in individual games. Situated in second place only below the ROX Tigers, most viewers are still of the belief that Jin Air will come crashing down to earth in due time. After 2013 and 2014 produced lukewarm at best results for the Jin Air organization, the 2015 season was spent bouncing around in the “are they good or are they bad” section of Korea alongside CJ Entus and Najin e-mFire. The 5.5 Cinderhulk patch ruined their hot Spring start and they failed to recover until late Summer where they narrowly missed the World Championship. It’s understandable for the Korean audience to be wary of hopping on the Jin Air plane. Jin Air’s performance in Week 6 of Champions Spring 2016 will determine whether they are contenders or pretenders.
With one of the top mid laners from Korea in Lee “GBM” Chang-seok moving to North America – being replaced by his promising backup Lee “Kuzan” Seong-hyeok – and Park “Winged” Tae-jin filling in the jungle role, the team dynamic was expected to shift dramatically to a more aggressive style of play. With a starting roster consisting of Sohwan, Winged, and Kuzan, it was to be assumed of Jin Air to lose their even-tempered style, something witnessed in their disappointing IEM San Jose appearance. After a 2-0 loss to Longzhu Gaming in Week 1, rookie top laner Sohwan was indefinitely replaced by TrAce. Jin Air immediately bounced back with a surprising upset against an SK Telecom T1 squad that fielded their own rookie mid laner Lee “Scout” Ye-chan in game one. Despite starting mid laner Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok entering the set in game two, Jin Air sealed the victory off the back of an inventive Graves top lane pick from TrAce.
Jin Air proceeded to pick off four of their next five sets against lesser teams Afreeca, e-mFire, CJ Entus, and SBENU, dropping a lone set to Samsung in an extremely close contest carried by top laner Lee “CuVee” Seong-jin’s Lissandra. They enter this week fresh from the Lunar New Year break primed to face off against perennial contender KT Rolster, and the best team in the world, ROX Tigers.
Jin Air’s strengths and keys to victory have been anchored between their two solo lanes, TrAce and Kuzan. The former has seen a resurgence in play that makes one wonder why he was seemingly hamstrung on a narrow select of champs during 2015 and the latter has shown in short time to being one of the top mid laners in Korea.
TrAce has already picked up unique wins on seven different champs this split, matching the number that he hit last split including playoffs. The first adopter of top lane Graves, this split TrAce has been able to show off just how expansive his champion pool is and why, in the past, he was considered one of the most innovative players the game has ever seen. He has the third highest CS differential at 10 minutes (+6.7), the highest damage share (25.8%), and the second highest kill participation (68.8%) of all top laners in Korea. He’s doing all of this while operating on only the fifth highest gold share (22.0%). TrAce is the most efficient top laner in Korea and while his leading voice in game does cause some issues as it pertains to team passivity, he’s having a stand out season thus far and is one of the top performing players in the world.
Most people tagged the mid lane as an area of question for Jin Air entering the year, but Kuzan has surpassed all expectations in his second split. He only played nine matches total last year – going 5-4 in the Summer split – but displayed a good amount of talent. This year he has been a star on this roster, one of the top performing mid laners in Korea. Exhibiting a wealth of variety in his champ pool, Kuzan is arguably the best laner in the region. While he has, more often than not, been given favorable lane match ups, he pushes advantages and punishes mistakes in lane. He has the highest CS differential at 10 minutes (+6.3), third highest damage share (31.8%), and he operates on only 23.9% gold share, good for ninth of all mid laners in Korea. He has shown extreme efficiency and superb lane control that helps steer Jin Air into the mid game. Not all is positive for Kuzan. His mid and late game team fighting still shows visible flaws such as target prioritization and a general lack of cohesion with his team during five on five fights, seemingly a Jin Air standard at this point. Regardless, TrAce and Kuzan form a powerful one-two punch that no team can ignore.
Jin Air’s new jungler Winged has brought an insatiable aggression to the team’s early game. He has performed well above expectation and is a key factor to his solo laners success, gaining first blood in eight of their 16 games, second of all junglers. His style of farming at an incredibly efficient rate – second highest in CS differential at 10 minutes (+3.9) and CS per minute (4.8) – while laying down early pressure in the mid-top half of the map has been a keynote of this team.
All the team members understand that our macro play is rather slow. We discuss the possibility of playing an explosive style but I think the players are taking a consistent/stable approach to the matches due to the importance of the tournament. We recognize that this is an issue and we will try and work towards becoming a team that can deliver an explosive performance. – Head Coach Han Sang-yong on Jin Air’s macro play
There are a few similarities between the Jin Air of 2015 and the Jin Air of 2016 and most of those similarities come in their meandering mid game play which leads to them squandering early leads and crawling their way into the late game. They are the least bloodied team in Korea, averaging the lowest amount of combined kills per minute in their games, and they also take the longest to finish their games, average 43 minutes per contest. Both of these stats are well below and above the next available team so outside of the early game play from the trio mentioned above, this team still has a tendency to lose their head in the mid-late game.
Jin Air’s lackluster bot lane has been another source of needing improvement. While support Choi “Chei” Sun-ho has improved in almost every aspect of his game, refining an engage style of play in his repertoire, AD Carry Na “Pilot” Wu-hyung has seemingly regressed to an unfortunate point where it’s highly questionable if he’ll ever live up to the hype he generated one year ago. Playing excessively scared with a lack of confidence has led to an inability to properly carry out his duties as the marksman for Jin Air. He’s shelling out the second lowest amount of damage (23.7%), has the lowest CS per minute (8.5), and does the lowest damage per minute (390) of all marksmen in Korea. Pilot has had an incredibly weak split and he’ll need to regain his confidence if Jin Air is to remain a contender in the top half of the field. While he hasn’t been a hindrance that is losing Jin Air games thus far, he’ll need to pick his play up if they are to contend with the likes of the ROX Tigers.
All in all, Jin Air is likely to remain a mid-top half of the field team as long as the meta permits. With the jungle being a high farm priority position, Winged is in an excellent position to have a large impact and the top lane is in a very diverse state which allows TrAce to continue his MVP warpath. If Pilot picks his game up, Chei keeps steady, and Kuzan continues to develop into a star mid laner then Jin Air very well could make a run at the championship this split. Playing KT Rolster and ROX Tigers this week will be an excellent test to see how Jin Air stacks up to the best in Korea.