LCK Begins: A Look at Week 1

Fresh off the roster moves of the offseason, there’s a lot to discuss as we evaluate players adapting to new teammates, visit story lines, and look to the future of these teams. Let’s get started.

Afreeca Freecs (0-2 vs KT Rolster, 0-2 vs Samsung)

Formerly known as Rebels Anarchy, Afreeca Freecs are the only team to have not made any roster changes. They are a known quantity, which poses the same problems as last year. Aside from mid laner Son “Mickey” Young-min, the team suffers from a lack of carrying talent. The players’ mechanics are acceptable, but the Freecs suffer from small champion pools in multiple positions. Opposing teams ban Mickey’s pocket picks, and the team can’t take advantage of having the other players’ best champions being available. Until someone, such as jungler Nam “LirA” Tae-yoo or AD carry Gwon “Sangyoon” Sang-yun, steps up, the team will be limited in its success.

The Freecs do deserve some compliments. Top laner Jeon “ikssu” Ik-soo made decent teleport plays, at the very least keeping up with Samsung’s top laner on Saturday. Furthermore, the team handled lane swaps well and derived advantages in the early game, as in Wednesday’s game against KT Rolster. In the mid game, however, the Freecs suffered from cold feet and seemed afraid to press their advantage, which led to their opponents making comebacks. Against Samsung, Mickey schooled Lee “Crown” Min-ho in lane, giving the Freecs advantages across the map. But the Freecs began overextending to force picks that were turned on them, giving Samsung a foothold back into the game.

As it stands, the only thing new with this team is its sponsor. Aside from that, it’s the same old Anarchy.

CJ Entus (0-2 vs SKT, 0-2 vs Rox Tigers)

It’s rough to be a CJ fan. Having lost its star mid laner Shin “CoCo” Jin-yeong and other veteran players, CJ’s year is about rebuilding. CJ is waiting on anticipated talent Gwak “Bdd” Bo-seong to turn 17 so he can play in the league. Until then, it looks to be off to a rough start.

Support Hong “MadLife” Min-gi looks on form with his engages and roams, even if they are undone by the enemy having players in the right place at the right time. Jungler Park “Bubbling” Jun-hyeong works alright with MadLife, and has moments of competency like his solo invasion of SK Telecom’s Bengi in Wednesday’s loss. Those are forgotten, though, when he follows in Kang “Ambition” Chan-yong’s footsteps by being caught out consistently, or makes brazen choices resulting in his death.

Playing both finalists from last year’s world championships sure didn’t help, but CJ had an opening week to forget.

E-mFire (0-2 vs Samsung)

Like CJ, E-mFire is struggling with developing its new lineup. After disappointing last year as Najin-Emfire, the team lost all its players and the Najin organization was dissolved. Rebranded as E-mFire, it’s acquired players with experience as substitutes or fresh faces to the LCK.

The lineup debuted against Samsung and performed quite well. Although the efforts of jungler Kim “Crush” Jun-seo were routed in the early game, the team managed to play controlled, even stacking four dragons in the first game. When Samsung’s Crown managed to kill AD carry Seo “SSol” Jin-sol, however, Samsung closed the game out with the baron buff.

The second game got out of E-mFire’s hands, as Samsung managed to freeze lanes for prolonged periods of time. Lee “Edge” Ho-seong was a highlight, as he bullied Crown in lane, but a crucial misplay in the mid game cost not only his life, but a baron and the game for his team.

E-mFire is capable of intelligent play, for sure. But it has yet to face the strong teams in LCK, and that won’t be pretty.

SBENU SonicBoom (0-2 vs KT Rolster)

After finishing in last the previous split, SBENU has a better season ahead. With the pickup of the talented jungler Sung “Flawless” Yeon-jun and the troubles with E-mFire and CJ Entus, SBENU could place as high as sixth.

Flawless’s debut in LCK was definitely flawed. Albeit a tough matchup against KT Rolster, Flawless was able to gank successfully, until Go “Score” Dong-bin began reading his moves and shutting him down. Flawless had questionable positioning, resulting in him being caught out. He’s exactly what one would anticipate from a solo queue talent coming into professional play: the mechanics are there, but his movements need work.

The fact SBENU’s bottom lane was able to trade evenly with KT Rolster’s is a good sign. Also, Oh “SaSin” Seung-ju’s roams complimented Flawless’ efforts to shut Ssumday down in the first game. But SBENU lacks the ability to adapt: It continually over-committed members to killing Kim “ssumday” Chan-ho, which let KT Rolster first take a baron, and then an inhibitor. SBENU latched onto a single strategy and provided little resistance when it didn’t work.

Though it had occasional ups, SBENU still has its issues.

Samsung (2-0 vs E-mFire, 2-0 vs Afreeca Freecs)

Having lost its star AD carry Lee “Fury” Jin-yong, one would think Samsung, which placed last in Summer of 2015, would be doomed. But with jungler Kang “Ambition” Chan-yong replacing Seo “Eve” Jun-cheol and AD Carries Jo “Core JJ” Yong-in and Lee “Stitch” Seung-ju, Samsung is almost better off. Eve was a weak point for the team, and while Ambition has his issues, he’s a veteran with an understanding of the game, and Lee “CuVee” Seong-jinclaims he is helping fix their macro issues. Core JJ and Stitch may not be as talented as Fury, but they are certainly serviceable.

Samsung defeated E-mFire in succinct fashion. Mid laner Lee “Crown” Min-ho opened up the games for his team with solo kills on E-mFire’s out-of-position carries. CuVee survived E-mFire’s aggression on his Ryze, before retaliating ferociously on his Lissandra. CuVee is within the top of Korean solo queue, and his talent shows with his game sense, teleports, and flanks decimating E-mFire.

The match against Afreeca Freecs, however, was a struggle. Crown was bullied in his lane by Mickey, and his Lissandra was lackluster in comparison to CuVee’s. Crown made up for it later by continually catching Mickey out of position and playing the team fights well. When Afreeca stumbled with its strategy, Samsung retaliated with objective pressure, which is a credit to Ambition’s leadership. In one of the final team fights, Stitch secured the first pentakill of the season on his bruiser-build Kalista thanks to Samsung’s coordination.

Having bested the inexperienced E-mFire and narrowly defeating Afreeca, Samsung is certainly a middle-tier team. One wonders how far Samsung could have climbed if it retained Fury.

Rox Tigers (2-0 vs CJ)

While the Rox Tigers may have troubles keeping sponsors, they maintained most of their lineup with an upgrade in the jungle. The Tigers’ biggest problem was their weaker early game, namely due to former jungler Lee “Hojin” Ho-jin’s deficiencies. With Hojin’s retirement, the Tigers have turned to Yoon “Peanut” Wang-ho take his place. Exerting great pressure, Peanut looks to eliminate that early game weakness for the Tigers, so long as he prevents himself from getting cocky and giving away unnecessary deaths.

Playing against a weak CJ Entus team Day 3, the Tigers demonstrated new strategies in Korea, such as a triple AD composition, and consistently gave top laner Song “Smeb” Kyung-ho the Rift Herald buff to push the side waves. We’ll have to wait until the Tigers play against more intimidating opposition to see if the Tigers have a new flavorful composition, or if they simply styled on CJ.

There’s a lot of map movement from the Tigers. Smeb was constantly ganking for Lee “KurO” Seo-haeng, and support Kang “GorillA” Beom-hyeon always routed MadLife’s roams. This hyper-mobile approach led to the Tigers beating CJ in less than 22 minutes in the second game, the shortest match in LCK so far.

Longzhu Gaming (2-0 vs Jin Air)

Easily the most exciting of all the roster moves is the culmination of Longzhu Gaming. Its main roster is a group of players who are arguably some of the best talents in Korea. Shin “CoCo” Jin-yeong, Lee “Chaser” Sang-hyun, Lee “Fury” Jin-yong: these players suffered from their former teammates who could not push them to success. Now, they play for Longzhu with a legitimate shot at taking first place.

Fans of Top laner Lee “Flame” Ho-jong aren’t enthralled with the fact Longzhu used Koo “Expession” Bon-taek in their debut game. It was hoped that Flame would be unleashed after returning to Korea, but with wordbeing that Expession and Chaser have great synergy, Flame may not be free just yet. One can’t fault Longzhu for making the choice that leads to victory, especially when seeing how Chaser and Expession’s coordination was instrumental in Thursday’s victory of Jin Air Greenwings.

As a team of veterans, it’s no surprise Longzhu’s macro play was in order. What’s impressive is how most of its lineup had at least one standout moment against Jin Air: CoCo’s early kill onto Winged and roam to bottom for a double kill; Chaser and Expession’s annihilation of Kim “SoHwan” Jun-Yeong and Park “Winged” Tae-jin in game two; Kim “Pure” Jin-sun’s clutch Bard ultimate at baron; Kang “Cpt Jack” Hyung-woo unleashing Bullet Times after his team went to great lengths to keep him alive. Longzhu is a threat, even without its main AD Carry or Flame.

Jin Air Greenwings (0-2 vs Longzhu, 2-0 vs SKT)

Losing Chaser and GBM, Jin Air Greenwings were prepared with substitutes. Its best players are support Choi “Chei” Sun-ho and jungler Park “Winged” Tae-jin, though consistency is an issue for them. Chei’s roaming on Trundle proved effective, and Winged went toe-to-toe with Chaser in Jin Air’s first game against Longzhu, though he was definitively bested in the second game.

The new blood in Jin Air has resulted in some good changes. The team makes more decisive — albeit risky — calls, and it hasn’t stalled games as it did so last year. Top laner Yeon “TrAce” Chang-dong has added a spark of aggression by bringing Graves into his pool, and maintains his excellent game sense. This Jin Air has potential, but it faces a lot of competition.

It may be able to match it though. In its set against SKT, Jin Air won 2–0 over the reigning World Champions. SKT did play substitutes in the first game, but Jin Air still defeated SKT’s Tahm Kench top strategy with smart picks. It also crushed the main lineup in game 2. Winged went on a rampage, solo killing Bengi in his jungle, diving Faker under his tower, and then catching Duke from behind, all within the span of two minutes. From there, Chei’s picks kept catching SKT members out for Jin Air to pick off. Jin Air almost gave the game back to SKT with a baron call, but Winged came through with a clutch baron steal that prevented the game from getting away. Jin Air closed the game by pushing all three inhibitors down and taking the fifth dragon for itself before delivering the final blow.

The skill ceiling of Winged is high, and Chei is reliable. For Jin Air to be a top team, other players must step up as well.

KT Rolster (2-0 vs Afreeca Freecs, 2-0 vs SBENU)

Although KT Rolster lost Lee “Piccaboo” Jong-beom, who was responsible for its summer improvement, it hasn’t missed a beat. KT still plays split push with its powerful top laner Ssumday, but with new mid laner Song “Fly” Yong-jun replacing Kim “Nagne” Sang-moon, KT may have eliminated its biggest weakness.

Nagne was criticized throughout last year for a weaker laning phase and some issues with his champion pool. Fly has a larger champion pool and has a stronger laning phase, showcasing both with his performance against Mickey’s Leblanc on Lux. Fly has yet to face mid laners like Faker or CoCo this split, but so far he looks promising.

Jungler Go “Score” Dong-bin has grown into his role over the past year. When Picaboo joined KT, his vision coordination with Score helped improve the team immensely. Score has retained that skill, moving with Ha “Hachani” Seung-chan to protect Ssumday’s split push. Score also showed up massively this past week, neutralizing Flawless completely and finally breaking out Kindred, a champion whose kit perfectly fits with Score’s competitive history as an AD Carry.

Hachani seemed to be up to his usual foolery when he gave up first blood to SBENU by face checking a brush, but since then Hachani has impressed. His use of Braum to stop Sangyoon from destroying KT with Miss Fortune’s Bullet Time was pivotal, and he shows good chemistry with his team with attempted roams to top lane for Ssumday. Whether Hachani is able to stay this good consistently is yet to be seen as KT awaits tougher opponents. But this was a good start.

SK Telecom (2-0 vs CJ, 0-2 vs Jin Air)

There’s a lot more to the defending champions than many thought. All looked well with new Top laner Lee “Duke” Ho-seong when SKT played CJ Entus on Tuesday. Duke, often criticized for poor map awareness and teleport plays, looked better with his new roster, no doubt from better leadership than his previous team.

Then came the Jin Air match. We can almost write off the first game, since SKT played substitutes in the mid and jungle, but we can’t ignore that Jin Air tactically beat SKT. Recognizing that Duke would be placed on Tahm Kench, Jin Air had TrACe play his practiced Graves to constantly shove the wave and destroy the early tower. SKT’s composition in that game had no means of following up on Lee “Wolf” Jae-wan’s Alistar engages, and Jin Air slowly choked them up.

The next game, with two time world champions Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok and Bae “Bengi” Seong-woong back on the roster, SKT attempted to bait TrAce’s Graves by swapping Tahm Kench to Wolf and having Duke play Quinn. Faker also got his hands on the highly contested Gangplank pick for the first time- SKT looked poised to bite back.

But then Winged invaded Bengi and killed him at his blue. This is the second instance where Bengi has been killed by the enemy jungler invading him. With the map opened up to him, Winged saw that Faker was easily diveable under his tower in mid. With two kills in rapid succession, Winged saw Duke pushing his wave in top while he had no jungler or mid support, and quickly rotated to gank him. Within two minutes, Winged had been involved in killing the entire top half of SKT’s team.

SKT tried to skirmish its way back into the game, but Bengi continued to run into the enemy, Duke overextended in his split push, and SKT could not muster enough for a comeback

Some hubris was definitely displayed by SKT in its picks and bans, and again the first game is somewhat null due to it using substitutes. But that resounding loss in the second game suggests that weaknesses do exist. SKT has the coaching staff to address those problems, though, and at the very least Faker and the duo lane have been consistent enough to give the team a base to operate from.

This is a small loss, but it could also be a hint of more troubles to come for the reigning world champions.