Eom “UmTi” Seong-hyeon invades Kongdoo Monster‘s top side jungle at 2:47. Armed with double-buff, he chases Son “Punch” Min-hyuk off of the raptor camp. He steals all of the small raptors before circling up to where Punch is trying to take his own red buff. UmTi’s Graves ends up not only with the red, but blows Punch’s Flash in the process.
This is the beginning of an unexpected 26-minute Game 2 victory for the Jin Air Green Wings, who are en route to securing their spot in 2017 League Champions Korea summer split. Although Kongdoo Monster wins Game 3, the Green Wings take the series 3-1 with two sub-40-minute victories.
For the LCK faithful and Jin Air Green Wings fans, these two games are a miracle.
In the OGN Champions tournament, before the 2015 switch to LCK and a league format, Jin Air’s Falcons and Stealths were often the difference between playoffs and dropping down into the concurrent NLB tournament. They became gatekeepers of sorts, with flashes of brilliance — Kang “Cpt Jack” Hyung-woo and the Stealths’ unlikely revenge against CJ Entus Blaze in 2014 OGN Champions Summer comes to mind — but no consistency.
Following the swap to a league system and the forced merger of sister teams into one roster, the Jin Air Green Wings cemented their style around the glacially-paced shot-calling of top laner Yeo “TrAce” Chang-dong and poke compositions that facilitated mid laner Lee “GBM” Chang-seok on Xerath.
No other series exemplified this more than their Week 5 matchup against CJ Entus in 2015 LCK Spring. A 2-0 sweep for the Green Wings, Game 1 topped off at a whopping 79:45 with GBM’s Xerath going head-to-head with Shin “CoCo” Jin-yeong’s Jayce and Seon “Space” Ho-san’s Corki. It was a poke battle for the ages that nearly lasted an hour and a half before CJ’s Nexus fell.
That cemented the preferred style of the Green Wings for all of 2015-16. Born of poor mid-game decision-making, 2015 Jin Air would often squander early gold advantages gained by jungler Lee “Chaser” Sang-hyun. In many cases, Chaser himself was responsible for Jin Air’s lost leads, often overextending into enemy territory without vision or forcing ganks and skirmishes. Under TrAce’s guidance, and armed with poke champions, Jin Air learned to stall better than any other team in Korea. That spring, Jin Air had a whopping 46.7 minute average game time, the longest of all LCK teams and six minutes more than their closest competitor, the GE Tigers with 40.6 minutes. Jin Air retained the dubious title that summer, even with a shorter average game time of 41.1 minutes.
Chaser and GBM left Jin Air at the end of 2015, but Jin Air’s slow and steady style remained throughout 2016 and TrAce’s tenure with the team. For five splits spanning two and a half years — 2015 LCK Spring to 2017 LCK Spring — the Jin Air Green Wings had a stranglehold on the longest average game time in Korea. None of them was under 40 minutes.
It wasn’t until the Green Wings cleaned house in the 2016-17 offseason, retaining only mid laner Lee “Kuzan” Seong-hyeok, that the team began to change. Even then, Jin Air still possessed the longest average game time of 2017 LCK Spring at 41 minutes.
Although the Green Wings held onto their knack for dragging out games as long as possible — and had the audacity to lose 68 percent of them for maximum fan suffering — it was a different Jin Air. The team was not playing particularly conservatively in the early game, nor was it staying reserved and playing TrAce’s preferred slow, scaling approach that had been the default play style for two years.
Instead, this spring’s Green Wings attempted to garner early advantages with then-rookie jungler UmTi and fail miserably. They wanted to be proactive but had no plan to do so, and often their early map movements only led to further deficits. Top laner Jeon “ikssu” Ik-soo’s flanks and teleports were not synchronized with his teammates. AD carry Park “Teddy” Jin-seong showed promise but mis-positioned frequently while his laning partner, No “Snowflower” Hoi-jong, died more than any other player that spring save Son “Mickey” Young-min, then of the ROX Tigers.
Jin Air could rarely stem its early bleeding, despite a penchant for obnoxiously stalling in the mid-to-late game, making losses all the more frustrating. The series against Kongdoo Monster in the summer promotional tournament was the first sign that Jin Air was finally evolving after all those years. The Green Wings won with a full damage composition around ikssu’s top lane Jayce, UmTi’s Graves, and Ziggs in 26 minutes. It was against the only team that finished below Jin Air in the 2017 LCK Spring regular season standings, but it was a start.
Armed with the same roster for the summer split — ikssu, UmTi, Kuzan, Teddy, and Snowflower — the new summer Jin Air brings a more experienced UmTi. The Jin Air jungler still makes poor decisions at times but can finally communicate with his lanes effectively and has the highest First Blood rate (57 percent) of any player in Korea. Always a steady presence in the mid lane, Kuzan allows for the Green Wings to throw the majority of their gold and resources to Teddy, who has become Jin Air’s rising star.
Yet, the largest surprise out of the Jin Air Green Wings this split has been their average game time of 35.2 minutes, the second shortest of any team in Korea to KT Rolster (35 minutes). If they have a lead, they finally seem to know how to turn that advantage into a win.
This hardly means Jin Air is a particularly good team, but it’s assuredly a more interesting one. The Jin Air Green Wings have now returned to their gatekeeper status that characterized the Stealths and Falcons in Champions Korea. A good team in Korea will beat Jin Air, while teams with more fatal flaws will likely struggle and lose.