Two huge stories emerged from last year’s League of Legends World Championships: the collapse of China’s greatest teams, and the rise again of SK Telecom T1, led by Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok and the Finals MVP: Jang “MaRin” Gyeong-Hwan. LGD Gaming loaded its roster, including former Samsung Galaxy White player Gu “Imp” Seung-bin, for a 2015 run that would end with an underwhelming defeat in the group stage at world. In the offseason, LGD tried to mitigate its collapse by signing MaRin from SKT with a contract that would reportedly pay him more than $800,000, thus securing the best top laner in the world.
At IEM San Jose in November, LGD would be able to test its new roster against Team SoloMid. The North American squad had already gone 1-1 with the Chinese titans at worlds, and fans were confident that LGD would not slip up this time. But LGD lost 2-0 in the first round, a disappointing outing that could be explained away by growing pains and learning synergy with the new player, MaRin. LGD would surely perform in the regular season, right?
Wrong. LGD is 0-3 through two weeks of the League of Legends Pro League, and MaRin has been shut down more and more in every single game. In a Week 1 loss to Qiao Gu, he had no kills and an astonishingly low kill-death ratio of 0.5 while playing Rumble and Mundo. He was obviously not comfortable on those champions or with his team.
In another loss to Snake eSports, MaRin played Rumble once more and Morgana twice with a KDA of 2.05, still an underwhelming performance for the worlds MVP. What’s most notable is MaRin is losing the lane on his own, as teams aren’t even focusing on him.
So what happened? In one respect, it’s too early to tell. The season is only two weeks old, so it is possible that MaRin still hasn’t meshed with his new team yet. It’s also possible the language barrier between MaRin and the rest of his team is an influence, and poor communication can mean everything in a game as fickle as League of Legends. But even in a small sample size, a lot more is expected from somebody with MaRin’s reputation, and for LGD’s sake, it needs to be corrected soon.
LGD lost 2-0 to Team WE last week, another blowout loss to a middle-of-the-pack team. LGD’s picks and bans were awful, its overall performance on the rift atrocious, and it’s yet to be proven that money can buy victory. MaRin in particular wasn’t focused down, but he is definitely struggling against the Chinese teams in a way nobody could have predicted. His KDA against team WE was an appalling 0.75, leaving his total for the season at 1.06. If MaRin can’t make a turnaround, it threatens LGD’s entire season.
One major factor in MaRin’s struggles is the coaches putting him on odd champions that are not popular in this metagame, some being champions he has not played before. Aside from Gnar, MaRin has played Morgana, Rumble, and Dr. Mundo: three champions that do not have the capacity to be the hard carry MaRin once was.
MaRin could use some help. In Game 2 against Team WE, Wei “We1less” Zhen stepped up on Gangplank going 10/2/1. His play was exceptional, but it was too little too late considering by the point Gangplank started to deal 1000 damage per hit, Team WE already had a sizeable gold lead. Imp also played well in the loss to Snake, but there needs to be more, especially as MaRin continues to work through his difficulties.
The support staff for the team could also improve. LGS made some puzzling decision in the picks and ban phase last week that proved disastrous. In game 1, LGD picked Kassadin and Gnar, which limited its waveclear, and thus Team WE could siege endlessly. In game 2, LGD elected to run Morgana top lane one more time, which hurt more than it helped. It gave LGD good pick potential but provided no front line outside of Trundle and no forms of engage past hopefully hitting a binding. The coaches need to play what is good in the meta, and give MaRin comfortable champions if they want him to perform well, like Fiora. If LGD expects to perform better, it needs to refocus who the carries on the team are.
At some point, though, MaRin simply needs to play better. Again, it’s only two weeks, but for LGD to have any chance at making a playoff run, he needs to live up to his contract. And soon.
Photos courtesy of Riot Games.