Low Economy, First Class: Jin Air's TrAce

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Twitch / OGN Champions Spring 2013 / OnGameNet

13.5.

That is the current highest KDA in Korea’s OGN Champions Spring 2016 after two weeks of play. Fresh off of his 15.8 overall KDA performances, the best of all regular starters at the 2015 League of Legends World Championship, SK Telecom T1 AD carry Bae “Bang” Junsik is an obvious candidate, yet he currently sits in second place to Mister 13.5, with an 11.0 showing across six games.

One would further assume a KDA this high is that of an AD carry or mid laner, as they are typically afforded the lion’s share of team gold, yet it belongs to a top laner. With former SK Telecom T1’s Jang “MaRin” Gyeonghwan left Korea, natural guesses fall to KT Rolster’s Kim “Ssumday” Chanho, ROX Tigers’ Song “Smeb” Kyungho, or even MaRin’s replacement, former NaJin e-mFire top Lee “Duke” Hoseong. All of these aforementioned tops had breakout years in 2015, particularly Smeb and Ssumday; however, Mister 13.5 is none of the above.

The owner of the aforementioned statistic, on the precipice of his own breakout year, is none other than the Jin Air Green Wings’ generally apathetic-looking top laner, Yeon “TrAce” Changdong.

Naturally, KDA isn’t everything – in fact, many League statisticians would argue that it means next to nothing beyond a flashy number – and more remarkable are TrAce’s other Spring 2016 statistics. His average creep score differential at 10 minutes is 10.8, third best in Champions Spring to AD carry Bang (14.2) and Longzhu top laner Koo “Expession” Bontaek (15.2). In eight games, he’s only died four times and has an impressive 71.1 percent kill participation, second-best of all top laners outdone only by SBENU Sonicboom’s Lee “SoaR” Gangpyo with 71.4 percent.

What’s more interesting is how TrAce is achieving these numbers, eschewing the monikers of “low economy” and the more derogatory “washed up,” that were ascribed to him throughout the majority of both Champions 2015 seasons.

Last year’s Jin Air Green Wings roster was centered around mid laner Lee “GBM” Changseok. A shoo-in for Korea’s most-improved player had Smeb not existed, GBM showed up to 2015 Champions with a more diversified champion pool than in years past. This was coupled with a newfound ability to not only hold his own in lane, but steadily accrue advantages on his opponents until late where he boasted monstrous performances on the likes of Xerath, Ahri, and Viktor. GBM was complemented by the Green Wings’ bot lanes, where the team swapped between their two AD carries, veteran Kang “Cpt Jack” Hyungwoo and up-and-comer Na “Pilot” Woohyung, and two supports, Lee “Sweet” Eunteak and Choi “Chei” Sunho. The entire team was brought together under the constant guidance of jungler Lee “Chaser” Sanghyun, who controlled the map and orchestrated the Green Wings’ early game. While Chaser, and the entire 2015 Jin Air team, often faltered in the mid game, they showed cool heads under pressure, often winning due to their resiliency come late game.

TrAce was a crucial part of this game plan, but an oft-forgotten component of the Jin Air Green Wings. He rarely stood out, living up to his low economy label by receiving the least amount of relative gold of any starting top laner in the regular season at 20.2 percent. For reference, SK Telecom T1’s MaRin received 23.8 percent – the highest of all Korean top laners in Summer – while KT Rolster’s Ssumday was given 23.4 percent of his team’s gold. Jin Air hardly needed another carry, with GBM in mid, the Pilot or Cpt Jack rotation at AD carry, and Chaser receiving more relative gold than any other jungler in Champions Summer 2015. What they needed was someone who would not be a detriment to the team with a minimal amount of resources. TrAce fit himself into this role perfectly.

Of his 42 games in Champions Summer 2015, TrAce spent 17 of them on Rumble and 13 on Maokai for a combined 71 percent of his games on those two champions. While his top lane compatriots MaRin and Smeb also played these two for the majority of their Summer, their performances were supplemented by a larger quantity of resources – be that the previously-noted gold discrepancy or more jungle attention top – and a few more carry performances on the likes of Fizz, Riven, and Hecarim. TrAce stuck to those champions that Jin Air required him to play and still managed respectable numbers, finishing with a fifth-best KDA of Summer 2015 tops, and a strong 68.5 percent kill participation for his team, fourth-best for Korean top laners in Summer.

When it was announced this past offseason that teammates Cpt Jack and Chaser along with TrAce were simultaneously leaving the Jin Air Green Wings, most Jin Air fans mourned the loss of Chaser – one of the best junglers in the region alongside SK Telecom T1’s Bae “bengi” Seongwoong. There was also additional melancholy at Cpt Jack’s departure. Having built a longstanding fanbase since his Maximum Impact Gaming days, it was thought that he would likely retire from competitive gaming and attend university.

TrAce was all but forgotten, and attention quickly turned to the new Jin Air top, Kim “SoHwan” Junyeong. Formerly of Korean Challenger team Pathos, SoHwan was known as an aggressive Riven main, the perceived opposite of the low-economy and boring TrAce. Unfortunately, SoHwan’s recklessness and champion pool issues became immediately apparent during his appearances in both the KeSPA Cup and IEM San Jose. Much of his struggle was attributed to the lack of jungle presence, as Chaser’s prior substitute and now starter, Park “Winged” Taejin, also failed to make much of an impact on the map for SoHwan or the Green Wings.

About two-and-a-half weeks after his departure, TrAce re-signed with the Green Wings on Dec. 18, 2015, and it was thought that he would split top lane duties with SoHwan, presumably mentoring the rookie. In their first series of Champions Spring 2016, Jin Air still appeared undecided as to who they wanted to start top, swapping from SoHwan in Game 1 to TrAce in Game 2, both resulting in losses to Longzhu. However, against SK Telecom T1, the Jin Air Green Wings pulled out a two compositions that revolved around TrAce’s top lane Graves, a pocket pick for the versatile top. In a surprising 2-0 sweep of the reigning world champions

While many may point to the fact that Game 1 saw SK Telecom T1 start mid lane substitute Lee “Scout” Yechan and jungle substitute Kang “Blank” Sungu, this hardly takes away from TrAce’s monstrous 18 KDA across the two games, along with a 69.2 percent kill participation. Teams have subsequently banned or picked Graves away from TrAce in all but one of their following matches. These Graves performances were only the beginning of TrAce’s renaissance as a carry top, as he more recently boasted a 3/0/3 Quinn demolishing of e-mFire top laner Suk “Hipo” Hyunjun. TrAce also returned to top lane Morgana – another pocket pick – for a 1/1/13 showing against the Afreeca Freecs, in which his all-important Dark Bindings precipitated Jin Air teamfight wins and successful turret sieges.

TrAce’s recent carry performances mark a bit of a return to form for TrAce, whose initial 2013 Champions debut was accompanied by a reputation for odd, somewhat off-meta picks on which he could carry his team like Cho’gath or Rengar. On his first Champions team, AHQ Korea, in 2013 Spring, TrAce drew consistent top lane Rengar bans that carried over into Champions Summer 2013 and his ensuing time on the Jin Air Green Wings Stealths.

The 2014 Stealths are where TrAce first began to mold into a more utility top for his team, particularly when the resource-hungry Cpt Jack joined in late Jan. 2014, and Chaser was swapped over from the Falcons that May. In a somewhat shocking turn of events, the Stealths eked into the Champions Summer 2014 playoffs where they were promptly dispatched by Samsung Galaxy Blue in three games.

Even in the waning moments of the Summer 2014 group stages, the more talked-about Jin Air top was the talented Falcons’ Kim “Rock” Huichan, who retired shortly after the season to the disappointment of many. TrAce stuck with Jin Air when the Stealths and Falcons merged, fading into the aforementioned background with the rise of GBM and Chaser.

Now, in 2016, TrAce looks to reinvent his career once more, bursting back onto the scene as the quirky top he was previously for ahq Korea in 2013, before adapting to what his successive Jin Air squads required of him. Now, Jin Air has room for a more of a hard carry top laner, and while most looked him over for the Riven-main in SoHwan, TrAce has thus far proved that he can carry with the best in his region. TrAce may have been low economy for the past few seasons, but he’s always been world class.

Emily Rand is a staff writer for theScore esports. Her love for the 2013 KT Rolster Bullets will never die. You can follow her on Twitter.