Heavy is the Head: Crown’s crucial role on Samsung Galaxy, and his quest to unseat the king

by theScore Staff Sep 26 2016
Thumbnail image courtesy of KeSPA

Samsung’s League of Legends journey has seen lofty peaks and disheartening valleys, from winning the 2014 World Championship to facing the prospect of relegation in summer 2015. With their return to the World Championship stage in 2016, Samsung have made themselves internationally relevant once again.

As a Korean organization, though, and especially as the spiritual heirs of that Samsung White team, which is often considered the greatest of all time, Samsung can’t let themselves be satisfied with mere relevance. If they can’t at least reach the quarterfinals, their tournament will be considered a failure. There is a heavy burden of expectations on this team, and many of those expectations rest on the shoulders of their star mid laner, Lee “Crown” Min-ho.

Much as Samsung Galaxy, as a team, is pursuing the specter of Samsung White’s world champion legacy, Crown has been pursuing Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok all year for the right to call himself the best mid laner in South Korea. But any rivalry with Faker — the greatest player in League history — is more than just a war for regional dominance. It’s a battle for a place in history. Crown hasn’t yet overtaken his target, but he has earned his place in the conversation as a legitimate rival, and one of the best mid laners in the world.

Regardless of where Crown stands on the international mid lane hierarchy, he has cemented himself as Samsung’s foundation. At his best, Crown is an immovable object in lane who becomes an unstoppable damage-dealing force later in the game. Samsung will need him to be all of that and more as they face a difficult challenge against Team SoloMid, Royal Never Give Up, and Splyce in the upcoming World Championships group stage.

Portrait of Royalty

Samsung Galaxy is a relatively slow-moving, hard-hitting team. In many ways, their mid laner is a one-man microcosm of that identity.

Crown is a lane-dominant, high-resource, high-damage player. The similarities between some key stats for Crown and Faker set the tone for why the Samsung player has drawn so much attention and discussion.

Statistic  Crown  Faker
KDA  3.4  4.1
CSD@10  +3.5  +2.2
CS per Minute  9.0  8.6
Damage per Minute  637  667

2016 summer regular season, playoffs, and regional qualifiers

Laning is where it all starts for Crown. In the early game, Crown focuses mostly on building up his own strength by farming as efficiently as possible. Throughout summer, he led all LCK mid laners by averaging 86.6 CS at 10 minutes, while holding his lane opponents to a middle-of-the-pack 83.1. That translated into a +3.5 CSD at 10, good for third among LCK mids. Even more impressively, he averaged +94 gold at 10 minutes, the best among all LCK mids.

Along with his highly efficient farming, Crown defends his tower very well. Samsung’s mid outer tower fell, on average, at 24:10, third-latest in the LCK. Compare that to SK Telecom T1, who lost their mid outer tower four minutes faster, at an average of 20:10. Maintaining that point of strength on the map has allowed Samsung to stay in control of games that otherwise might have been snowballed against them.

The downside of Crown’s lane control is that he isn’t as committed to roaming as someone like Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg or Faker. Crown’s teammates aren’t always able to rely on help from their mid laner to push them ahead in the game, because Crown more often prioritizes his own ability to carry.

Luckily for Samsung, Crown delivers on that priority very, very well. His individual leads translate into powerful combat performances. In the summer, Crown led starting LCK mid laners in average CS per minute and finished third in average damage per minute (DPM). However, those impressive achievements are tempered by the fact that in both splits, Faker out-stripped Crown in efficiency, beating his DPM while keeping his farming needs lower.

Much of Crown’s identity is tied to his champion pool, which is heavily built around classic teamfighting, wave-clearing mages. These are champions who can farm efficiently, keep their tower standing, and scale into huge damage threats, all attributes that have characterized Crown throughout the year.

Champion  Games Played  Win Rate
Viktor  18  67%
Lissandra  6  50%
Azir  5  60%
Varus  5  60%
Karma  4  50%

2016 summer regular season, playoffs, and regional qualifier

Crown is capable of pivoting into more a playmaking role with Lissandra, or providing support as Karma, but it’s clear where he and his team are most comfortable: Viktor represents a third of his total games and bears his highest win rate among champs he’s played three or more times.

Expanding Horizons

While Crown and his Viktor were impressive throughout the summer regular season, he and his team discovered in the postseason that their status quo simply wasn’t good enough. Crown was hit with a setback, and forced to evolve.

While Samsung won their wildcard series against the Afreeca Freecs, that led them straight into a disheartening 0-3 beating at the hands of KT Rolster. Crown failed to put his stamp on the series, playing Viktor twice and Lissandra once. Despite farming up a storm and putting out plenty of damage (aided by an average game length of over 40 minutes), Crown didn’t gain meaningful advantages over Fly in lane, and Samsung didn’t kill KT’s mid outer tower in any of the three games. Crown’s strengths failed to manifest in meaningful ways in the most important moments.

It was clear that something needed to change for Samsung going into the regional qualifiers. The most noticeable change they made was substituting in Jo “CoreJJ” Yong-in at support after losing their first game against the Afreeca Freecs, and riding him to victory the rest of the way. But Crown, too, put some notable changes into motion individually, both in his champion pool and his playstyle.

In Samsung’s nine games during the gauntlet, Crown played Viktor only once. Instead, he picked up Taliyah and Zilean twice each, also playing Malzahar, Varus, Lissandra and Karma. Crown’s increased diversity helped Samsung present their opponents with more of a moving target, stylistically speaking, even though Crown’s use of those champions was somewhat hit or miss. Crown’s 0/4/0 scoreline on Zilean in game 2 against KT Rolster was a painful demonstration of how much he was stretching himself by playing a supporting, side lane-influencing role. Overall, though, Crown was moving in the right direction, and Samsung found the result they needed.

On top of his champion pool tweaks, and partly because of them, Crown put himself in a few more roaming positions, especially against the Freecs. While his roaming wasn’t as clean or effective as some mid laners who are more practiced in hitting the side lanes, his greater activity on the map played a part in Samsung’s overall improved form. More proactivity from the mid lane helped fill one of the team’s biggest strategic holes, which was—and still is—a struggle to be aggressive and make positive plays.

The Task Ahead

When the dust settled from the Worlds group draw, Samsung found themselves placed among some challenging opponents. Team SoloMid and Royal Never Give Up are formidable teams, each in their own way, and Splyce have the potential to pull upsets. Once again, Samsung will not be able to rely on their status quo from the regular season.

Some of the most important areas in which Samsung need to improve include continuing to step up their proactivity and playmaking along with drafting team compositions with more clearly defined pathways to victory. For the team to grow in both of these areas, Crown will need to continue his evolution. The more comfortable Crown becomes with playing diverse champions and styles, the more flexibility Samsung can have in their drafting. And the more Crown refines his ability to roam in the early game and wield the strengths of champions who fit that niche, the better Samsung will be able to dictate the pace of games and play proactively.

Crown has shown the willingness and self-awareness to improve on his roaming and playmaking, and he’ll be forced to put those skills to the test in Group D. Bjergsen will be his most noteworthy mid lane opponent. As an excellent 1v1 laner in his own right, Bjergsen will present a fascinating early game matchup for Crown. More importantly, Bjergsen has been heavily committed to the roaming game all summer. Crown’s preferred approach will probably be to try to keep the waves shoving so that both players are forced to stay put in lane, but the Dane doesn’t need much of an opening to get out onto the map and make a play. For Crown to keep pace with Bjergsen, he’ll need to show that he’s used his practice time well this month.

Li “Xiaohu” Yuan-Ho of RNG favors Viktor and Azir, much as Crown does, but Xiaohu’s mindset is tuned a bit more towards playmaking and aggression, along with the rest of his RNG teammates. If Xiaohu lands the first blow, he may be the best mid laner of this group at snowballing his own advantage out of control. However, Xiaohu is a somewhat more volatile player than Bjergsen—he’s more prone to making positional mistakes or getting in over his head — and that may give Crown openings to punish.

Splyce’s Chres “Sencux” Laursen should be the most preferential matchup for Crown within Group D. Sencux is a relatively soft laner, with most of his impact coming in the mid game via assassins like Kassadin and LeBlanc or the all-in pick-off potential of Malzahar. Crown’s efficient laning style should keep Sencux hemmed in and put Samsung in control of the middle part of the map, if he executes at his usual level.

Despite any advantages or disadvantages in the stylistic matchups between Crown and his Group D opponents, Crown can’t afford to underestimate any of his three opponents. If he and his team fail to make the right adaptations and plug the right holes in their play, their World Championship experience could look more like their disappointing summer playoffs than their redemptive regional qualifier. It will be crucial to hit the ground running in week one: making up a deficit against a consistent team like TSM or a momentum-driven squad like RNG could be very difficult.

Crown has shown that he knows what he needs to do to reach the next level. He and the rest of Samsung Galaxy are moving in the right direction. The coming weeks will test whether they have done enough to reach their goals.

For Samsung and their cornerstone in the mid lane, that means doing everything they can to honor their organization’s storied past. For Crown individually, it begins with asserting himself against Bjergsen, the greatest mid laner the Western world has ever produced. Crown enters that challenge as the underdog, due to his international inexperience and still-developing versatility. But beating Bjergsen is just a stepping stone for Crown. Even if he passes that test, his potential for greatness is significant enough that his journey won’t truly reach its climax until he is able to overcome the Unkillable Demon King himself. Only on the day Crown surpasses Faker will he be able to sit with satisfaction upon the throne to which his name aspires.

Tim "Magic" Sevenhuysen runs, the premier source for League of Legends esports statistics. You can find him on Twitter, unless he’s busy giving one of his three sons a shoulder ride.