Another year of League of Legends has come and gone, with SK Telecom T1 once again raising the Summoner’s Cup above their heads. The 2016 All-Star Event will be this season’s send-off, necessitating yet another round of recognition for this year’s top performers.
Earlier this year, I struggled mightily with my MVP awards, perhaps focusing too much on the concept of value to a team. For me, value comes hand-in-hand with flexibility and adaptability, and with League of Legends being a game with a seemingly infinite amount of variables to consider, there’s nothing in the way of a “wins above replacement” statistic by which to measure. Many of the factors in a particular value choice are unquantifiable things like teamwork or communication.
The All-Star votes are a bit different. Some of them will simply be for players that I want to see receive a bit more recognition in the community, or who I feel deserve to go based on their individual performances. There is a bit less of a priority on overall team value and more on raw talent.
2016 Award: Song “Smeb” Kyung-ho
The ROX Tigers may not have won the 2016 World Championship like they wanted — and were expected to — but they were still the best team in Korea this year. I hesitate to heap too much praise onto Smeb without mentioning his other teammates, since the Tigers’ basic narrative on the international stage has somehow been boiled down to “Smeb and friends” but Smeb has been a huge part of his team’s success.
Yet, this past year has been as much about the Tigers reaching for that elusive win over SK Telecom T1 as it has been about Smeb making his case as not only the best top laner in the world, but the best player of 2016. Regardless of whether you believe he achieved this — I believe he did before Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok took the title back at the World Championship — there’s no denying his effort, talent, and performance. No other top laner came close, not even Kim “Ssumday” Chan-ho, whose play dipped during the latter stages of the summer postseason.
All-Stars Vote: Song “Smeb” Kyung-ho
Smeb has been the best top laner in the world this past year. He definitely deserves the All-Stars vote.
2016 Award: Go “Score” Dong-bin
Han “Peanut” Wang-ho is a shoo-in for the All-Star vote this year, and certainly a contender for the best jungler of the year. If Peanut had continued his spring dominance into the summer season while also making necessary adjustments requiring him to become more well-rounded, he would have become the best in his region. Perhaps he’ll ascend to this title next year, finally trading in his over-aggressive slip-ups in high-stakes matches for a measured and precise proactive style.
Not only was KT Rolster’s Score a more consistent jungler throughout 2016, but unlike Peanut, high-pressure matches lit a new fire for Score, whose most brilliant performances came in the playoffs. When Ssumday underperformed, it was Score and a much-improved No “Arrow” Dong-hyeon that dragged KT to the summer final, reverse-sweeping SKT before giving the Tigers a much closer contest than they likely expected. Score’s aggression is wielded with precise accuracy, his pathing adjusts to the situation, and he tracks his opponents well, knowing when and where to strike. Put away your 2hp memes, Score was the best jungler in Korea this past year.
All-Stars Vote: Go “Score” Dong-bin
Most will vote for Peanut. My vote is still for Score.
2016 Award: Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok
Even if Faker hadn’t won his third World Championship with SK Telecom T1, he would still take my 2016 award for Korea’s best mid laner. Tasked with bringing new jungler Kang “Blank” Sun-gu up to speed in the spring season, Faker shifted his role slightly, becoming SKT’s teamfight coordinator on the likes of Lissandra.
SKT have asked a lot of Faker this year, and the mid laner delivered in a way that his team, fans, and opponents have all come to rely upon or expect. Call him a demon king, god, or whatever lofty title you choose, Faker just won his third World Championship, remains the best player in the world, and shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
All-Stars Vote: Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok
Did you really expect someone else?
2016 Award: Bae “Bang” Jun-sik
Last year, Bang broke out as one of, if not the best AD carry in the world. His showstopping Game 4 Lucian outing gainst CJ Entus in the 2015 spring playoff gauntlet is still etched into viewers’ minds, and his phenomenal 71 KDA through the 2015 Worlds group stages with only one death.
This year, Bang proved that he could play at that same, consistently high level for another year, cementing his name as one of the world’s best. When SKT struggled to come together as a cohesive team this past spring, Bang often kept them in teamfights, pulling out stunning Ezreal, Kalista, and Lucian performances. In light of Bae “bengi” Seong-woong’s triumphant return to the SKT jungle at this past World Championship, and Faker’s continued dominance, buzz around Bang has quieted a bit, even as SKT raised their third Summoner’s Cup. Make no mistake, Bang was the best AD carry in Korea this year.
All-Stars Vote: Kim “PraY” Jong-in
Peanut was the Tiger who stole the hearts of international viewers at Worlds, but PraY was the Tiger who all-too-often kept them in games. He remains the best Ashe player in the world, and had phenomenal games on Ezreal, Caitlyn, and Jhin throughout the Tigers run at the 2016 World Championship. Considering that many thought his career was over in 2014, that’s not half bad.
2016 Award: Kang “GorillA” Beom-hyeon
The other primary contender for this award is Samsung’s Kwon “Wraith” Ji-min, which may surprise many who only saw Samsung Galaxy at the World Championship. Wraith was consistently one of the best in his position and helped Kang “Ambition” Chan-yong transform from a fledgling fifth laner into an actual jungler throughout the spring season — similar to what Lee “Piccaboo” Jong-beom did for KT Rolster’s Score. Yet Wraith seemingly did not mesh as well with rookie AD carry Ruler in lane as Jo “CoreJJ” Yong-in, something that became increasingly evident throughout Samsung’s Worlds run.
Like many in his position, GorillA’s most beneficial qualities to his team are unfortunately nebulous and difficult to describe. He leads the Tigers with quiet authority, commanding the respect of all of his teammates. His Alistar was near-impossible to beat this year, and he captained a Tigers team that was the best in the world for the majority of 2016.
All-Stars Vote: Hong “MadLife” Min-gi
This is the first time in a year where I think Korea’s seemingly inevitable selection of MadLife as their all-star support is justified. MadLife stepped up and dragged the carcass of CJ Entus for as long as he could in the spring season, and even with their summer ending in relegation, his achievements and effort deserve recognition. He wasn’t the best support of the year, but he’s definitely an all-star.
Emily Rand is a staff writer for theScore eSports. She still believes that the OGN Champions Summer 2013 Final between SK Telecom T1 and KT Rolster Bullets is the greatest series in LoL history. You can follow her on Twitter.