With Kim “Deft” Hyuk-gyu’s declaration that he intends to return to the LCK for 2017, the offseason has found what will probably be its most noteworthy moving piece of the year, unless the sky falls and Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok or Song “Smeb” Kyung-ho opt to make a change. Deft’s play in 2016 had many calling him the best AD carry in the game — he’s the full package, thoroughly dominant in everything from his laning to his teamfighting.
The question, naturally, is which LCK team will secure Deft’s services. Any team would be lucky to have him, but Deft’s desire to return to the World Championship next year may considerably narrow the list of potential destinations.
Deft is a Big Deal
Since leaving Samsung Blue at the end of 2014 and joining the LPL’s EDward Gaming, Deft has been racking up Chinese accolades, including two LPL championships, three LPL finals appearances, and a full Demacia Cup with victory in the spring, summer and grand finals tournaments. Many of the Korean exports to China struggled with consistency and motivation.
Even Cho “Mata” Se-hyeong, one of the greatest players in LoL’s history, had issues adjusting to his new environment at first. But instead of lashing out like Mata or fading away like Lee “KaKAO” Byung-kwon, Deft lengthened his stride, especially in 2016, and found ways to keep improving. In the lead-up to the World Championships, Deft was widely considered the world’s best AD carry.
Deft excels in every aspect of the game. It begins in the laning phase, where he consistently gains leads over his opponents by asserting his mechanical prowess. During 2016, EDward Gaming supported Deft’s high-pressure laning by covering him with jungle presence and vision, banking on Deft to provide a high return on those resources. Deft came through time and again.
|2015 World Championships||+6.4|
|2016 Spring Split||+3.6|
|2016 Summer Split||+4.5|
|2016 World Championships||+6.2|
LPL CSD@10 gathered by Kelsey Moser, reflecting both regular season and playoffs. Worlds CSD@10 available at OraclesElixir.com.
The pressure Deft applies in lane demands a response, either in the way his opponents draft or the way they move on the map, and EDG consistently used that pressure to their advantage.
Outside of his lane, Deft is just as imposing. Teamfighting is one of an AD carry’s primary places to shine, and Deft executes on that responsibility as well as anyone in the world. He positions himself right in the sweet spot, in range to hit targets without stepping so far forward that enemies can catch him out. There are players who are better than Deft at jumping forward into a fight and unloading in spectacular ways — SK Telecom T1’s Bae “Bang” Jun-sik comes to mind. There are also players who may be better at staying completely out of harm’s way until the moment arrives to mop up all the low-health targets — an approach that works wonders for Pierre “Steeelback” Medjaldi in the EU LCS, among others. But no one walks the line between those two approaches as consistently or efficiently as Deft.
At the 2016 World Championships, Deft did everything in his power to carry EDG to victory. His +6.2 CSD at 10 was second-best among AD carries and he pumped out an average 643 damage per minute, third among AD carries behind only Bang and Samsung’s Park “Ruler” Jae-hyuk, the two finalists. That damage output represented an average 34.9 percent of EDG’s total damage to champions, highest of any player at Worlds, even though EDG only provided Deft with 29.3 percent of their post-15-minute farm.
Though EDG stumbled as a team, Deft acquitted himself very well. The obvious disconnect between Deft’s personal performance and his team’s international results was likely the biggest factor driving his decision to head back to Korea.
Three Possible Landing Spots
Many teams will have perked up their ears upon hearing that Deft will be available for signing. Very few organizations can claim to have a player of Deft’s caliber on hand — he would be an instant upgrade for at least eight of the LCK’s ten teams. To find the right match, though, not only must the team want Deft, but Deft must want to join the team. That means he has to believe that the roster’s he’s joining is capable of winning the LCK.
It’s very unlikely that any of Korea’s Worlds attendees will feel the need to sign Deft. Both SK Telecom T1 and the ROX Tigers already possess world class AD carries, in Bang and Kim “PraY” Jong-in, respectively. Samsung’s Ruler is not on Deft’s level, but he’s a rookie who just helped his team reach the finals of the World Championships, which suggests that the organization will keep him around. That leaves seven squads with a chance to snag this year’s prize catch.
Here are three LCK teams that could be key players in the Deft sweepstakes.
In terms of pure need for a skilled AD carry, MVP lead the pack.
MVP were the second-worst early game team in the LCK this summer, netting a 41.7 early-game rating (EGR) based on -792 GD at 15 and 46 percent control of the first dragon. Only CJ Entus performed worse in the first 15 minutes, en route to relegation. The bottom lane was definitely part of the problem, with Oh “MaHa” Hyun-sik averaging -4.1 CSD at 10, the worst of any starting AD carry. MaHa’s 507 DPM and 24.8 percent damage share also lagged behind most of his LCK counterparts.
Despite their abysmal early game, though, MVP held up well in the later phases, with an above-average +2.2 mid/late rating (MLR). If MVP could bring Deft aboard, it would immediately go a long way towards shoring up the weakest part of their game. That would give their mid- and late-game play more opportunities to shine.
The challenge for MVP will lie in convincing Deft that they could help him reach the international stage. MVP is a well-known, reputable organization, but other than jungler Kim “Beyond” Kyu-seok, they don’t have any existing star power. Without more signings to supplement him, Deft would outclass the rest of the roster quite heavily.
Even though Deft would meet a huge need for MVP and might turn them into a playoff team, Deft probably won’t see MVP as a legitimate avenue to reaching his world championship goals. Still, it’s possible that MVP could dig deep and find a second signing that would convince Deft, so they shouldn’t be counted out.
The second option for Deft comes from one step further down the LCK summer standings, but despite their poor performances in 2016, Longzhu Gaming may offer a higher value proposition than MVP. For one thing, the Longzhu parent company — a Chinese streaming service — probably has a higher budget for its LoL team than MVP and could offer a larger contract. More importantly, Longzhu’s 2016 roster was immensely talented and always seemed on the verge of breaking out. That may give Deft hope that he could put Longzhu over the top and turn them into contenders.
All year, Longzhu felt like a better team than their results showed. They finished in a two-way tie for seventh in spring and a three-way tie for sixth in summer, but their gold spent percentage difference (GSPD), which measures how close games were, placed them fifth in spring and fourth in summer. That suggests that Longzhu were only a few “lucky bounces” away from converting some narrow finishes into wins and climbing into the playoffs.
If Deft does buy the narrative of Longzhu as a “nearly-there” squad, it will be up to team management to decide how much better he would be than their current starter, Lee “Fury” Jin-yong. Fury was good for Longzhu this summer, sitting near the top of the charts in his laning and damage output.
Fury, 2016 summer regular season
Rank is among AD carries with 10+ games played.
Fury has done nothing to prompt Longzhu to replace him, so Deft would be coming in strictly as an upgrade. There is always some risk to replacing a known player with a free agent, so Longzhu wouldn’t be in the wrong if they stuck with Fury and passed on Deft.
If Longzhu do decide change is necessary, they have the resources to make a strong play for Deft, and the allure of playing with skilled teammates like Shin “Coco” Jin-yeong and Lee “Chaser” Sang-hyun or an up-and-coming talent like Lee “Crash” Dong-woo may sweeten the offer.
Finally, and perhaps most intriguingly, Deft’s best chance to join a current top team may come from KT Rolster. KT came mere inches away from winning the LCK summer split and barely missed out on attending the 2016 World Championships. After coming so close, KT should be pondering what they can do to change their fate for 2017, and their bottom lane may be the place to look. For Deft’s part, if he wants to pursue a chance on the international stage, he couldn’t do much better than joining forces with Kim “Ssumday” Chan-ho and Go “Score” Dong-bin.
KT Rolster’s current AD carry starter is No “Arrow” Dong-hyeon, who has been with the organization since early 2014. Arrow is a good AD carry who performed well in 2016, but it’s no slight against him to call Deft a cut above.
Arrow, 2016 summer regular season
Rank is among AD carries with 10+ games played.
In lane, especially, Deft would probably add more value than Arrow, though that would depend on finding common ground with his support, whether that’s Ha “Hachani” Seung-chan or someone else. Deft would also have to get used to sharing his jungler’s attention with Ssumday, unlike the plentiful resources he was given on EDG.
If KT did slot Deft into their existing roster, they would find themselves overflowing with individual skill. They already have one of the best top/jungle duos in the world, and Deft would turn KT into a fearsome triple threat, supported by Hachani’s map mobility and playmaking and the unique utility and roaming play of Song “Fly” Yung-jin.
To make this move, KT would need to be willing to risk breaking up the synergy of their team, valuing Deft’s skill over Arrow’s familiarity with the team’s systems and structure. On paper, the upgrade looks worthwhile, but there are always behind-the-scenes factors that could push KT’s decision in either direction.
Deft will surely receive offers from multiple teams. He will have a difficult decision to make, one that will have significant repercussions not only for his own future, but possibly for the balance of power of the entire LCK. We’ll all be waiting with bated breath to see where he lands.
Tim "Magic" Sevenhuysen runs OraclesElixir.com, 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.