Welcome to the World Championships at last, KT Rolster.
A constant favorite to compete for the Summoner's Cup with their Bullet and Arrow teams over the past few years, KT's luck evaporated when it came to qualifying for Worlds.
2013 ended in heartbreak when possibly the second best team in the world, the KT Bullets, failed to even make it to the World Championships, first losing to eventual world champions SK Telecom T1 3-2 in the summer Champions final and then again to the same team in the final round of the Korean Regional qualifier.
2014 was no different for Rolster, as their energetic Arrows squad, that won the summer Champions title this time around, faltered like the Bullets in the qualifiers by getting swept by NaJin White Shield in the semifinals.
This time around, even after losing to eternal rivals SK Telecom T1 in their third straight trip to the Champions summer finals, KT Rolster found what it took to get through the Korean Regional qualifier. KT played against the surprising Jin Air Green Wings in the finals and returned to the form that took them from a non-playoff team in the spring to a title contender in the summer, eliminating the underdogs in four games to join SKT T1 and the KOO Tigers as South Korea's representatives in League's biggest competition of the year.
Former KT members Yoo "Ryu" Sang-ook (H2k), Won "MaFa" Sang-yeon (iG coach), Song "Rookie" Eui-jin (iG), and Lee "KaKAO" Byung-kwon (iG) will all be participating on the world stage for the first time, and Rolster will meet their former comrades to see if they can make up for missing the past two tournaments. With a roster filled with big personalities and boisterous voices, this iteration of KT Rolster aren't happy to simply make the Top 16 — they've come to Europe to bring pride back to the fractured Korean region and win the Summoner's Cup.
The Road so Far
The start of 2015 was a low point in KT Rolster's history. After having one of the biggest highs in the team's history, with the KT Arrows winning the Champions summer title, the team failed in the qualifiers and to make matters even worse, the organization's brightest stars, KaKAO and Rookie, left the team like a collection of Korea's topflight players by joining squads in China's LPL. Between veterans like Ryu leaving and their youth being plucked away by China, Rolster's roster in shambles, a disunited group that paled in comparison to their past iterations.
KT's year started out as you would expect from a team that lost their two best players. They struggled during the spring split not only from a lack of talent and sub-par communication, but something far worse: a lack of identity. Although the exodus of elite players to China and other regions punctured a majority of the teams in Korea, the rebuilding teams were slowly finding their style of play throughout the weeks.
NaJin, while not a particularly good team when it comes to team synergy and communication, learned how to win games through lane and their power to knockout teams in the early-game. The same happened with the Jin Air Green Wings but in reverse, as the Green Wings knew that their lane phase was weak so the team played for marathon-like games which forced enemies to beat their defensive kiting compositions that forced maps into wars of attrition. KT weren't outmatched when it came to overall talent, yet due to a lack of identity they appeared clueless on the map half of the time with indecision turning winnable games into losses.
Go "Score" Dong-bin, the squad's longest tenured player following the departures of Ryu and KaKAO, couldn't be the team's focal point at the start of the year because of his new position placement. With the team not having a real jungler option following KaKAO's departure, Score moved away from his natural AD Carry position and became a jungler during the preseason. This move turned out to be the right choice later down the road, but the first few months were a mess as Score performed decently in his new position but lacked the tools to lead the team while also having to learn every detail about the jungle in a short amount of time.
Beside Score's change from the bottom lane to the jungle, KT also had a revolving door in the support role for the first half of the year. Ha "Hachani" Seung-chan was the team's starter from 2014's Champions winning Arrows team, but that didn't do him much good on a team that couldn't hide his weaknesses. KaKAO's pinpoint ganks in the early-game and Rookie's strong play allowed Hachani to get away with constant warding mistakes, as he would routinely drift into darkened areas on the map only to find himself on the other end of an opponent's fist. Hachani was a good enough playmaker that his hapless deaths didn't faze an already boom or bust Arrows squad that bet everything on the first 10 minutes of the game — the same couldn't be said on a weaker, directionless team that amplified all his faults and negated his positives.
The team came together at the end of the season when they replaced Hachani with Jung "Fixer" Jae-woo in the starting support role, going 6-0 in their final six games of the split. It was too late, though, KT having put themselves into a hole they couldn't climb out by the end of the season. On the bright side, KT Rolster were finally looking like a team that could possibly do damage in the summer, as Kim "ssumday" Chan-ho was emerging as the squad's sorely needed ace, and Score was beginning to figure out what it means to be a jungler.
The Current State of the Team
If Hachani was a playmaker with too many downsides and Fixer was the support that helped slowly turnaround the ship, Lee "Piccaboo" Jong-Beom is the man who took over the wheel since he signed with the team.
A former member of Xenics Storm and then SKT T1, Piccaboo dropped out of T1's lineup in the latter half of the spring split due to issues with his wrists from constant practice. Behind starting Lee "Wolf" Jae-wan on the depth chart, Piccaboo departed from the championship team in the offseason and signed with their rivals KT not too long after, proclaiming his wrists felt better and that he was ready to be a starter.
Piccaboo is the epitome of feast or famine. When he plays well and his offensive tendencies result in an optimal early-game, there is no better support player in the world when it comes to influencing a game. Piccaboo is a master when it comes to engage and playmaking champions, snowballing a first blood into a streak of 10 kills within the first 15 minutes. He's the team's co-leader alongside Score when it comes to making calls, and the two of them, not Piccaboo and his AD partner No "Arrow" Dong-hyeon, are the closest working tandem in the starting five, bound at the hip usually in the opening minutes of the game.
But, when Piccaboo rolls the dice and it lands up on famine instead of feast, he can be a detriment to his team. Piccaboo shows no fear when it comes to playing, similarly to how former world champion Lee "PoohManDu" Jeong-hyeon played the game, and that can get him into trouble at times when he tries to overplay his hand. This can lead to situations where Piccaboo tries to start a fight that puts his team at a disadvantage, and it can leave KT Rolster down in the early-game with the team's opposing carries with a hefty amount of gold due to needless mistakes.
However, even with his faults, Piccaboo brought the element to the team that they lacked throughout spring: an identity. With Piccaboo at the helm, they became known as the early-game juggernauts like their 2014 Arrows counterparts, their utter lack of direction rectified under the leadership of their new starting support and the improved jungler Score. After joining the team, KT Rolster only lost to SK Telecom T1 during their final weeks of the season, losing to T1 once in the regular season and then the finals following KT's win over the KOO tigers in the postseason semifinals. Other than Piccaboo's lack of success against his old team, his dice rolls have primarily been successful, climbing the ranks of the best supports across the world.
In a region that has produced geniuses like Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok, Piccaboo is a player that plays from his intuition. When he sees an opening an opening for an attack, for better or for worse, he'll pull the trigger and follow his reckless tenancies to the bitter end.
Meet the other side of KT's devilish play, ssumday. Piccaboo and Score are the duo that set up the early-game openings, and ssumday is the player that takes advantage of his teammates' work ethic. ssumday is the unquestioned ace of the team, the reigning MVP of Champions' regular season and arguably the strongest top laner in the world.
ssumday played mostly Maokai for large parts of the season, but has changed his style since Piccaboo joined the team and the meta shifted to favor more carry-oriented top lane champions. Piccaboo and Score's pressure in the early-game usually center around securing ssumday a small advantage either through getting him a CS advantage or, if the opposing team wants to lose the game, give him first blood and take control of the entire game. ssumday, along with Faker and a few of the top carries in China, are the best players in the world when it comes to converting small advantages into the early-game to an overwhelming victory by the end of the game.
While ssumday gets a large part of his team's gold and attention — Arrow taking a backseat when it comes to open lane CS and attention in the early-game — he doesn't need to amass a large amount of kills to make a difference for his team. When ssumday can get ahead early through Piccaboo and Score's efforts, it frees up Kim "Nagne" Sang-moon and Arrow to play more comfortably, and ssumday will continue to stretch the map by lapping his opponent in terms of CS and forcing the enemy team to always keep an eye on him.
KT's ace is an all-around talent, masterful on split pushing champions like Yasuo, Shen, and Riven and equally adept on meat shields like Maokai that put him in the front of battle with well-timed teleports and engages.
Outlook for Worlds
KT are in the so-called 'Group of Death' alongside China's champions LGD Gaming, EU LCS summer runners-up Origen, and NA LCS summer runners-up TSM. It's a group where the key match-up will most likely be the clash between KT and Origen, as both teams are not afraid to mix it up early, and Origen coming into the tournament with momentum from their rookie split in Europe.
As teams often do, KT take after their leader's personality. Worlds will either be feast or famine for Rolster, and Piccaboo, along with the rest of KT, are hoping they'll be enjoying a bountiful dinner in Berlin before they play the Summoner's Cup Finals come Halloween.
Tyler "Fionn" Erzberger is a staff writer for theScore eSports. You can follow him on Twitter