Although a majority of contracts for players in Champions Korea won't be ending until the end of the month, there is already one prevailing narrative that will surely take center stage this offseason. Longzhu IM, historically the worst long-running franchise in South Korea, has reportedly made it known that they are going to do everything in their power this winter to change their legacy come 2016. After failing to make the playoffs in both the spring and summer seasons, it's come out from multiple sources that Incredible Miracle will be opening their wallets this offseason with the help of their Chinese streaming sponsor, Longzhu.com, to build a team capable of winning the Summoner's Cup.
"Starting from the 2016 LoL champs season, Longzhu IM is hoping to be the protagonist of change," a Chinese source connected to Longzhu told Korean news site OSEN. "Our goal is to field fearsome lineup of players. If a high class lineup is possible, they will receive treatment and support comparable to China.”
Historically in Korean League of Legends, teams have relied on their well-built infrastructure and seemingly endless talent pool to field competitive teams as opposed to spending millions of dollars to sign the best players. This was most prominently showcased last year when the two best teams in the world, Samsung White and Samsung Blue, both left South Korea to join various LPL teams in China that were willing to pay a reported $1 million USD and more to the very best players. The only Korean team that was able to keep their core members intact was SK Telecom T1, and they ended up winning their second Summoner's Cup in commanding fashion with an overall 15-1 record at the 2015 World Championships.
Out of the names circling around this revolutionized IM, three candidates immediately come to mind. The first is the postseason MVP from this year's spring season, SKT's backup mid laner Lee "Easyhoon" Ji-hoon. While it appears likely that the star defensive mid will leave SK Telecom T1 this offseason to become a starter elsewhere, there are conflicting rumors as to where he will end up in 2016. Longzhu Incredible Miracle would be the South Korean team with the best chance of signing him this offseason considering their new influx of money, but there are reports that, like many Korean stars before him, he'll be taking his talents to China this spring. Easyhoon finished his 2015 year with a 34-8 record and a 6.2 KDA for the world champions, going a perfect 4-0 at the World Championships.
The other two players that are likely in Longzhu's sights are two former Samsung standouts. Lee "Spirit" Da-yoon has consistently been brought up this offseason as a possible returnee to Champions Korea, his exit from Team WE possibly burning any bridges he had in China. During a Korean interview following his disappointing 2015 season, Spirit talked about how his top goal in the new year was to make the World Championships and win the Summoner's Cup. He also brought up the fact that the training regimen and practice structure in China wasn't comparable to his days on Samsung Blue, when he made it all the way to the Worlds semifinals in 2014.
Finally, there is Cho "Mata" Se-hyeong, the 2014 Worlds MVP who had an up-and-down year in China on Vici Gaming. Choi "DanDy" In-kyu was recently confirmed in an interview that he will more than likely stay on Vici Gaming for 2016 and move back to his natural jungle position. Mata on the other hand has reportedly kept his options open for 2016, debating whether or not he'd want to play in the spring season or retire from professional play.
Besides that trio, Longzhu are likely looking at various players in Champions Korea to see if they would be the right fit for their squad in 2016. While it appears likely that most, if not all of, their current starters will be replaced this offseason, two of their best talents could possibly stay as either starters or backups. Kim "Frozen" Tae-il has been a strong talent for Longzhu ever since his debut over a year ago, and a new all-star roster around him could be what he needs to take his next step from good mid laner to one of South Korea's best. Lee "IgNar" Dong-geun is also an intriguing player, as the rookie support was one of the lone bright spots in another disappointing split for the hapless gatekeepers of Korea's Champions.
SK Telecom T1 have firmly solidified themselves as the heroes of the Korean region, winning both seasons of Champions Korea and then dominating the World Championships. With the news of them re-signing ace player and two-time Summoner's Cup winner Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok, SKT T1's dynasty won't be ending anytime soon. Incredible Miracle, often considered the 'loser team' of Champions due to their miserable performances and former players going on to do better on new teams, could possibly be the best chance the world has next year in dethroning the unstoppable kings of T1.
Tyler "Fionn" Erzberger is a staff writer for theScore eSports who covers the North American LCS and Korea's Champions. You can follow him on Twitter.