When Koreans went en masse to China at the end of 2014, Choi “DanDy” Inkyu, who had just won the 2014 World Championship and Lee “KaKAO” Byungkwon, DanDy's aggressive rival from the KT Arrows, were the talk of the town. Lee “Spirit” Dayoon and Baek “Swift” Daehoon were in the running for the third best jungler at the time of the exodus — their names went on the list of elite junglers making the pond hop, but they were far from headlining.
DanDy transitioned to the top lane for the LPL Summer Season, and KaKAO drifted further away from the consistency he already lacked in Champions. Though Invictus Gaming made the World Championship this year, his mid lane companion, Song “RooKie” Euijin, stole the hearts of Chinese fans with much stronger play.
Neither Swift nor Spirit made the World Championship, but they were the Korean junglers who seemed to improve the most in China, as they assumed the central carry role on their respective teams. Spirit took it upon himself to fight against his own team and carry them, while Qiao Gu distributed peel and resources toward Swift to compensate for his flaws.
WE performed poorly in the LPL this year, meaning that Spirit and Swift could not ignite a true rivalry, but their individual performances opened a quiet conversation that allowed for comparison. After competing against one another for two years in Champions and the League of Legends Pro League, Spirit’s departure for Fnatic means that the Intel Extreme Masters Cologne semifinals will mark the last showdown between the evolving Korean pair for the foreseeable future.
Xenics Storm’s 2013 Winter Champions roster is one of the most underrated Korean lineups of all-time. The roster debuted in October 2013 at a tournament called International E-Culture Festival, which featured two amateur Korean teams and two low ranked Chinese teams from the LPL. Xenics Storm swept the bracket easily.
Aside from Swift, Xenics Storm fielded No “Arrow” Donghyeon, Kim “GimGoon” Hansaem, Shin “CoCo” Jinyeong, and Lee “Piccaboo” Jongbeom. Almost every name on that roster has since distinguished themselves on another team. Xenics Storm advanced to the bracket stage in the 2013-14 Champions Winter Season, but were clipped by a then-rampaging NaJin White Shield in the quarterfinals.
One of the team's strong points was the synergy between mid laner CoCo and Swift. The two executed spectacular dives, making them attractive to the CJ Entus organization. As became the trend with Xenics, they lost their squad at the end of Champions Winter to better offers, and Swift and CoCo found themselves attempting to rejuvenate a flagging CJ Entus Frost.
Samsung Blue also made their first quarterfinals appearance in the 2013-14 Champions Winter Season. Support Lee “Heart” Gwanhyung had just transitioned from the jungle position that summer to make room for Spirit. The move likely attributed to Samsung Blue’s increased success with the team finding its synergy and acclimating enough to surprise returning World Champions SK Telecom T1 K at the World Cyber Games qualifier.
Some wondered if SSB could repeat their successful upset in Champions Winter when they faced SK Telecom T1 K in the quarterfinals, but they were swept by SKT during their undefeated run. Samsung Blue made changes heading into the 2014 Champions Spring Season, replacing mid laner Heo “pawN” Wonseok with Bae “dade” Eojin. pawN joined Samsung Ozone, and dade’s leadership presence gave Samsung Blue the boost they needed to tip them into greatness.
Spirit and Swift met in their first and only Champions match in the HOT6iX Champions Spring 2014 quarterfinals — by hilarious coincidence, Nidalee was Samsung Blue’s priority ban against mid laner CoCo. CJ Frost opened the match with a surprise win, but when Samsung adjusted their draft strategy to ban Thresh rather than pick it, they won three games in a row to advance.
Samsung Blue then triumphed over both sister team Samsung Ozone and NaJin White Shield to win Champions. Undeterred, Frost placed first in NLB Spring, beating out both SK Telecom squads and NaJin Black Sword. Some began to speculate that Frost was rated higher than their Champions placement suggested, and their early encounter with SSB was only an unfortunate circumstance.
At the time, Spirit was more of a footnote on Samsung Blue, while Swift took center stage for CJ Entus Frost. This put both Swift’s strengths and weaknesses on display, more so than Spirit’s. Swift excelled at picks that could abuse high levels of mobility and deal damage, like Kha’Zix and Lee Sin. During his time in Korea, Swift sported an 11-3 record on Kha’Zix. To this day, that record is still one of his best on a single champion, even after playing for another year in China.
Public perception has often favored the selfish, flashy players, which is why many had the opinion that Swift was superior to Spirit as an individual player. Spirit’s playstyle on Samsung Blue, however, relied more on communication and giving up resources to the stars of his team, dade and Kim “Deft” Hyukkyu.
At his height, Spirit was still only the third best player on Samsung Blue, but his counter-ganking and more conservative pathing allowed his team to stall until the late game, and his team fighting showed that he was a better rounded jungle than Swift. Spirit and Heart did not have the same synergy and command of vision as their sister team’s jungle and support duo, but Spirit funneled his resources into vision and keeping lanes in line for late game team fights.
Swift, for all his diving and confident tendencies, should have been more cautious with his play. CJ lost games off of their jungler's recklessness. Swift lacked game sense, and for all the pressure and resources his team gave him, he squandered them.
CJ Entus Frost lost to the Samsung White during the Champions Summer group stage and split even with SK Telecom T1 S when many thought they were favored. In a surprising turn of events, Swift and CoCo failed to make their third consecutive Champions quarterfinal.
Despite his flaws, Swift became a hot commodity in the 2014 offseason, along with Spirit. Lee “Hiro” Woosuk gravitated toward Swift after a disappointing summer coaching Team WE. Wherever Swift went, Hiro would accompany him, making Swift a more difficult sell.
Speaking of WE, Spirit latched onto the organization, later telling fomos that he prioritized money in choosing his 2015 team. In the 2015 LPL Spring Split, Spirit became more like Swift. He forewent the patient, supportive style of play for aggressive champions. As he continued to develop, he borrowed Swift’s aggressive tendencies, but without his recklessness. Spirit could assess an opportunity to 1v3, and at times he literally had to in order to succeed.
Perhaps one of Spirit’s most impressive games occurred in the Spring Playoffs, where he selected Nidalee against EDward Gaming and destroyed the map. Despite a year in which WE was at the bottom of the standings in both the spring and summer seasons, Spirit managed an impressive 14-3 record on Nidalee. It had to be banned against WE, even if it was out of meta.
While Spirit warred with his team in 2015 to find individual success without team wins, Swift joined Qiao Gu, a team that embraced his selfish, and occasionally careless, tendencies. Swift and Hiro joined Qiao Gu in the LSPL when they separated from Stand Point Gaming.
Swift’s overzealousness continued in the LSPL. Despite playing on a team with Chinese support Zhang “TcT” Hangwei, who's known for having the most deaths in the North American LCS during the 2014 Summer Season, Swift bottomed Qiao Gu’s KDAs at 3.62. Luckily, the team could easily overpower their opponents in the secondary league, and it was easy to ignore Swift’s flaws.
Spirit and Swift met again in the third place match of the 2015 Spring Demacia Cup, where the Nidalee war between both Korean junglers began. Qiao Gu went up two games against WE when Spirit locked in Nidalee for the first rotation in Game 3. WE's ability to execute poke exposed obvious weaknesses in Qiao Gu’s disorganized all-in play. WE selected Nidalee again with the first pick in Game 4 to even the series.
Qiao Gu denied Nidalee with their own first pick in Game 5. When Qiao Gu won the series, it became clear that Nidalee would play a major role in the competition between the two junglers.
Going into the 2015 LPL Summer Season, I wrote of Swift, “When one thinks Team WE, they think Spirit. When one thinks Qiao Gu, Swift is everything they are and aren't.” WE’s third place encounter with Qiao Gu exposed problems Qiao Gu possessed in dealing with strategy. In their 2015 Summer debut, Qiao Gu began to develop a different style that closed ranks and protected Swift.
Both Swift and Spirit sat in the Top 3 of LPL junglers for percentage of team gold with Ming “Clearlove” Kai separating them. The Cinderhulk meta surprisingly aided Swift, as he would dive into fights with more resistances available to him.
Spirit, however, suffered. He gravitated toward Rek’Sai, who worked well with Cinderhulk but still had the high mobility that he utilized well to transport him around the map. In Week 4, which was Qiao Gu and WE’s first regular season encounter, Swift denied the Rek’Sai pick and Spirit began to develop his Gragas play. It would eventually become his go-to champion, but Qiao Gu’s superior ability to work around their jungler lead to disastrous results for Spirit and WE.
TcT, Qiao Gu’s support, mentioned that he often prioritized peeling for members of the team that weren’t his AD carry. Swift and Bao “V” Bo both trended toward back line dives, and Kim “Doinb” Taesang followed after them.
Like CoCo before him, Doinb has developed a strong synergy with Swift. Strangely enough, Qiao Gu’s success seems to stem from Doinb’s willingness to dive after Swift, no matter how questionable the engagement. Early on in the LPL split, during 'Mic Checks' between games, one could hear Qiao Gu players shouting, in English “I believe in you, I believe in you!” when Swift would jump for the backline.
The chorus would occasionally end in a “my bad.”
Spirit and Swift played a similar style, but Spirit put himself in harm’s way far less than Swift. Despite this, and the fact that both junglers served as shotcallers, Qiao Gu had superior team play. Their style seemed to function more on trust and giving up early advantages for more cohesive team fighting comebacks later. Qiao Gu raced to the top of the LPL standings, and WE dropped further and further.
When Qiao Gu and WE played each other near the end of the season, Nidalee had worked herself back into the meta game. She came out as a first pick both games, and both games Nidalee ruled the day. When Swift played her, Doinb’s Nautilus mid allowed him to impose himself between Swift and WE’s aggressors to absorb the punishment for his foolhardiness. When Spirit played Nidalee, he commanded the map on his own and assassinated Qiao Gu’s players in the laning phase.
When Spirit and Swift went to China, they swapped scenarios. Spirit played as if he had to fight against his team to succeed. Swift found a team that, even if they might have acknowledged his questionable engages and early plays, would accept them and support them. They fell behind early, but their synergy allowed them to prioritize team fighting and come back from monstrous deficits.
The main difference is that Spirit has shown more dimensions and more strengths. Swift has shown he can only play one way, and it’s up to his team to develop around him. Luckily, he’s been paired with teammates with large champion pools and more flexibility, and Qiao Gu have found a way to succeed and utilize Swift's high mechanical play-making as a double-edged weapon.
Nidalee is a great example of that. Teams with Korean junglers and awkward communication that often seem as if they are not on the same page have become great fans of Nidalee in China. She played a crucial role in Qiao Gu’s semifinal series against Invictus Gaming, and LGD Gaming banned her every game in the final.
Yet Nidalee is Swift’s enemy as much as she is currently his favored champion. Her high mobility makes it less punishing when he finds himself caught out, but her lack of durability and her assassin tools make his trigger-happy leaps questionable. Qiao Gu may as well rebrand with a Zhonya’s Hourglass in their logo, as their Korean duo have abused Zhonya’s actives when diving back lines and waiting for the rest of their team to catch up.
Luckily, Zhonya’s Hourglass is a great item for Nidalee. Unfortunately, she doesn’t start the game with it, which again and again forces Qiao Gu into positions where they have to play from behind.
Nidalee will again play a crucial role for Spirit and Swift in the Intel Extreme Masters Cologne semifinal. I fully expect her to be banned or first picked every game as these two junglers continue to wage their war. Spirit will play against Swift on a third team with little time to synergize, meaning we’re once again likely to see Spirit playing the same way he did on WE: grabbing aggressive champions and trying to command the game on his own with only limited communication.
Swift told Qiao Gu’s IEM handler and translator that he looks forward to facing Spirit in the semifinals. If Qiao Gu manage to succeed, however, it may as well be in spite of Swift rather than because of him. As always, Qiao Gu will do their best to dive in after Swift in their late game, but there’s only so much they can do to mitigate his rash behavior early on.
If Fnatic implement Dignitas’ approach and attempt to frequently invade Swift’s jungle, any small modicum of support from his team will help Spirit and his superior judgement take out Swift early.
At the Intel Extreme Masters Katowice, Spirit made a name for himself and WE with a brand new roster. WE took out the more experienced GE Tigers by abusing their weak early game and strong team fighting. This time around, the early game meta will make it even harder for slower-paced teams to make late game comebacks. Spirit has a chance to close this chapter with proactive play that punishes Swift’s weaknesses.
Doinb first met Swift as a streamer and trainee for CJ Entus, but he chose to leave for Qiao Gu when he thought he wouldn’t be able to replace CoCo on the main team. When I asked him if he felt he could beat CoCo after a year in China, he told me, “I don’t know how I’ll perform in the laning phase against Coco, but as a team, QG can beat CJ, apparently.”
In this case, Doinb’s quote applies quite well to the Spirit and Swift rivalry. Spirit is the better jungler. That isn’t a question anymore. At this point, it’s only a matter of whether or not Qiao Gu’s developed team play will be enough to overcome the raw talent on Fnatic.
Kelsey Moser is a staff writer for theScore eSports. You can follow her on Twitter.