Both of today's games were expected to be quick 2-0 series, but KT Rolster and CJ Entus had a few surprises. KT pulled out mid Zilean, following a rising trend in Chronokeeper play internationally, while CJ upset a disoriented Longzhu Gaming, who are still struggling with team synergy.
Time flies like an arrow
Last season, support Lee “Piccaboo” Jongbeom and top laner Kim “Ssumday” Chanho stood out as KT Rolster's top-tier talent, while Kim “Nagne” Sangmoon languished at the bottom of the roster list (unless we're pinpointing KT’s 2015 weaknesses). Nagne’s small champion pool and generally weak laning were easy targets for KT’s opponents.
However a team is a machine of moving parts, and it’s impossible to attack Nagne for his 2015 performance without acknowledging that his jungler had just role-swapped from AD carry. Go “Score” Dongbin has since improved immensely and is now one of the region’s best junglers, but last year he struggled mightily with early pathing and applying pressure. He was aided by Piccaboo's roams, but opponents soon found ways to pressure KT's lanes enough to keep Piccaboo locked down. No matter what form KT Rolster was in through 2015, opposing teams could easily find points to attack.
Now with Song “Fly” Yongjun at mid lane, KT looks far stronger as a whole than their 2015 iteration in a more robust Korea. Fly holds the mid lane better than Nagne, has a wider champion pool, and does so with far less gold. While Nagne took 26.2 percent of KT’s gold share in Champions Summer 2015, Fly has taken only 21.6 percent of his team’s gold in Champions Spring 2016, the least of any Korean mid laner this season. In spite of one of the worst gold differentials at 10 minutes (-140) Fly has the fourth-highest KDA of any mid laner (5.0) and accounts for few of his team’s deaths.
Today, Fly trotted out mid lane Zilean – as seen in the LMS, LJL, LPL, and most recently the NA LCS – with rousing success against e-mFire. Even if his stats aren’t the greatest across the board, Fly offers KT more drafting flexibility along with stronger control of the center map.
Crash into me
Against the odds, CJ Entus continues to improve by the week, in spite of playing without their starting mid laner, 16 year-old Gwak “Bdd” Boseong. Wholly uninspiring Week 1 performances, even with a 2-1 Week 2 victory over bottom-feeder SBENU, left CJ fans counting down the days until Bdd turned 17 and could save their sagging team.
In the meantime, it's been up to veteran support Hong “MadLife” Mingi to direct the team, something he's done noticeably well. Top laner Park “Untara” Uijin’s teleport plays have been well-coordinated by MadLife, and AD carry Ha “Kramer” Jonghun looks far more comfortable with both his new laning partner and team than he ever did on Taiwan’s Flash Wolves. Kramer was CJ's star in today's Game 3, thanks to a strong gameplan and a draft built around his blue Ezreal.
It's through drafting and synergy that CJ has been able to win the two series that they have thus far, even with a placeholder roster. Their plans aren’t the most complex, and they won’t guarantee a victory over most of their more-talented opponents. However, CJ has shown they're well aware of both their own weaknesses and how to leverage what few strengths that they have.
Unlike CJ Entus, Longzhu has a strong, 10-man roster filled with talent in every position. This has obviously given them some starting lineup synergy issues to wrestle with. Before today's series against CJ, they began looking more coordinated when they ran Koo “Expession” Bontaek at top lane, Lee “Chaser” Sanghyun in jungle, Shin “CoCo” Jinyeong at mid lane, and Kim “Pure” Jinsun at support with AD carry Kang “Cpt Jack” Hyungwoo in by default while Lee “Fury” Jinyong is banned. In the Week 2 games against ROX Tigers when they substituted in Lee "Flame" Hojong for Expression, the team was a lot less in sync — although that game's result can largely be attributed to the Tigers’ strength. Before today, they hadn't started mid laner Kim “Frozen” Taeil once, vastly preferring CoCo.
Longzhu's losses this morning can hardly be pinned on any one player. Their big weakness was an overall lack of communication.
Oddly, the brightest spot for Longzhu has been jungler Lee “Crash” Dongwoo, previously known as “goeat” in China’s LSPL. It's especially impressive considering that Crash’s competition for the starting spot is Chaser, one of the best junglers in Korea. Subbing in for Game 2, Crash put on a clinic, blanking CJ Entus in 26 minutes with stifling early pressure. Game 3 saw him hit the notorious “Flame horizon” – a far more difficult feat for a jungler than a position player – by farming 100 CS more than his opponent (even though Longzhu eventually lost).
Unfortunately, regardless of what jungler or lineup they run, Longzhu can't find harmony, leaving weaknesses exposed in both the draft and on the Rift for opponents to exploit.
Emily Rand is a staff writer for theScore esports. Her love for the 2013 KT Rolster Bullets will never die. You can follow her on Twitter.