“If only” is a phrase oft-uttered throughout AD carry Oh “Ohq” Gyu-min’s career. If only he would be less reckless. If only NaJin would start their younger players at jungle and mid lane over aging veterans Cho “watch” Jae-geol and Yu “Ggoong” Byeong-jun.
If only he’d stayed in Korea.
This may sound harsh, but as an up-and-coming talent who had yet to find a cohesive team, Ohq’s transfer to a North American Challenger Series team was unexpected to say the least. While his stint with Team Dragon Knights might still be difficult for his fans to swallow, the AD carry’s move to the challenger series meant that their entire roster, NA talent included, could speak Korean.
Technically a hybrid roster, TDK were once an all Korean-speaking lineup competing on NA soil. This presumably helped Ohq and TDK’s stable of Korean mid laners — they acquired former Incredible Miracle and Team Coast mid laner Son “Thy” Seong-yong and SBENU mid laner Lee “do it” Chan-ho after Noh “Ninja” Geon-woo was banned for the majority of the season — communicate with each other, which allowed these imports to transition with more ease.
This dream died when the team traded top laner Shin “Seraph” Woo-yeong and Ninja to the Renegades — the latter of which had not played a game for TDK in the 2016 NACS Spring due to his ban. In return, they received top laners Oleksii “RF Legendary” Kuziuta and Cuong “Flaresz” Ta along with former Moscow5/Gambit Gaming veteran mid Alexey “Alex Ich” Ichetovkin. On top of that, they signed support Lawrence “Trance” Amador to replace Aaron “Bischu” Kim for the NACS Spring Playoffs.
That trade and subsequent pickup ended the team's all-Korean communication system and as a result, TDK were expected to fall to Ember in the first round of the playoffs. TDK’s hopes of being the NACS’ top team had already been dashed by Apex Gaming — a more well-rounded and consistent squad with imports of their own. Finishing the 2016 NACS Spring Season with only two game losses and no series losses, Apex earned the NACS' top seed. They were somewhat surprisingly followed by Ember, who finished in second, further dampening TDK’s preseason hype.
TDK wasn’t the only team to make roster changes ahead of the playoffs. Ember had to find a substitute for underage jungler Juan “Contractz” Garcia, and acquired former Team SoloMid Lucas “Santorin” Larsen for their short-lived playoff run — they lost to TDK’s new hybrid roster 3-1 in the semifinals.
Ohq is TDK and TDK is Ohq. Throughout the regular season, he received the largest percentage of TDK’s gold (25.3 percent) and repaid his team by dealing over a third of their damage at 612 damage per minute (the highest of all NACS AD carries). He also had the highest kill participation of any NACS ADC at 81.6 percent. Ohq dazzled Ember during their playoff series in Games 2-4, with an 8/0/5 Ezreal performance in Game 2, and a combined 10.5 KDA on Vayne in Games 3 and 4.
Naturally, their Ohq priority makes TDK incredibly one-dimensional, especially without Seraph to draw enemy attention and aggression. If Ohq doesn’t get involved, TDK’s probability of winning significantly drops off. Ohq’s kill participation fell to 69.2 percent during the playoffs, the lowest of any participating AD carries and a 12.4 percent drop from his ubiquitous presence during the regular season. It's also worth noting that Apex Gaming in particular were able to keep Ohq from reaching critical mass as they dispatched TDK with relative ease in the NACS Finals with more well-rounded strategies and a superior understanding of how to play the game as a coordinated unit.
Led by veteran-player-turned-coach Brandon “Saintvicious” DiMarco, Apex Gaming acquired Team Imagine’s NACS spot to compete in the Spring Season and the roster has a few familiar faces from the NA LCS, LoL Champions Korea, and Challengers Korea. Their primary starting roster consists of top laner Cristian “Cris” Rosales, former Samsung Galaxy jungler Seo “Eve” Jun-cheol, former Team Coast jungler Lee “Shrimp” Byeong-hoon, former Gravity mid laner Lae-young “Keane” Jang, former Ever AD carry Park “Police” Hyeong-gi, and veteran NA support Alex “Xpecial” Chu.
What makes Apex Gaming so dangerous, and a far more likely contender for one of the 2016 NA LCS Summer spots, is their flexibility. With their two junglers, the team shifts accordingly, almost becoming a different team. Throughout the regular season, Eve and Shrimp split jungling duties evenly — aside from Week 1 where Galen “Moon” Holgate started on loan from NRG eSports — and share an identical winrate of 75 percent.
“I think both of them are super good junglers and would both do good in the LCS, so we decided to do kind of an SKT thing where we swap players out. You can see even in the last game, we had an AD heavy team comp, but Elise and Nautilus got really big," Saintvicious told the Daily Dot's Samuel Lingle. "That’s because Eve has a really carry heavy play style. Shrimp more wants to help the lanes out and get the lanes ahead. We just play to what our strengths are.”
Of the two, Eve’s early impact is immediately felt. He had a 100 percent First Blood contribution rate in the regular season as opposed to Shrimp’s 50 percent. Whereas Shrimp is better known for his aggressive, oft-flashy plays, Eve powerfarms early and makes his presence felt in the mid game, carrying on the likes of Elise and Nidalee. He averaged 3.5 CS ahead of his opponents at 10 minutes, while Shrimp lagged behind opponents with a -5.3 CS average in the same time.
When Shrimp starts for Apex, he’s involved in everything. Of the two junglers he had the much higher kill participation rate at a whopping 95.7 percent — best of all players in NACS Spring. In spite of falling behind early, Shrimp had the highest CS per minute of any NACS jungler this past season at 5.1, indicative of how much his team gives him in addition to his champion preference of Rek’Sai. Constantly in his lanes or opponents’ jungles, Shrimp was given a larger amount of resources throughout the regular season with a 21.7 percent gold share to Eve’s 19.2. This shifted again in the playoffs with their respective gold shares equalizing and Eve taking the lead, which included the aforementioned Elise carry performance in NACS Finals Game 4 against TDK.
Unlike TDK, Apex isn’t one-dimensional, and they stand a good shot at taking out Team Impulse in their first series of the tournament. TiP are 1-6 — including a tiebreaker against Renegades in Week 9 — in their last seven games, and generally look more disorganized than Apex. As for TDK, the only question is of how far Ohq can carry them.
Emily Rand is a staff writer for theScore esports. You can follow her on Twitter.