The field of LoL Champions Korea Summer 2016 had two shots at taking down reigning champions SK Telecom T1, and both attempts failed. The ROX Tigers looked abysmal in their drafting, seemingly acquiescing to SKT before the games even started, while Samsung Galaxy was unable to deal with SKT’s overwhelming firepower.
No team has had an undefeated season since the sister team merger. Twice, the Tigers have tried, brought down by KT Rolster in LCK Spring 2015 and Samsung Galaxy in LCK Spring 2016. SKT nearly made their run last summer before they were stopped by CJ Entus. In all three cases, the team upsetting the then-undefeated squad was an unlikely challenger at the time.
Who will cause SKT to stumble? Currently no Korean team looks up this task, especially after Week 3.
The Death of the “Big Three”
Since the 2015 World Championship and throughout LCK Spring 2016, Korea has been known to have three big teams: the Tigers, SKT, and KT Rolster. Despite SKT’s struggles throughout this past spring, they were still recognized as one of the strongest teams in Korea while both KT and the Tigers enjoyed their time at the top of the regular season standings.
The “Big Three” are now no more, replaced by SKT firmly at the top followed by an indistinct group of teams, all of which have obvious strengths and weaknesses, and none of which seem up to challenging SKT anytime soon. KT and the Tigers sit at fourth and fifth respectively after the Tigers were unceremoniously swept by SKT but pulled out a series victory against KT later on in the week.
Without jungler Han “Peanut” Wang-ho’s stifling early pressure, the Tigers have defaulted to AOE scaling compositions built around both Vladimir and Swain, allowing themselves to be overwhelmed in the mid game before they could outscale their opponents. They also continue to struggle in finding a suitable Azir composition or counter. Swapping out mid laner Lee “KurO” Seo-haeng for Hae “Cry” Seung-min visibly hurts their team dynamic, but the Tigers seemingly have no other answer for their Azir woes. Meanwhile, KT continues to be creative and wacky, sometimes pulling off innovative team compositions before making questionable mid and late game decisions that cost them games. KT are often in a race against themselves and their own poor decision-making rather than their opponents on the Rift, as shown in their series against the Tigers this past week.
Currently occupying the Tigers and KT’s prior place in the top three are Samsung Galaxy and the Jin Air Green Wings. Samsung has looked much stronger this past split, their undefeated series streak only broken by a 2-0 defeat against SKT on Saturday. AD carry Park “Ruler” Jae-hyuk has been a pleasant surprise this split, and a strong pickup for Samsung. Ruler did not impress while on Challengers Korea’s Stardust, but has since made a name for himself as one of the region’s rising AD carry talents, looking stronger than both of Samsung’s LCK Spring 2016 AD carries: Lee “Stitch” Seung-ju and Jo “CoreJJ” Yong-in, the latter of whom moved to the support position in the offseason.
With Ruler, Samsung now becomes a legitimate contender for one of Korea’s three 2016 World Championship berths, provided he continues to improve, pushing Samsung beyond their obvious LCK Spring 2016 ceiling. Ruler is aided by his laning partner Kwon “Wraith” Ji-min, whose Summer 2016 performances have all the makings of a career split. Together with Samsung jungler Kang “Ambition” Chan-yong, Wraith provides early pressure while feeding kills to Ruler. Together, the trio of Ambition, Ruler, and Wraith are tied for the highest First Blood rate of any player in Korea at 60 percent. While Samsung ended the week with a tough loss to SKT, they should be able to bounce back against Longzhu and CJ this coming week, further cementing their second-place spot.
It’s not surprising to see Jin Air in Korea’s top three, yet the team doesn’t exactly strike fear into the hearts of their opponents, nor do they inspire much confidence from even the most loyal of fans. For this past year — and to some extent last year, even with more proactive early-game jungler Lee “Chaser” Sang-hyun on the team — Jin Air have relied on the slow and steady approach, most likely guided by their veteran top laner Yeo “TrAce” Chang-dong. Jin Air probably won’t drop into the bottom tier of LCK teams, but they won’t make any sort of miraculous push for the title either, simply existing towards the top half of the standings.
Despite a proactive Week 1 start where Jin Air defeated Longzhu Gaming 2-0, both games ending in under 40 minutes, the Green Wings are back to their old tricks, once again claiming the longest average game time in the LCK at 42.3 minutes. Their focus is always objectives, and have a 64 percent dragon control rate, 54.2 percent jungle control rate, 67 percent first-turret rate, and 67 percent first three turrets killed rate, second to only SKT in all four categories this summer. Jin Air are also the least-bloody team in Korea by a significant margin with a mere 0.32 combined kills per minute. The next-closest team is CJ Entus at 0.44. Seeing Jin Air represent Korea at the 2016 World Championship certainly isn’t out of the realm of possibility, but they’ll need a bit more proactivity, as their methodical approach often sets aside obvious windows of opportunity in favor of safety first.
Three First Wins and Longzhu’s Lament
Three teams went into the third week of LCK Summer 2016 without having won a series. All three exited the week with a win under their belts. CJ Entus kicked things off by beating Longzhu Gaming. In turn, Longzhu beat ESC Ever two days later. On the last day of the week, MVP finally earned their first win, marking yet another loss for Ever.
The results of Week 3 placed four teams firmly in the undesirable bottom tier of LCK Summer 2016: MVP, Longzhu Gaming, ESC Ever and CJ Entus. Each team only has one series win, and all of their respective wins have been taken from another team in the bottom tier, since CJ dropped their opening series to Ever in Week 1.
Of all teams, the most disappointing — although not unexpected at this point — has been Longzhu. With a wealth of talent going into LCK Spring 2016, Longzhu were heralded as Korea’s “superteam” prior to the season’s start. A Korean team not named SK Telecom T1 that paid their players competitive prices to remain in the region rather than departing for China, North America, Taiwan, or Europe, Longzhu looked okay at first. They didn’t dominate the region, but showed signs of improvement, juggling their overabundance of talent with two lines of top/jungle/mid and a static bottom lane of Kang “Cpt Jack” Hyung-woo and Kim “Pure” Jinsun. This was the last time that Longzhu had even a modicum of coordination. Introducing AD carry Lee “Fury” Jinyong to the mix and scrambling their starting roster at the beginning of the Spring second round robin only served to disrupt the small amount of synergy that Longzhu had developed.
Cpt Jack is now a commentator, and legacy top laner Lee “Flame” Ho-jong has recently been rumored to be headed off to Taiwan, having been benched by Longzhu at the start of the Summer split. Mid laner Shin “CoCo” Jin-yeong and jungler Chaser have both looked lost at times while AD carry pickup Kim “Emperor” Jin-hyun has paid the price for his poor positioning with the highest percentage of his team’s deaths of any ADC in Korea at 23.9 percent while dealing the fourth-lowest percentage of damage (27.1 percent). Even with their offseason pickups and benchings, Longzhu look no closer to being a team than they did at the end of LCK Spring 2016.
Ever and MVP are new teams. They’re both significant improvements from last split’s SBENU Sonicboom and Kongdoo Monster, but they make obvious mistakes that stronger Korean teams will capitalize on, specifically in vision control, jungle routes, and general objective trading. However, these teams do not have obvious ceilings. They should both continue to improve throughout the season, despite most likely remaining in the bottom tier of LCK Summer teams. Even CJ Entus has room for improvement, provided that Kang “Haru” Min-seung continues to acclimate himself to the jungle position. Unfortunately for Longzhu, there appears to be very little room for growth or improvement, considering that these same players have struggled to find any semblance of a team dynamic for well over a split now.
Series to Watch
KT Rolster vs. ROX Tigers
As previously mentioned, this is a back-and-forth series that features KT Rolster versus themselves rather than the Tigers. That being said, the Tigers looked to have regained a spring in their step through the series, although it remains to be seen as to whether they’ll be able to keep this momentum going into Week 4.
SK Telecom T1 vs. Samsung Galaxy
While SKT swept Samsung 2-0, Samsung put up much more of a fight than the ROX Tigers did at the beginning of the week, giving SKT their closest series of the season thus far. Of note is SKT jungler Bae “bengi” Seong-woong’s foray into a more DPS-oriented style with his Game 1 Kindred and SKT support Lee “Wolf” Jae-wan’s phenomenal Nami performance.
Samsung Galaxy vs. Jin Air Green Wings
Samsung makes more than a few mistakes throughout this series, including one particularly greedy baron call. Yet, they overcame Jin Air through coordinated and near-perfect teamfighting, something that very few teams are able to pull off.
Player of the Week
SK Telecom T1's Lee “Wolf” Jae-wan
On a team full of star players like Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok, his laning partner Bae “Bang” Jun-sik, top laner Lee “Duke” Ho-seong, and even veteran jungler bengi whose popularity has risen with his return to the team, Wolf often goes unnoticed. Engage supports like Alistar, Braum and Thresh dominated the spring split, and while Wolf is no stranger to any of them, he’s much more of a disengage player than a primary initiator.
LCK Summer 2016 has showcased a far larger support champion pool that reintroduced mage supports into the mix, which are much more up Wolf’s alley and suit his natural playstyle far better. His Game 1 Nami performance against Samsung Galaxy this past week was a thing of beauty, and well worth watching.
Emily Rand is a staff writer for theScore esports. You can follow her on Twitter.