Similar to the ROX Tigers’ fall to Samsung Galaxy last split, when an undefeated team finally falls, it’s always the top story. This past week, the headlines were dominated by SKT’s fall to the Jin Air Green Wings amidst the most competitive week of series that Korea has had this summer thus far.
SK Telecom T1 Falls to the Jin Air Green Wings
Previously in Week 3, Jin Air were up to their old tricks of exceptionally long games — only this past week did they cede their longest average game time to the Afreeca Freecs and Longzhu Gaming — and overly-cautious play. In their series with Samsung Galaxy, Jin Air gave their opponents a bit too much breathing room, allowing Samsung to do what they do best: teamfight in the late game. Top laner Yeo “TrAce” Chang-dong was often slightly ahead or behind his team in both Teleports and teamfight initiations, and the Green Wings ended up dropping both games to Samsung.
If any team was expected to take out SKT, it was Samsung, who held their own but still failed last week. Although Jin Air have made a name for themselves as Korea’s “Robin Hood” team, beating top-tier teams and inexplicably falling to bottom tier opponents, their play in the past year has always seemed somewhat capped by their individual talent and plodding playstyle. While they’ve shown flashes of trying to change things up — TrAce’s top lane carry performances early last split are a prime example — Jin Air all too often returns to a slow and steady method that doesn’t take enough advantage of their opponents’ weaknesses. They can only go so far with this playstyle. More important than the simple fact that they beat SKT this past week is how Jin Air went about it, with smart and slightly more aggressive play that made use of SKT’s tendencies to overextend in Game 1, and Game 3.
Game 3 in particular showcased strong jungle pathing from Park “Winged” Tae-jin, who took advantage of SKT Bae “bengi” Seong-woong’s attention to the bottom lane rather than SKT top laner Lee “Duke” Ho-seong on Fiora, a snowball-style carry who benefits greatly from early jungle attention. Winged capitalized on mid laner Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok’s overextension in the mid lane to free up Jin Air’s Lee “Kuzan” Seong-hyeok on Lissandra to roam top for kills. Duke fell behind early, and without any jungle pressure to help, could not stand up to TrAce’s Trundle. Faker’s LeBlanc was also set behind due to repeated ganks from Winged. With both top lane and mid lane stymied come mid game, Jin Air was able to eventually overwhelm SKT in fights, handing SKT their first loss of LCK Summer 2016.
Despite the victory, Jin Air will need to continue this trend in order to be considered anywhere near the level of SKT. Na “Pilot” Woo-hyung still mispositions in teamfights often, and isn’t a reliable primary carry. This leaves the carry duties to the Jin Air mid laner, where Kuzan has stepped up, recently surpassing Samsung Galaxy’s Lee “Crown” Min-ho as the mid laner who does the largest percentage of his team’s total damage at 32.8 percent. By contrast, Pilot does 24.6 percent of Jin Air’s total damage, making him the third-lowest of any Korean ADC. This will become a problem, especially since Jin Air has relied on TrAce as their tanky initiator rather than a larger carry threat. Jin Air has always been capable of taking games, or even series, from the best. Going forward, they now resume their hunt for continuity, which has eluded the team for the past three splits. Based on their first match of Week 5, a loss to MVP, the search continues.
The Middle and Bottom of the Pack
With CJ Entus’ series against Samsung Galaxy and the ROX Tigers this past week, along with Longzhu Gaming’s win over Samsung and the Tigers’ subsequent victory over Samsung, the bottom tier of LCK Summer 2016 is starting to bleed into the mid-tier. Almost all Korean teams — save the Afreeca Freecs — showed signs of life and improvement in Week 4, making a week that had previously seemed full of one-sided matchups an interesting slate of strong games.
CJ was perhaps the most intriguing team to watch in Week 4, despite dropping both of their series to the Tigers and Samsung. Prior to this week, CJ had continued to put all of their focus on AD carry Ha “Kkramer” Jong-hun who has struggled to carry CJ like he used to in the spring. CJ’s Kkramer-centric strategy was presumably born of not having another carry on the team. Up until the second round robin, rising mid laner Gwak “Bdd” Bo-seong was still too young to play and Kim “Sky” Ha-neul was an inadequate placeholder. With top laner Park “Untara” Ui-jin on tanks, CJ developed a bot-lane focused strategy that heavily relied on veteran support Hong “MadLife” Min-gi’s direction since Sky could not be relied to hold the mid lane and jungler Park “Bubbling” Jun-hyeong was all-too-often a liability.
Jungler Kang “Haru” Min-seung hasn’t been stellar, but he also rarely makes the same costly mistakes that plagued Bubbling throughout LCK Spring 2016. Week 4 showcased an interesting jungle Hecarim and top lane Shen combination from Haru and Untara that stopped the Tigers’ dives while shifting some focus away from the bottom lane. Against Samsung, they again showed a bit more willingness to play more around Bdd and Haru rather than solely relying on Kkramer carrying them late. Kkramer still receives the highest percentage of his team’s gold share past 15 minutes of any player in the LCK at 32.8 percent, exemplifying just how much of CJ’s resources he requires to be successful. This past week, CJ showed glimpses of moving forward with a bit more focus on their talented younger pickups, and hopefully they’ll continue with this direction for their team.
Meanwhile, the Tigers looked more like their LCK Spring 2016 selves this past week with top laner Song “Smeb” Kyung-ho back on one of his favorite champions, Rumble, and Han “Peanut” Wang-ho applying a bit more early jungle pressure. That being said, support Kang “GorillA” Beom-hyeon continues to look lost without his signature Alistar pick, sometimes overestimating his own tankiness on the likes of Bard.
With top lane carries back in meta, it’s the perfect time for the Tigers to make a case that they are still one of the best teams in Korea. Smeb taking over primary carry duties frees up Kim “PraY” Jong-in to support the team on utility-oriented picks like his Ashe. The questions remaining for the Tigers are of which mid laner they’ll choose to play — between Lee “KurO” Seo-haeng or Hae “Cry” Sung-min — and whether Peanut can return to applying more map presence as he did in the previous split.
Longzhu Gaming also finally showed off a well-coordinated side to them, built around teamfighting and AD carry Lee “Fury” Jin-yong. Since Fury’s return to the team against ESC Ever in Week 3, Longzhu’s teamfight synergy has visibly improved and the team is 4-2 in total games with series won against ESC and Samsung, but a loss to the Tigers towards the end of Week 4. Longzhu have never lacked for talent, it’s their synergy and movement on the Rift that has been suspect. Longzhu have steadily grown stronger since Fury’s return. They could be an interesting wrench thrown into the LCK Summer 2016 standings if they continue with the more organized style that they showed against Samsung this past week, despite languishing at the bottom of the standings throughout the first three weeks of play.
Last season, the Afreeca Freecs rose up through the ranks to surprisingly best Samsung Galaxy in the standings for the final LCK Spring 2016 playoff spot. This summer, even the last-place CJ Entus seemingly has a chance as the region has once again improved as a whole. Yet, the fact that even the two newcomers to the league in ESC and MVP are far stronger than their Spring 2016 counterparts, SBENU Sonicboom and Kongdoo Monster, will make it that much more difficult to rise, especially with the current records of the bottom four teams: Afreeca and Longzhu tied at 2-5, MVP at 1-4 (2-5 following their Week 5 victory over Jin Air) and finally CJ at 1-6.
Series to Watch:
Jin Air Green Wings vs. SK Telecom T1
This three-game series shows off what just a bit of aggression can do when added to the typical Jin Air formula. They take advantage of SKT’s tendencies to overextend in both Games 1 and 3, with SKT turning in a strong performance of their own in Game 2. It’s a very close series overall, and one of the best of the split.
ROX Tigers vs. CJ Entus
This series features a much-improved CJ Entus — despite the series loss — and their Game 1 jungle Hecarim, top lane Shen combination. Smeb returns to his Rumble and puts on a show both times he gets his hand on the champion, even in the Game 1 loss.
Samsung Galaxy vs. Longzhu Gaming
This series comes with the caveat that Game 1 is nearly 70 minutes long. However, it’s also a back and forth affair with some of the best teamfighting seen in Korea all year. This also showcases just how strong Longzhu can be if they manage to coordinate as a team, rather than looking like a loose group of solo queue players. One of Samsung’s major weaknesses is that they often aggress without fully respecting how much their opponent can push back in a fight, and Longzhu takes full advantage of this in order to win the game.
If You Just Love Ssumday’s Fiora: ESC Ever vs. KT Rolster Game 1
Sometimes, you just want to watch a strong player take over an entire game on one of their best champions. In this first match against ESC Ever, KT Rolster’s Kim “Ssumday” Chan-ho dominates the game on Fiora, rolling to a 10/1/3 scoreline and carrying his team to victory.
Player of the Week
Jin Air Green Wings Lee “Kuzan” Seong-hyeok
In their first series of LCK Summer 2016 against Longzhu Gaming, the team’s starting mid laner, Kuzan, was replaced by Jin “Blanc” Seong-min who at the time was lighting up the solo queue ladder. Since Kuzan’s return midway through Jin Air’s 2-0 loss to Samsung Galaxy, the Green Wings have won their following three series against CJ, Afreeca and SKT.
Kuzan has been on a tear, and his Lissandra play in Game 3 against SKT secured Jin Air their series victory over the previously-undefeated reigning champions. Of all mid laners in LCK SUmmer 2016, Kuzan deals the largest percentage of his team’s total damage at 32.8 percent, and has the highest KDA of any mid at 7.3, due to his penchant for rarely dying. His noticeable teamfight mispositioning that sometimes cropped up in LCK Spring 2016 has thus far been non-existent, and he’s had a strong kill participation of 76.3 percent — fourth-best of all Korean mids currently — making a better habit of appearing in Jin Air’s side waves to apply pressure along with Winged.
Emily Rand is a staff writer for theScore esports. You can follow her on Twitter.