"Next time, I hope we can play in a best-of-five or best-of-three setting. Deft and I have been friends for a long time, but this was our first chance to face each other. A best-of-one won't tell us who is better. I hope we meet at a higher stage in the competition."
—Bae “Bang” Junsik after SK Telecom T1 defeated EDward Gaming in the 2015 Mid-Season Invitational Group Stage
Thirty-four percent of team damage dealt to champions in the 2016 spring split. That number, hidden among other statistics that filled the graphic detailing EDward Gaming’s starting lineup for their series against Royal Never Give Up, sat just below Kim “deft” Hyukkyu’s name. That number, and deft’s continued aggression as an AD carry, prompted members of the LPL English casting crew to once again crown deft as the greatest AD carry in the world.
Though some rumblings suggest Jian “Uzi” Zihao as an alternative, the largest objection comes from advocates that SK Telecom T1’s Bang holds the title. Though Bang’s 29 percent of team damage dealt doesn’t look as impressive on paper, he stood as the exemplary AD carry of 2015, slowly building himself as a focal point on the team, capable of pulling the limelight from Lee "Faker" Sanghyeok.
With the exception of Gu “imp” Seungbin’s jaw-dropping 2015 LPL Summer playoff performance, over the past two years, it’s been hard to argue that any AD carry except deft or Bang should hold the title of being the world’s best. As the primary carry of EDward Gaming and one of Samsung Blue's main carries, deft won 2014 Champions Spring, made at least Top 8 at two World Championships, won the 2015 LPL Spring Split and the Mid-Season Invitational for good measure. Bang, second only to, and on rare occasions out-performing, Faker, has won multiple domestic titles, the 2015 World Championship and the 2016 Mid-Season Invitational with SK Telecom T1.
The two have a friendly and competitive relationship, and comparing them poses an interesting thought experiment, but ultimately several arguments keep resurfacing. As the differences between deft’s and Bang’s level come out somewhat negligibly, the task becomes assessing the validity of these arguments themselves and ultimately defining the factors that contribute to the strengths and weaknesses demonstrated by both players.
By the numbers
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*All EDward Gaming damage numbers do not include their series against Royal Never Give Up.
Due to recency, SKT's numbers do not include their series against Afreeca Freecs
Based on the limited data availability for LPL players, Bang and Deft display overall similar statistics. Both teams allocate similar gold resources to Bang and deft, and during games, Bae "bengi" Seongwoong has lately developed a taste for ganking bottom, while it’s well known that EDward Gaming’s Ming “clearlove” Kai all but lives near deft’s lane. Both players average a positive CS lead at 10 minutes, but SK Telecom T1 lane swap more often than EDward Gaming, which could slightly inflate the statistic.
Yet the numbers debaters most often gravitate toward when comparing deft and Bang is percentage of team damage dealt. When players receive an MVP award for a specific match in the LPL, the statistics for the match will display on screen. deft has dealt as much as 50 percent of his team’s damage in a single game, initially tipping off spectators to the overall number. While these MVP instances usually highlight only the best, an overall 33.7 percent of team damage dealt is still incredibly impressive.
Only four players in the five major leagues deal a larger percentage of their team’s damage to champions than deft: Echo Fox’s Henrik “Froggen” Hansen, FC Schalke 04’s Hampus "Fox" Myhre, Machi E-sports’ Chen "Dee" Jun-Dee and Midnight Sun Esports’ Chen "M1ssion" Hsiaohsien. None of these teams sit at the top of their league like EDward Gaming or SK Telecom T1, as it’s become increasingly rare for a squad with close to a single damage threat to dominate a league.
Yet EDward Gaming don’t have just a single damage threat either. Lee “scout” Yechan, EDward Gaming’s current starting mid laner, deals 28.5 percent of the team’s damage to champions, which is not too different from 28.4 percent of team damage dealt to champions by SK Telecom T1's Faker. Additionally, though damage percentage statistics are not shown on the LPL broadcast for junglers, clearlove more often than bengi takes a damage dealing role.
The main source of discrepancy comes in the top lane. The meta has recently started to shift in favor of SK Telecom T1’s top laner, Lee “Duke” Hoseong, who performs best on more split-pushing carry champions. He has recently played both Fiora and Irelia, while EDward Gaming’s current top laner, Chen “mouse” Yuhao, has at most played an incredibly tanky Fizz. mouse receives 19.8 percent of team gold, less than jungler clearlove, while Duke receive 22.3 percent of team gold.
The damage percentage differences reflect the discrepancy. mouse, often left in the top lane to fend entirely for himself, deals only 15.1 percent of the team’s damage to champions while Duke deals 23 percent. This difference more than accounts for the difference between the amount of team damage dealt by deft and Bang.
Given that Bang and deft have played similar champions this split, one can determine that the team damage output is less a dismissal of Bang than a reflection of how the different teams set up their carry threats. While deft is certainly known for dealing a heavy amount of damage, Bang also sits in the top two of Champions Korea for damage per minute at 696, only below Samsung’s Lee "Crown" Minho.
Numbers themselves can occasionally misrepresent how a situation plays out, which is why far more than numbers are needed to sift through the differences between Bang and deft.
The Faker factor
But he has Faker on his team.
This short phrase has been used to dismiss members of SK Telecom T1 and their skill since Season 3. While certainly Faker has contributed fundamentally to SKT’s success, players like Jang "MaRin" Gyeonghwan and Lee "Easyhoon" Jihoon have both suggested that part of their motivation for leaving SKT was to make a name for themselves outside Faker’s shadow.
In several series, including SKT’s most recent loss to Jin Air, Faker has gotten punished for forward positioning in lane or in team fights, and in these instances Bang has shown his value. In Game 2 of the Jin Air series, Bang’s ability to position self-sufficiently on Ezreal and deal damage made this game winnable relative to the other two while Faker performed poorly.
Of all AD carries internationally, Ezreal does the second highest percentage of team damage on average (next to Miss Fortune, who sees much less play) and has the ability to reposition much more easily than Jhin or Ashe, the champions Bang played in SKT’s losses to Jin Air.
bengi (and Kang "Blank" Sungu) has also focused much more on ganking bottom lane, while clearlove has gravitated toward mid lane more often than he has in the past this season. Partly because Faker's role shifted to one more based on initiation in 2016 LCK Spring, SKT have propped up Bang more as their primary carry recently than Faker. Even then, Duke and Faker have contributed more carry performances to SK Telecom T1 than mouse or scout to EDward Gaming.
More pressure exists on deft to perform and carry every game relative to Bang. That doesn’t necessarily make deft the better player. Both players have had questionable performances in recent memory. Against Royal Never Give Up, the one game EDward Gaming lost started snowballing off a gank on deft when EDG had recently had vision of RNG’s jungler Liu “Mlxg” Shiyu nearby, and he died after flashing in front of his front line for a kill in a later instance besides mispositioning and forcing questionable lane trades.
Meanwhile, Bang’s Kalista game against MVP featured him using his passive too liberally to position far forward and getting caught out for it. Yet both players have also performed well when the rest of the team didn’t and secured wins in unlikely scenarios.
A more valid argument against Bang than, “but he has Faker on his team,” may be that, because SK Telecom T1 plays strategically well, hiding flaws in lane swaps and making generally superior decisions relative to their opponents, it becomes increasingly hard to judge individual players. Since SKT almost always execute their lane swap well, for example, Bang will often get ahead in these situations. As he does pressure his advantages well, however, this is hardly different from deft frequently finding himself the happy benefactor of clearlove’s counterganks.
Bang has been with Wolf forever
Frankly speaking, one can qualify the differences between how Bang and deft play by observing trends. In the past, many have described the difference between their laning phase as deft and Tian “meiko” Ye’s search for the kill as they attempt to zone their opponents off minions, while Bang and Lee “Wolf” Jaewan neutralize disadvantages rather than trying to create more pressure.
Outside Alistar, Wolf has demonstrated less proficiency playing tanky engage supports than mage supports, while meiko has always excelled on the likes of Thresh, Annie, or other all-in melee supports. A support often dictates the level of aggression in lane, and this has become increasingly clear watching deft’s development.
With Lee “Heart” Gwanhyung on Samsung Blue, deft gave up a lot of deaths to questionable trades in lane, and his synergy with Heart never seemed as strong as other bottom lanes in the region. His poor laning phase was the most common criticism levied against deft.
In the LPL, in part due to additional jungle pressure and meiko’s willingness to engage (as a new LPL pro, one of meiko’s flaws came in the form of wanting to engage every time an ability came off cooldown), deft’s laning improved considerably. Now, deft and meiko often stand in front of minion waves and use their threat zones as a duo to force their opponents back or poke them down. They can choose weak early lanes like Ezreal and Braum and still win 2v2s against most bottom lanes.
For Bang and Wolf, Wolf’s increased comfort on picks like Soraka or Nami has made Bang and Wolf a more pressure-intensive lane this summer. In instances where SKT does take the 2v2, Bang and Wolf have seemed more likely to trade with their opponents or look for duels. They usually look for small harass or farm leads and wait for a jungle gank, but against the Tigers, for example, they took 2v2 fights on their own.
Bang has played with Wolf for years, from as far back as when he played for NaJin Shield. This has certainly influenced his development as a player, but deft has had meiko as his lane companion for one-and-a-half years as well. The synergy between both pairs seems seamless. meiko has reigned in some of his eagerness and become more patient, and he and deft win lane trades on a consistent basis, even when opponents ban multiple supports against him.
On SK Telecom T1, Bang usually compensates for Wolf’s discomfort by taking a more conservative laning phase, but when Wolf is in his element, SKT’s bottom lane can trade as well as EDG’s. Arguably, Bang has shown more flexibility in that his shift in laning focus seemed automatic, while deft's journey to become a more aggressive AD carry was a more extended process.
In general, both AD carries play aggressively. In teamfights, Bang doesn’t stand far from the front line. When he gets caught by short duration single target CC, Wolf reacts automatically with a heal or peel, which has allowed Bang to position further forward in a meta where his support is more comfortable even outside the lane.
deft seems to get caught by these small crowd controls less, though he also positions close to his opponents to increase his damage output. When deft toes the line of a teamfight, he either reacts quickly or predicts a skillshot to sidestep it. In 2v2s, Bang is much more likely to do this, either because he has fewer opponents to focus on or because in larger fights he knows if he gets caught, his teammates will collapse around him to either guard him or close the fight without him.
This seems like a newer development this split, which suggests Bang takes more risks because his support feels more comfortable. Typically, Bang uses terrain to split off from his team and deal free damage, while deft stands near his team and will step away from them if it’s necessary to dodge. deft may have more confidence his opponents won’t hit him either due to his own skill or their lack of focus.
But deft is in China
When Korean players go to China, many claim they lose form or motivation. Yet deft reportedly still has incredible drive to win to the point that ex-EDG Manager Huang “San Shao” Cheng recalled that deft cried in his office, wanting to leave the team after 2015 Worlds because he wanted to win.
Outside the motivation factor, the argument also exists that there is less competition in China, yet players like imp and Uzi still play in the LPL, and deft lately outdoes them comparatively. deft’s positioning and even skill in lane has become comparable to or surpassed his previous rivals. While imp and Uzi arguably will have a better laning phase on average, deft’s ability to command the 2v2 alongside meiko allows him to best them in duels on occasion in addition to his existing powerful teamfight presence.
While deft playing in China generally comes as a mark against him, it’s also been used as an excuse in his favor. “deft struggles with a language barrier, yet still performs well” or “deft lacks the support of advanced Korean infrastructure.” As deft has played with the same jungler and support for a year and a half, the impact of the language barrier seems increasingly irrelevant, and lacking Korean infrastructure doesn’t necessarily make exhibited individual skill more or less impressive.
When I speak to consistency so far in this article, I’ve spoken mostly of within the 2016 season. deft has shown more aptitude in the past for skillshot-based AD carries like Ezreal and Lucian (even Jinx, to an extent, given his aptitude for using her Zap! and Super Mega Death Rocket!), which has made most of the season well-suited to his style.
deft also has a reputation for a sensitive temperament and being an emotional player. Cho “Mata” Sehyeoung has gone so far as to call him a “cry baby.” Given alleged internal problems within EDward Gaming in the 2015 LPL Summer Split, one may assume that deft’s downturn in performance had something to do with a tense environment influencing his emotional state.
Yet Bang has seemingly done nothing but steadily improve since joining SK Telecom. Having started as a less impressive member of SKT T1 S, Bang has slowly developed into a clear front-runner for best AD carry in the world, and has even held the title definitively for parts of his career.
That doesn’t mean Bang doesn’t have bad games or even periods of poor performance. At the Mid-Season Invitational, though Bang performed well on the first day of SKT’s losses, he made just as many mistakes as Faker and the rest of the team on the second day of SKT’s four game loss streak. All told, this is significantly different from deft’s near split-long slump.
deft may well be the best AD carry in the world this summer, but given any day in the future, the gap between the two is small enough that Bang seems like a more reliable bet. Who will be the best AD carry at the 2016 World Championship? Assuming both teams attend, it’s easier to give “Bang” as an answer.
Given how stalwartly I’ve defended Bang, one may find it surprising to learn that at the moment I consider deft the best AD carry between the two. The main reason I choose deft is that he’s able to position further forward in teamfights with fewer catches. deft will still make mistakes that cost his team, but he seems to get hit by fewer short duration crowd control abilities than Bang at the moment, though how much this matters in the long run remains open to interpretation, as it hardly ever even results in Bang’s death.
Both players navigate teamfights well and look for trades in lane. Both players synergize well with their supports. SKT and EDward Gaming both invest a lot of resources into their AD carries, making them look like the primary focal points of their teams this year. Both teams have secondary threats, though EDward Gaming’s top laner does a staggeringly low percentage of team damage.
Rather than decide definitively on the best AD carry in the world, incorrect or misleading arguments in the debate motivated the construction of this article. Statistically and structurally speaking, very little separates Bang and deft in terms of skill. One can’t make a stock point or list a number and leave it at that.
Before making a decision, spend time watching both and determine the answer based on what they show you in game. Either way, they'll make it worth it.
Kelsey Moser is a staff writer for theScore esports. You can follow her on Twitter.