Counter Logic Gaming shocked the world when they finished in second place at the 2016 Mid-Season Invitational, subverting pre-tournament expectations and returning pride to the beleaguered North American region.
Ancillary to their rise through the tournament was the rise of ranged mage supports. Teams began the tournament wholly focused on the likes of Alistar and Braum. As Alistar reached permanent ban status in the bracket stages — a 100 percent ban rate in semifinals and the MSI finals — ranged supports like Soraka and Sona were seen, pioneered by CLG’s Zaqueri “aphromoo” Black. Soraka was also picked up by SK Telecom T1’s Lee “Wolf” Jae-wan in the semifinals, and Wolf pulled out Nami against aphromoo’s Soraka in all three of SKT’s finals victories. MSI was seen as a figurative victory for CLG and ranged supports.
Korean supports initially followed Wolf’s lead at the start of LoL Champions Korea Summer 2016; however, in recent weeks, LCK supports have weaned themselves off of ranged mages and returned to tanky initiators. If they do happen to pick a ranged support it’s almost always Bard.
Support Picks By the Numbers
|LCK Spring||Games Played||Pick Percentage||Ban Percentage||Pick and Ban Percentage|
Bard as Korea’s only ranged mage in the bot lane is hardly unusual. LoL Champions Korea Spring 2016 was dominated by Alistar, Braum and Trundle with Thresh in fourth place as a comfort pick for many Korean supports. Bard was the only mage support to crack the top five most-played support champions in LCK Spring 2016, and he was only picked 35 games — a meager amount considering Alistar’s whopping 166, Braum’s 87, and Trundle’s 86 games.
|LCK Summer Weeks 1-2||Games Played||Pick Percentage||Ban Percentage||Pick and Ban Percentage|
The Wandering Caretaker took center stage in the first week of LCK Summer 2016 with a 70 percent pick/ban rate and was the most-picked Week 1 support played six times over ten games. Nami and Karma were also in the top five most-picked supports of the first two weeks in LCK Summer 2016 — as was Soraka, who tied with Taric at four games total. Yet Braum was overwhelmingly the most-popular support champion, despite the rise in ranged mages.
|LCK Summer||Games Played||Pick Percentage||Ban Percentage||Pick and Ban Percentage|
LCK Summer 2016 has recently begun to look eerily similar to Spring 2016. Alistar has risen through the ranks while Braum takes top honors as Korea’s most-played support this season. Nami, Soraka and even Karma have fallen off — although Karma remains a possible flex pick for the mid lane — in favor of Braum and Alistar. Rather than deferring to mage supports like Nami, Soraka, and Karma, Korean teams have taken to picking Thresh and Taric or the occasional Tahm Kench or Trundle. Taric has become almost an LCK exclusive, with a total 14 games played — the next-closest region is Europe with five Taric picks. Of all squishier, ranged supports, only Bard has remained in favor as the season has worn on.
|LCK Summer Week 8||Games Played||Pick Percentage||Ban Percentage||Pick and Ban Percentage|
Recent support item changes have a lot to do with this — Patch 6.13 saw buffs to the Ancient Coin and Relic Shield item lines which help tanky initiators. While Ardent Censer also received buffs, LCK teams have eschewed returning to mage support champions — unlike North America, where Ardent Censer has become a core item for Karma, the second-most played support in the NA LCS — relying on their support players to provide their necessary engage for teamfights.
Above all other positions, Korean teams count on their supports more often than not to also be their primary source of initiation. Despite falling in the ranged mage category, Bard can serve this purpose in addition to his strong laning with ranged crowd control from Cosmic Binding thanks to his ultimate, Tempered Fate. A look at last week in Korea reveals that Alistar has reclaimed his throne as Korea's top-tier support pick, with Braum closely behind him. The only ranged support in the top five most-picked for LCK Summer 2016 Week 8 is Bard.
Wolf and the Mid-Season Invitational
Of all Korean supports, it was SKT’s Wolf that had the largest effect on the initial swap to ranged mages at the beginning of LCK Summer 2016 thanks to his Soraka and Nami performances during SKT’s run through the 2016 MSI.
Wolf is the most unassuming talent on SK Telecom T1 — now a collection of some of the best League of Legends players in the world. While his trusted partner, AD carry Bae “Bang” Jun-sik began to receive more attention towards the end of Champions Summer 2014, Wolf remained in the background. While Alistar is the most played champion in Wolf’s career, Wolf was not known for the same awe-inspiring engages that characterized his fellow supports at the 2016 MSI — a group that included legendary support Cho “Mata” Se-hyoung and Flash Wolves’ Hu “SwordArt” Shuojie. SKT didn’t rely on him as a primary initiator like many other Korean teams did with their supports — the ROX Tigers’ Kang “GorillA” Beom-hyeon and KT Rolster’s Ha “Hachani” Seung-chan serve as primary examples — turning instead to mid laner Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok.
Wolf took to the ranged mage support meta instantly, picking up Soraka and Nami with ease. Upon returning to Korea, Wolf played Soraka in two of SKT’s four Week 2 games, with his other two games on Karma and Bard. He’s stuck with playing ranged supports throughout the split — Nami is his most-played champion in LCK Summer 2016 — with one noticeable standout in Alistar. Alistar is one of Wolf’s best champions, his most played career champion, and the Patch 6.10 nerfs to Alistar’s Unbreakable Will didn’t affect Wolf as much, since SKT didn’t need to rely on him as a primary teamfight initiator. Wolf’s Alistar is more of a disengage/re-engage option for SKT, allowing him to control teamfights rather than start them.
Taric and Hachani’s Renewal
Longtime KT Rolster support Hachani has often marched to the beat of his own drum to say the least, earning the ire of many a KT fan. He has excellent game knowledge, is loved by those he’s played with and coached — his Afreeca Freecs banter aside — but this hasn’t often translated to performing well on the Rift. While on the KT Rolster Arrows, Hachani accounted for strong teamfight initiations as well as a myriad of unnecessary deaths for his team in addition to the occasional oddball Blitzcrank pickup in Champion Select.
His penchant for facechecking brushes during vision rotations and subsequently dying became a problem when the experienced jungler Lee “KaKAO” Byung-kwon left for China and former AD carry Go “Score” Dong-bin role-swapped to take his place. Unused to even more basic jungle paths and the nuances of his new position, Score struggled, especially with losing lanes and continued gratuitous deaths from Hachani. In February 2015, Hachani announced that he would be taking time off from KT and later left the team to coach the Afreeca Freecs. Score improved with Jung “Fixer” Jae-woo aiding him and improved even further with Lee “Piccaboo” Jong-beom, earning KT a spot at the 2015 World Championship where they lost in the Quarterfinals to the then-KOO Tigers.
Hachani’s return to the team for LCK Spring 2016 was met with trepidation from most fans. Initially brought on as a player-coach or mentor for support Lee “IgNar” Dong-geun, Hachani conspicuously remained in the booth. IgNar was never able to communicate with his new team, and Hachani took over the KT support position for all but three games in LCK Spring 2016. Hachani had visibly improved, but was still prone to the occasional face-check or off-meta pick.
The return to tanky, engage supports in the waning weeks of LCK Summer 2016 cannot be attributed to Hachani — it has a lot more to do with teams relying on their supports to initiate and the Patch 6.13 changes to support items. However, Hachani was ahead of the curve, hopping on the reworked Taric for their first game of the split against MVP in Week 1 with impressive results, forcing MVP to ban it against KT in Game 2. While other Korean teams tried out Karma, Soraka, Nami, and Zyra in the bot lane, Hachani turned to Taric.
A long time Alistar player, Hachani has a good initiation sense. Tankier champions suit him, since he rarely minds going in first and dying, provided that the rest of KT can follow up. Hachani still accounts for the largest percentage of his team’s deaths — 26.5 percent, the second-highest of all Korean supports. The difference from previous seasons to LCK Summer 2016 is that KT now cleans up after his engages, and this takes some pressure off of top laner Kim “Ssumday” Chan-ho. Ssumday is an excellent initiator, but KT can flex him into more splitpush or damage-oriented roles now that Hachani is a more reliable source of engage.
The role of initiator is something that Hachani refused to relinquish, even while other Korean supports were trying out squishier ranged mages. His most-played champion this past split has been Braum, followed by the aforementioned Taric, Alistar, and Nami sneaking in as his most-played ranged support. Unsurprisingly, Hachani has his second-lowest winrate of the split on Nami at 15 percent. His lowest winrate is on his beloved Alistar, at zero percent, which has more to do with his adversaries in those games than anything else — two were against the first-place Tigers and one was against SKT.
GorillA in the Mist
Unlike Hachani, who steadfastly stuck to utility tank options when he could even as other Korean supports swapped over to ranged mages, the ROX Tigers’ GorillA had trouble adjusting once he began to pick mage supports over his beloved Alistar. GorillA spent 54 percent of the Tigers LCK Spring 2016 matches on the Minotaur for a whopping 82 percent winrate. This summer, GorillA has only played Alistar once, for a loss. He appeared to lack an understanding of his own tankiness post-Unbreakable Will nerf, and died frequently. Instead of picking up Nami or Soraka like Wolf, GorillA’s go-to ranged mage has been Karma which eliminates his role as an initiator.
Initiation duties fell to top laner Song “Smeb” Kyung-ho or, oddly enough, AD carry Kim “PraY” Jong-in whose accuracy with an Ashe arrow continues to confound opponents. With jungler Han “Peanut” Wang-ho introducing himself to the world of placing wards and the Tigers swapping between mid laners Lee “KurO” Seo-haeng and Hae “Cry” Sung-min to find a solution to their Azir woes, the absence of GorillA’s reliable initiation visibly showed in the Tigers’ teamfighting.
The Tigers’ early summer split struggles are due to a myriad of factors — GorillA’s switch from Alistar to the likes of not only Karma but the tankier but more disengage-oriented option of Braum is merely one of many. Yet the Tigers have experience a late surge in coordination, rediscovering their team dynamic with GorillA’s recent pickup of Taric — another tanky utility option that aids the Tigers in turret dives or longer teamfights.
Abandoning Ranged Supports
Ranged supports will always have a niche place in Korea, especially as specific counterpicks or flex options with mid lane mages. Yet, Korean supports are still relied upon to start teamfights, something that is a bit trickier on the likes of Nami — despite Tidal Wave — Karma, and especially Soraka. Unless a team relies on another member to initiate skirmishes or 5v5 engages like SKT, the support will fill this role more often than not and squishy mages don’t make for the healthiest initiators. Bard offers the best combination of initiation and ranged harass potential, cementing his spot in the top-tier for Korean support champion picks.
This could change once 6.14 and the reworked Sona are introduced to the Korean competitive landscape. Yet, it’s difficult to imagine a world where Korean supports don’t default to tankier utility options like Alistar, or ranged champions that also have engage potential like Bard, simply due to how teams best utilize their support players.
Statistics taken from Oracles Elixir, updated through LCK Week 8
Emily Rand is a staff writer for theScore esports. You can follow her on Twitter.