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Lose Lane, Win Game: The KT Rolster Fly Story

by theScore Staff Aug 18 2016
Thumbnail image courtesy of KeSPA / LCK Summer 2016 Playoffs

When Song “Fly” Yong-jun returned to Korea, his arrival on KT Rolster was met with cautious optimism and little fanfare. Few remembered Fly — an up-and-coming mid laner from CTU Revolt in late 2013, whose greatest domestic accomplishments had come with Jin Air Green Wings Stealths’ unlikely Champions Summer 2014 Top 8 finish.

At the end of 2014, Fly was seen as a developing young talent, but he was quickly lost in the mass migration of Korean talent to China in 2014-15. He hadn’t made much of a name for himself before he left Korea, and his departure was largely overlooked.

In China, Fly was placed in direct competition with former KT Rolster Arrows mid laner Song “RooKie” Eui-jin. Both ended up on Invictus Gaming, but RooKie was the starter and Fly was shunted down to iG’s LoL Pro Secondary League team, Young Glory. After a fifth-place finish in LSPL Spring 2015, YG topped their group in LSPL Summer 2015, but were swept by both Hyper Youth Gaming and 2144 Danmu Gaming in the playoffs before losing to Royal Never Give Up in the 2016 LPL Spring Promotion Tournament.

Fly returned to Korea, remembered as a nebulous entity that sort of resembled a good player, without much memorable success or a well-defined playstyle. He was that one Jin Air mid who had probably been pretty good, but his departure certainly hadn’t been as much of a loss to his team as RooKie's was for KT Arrows.

The KT Rolster mid lane had been on a downward trend since the roleswap and subsequent departure of KT Rolster Bullets mid Yoo “Ryu” Sang-ook. Ryu was a Bullets staple, having been with the team since its inception, when KT Rolster picked up the StarTale squad that included Ryu, Go “Score” Dong-bin (previously called “Joker”) and support Won “Mafa” Sang-yeon. Losing RooKie was another big blow to KT; he was an insanely talented mid laner while on the Arrows, and quickly became one of the best mids in China in 2015. KT fans were left looking to his lackluster replacement, Kim “Nagne” Sang-moon, and wistfully dreaming of what could have been.

At the beginning of the LCK Spring 2016 season, Fly wasn't even compared with RooKie or Ryu. Nagne was the benchmark he was held up against, and even there he was found lacking.

Nagne had a bit of an odd start to his career. He had a stunning debut at the 2013 World Championship while on NaJin Black Sword, but failed to live up to what was promised by those few games. He arrived on KT Rolster with former NaJin top Ju “Limit” Min-gyu at the same time top laner Lee “Duke” Ho-seong was sent to NaJin — a trade that in hindsight favored NaJin heavily. Nagne wasn’t bad, but he certainly wasn’t a standout mid laner in 2015. Especially after KT's slow start in the group stage at the 2015 World Championship, he is not remembered as a top-tier player by any means.

Yet, Nagne was easy to understand. He was primarily a waveclear mid with a few standout assassin games and a fairly strong laning phase. His statistics were middling to good throughout LCK Summer 2015, and World Championship group stages aside, he rarely crumbled in the face of his lane opponent.

Fly, on the other hand, is incomprehensible. Unlike Nagne, his statistics are middling to poor — his CS differential at 10 minutes (-2.5), gold differential at 10 minutes (-91) and damage to champions per minute (580) are all on the lower end of LCK mids for Summer 2016. Of all Korean mids, Fly does the third-lowest percentage of his team’s total damage at 28.1 percent. He’s earned both praise and ire for his oddball champion pool, which includes Zilean, Aurelion Sol and a pocket mid Ekko that he brought out in Game 3 of KT’s recent 3-2 victory over SK Telecom T1.

SKT’s Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok changes the way a Korean team has to think about the mid lane, and who they select as their mid laner. Every team has to be prepared with a mid who can manage to survive the aggressive laning phase of the best player in the world, and Fly is a weird choice to trot out in lane against Faker. Although he doesn’t have the same Faker-related mental hangups that have presumably plagued the Tigers’ Lee “KurO” Seo-haeng since his NaJin Black Sword days, Fly doesn’t apply pressure in a traditional manner.

Usually language like this is code for being a bad laner, but Fly does apply an overwhelming amount of pressure for KT Rolster — just not in the mid lane. What’s most important when evaluating Fly and KT Rolster as a whole is not necessarily how he plays the lane himself, but how KT uses that to their advantage. Fly has evolved into the LCK’s quirkiest mid laner, eschewing the typical waveclear duties assigned to a mid in order to provide additional pressure to KT’s side lanes.

Aurelion Sol is easily identifiable as Fly’s champion. No other mid laner in the world has demonstrated the same prowess and understanding of the champion like Fly has over this Summer Split. Unlike the top five champions picked by Korean mids this past split — Viktor, Vladimir, Azir, Karma and Varus — Aurelion Sol isn’t meant to stay in lane, waveclear and farm.

With mid lane proven to be a crucial control point on the map, especially prior to the turret changes that have enforced more standard lanes, junglers rely on their mid to hold the lane for as long as possible. Yet, instead of sticking to his lane, Fly fully explores the extra roaming power Aurelion Sol gets from the additional movespeed that Starsurge and Comet of Legend give him.

When Score is otherwise occupied, Fly can often be found in KT’s side lanes applying his own pressure and ganking for his team. He also partners with Score at times to secure side lane turrets or kills, getting AD carry No “Arrow” Dong-hyeon or top laner Kim “Ssumday” Chan-ho early advantages in their lanes rather than garnering a mid lane CS advantage. Fly uses Taliyah in similar fashion, always on the lookout to pressure other lanes, rather than focusing on killing or out-trading his laning opponent.

Zilean is another champion that characterized Fly and KT’s willingness to sacrifice mid lane pressure for other gains. Relying on Fly’s Zilean prowess and KT's ability to coordinate teamfights, they picked Zilean into losing laning matchups throughout the Spring Split only to execute intricate early- and mid-game turret dives using Fly’s Zilean and Ssumday’s Poppy in tandem with Score’s Kindred. Often, no one on KT Rolster would die in the process.

In an inven interview following KT’s victory over SKT, KT coach Lee Ji-hoon credited Fly for preparing the mid lane Ekko pick and holding his own against Faker. It’s difficult to tell whether it was Fly who molded KT Rolster’s playstyle to his often off-meta champion pool, or whether it was KT who relied on Fly to adapt to a team dynamic that naturally plays to the team’s carry strengths: Ssumday in the top lane and Score in the jungle. Regardless, Fly will be a player to watch for in their upcoming finals match against the ROX Tigers, not for his stifling mid lane presence, but as the key to KT’s playstyle. He is no longer lost in the shuffle of Korean mid laners.

Emily Rand is a staff writer for theScore esports. You can follow her on Twitter.

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