AFK Check:Korea - From New Season to New Years
AFK Check is a way to catch up on the story-lines of regions you haven't been following. For the pilot split, I'm only going to cover Korea, but starting in the Summer expect at least the LCS regions to be covered as well.
My goal is that as long as you read all of the AFK Checks prior to watching, you'll know what to expect to hear discussed about each team, and have the background knowledge to follow along.
Sbenu is a weird team. Not only are they objectively the worst team in Korea, but they’re not even sponsored by Sbenu. . If you want to sound smart, the best way to describe the team would be that they’re a relic of the old OGN tournament system. A bad team that has earned their place to train against better teams, but hasn’t earned any wins. Now this shouldn’t be surprising to anyone who is knowledgeable about the history of the team, as they do come from Bigfile Miracle, a team notable for being incredibly easy to forget. To be clear, Sbenu doesn’t have any real redeeming qualities. Expect Sbenu to act as a farm team, too good to be relegated, but not good enough to actually earn any notable titles. Anyone currently on the Sbenu roster could breakout and turn into one of the better players at their position, but they won’t do it until they get picked up by a better org.
The Freecs had the biggest question mark around them coming into the season. Last year, when the team was known as Anarchy, everyone saw that the team had potential. But even with a new season, and a new meta, the Freecs lineup isn’t performing to expectations that were set by some analysts. This isn’t to say that it's time to give up hope for them, however. Watching Freecs’ games, nothing seems incredibly off about them. What appears to be holding the Freecs back is that they’re just slower than everyone else. The shotcalling isn’t horrible, the individual mechanics aren’t horrible, and they can take leads and win games. Sadly the team is improving, but not as fast as the rest of their competitors in the league. Looking forward towards the rest of the season, expect the Freecs to take games off of experienced teams, but not sets. Right now their wins tends to revolve around Mickey; which as has been shown previously both globally and in prior seasons of Champions, is not enough to carry a team into greatness. Unless something drastic happens with either the meta, or their team, do not expect Afreeca to live up to the Korean standard.
Similarly to the Samsung squad of last year, e-mFire are what some might call a professional League of Legends team. They’re a new team, still learning how to play together, and adapt to the strategies present in professional League of Legends. And that's about all of the both criticism and praise that this roster has earned themselves.. Along with Longzhu, and CJ, making predictions on how the season will play out for em-Fire is difficult. The information about the skill level of the players, and the team just isn’t there yet. Looking forwards, e-mFire could potentially place as high as 6th, as the skill gap between the lower tier teams has been shown to be closer than previously assumed going into the start of the season.
CJ is the second team in the “nobody knows” category of placements. In theory, this team has talent, with Shy, Madlife, and the rising star of BDD. What has been shown so far, is that without BDD, this team cannot challenge for the top positions, losing to ROX, SKT, and Jin Air. While everyone is waiting for BDD to age into the LCK, CJ will have to fight to hold onto a placement that allows them to even qualify into the playoffs. CJ is another team that could potentially place as high as 6th, or as low as 8th. So far, CJ does not appear to be a team that is either hurt or helped by the meta. If 6.3 is as drastic as a change as some analysts are predicting, CJ could very well take at least some game wins that are unpredicted.
The nervous anticipation of Longzhu fans is almost palpable. Coming into the season, they looked like a team that was going to kick asses and take names. And unlike most teams with a momentous hype train behind them, Longzhu has almost managed to deliver. A team composed of stars, all of the individual members have lived up to their reputation in terms of individual skill. What's missing, however, is teamwork. As long as they’re able to either get standard lanes, or remain on even footing, Longzhu looks like a contender for one of the top positions. However, when it comes to lane swaps, or choosing when to take fights, they look lost. Going into the break, Longzhu is straddling the line that separates the great from the mediocre. This could give them the time that they need to build the knowledge and communication structure that is required to have a team that is fighting for one of the top spots in the premier region. If they do manage to improve, expect to hear a lot of analysts dissecting the play of the Longzhu team.
History is written by the victors, and if there is one thing that Samsung wasn’t, it was a winner. Rewatch some of Samsung’s games last summer, and you’ll see that their placement in the standings did a poor job of quantifying the actual skill level of the team. The consequence of this, is that every victory this season that Samsung takes is going to come as a surprise. Much like Longzhu, Samsung is very much right between the great teams and the ‘meh’ teams. While they aren’t showing the same levels of individual prowess, their shotcalling in general tends to look better. If Samsung is either able to improve their laning, or find a meta that benefits them, they could be a competitor for a top three position. However the skill gap below Samsung isn’t so great that other lower tier teams couldn’t develop themselves into at least being on even ground, and either force the team into a low playoff seed, or potentially eliminate them altogether.
“They played us like a damn fiddle”. Jin Air was the sleeper team coming into this season, although how long they will last at the top is debatable. Last season’s Jin Air did really well when given the opportunity to split push and siege, and we’re seeing the same again this split. With the meta switching towards more early game skirmishes with the introduction of 6.3, Jin Air could easily be overtaken by either Samsung, Longzhu or SK Telecom. As the weeks progress, Jin Air will be forced to either fairly quickly solidify themselves as a top team, or fall back into obscurity as they face teams that are ranked higher than them.
Reality sucks. After losing Marin, but picking up Duke, the assumption was that the shotcalling would take a hit, but would be made up for it in the skill differential between Duke and Marin. Three weeks into the season, things haven’t started to improve, while several other teams have been fixing issues. The micro skills of Faker, Wolf, and Duke are netting the team early advantages, but when it comes time to transition to more macro-heavy gameplay, the team falls apart. The only times that the core squad manages to stay afloat against equally skilled teams, is when Bang is able to put on a carry performance not unlike the CJ v SKT semifinals series of last spring. While it would be undoubtedly premature to call the team dead, and last year’s opening was rocky for the SKT squad, eventually fans will have to accept that the team that won Worlds is dead. Can SKT rise to the level of success they had last year? Maybe, but it wouldn’t be with the same style of play that won them two OGN titles. Unless some magical improvement happens, and with the history of the SK Telecom org there is a good chance this might occur, the days of ranking SKT as a top three team are over.
Undoubtedly the second best team in Korea, KT looks to continue the run that took them into the 3rd world's seed. Comparatively to the Tigers, KT is more of a “Jack of All Trades, Master of None”. KT does many things well, but aren’t great at any one style. This shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, as they’re just continuing the same methods that took them to Worlds last season. While we’ve seen significant improvement between seasons for ROX, KT looks to have relatively maintained their skill level from their last set of professional matches. The biggest question around KT, is whether or not they will be able to maintain their relative standing throughout the year. There is inarguably the potential for at least one team from the JAG, SKT, SSG trinity to overtake KT in the standings, however there is an equal chance that KT will be able to improve themselves to the point of being able to overtake ROX.
When you think Korean Superteam, you think ROX Tigers. The one blemish on their summer run was how their poor early game often got them into trouble. Luckily, that one weakness from 2015 has been fixed with the introduction on Peanut into the jungle, and now ROX is looking like the undisputed number one team globally. Smeb is allowed to bully opponents in lane. Kuro, Pray, and Gorilla are allowed to dominate the mid and late game. The ROX story is no longer about trying to get to the mid game, but how much of a lead they chose to bring with them. It's worth noting that ROX have lost games playing sloppily against low tier opponents, but this isn’t out of the norm for dominating Korean teams. While it's entirely possible that someone could overtake the Tigers, in the current state of the meta, and with the current skill levels of the other teams it would be incredibly surprising.