Can Griffin overcome their late-season woes in the 2019 LCK Summer Split?

The team has capitulated when it matters two seasons in a row.

Photo via Riot Games

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Griffin have revolutionized the Korean style of League. Entering the prestigious league last summer as complete rookies, they took the region by storm with their aggressive style of play.

But they were noticed long before that. They took SKT to three games in the quarterfinals of the 2017 KeSPA Cup. They smashed the competition in Challengers Korea Spring 2018 before dealing with MVP in the promotion tournament. All eyes were on this fresh roster, and they didn’t disappoint.

Here’s how Griffin have become an LCK powerhouse, even if they haven’t made it on the world stage yet.

The journey

Griffin burst out of the blocks last summer, taking down SKT, Kingzone, and Gen.G. Their miraculous Royal Road—from Challengers to Champions—was cut short by KT Rolster in the LCK finals in a heartbreaking 3-2 loss. Their chance at Worlds in their first season as a top-flight team fell out of reach after another 3-2 loss to Gen.G in the regional finals.

Although they claimed the KeSPA Cup in December as a consolation prize, Griffin didn’t get the chance to prove themselves on the world stage and show off the best new talent in Korea.

They dug deep in 2019, doubling down on the same roster that took them from Challengers to LCK and almost to Worlds. They jumped out to a 12-0 start, taking down anyone who stood in their way with conviction. They only lost two games in their first 24, one against Sandbox and another against SKT.

Eighteen-year-old mid laner Jeong “Chovy” Ji-hoon trounced anyone who stepped up to him. Even Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok didn’t stand a chance. Lee “Tarzan” Seung-yong made every jungler in the LCK, veteran or rookie, look like a hard-stuck diamond.

But once again, they stumbled at the final hurdle. After securing the first seed in the gauntlet, Griffin were outclassed by their rivals SKT 3-0 in the final. They looked like a shell of themselves, unwilling to take the fight to SKT. Faker took Chovy for a ride as he dominated on his comfort picks of Ryze and Azir. Griffin’s cheesy bot lane of Taliyah and Pantheon didn’t net them the advantage they were hoping for against the ultra-passive lane of Ezreal and Braum.

The youngsters were flying high and then crashed back down to Earth within two hours.

The struggle

Griffin have always managed to come out strong in the first round robin of the LCK. They have a 17-1 record in the first four weeks across both splits they’ve played, only dropping one series to KT Rolster in week three of LCK Summer 2018.

Their woes, however, start kicking in around week seven. Griffin dropped series to SKT, Gen.G, KT Rolster, and even Jin Air in the last three weeks of LCK Summer 2018. In the 2019 Spring Split, they lost to the seventh-placed Afreeca Freecs and eighth-placed Gen.G in week eight, but managed to hold on to the region’s first seed.

Whether it’s a deadly cocktail of overconfidence and inexperience or some deeper issues behind closed doors, Griffin always struggle at the final hurdle. Their drafts go south as they try and get too fancy against the tried-and-true meta. Sometimes, the methodical style of League is the best approach, and Griffin have struggled time after time to make it work.

They perform best when Chovy is on a playmaking champion that’s able to outskill his lane opponent. They perform best when Tarzan is given the tools to run over the enemy jungler, forcing early game fights and invading like clockwork. They perform best when Son “Lehends” Si-woo can dictate the pace of a fight, like a commander at war. But they never seem to make it click when it counts.

In two consecutive seasons, this capitulation at the end of the split has left fans wanting more. They want to see how this new era of Korean League can stand up to the Chinese powerhouses or the European innovators. There’s been an endless barrage of “what ifs” after Griffin didn’t make MSI, because who knows, maybe they could have toppled G2 and Invictus Gaming.

One thing is for sure, though. Griffin have to make it through a whole season with consistently high performances to prove their worth and pull their weight for Korea at Worlds. And that means stopping the capitulation.

New blood

Griffin have run the same five players every game for the last 12 months—except for a 2018 KeSPA Cup game against Afreeca Freecs where they played with rookie support Jeong “Kabbie” Sang-hyeon. But coming into the 2019 Summer Split, they’ve picked up new blood in Choi “Doran” Hyeon-joon as a substitute top laner. Doran played for Seoul in the 2018 KeSPA Cup, who usually represent Korea in amateur events such as IESF.

Choi “Sword” Sung-won has been criticized in the past for poor performances more than any other player on Griffin. While he has the second highest KDA of all LCK top laners with a 3.87 in the spring, he also had the lowest kill participation at 47.4 percent.

While it’s unlikely Doran will start over Sword, the back-up option in the top lane gives Griffin more versatility. For a team that usually gets figured out in the final weeks of the split, having a dynamic player could give them an edge over their rivals.

This summer is a make-or-break split for Griffin, though. They’re no longer the LCK rookies or the fresh faces looking to make an impact on Korea. They need to be consistent to prove to Korea, and the rest of the world, that their region still has what it takes to beat the best.