After the season four world championships, Korea experienced a mass exodus of many top players – most notably the whole roster of the superteam Samsung White – left to China for substantially higher salaries. However this year, many top Korean players have either decided to stay, or have returned from other regions (mostly China). This has created numerous stacked rosters, and could be the strongest we have ever seen the LCK in comparison to the rest of the world. LCK 2017 is going to be a must-watch spring split, and it starts very soon on Jan. 15.
But, before the league kicks off, let’s take a look at my personal rankings of the teams playing in the LCK.
First: SK Telecom T1
The reigning world champions are the likely favorites to win the LCK 2017, retaining the majority of their roster. However, there has been a few major changes for SKT in both the top lane and jungle positions, one of them being the addition of the flashy top laner, Heo “Huni” Seung-hoon.
On paper, Huni is a downgrade from SKT’s former top laner Lee “Duke” Ho-seong, mostly due to his mindset of committing too hard to make up for earlier mistakes, which the majority of the time ends up snowballing against him. However, Huni has shown, during his time with Fnatic, to have a substantial ceiling – and if there is anyone who could unlock this, it is SKT’s veteran coach Kim “kkOma” Jung-gyun, who has now coached SKT to three world championship wins.
Another addition to the top lane for SKT is the former LSPL top laner, Kim “Profit” Jun-hyung, who has shown himself to be capable of playing a wide range of champions in the LSPL of both carry oriented and tanky styles. He had a solid performance for SKT in the KeSPA Cup, most notably a very strong 12/1/5 Jayce game. How SKT does in 2017 relies a lot on the integration of the two new top laners, Huni and Profit, into the team.
In the jungle role, SKT picked up the star jungler Han “Peanut” Wang-ho. Peanut is coming off a strong performance for the ROX Tigers at the season seven world championships and has an aggressive, counter-jungle and gank-heavy playstyle. This huge pickup could truely make SKT untouchable, except perhaps to another highly stacked super team that I will talk about shortly.
Historically, SKT has never had a top tier jungler, except perhaps Bae “Bengi” Seong-woong in his prime. Adding Peanut to the team makes SKT strong at every stage of the game and hard to not have as the favorites to win this year’s spring split.
Second: KT Rolster
KT Rolster is a completely new team, however, each player has a very impressive resume.
KT’s top laner Song “Smeb” Kyung-ho was the best top laner in the world in 2016 and even arguably also in 2015. It is quite hard to fault Smeb in 2016; he has had it all – a wide champion pool, outplay potential, strong but controlled laning and a very good team-fighting mind. Should Smeb continue to play at the same level this year, he will likely continue to be the best top laner in the world, and even challenge for the outright best player in the world.
In the jungle position, KT has Go “Score” Dong-bin, who – you guessed it – was the best jungler in the world in 2016. Compared to Peanut, Score plays a much more controlled team oriented playstyle, however his intelligence when it comes to jungle pathing and reading the enemy jungler is unmatched. If synergy forms well between Score and Smeb, KT will have arguably the strongest top-jungle duo ever to exist.
KT also acquired Heo “PawN” Won-seok, who despite having multiple health issues in his time on EDG, returned and put up solid performances in the games he played in at Worlds. During his time in Korea, PawN was a top tier mid laner with an ability to play both assassins and control mages to a high level. He continued a strong level of play during his time in China with EDG, however one would wonder if KT has a backup player for PawN should his health problems return.
KT also signed the very hyped bottom lane of Kim “Deft” Hyuk-kyu and Cho “Mata” Se-hyeong. Both of these players have been the best in their roles at a certain time, and could easily become the strongest bottom lane in the world. This KT Rolster team is a combination of “if’s” – if synergy builds, they could challenge SKT for the best team in the world and achieve their incredibly high ceiling, however if it doesn’t get built, we could be seeing an even more tragic situation of last year’s Longzhu team.
Third: Samsung Galaxy
Samsung has kept their full roster from 2016, which is coming off a very strong performance at Worlds, making it into the finals before losing narrowly against SKT in a five-game series.
Samsung’s greatest strengths at Worlds were their two solo laners, with top laner Lee “CuVee” Seong-jin and mid laner Lee “Crown” Min-ho both performing at a very high level during the tournament. While Crown was already known to be one of the best mid laners in the world, Cuvee’s performance surprised many at the international tournament. Although the roster has stayed the same (apart from the somewhat lackluster addition of ex-CJ Entus jungler Kang “Haru” Min-seung as a substitute for veteran player Kang “Ambition” Chan-yong), there is still plenty of potential for the team to improve.
An example is rookie ADC Park “Ruler” Jae-hyuk, who came into the team and made an immediate positive impact for Samsung in 2016, cementing his position as Samsung’s starting ADC. However, he has shown, both at Worlds and the LCK summer split, to get caught out in the middle to late game, which has situationally cost his team dearly. If this weakness is ironed out of him through good coaching, Ruler could very well be one of the top ADCs in the LCK.
Should the two solo laners continue with their Worlds form into LCK spring split, as well as growth in team’s bottom lane, expect Samsung to also be competing towards the top end of the stacked field.
Fourth: Longzhu Gaming
Longzhu has revamped the mid and bottom side of their 2016 roster after a very disappointing run in 2016, despite having a star-studded roster. They have acquired the formidable bottom lane combination of ADC Kim “PraY” Jong-in and support Kang “GorillA” Beom-hyeon, who have already pre-built synergy during their time playing together for the ROX Tigers, which will be invaluable for the new roster. Longzhu also retained Koo “Expession” Bon-taek in the top lane and flashy player Lee “Crash” Dong-woo in the jungle position.
The jungle position is a big unknown for Longzhu in 2017. Crash has shown to have an extremely high ceiling, from achieving multiple flame horizon’s in the jungle position to showing a lack of knowledge when it comes to pathing in the late game and often costing his team a loss due to getting caught out.
Longzhu also added Moon “Cuzz” Woo-chan to their roster, who finished first in the Korean solo queue ladder last season. Cuzz had no experience playing on the professional stage, so while his mechanics will likely be on point, it is unknown how he will perform on the professional stage. Based on the jungle position, Longzhu could either be a team fighting for the top position, or one that hovers around the middle to lower pack.
Gwak “Bdd” Bo-seong and Song “Fly” Yong-jun will make up the mid lane of Longzhu. While Bdd could return to form on new assassin champions, such as the reworked LeBlanc and Katarina, Fly has shown to be innovative and good at team-oriented control mages, such as Aurelion Sol and Zilean. These two players will provide the team with the option to utilize very different playstyles and help when it comes to adapting to different patches.
MVP finished the 2016 LCK Summer Split with a 18-23 game win/loss record and narrowly lost out on a playoff spot. Last year, the team (which has stayed together for this year) had been steadily growing in the aspects of both team cohesion and individual mechanics.
The main strength of MVP last year was in the jungle (Kim “Beyond” Kyu-seok) and support (Jeong “Max” Jong-bin) positions, who regularly roamed together to help positively impact the three different lanes. Additionally, both the carry players on MVP, An “Ian” Jun-hyeong and Oh “MaHa” Hyun-sik, have come a long way from their challenger form, and now serve as competent players, however when compared to the broad range of talent across the board, they will likely be towards the bottom end of the field in 2017.
Although the other teams across the LCK have such strong individual players, MVP’s key advantage at the start of the season will be their already pre-established synergy, which has contributed to their relatively high ranking on this list. However, the fact that all of these players are still relatively new to the professional scene cannot be ignored – there is still a lot of room for this relatively new team to grow, especially if they stick together as the same roster for an even longer amount of time.
Sixth: Kongdoo Monster
Similarly to Samsung, Kongdoo has mostly kept their 2016 roster consisting from top to support of Kim “Roach” Kang-hui, Son “Punch” Min-hyuk, Lee “Edge” Ho-seong, Seo “SSol” Jin-sol and Kim “GuGer” Do-yeop. The team has also added Park “Secret” Ki-sun to it’s roster, who was one of the better players on the recently disbanded team Sbenu.
Kongdoo has been steadily growing from their split in challenger last season, and has proven it through easily qualifying for the LCK spring split, finishing the spring promotion with a 5-1 record against CJ Entus and ESC Ever. Kongdoo also had a good performance at the KeSPA Cup – although it was only an offseason tournament, Kongdoo beat teams, such as KT and Ever, while taking a game against the ROX Tigers in the final. Kongdoo has also shown that they can perform at large international stages, finishing second at IEM Gyeonggi in front of over 30,000 people in attendance.
Although Kongdoo seems to lack individual talent, the roster has displayed a good ability to play coherently as a team and run a wide range of complex compositions, such as poke or pick comps, which will be a core part of their identity in a field of extremely individually talented rosters.
Seventh: ROX Tigers
The ROX Tigers are basically the 2016 Afreeca Freecs’s primary summer split team with the addition of veteran top laner Park “Shy” Sang-myeon and flashy former Ever support player Kim “Key” Han-gi.
While Shy will be guaranteed to add to the team by using his experience and impressive team-fighting knowledge, Key is a big coin flip for Afreeca, especially without a potential substitute. Even though Key had an impressive opening run for ESC Ever in 2015 and 2016, he was eventually replaced by a more conservative support player, Eun “Totoro” Jong-seop; although Key had a high mechanical level, especially on Bard, he would often over-extend, trying to make plays and end up getting caught. If Key can successfully balance out his playmaking with risk-taking, he will be an invaluable asset to the ROX Tigers and could even become a top tier support.
ROX’s mid laner, Son “Mickey” Young-min, is coming off a relatively strong 2016 summer split, with the second highest damage share at 30.8 percent and the fourth highest DPM in the league at 620 (from Oracleselixir). However, the flipside of this is the recent slump of Gwon “Sangyoon” Sang-yun, who had a disappointing summer split when compared to his spring and 2015 form.
The top lane duo of Heo “Lindarang” Man-heung and Yoon “SeongHwan” Seong-hwan has shown to have good synergy in the early game, however both have still displayed negative rookie tendencies that need to be ironed out of them, such as SeongHwan’s habit of getting caught out in bad situations in the late game.
Eighth: Afreeca Freecs
Afreeca has hand-picked strong players from different teams for this season, making their roster a compilation of question marks.
Former world champion Jang “MaRin” Gyeong-hwan has returned from a very unsuccessful year in the LPL on LGD, and it is unknown as to whether he can return to his Season 5 Worlds MVP form. Lee “Spirit” Da-yoon in the jungle position is also coming off a relatively disappointing year on Fnatic, where it looked like he was struggling primarily with communication. Spirit could very well be one of the top LCK junglers in 2017 when combined with Korean speaking teammates and coaches.
Afreeca also picked up Lee “Kuro” Seo-haeng, who will serve as a reliable and relatively safe mid laner on a team of big unknowns. Afreeca’s ADC, Ha “Kramer” Jong-hun, was a strong player last season on CJ Entus, however only when devoted a large amount of resources, which could be problematic on a team with Spirit, who is known to be a farm-heavy carry style jungler. Park “TusiN” Jong-ik has returned after a year break to play as Afreeca’s support player. TusiN was a strong support player on Incredible Miracle before he switched to the jungle role, but it is not known how well he will do after his year long break from competitive League.
If this team clicks, Afreeca could easily be a playoff team above Kongdoo and MVP and could even be fighting for a top-three or top-four spot. However, at least for the start of the season, it would be more suitable to put the already synergised teams above the Freecs, even though the individual talent on Afreeca is higher.
Ninth: Jin Air Greenwings
Jin AIr Greenwings are coming off a fairly disappointing end to the summer split, finishing the second half with a match win/loss score of 7-15. However, the team has picked up slight upgrades in the top and support positions with Jeon “ikssu” Ik-soo and No “SnowFlower” Hoi-jong from the former Afreeca Freecs.
Jin Air also retained top laner Kim “SoHwan” Jun-Yeong and mid laner Lee “Kuzan” Seong-hyeok. SoHwan is a potential talent for Jin Air that has yet to be fully developed, whereas Kuzan has been a solid top-tier mid laner for some time now, and will likely be the key to Jin Air’s success. Jin Air also acquired former challenger player Park “Teddy” Jin-seong, who had quite a strong performance at the KeSPA Cup, particularly on Jhin.
However the big question mark for Jin Air is in the jungle position, with the completely unknown rookie solo queue player Eom “Umti” Seong-hyeon being added to the lineup with no substitute. Jin Air’s success in 2017 will rely on the two newer players in the jungle and ADC positions – both do not have any substitutes as of now, which could show the confidence that this organization has in them.
10th: BBQ Olivers
Unfortunately for the BBQ Olivers (formerly Ever), they are in a field of very strong and competitive teams and are facing an uphill battle.
They lost their strong bot lane of Lee “LokeN” Dong-wook and Kim “Key” Han-gi, both who were above average at their roles and had a large amount of potential, for AD Jang “Ghost” Yong-jun – who has only played two lackluster games for CJ Entus before being permanently benched for Kramer – and Eun “Totoro” Jong-seop, who is a mediocre support at best.
The main strength of the BBQ Olivers will likely be in the jungle and middle positions, with Choi “Bless” Hyeon-woong servicing as a mechanical middle to top tier jungler and Kang “Tempt” Myung-gu being an all-around player capable of hard carrying certain games.
The top lane position for the BBQ Olivers has been somewhat unreliable, with main player Kim “Crazy” Jae-hee having both on and off games – but is most prominent on carry champions. Substitute top laner, Jin “Firetrap” Jae-seung only played a total of five games for Ever, most in the Spring Promotion tournament, and has looked lackluster in most of those games.
Do you agree with these rankings? Let us know by commenting below or tweeting us @GAMURScom.
You can follow me on Twitter @Patsimenz.
Image credits: LCK and Riot Games