The LCK playoffs start this week, and we have our four teams confirmed to battle it out in the new King-of-the-hill single elimination format. The teams that emerged one through four in the regular season are the GE Tigers, SK Telecom T1, CJ Entus, and the Jin Air Green Wings. They will compete in this format, more popularly referred to as “The Gauntlet” for precious Korean circuit points, as well as a ticket to the Mid-Season Invitational this May. Even though GE were dominant for most of the season and the clear number one seed in the playoffs, a shifting meta game and the resulting momentum changes in all four teams have left this tournament wide open and up for debate. In this article I’ll give a general overview of each team’s recent performances, as well as take a look at what they do and don’t have going for them heading into the Gauntlet. At the end I will give my own predictions on how the tournament will play out.
Fourth Seed: Jin Air Green Wings
Top: TrAce; Jungle: Chaser; Mid: GBM; AD: Pilot; Support: Chei
Sub/Jungle: Winged; Sub/AD: Cpt Jack; Sub/Support: XD
The Jin Air Green Wings have shown up and impressed this season based off their poor pre-season outing. The shocking part is that looking back now it’s surprising that they only finished fourth after being a top team almost the entire season. Jin Air has had some killer performances so far this year from TrAce, Chaser, and particularly GBM, who looked like an MVP candidate for several weeks. Methodical in the early game and patient in the mid and late game, Jin Air have had a spectacular season from any point of view. Despite this, their recent performances have put this stand out season to a screeching halt. Ever since the patch 5.5 tank meta has taken effect Jin Air have seemed lost at best, and even after three weeks of LCK league play, have yet to figure out anything that works. Jin Air seems reluctant to move from their staple picks, and have an abysmal 2-6 game record since the patch hit. Pilot continues to play burst caster AD’s, GBM has not shown many tanky mid lane picks, and TrAce and Chaser seem to shy away from Sejuani and Hecarim completely in pick/bans. It’s clear at this point that if Jin Air continues to force their outdated play style, they will be an easy opponent in playoffs.
Why You Should Believe in Jin Air:
Jin Air have had decent success against both CJ Entus and SK Telecom T1, and despite losing the most recent sets, they have proven they are not only good enough to beat these teams, but 2-0 them convincingly. GBM has been one of the most outstanding mid laners in Korea this season, and is arguably still the best at in lane play. TrAce and Chaser have also proved very reliable even recently against CJ Entus in their last meetings, picking up first bloods and setting a good early tempo. While the new meta changes seems more of an issue for Jin Air than anything, it could also be hypothesized that they’ve simply been hiding their actual picks during the last three weeks, seeing as they’ve had playoffs locked down for a while now.
Why You Should Not Believe in Jin Air:
The most obvious reason is that Jin Air has done absolutely nothing to show us that they’ve adapted to the recent changes in the game. The only win they’ve had since 5.5 was a 2-0 over a pathetic Incredible Miracle team, and followed that up by losing to SKT and CJ quite badly; their first two opponents in playoffs. Every position across the board seems to be having some issue with the current meta. As previously mentioned, Jin Air has been missing out completely on the new strong picks like Hecarim, Sejuani, and Urgot; having not locked in a single one of these champions this season. Bot lane has also been a point to discredit recently as well, Pilot seems to only perform on burst caster AD’s, which struggles against compositions full of tanks, and neither Chei nor XD have put in standout performances recently at support. Things don’t seem to be coming together for Jin Air at this crucial time.
Third Seed: CJ Entus
Top: Shy; Jungle: Ambition; Mid: CoCo; AD: Space; Support: Madlife
CJ Entus is another team that had a very poor pre-season turned completely around. After starting off with a shock win vs SKT in week one, they’ve played out a season with more high’s than low’s into a solid third place finish in LCK. Adaptive in their playstyles, CJ has executed a variety of compositions this season, and hinge heavily on the play of Jungle transfer Ambition. Ambition’s successful position change to Jungle is the main story for CJ’s season so far, but the supporting cast has been anything but a side-story. Shy is alive and well in the current tank meta, CoCo has undoubtedly been a top four mid laner all year, Space has improved beyond anyone’s wildest expectations, and recently Madlife has been playing a lot like the season two version of himself, where he held the label of the best support in the world. CJ have had no issues putting down the weaker teams in the league this season, going a perfect 8-0 in match score against all the teams that didn’t qualify for playoffs. Things didn’t stay in cruise control the whole season though, in the middle of the spilt they struggled greatly against the other playoff teams, and had a rather embarrassing IEM World Championship showing back in March. Ambition, while usually quite impressive, has a bit of a tendency to disappear in big games, a common occurrence in almost every CJ loss. However, many mid-season questions regarding champion pools and performance issues have seemed to clear up the last few weeks. With the 5.5 changes CJ Entus have revealed a plethora of new picks, and now seem rather deep at every position. They’ve gone 6-0 in game score ever since the changes, and now more than ever seem to be riding on a wave of momentum.
Why You Should Believe in CJ Entus:
Aside from the fact that just two weeks ago they demolished Jin Air, there’s plenty of supporting reason to think that CJ will make at least the Semi-Finals of this seasons tournament. CJ Entus have literally not dropped a game since the 5.5 patch hit; a patch that seems to be a natural fit for players like Shy and CoCo. Their champion pools at the moment are just too difficult to completely handle in a pick/ban phase, and their improved draft phase makes it even more unlikely to gain a strong advantage before the game starts. In game CJ Entus have been showing strong performances in all five lanes, even Space and Madlife, usually an obvious weak point, are looking like a force to be reckoned with. In general CJ Entus are one of the few teams in the world that have not only completely adapted to the new meta, but have proven they can excel at it.
Why You Should Not Believe in CJ Entus:
A few things that have always haunted over the CJ Entus organization in League of Legends are their remarkable ability to put in inconsistent efforts, as well as their failure to execute in big moments. While intangibles, these are incredibly real problems that history has exposed time and again, as you have to go back to the middle of season two to find the last time any of these players were at the peak of Korea. Ambition has a running track record of disappearing in important games, and without him on his game, CJ as a whole have a hard time operating the way they want to regarding putting pressure across the lanes. Add onto that the fact they’ve yet to beat GE even a single time, and only beat SKT in a match three months ago, and the Gauntlet seems rather daunting for this CJ Entus team.
Second Seed: SK Telecom T1
Top: MaRin; Jungle: bengi; Mid: Faker; AD: Bang; Support: Wolf
Sub/Jungle: T0M; Sub/Mid: Easyhoon; Sub/Support: Piccaboo
After recovering from some hiccups in the first half of the season, SKT have recovered exceptionally well and are undoubtedly carrying the most momentum heading into the playoffs. SKT are a perfect 7-0 in match score since the second half of the season began, and have looked the part as well. SKT have put behind them any early game problems they had, and have in fact been dominate in all stages of the game in recent times. Wolf and Bang are back to their consistently good ways in the bot lane, MaRin has a handful of ban worthy champions he can carry on, and between their options, Mid lane is either deadly or very deadly. The most impressive part of this streak is that it’s been a mixture of starters and subs the whole way through. SKT often switch Faker and Easyhoon in and out of mid lane for games, and have been using a promising new jungler, T0M, in recent weeks to good effect. Their ability to create and trade objectives is almost un-paralleled at the moment, as they’ve become quite good at following their compositional game plan to a pinpoint. This has stayed true though the changing meta in league. SKT have wasted no time in not only getting their heads around the new changes, but using them to their advantage. In their first game on 5.5 they were using champions like Hecarim, Sejuani, Urgot, and Alistar as if they were comfort picks. This level of mastery of the meta is regionally unmatched.
Why You Should Believe in SKT:
Forget Korea, It’s hard to find many teams across the globe that are looking as hot as SKT are right now. The 5.5 changes seemed like a perfect fit for SKT and they have proven that fact to be absolutely correct. MaRin looks like one of the most freighting top laners in the region right now with his Gnar and Hecarim, and with either mid laner in, they still have a double carry threat. Both junglers for SKT have been quite impressive recently, to the point where it wouldn’t even be surprising to see T0M as a starter for playoffs and be a legitimate concern for any opponent. SKT haven’t dropped a match after these changes, and it’s conceivable that they may not. With their handle on the current tank meta, it will take an impressive best-of-five performance to bring them down as is.
Why You Should Not Believe in SKT:
One of the biggest drawbacks with switching players around like they do is that synergy takes a bit of a hit as well. Even though it’s hard to see any problems with their current mid/jungle duo synergy, it’s completely possible that there will be missteps and errors. Subbing in T0M or Easyhoon is also likely to affect the way shot calling is handled, something T0M seemingly has a problem with. Their biggest obstacle isn’t something within their own control, but the fact that their opposition seem difficult to get past. The Winner of Jin Air and CJ Entus match will be a scary team to face with momentum, and if they make it through, the GE Tigers are more than a simple task. SKT will have to be operating on all cylinders to avoid falling to the hands of their regional foes.
First Seed: GE Tigers
Top: Smeb; Jungle: Lee; Mid: KurO; AD: PraY; Support: GorillA
The story of the season in Korea absolutely has to be the rise of the GE Tigers. A roster made up of former NaJin and Incredible Miracle players took the LCK by storm and finished with a league best 12-2 match score. For almost the entire split they looked untouchable regionally, and had qualified for playoffs well more than a month in advance. During their three months of LCK play they were innovating and perfecting compositions that suited their style, such as the now world famous Juggermaw strategy. The dominance was really shown when they played the other top teams in the league, and still won convincingly. PraY and GorillA were without a doubt the best bot lane in LCK this season, and historically mediocre players like Smeb and KurO, were able to step up and take any other carry responsibilities required with their much improved play. All of this was glued together by Lee, who has made his claim as one of the best junglers in the region. Still, GE showed some kink’s in the armor at times. The first time was notably the IEM World Championships, where they lost to Team WE of China in what is likely the biggest upset we’ll ever see in professional League of Legends. Regionally they hit their only rough spot at the release of 5.5. Since the change in meta they actually have a losing 1-2 match score, despite adapting to many of the new picks quite quickly. This sudden issue is a big worry for GE as they anxiously wait for their opponent to emerge for the LCK Spring 2015 Finals in three weeks.
Why You Should Believe in GE:
In terms of having a collection of five players that we know can beat any team in the league; you couldn’t be more set with GE. After watching GE crush regional opponents the last three months, it’s clear as day this is a world caliber team. Aside from how good they are, they also have the best advantage of all, three weeks of time to develop new strategies, as well as scout their opponents. Already being locked into the finals is such a big advantage in terms of information collecting and development of strategy; two things we know GE are capable of using to great effect. In fact they’ve clearly been hiding picks since they’ve had the number one seed locked in, so who knows just how much GE has prepared for the finals. A team with track record of dominance in the region as well as months of preparation on the new meta changes, will be hard for any team to take down in a best-of-five.
Why You Should Not Believe in GE:
While they have done well in adapting to the 5.5 changes and tank meta, they haven’t excelled with it as much as teams like CJ Entus, SK Telecom T1 and KT Rolster. In fact, they took their only match defeats of the season to SKT and KT after the 5.5 changes hit. This makes it likely that either GE was hiding a lot of picks, or are just in a somewhat uncomfortable place in this meta. Some of their staple picks like Corki and Jarvan just aren’t as effective after the changes. We also have to take into account the incredible choke we saw from this team at IEM World Championships, as this may be the sign of the team’s true nature under pressure. Additionally they share the same issue as SKT, the winner of the Semi-Finals will have a solid win streak under them, and likely not an easy team to take down in a championship game.
Semi-Playoff: CJ 3 – 1 JA
I share the belief with many that Jin Air just doesn’t look to be taking the changes in the game all that well. I’m sure after a week they’ll be able to pull something together, but not enough to stop CJ, who have shown to be quite comfortable with the new power picks.
Playoff: SKT 3 – 1 CJ
SKT are just far too hot for CJ to handle at the moment, their objective play and seeming mastery of post 5.5 League of Legends will probably just overpower CJ, pending some madness. CJ should still be good enough to exploit a mistake at some point and steal a game.
LCK Spring 2015 Finals: GE 2 – 3 SKT
I think this series will go the distance despite GE seemingly being on a slump. They should be able to prepare for SKT and throw some wrenches in their methodical play. SKT in their current state should be in the driver’s seat for most this series though, and I’d put my money on them in a blind pick game.
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