Former teammates Ssumday and Arrow face off in the NA LCS playoffs
Kim "Ssumday" Chan-ho and Noh "Arrow" Dong-hyeon are two of the biggest names in competitive League of Legends. Both were long-time members of KT Rolster, starring on one of Korea's best teams. But last offseason, while many Korean players returned to the LCK, both decided to take another path. That's how they ended up in America, playing in the North American LCS.
Because of their pedigrees, both players were expected to play carry roles for their teams. It has certainly borne out that way for Arrow. He's had an easier time integrating with his teammates, learning English, and winning. It helped that Phoenix1 was already on the rise last year. But with Arrow, they've slowly climbed the standings and turned into a formidable contender for the North American championship.
Ssumday had a rougher go at it when the season started. Dignitas tried to give him carry champions like Fiora that could solo split push. Sometimes it worked, like in Dignitas' Week One win over P1. But more often, the team wasn't able to play around that style effectively as the other lanes were left wanting.
After a midseason coaching switch, things started to click. But after barely sneaking into the playoffs, can Dignitas challenge Phoenix1 in a five-game series?
Dignitas' season can be summed up simply: pre-Cop and post-Cop. That refers to coach David "Cop" Roberson, who coached the team last summer but was replaced in favor of Samsung Galaxy coach Kim Jung-su.
Jung-su never really got hold of the team as communication was lacking and the drafts were a mess.
Since then, team synergy has improved, especially with new Korean jungler Lee "Chaser" Sang-hyun. He continues to show creative jungle pathing to gank at unexpected times, including one game where he partially cleared his red side for level three in order to gank as early as possible. Joshua "Jatt" Leesman isn't bamboozled often, but Chaser managed to render him speecheless by ganking after just one camp.
But wait, there's more! Chaser runs down for blue buff and another successful gank.
This is some crazy stuff. Chaser has done a great job all split of analyzing the opposing jungler and taking advantage. The downside is that he has low jungle control and all those ganks haven't led to a very high First Blood rate. But that has more to do with what he's working with in terms of lanes. Jang "Keane" Lae-young has been fine in the mid lane, but ADC Benjamin "LOD" deMunck has really struggled, taking a step back from his form from last summer.
Chaser has spent a lot of time on the top side of the map and a lot of this series will be decided on whether he can execute and get the solo lanes ahead. Ssumday is a big mismatch for Dignitas and Keane has the ability to hang with Yoo "Ryu" Sang-wook. If Dignitas can set up Ssumday to be a strong initiator and play around Chaser's vision, they have a chance to pull off the upset.
Arrow: all over the map
The issue for Dignitas is that their greatest weakness, the bot lane, matches up against Phoenix1's greatest strength. Of course, you could argue the same the other way about the top lane matchup. But a lot of Phoenix1's success this year hasn't come just by Arrow smashing lane. It's all in how they use him to set up plays all over the map.
By almost any measure, Arrow has been the best ADC in North America. He may even have a claim to the Spring Split MVP. And a lot of the time, he does it by making plays for his team. Take the week five win over Cloud9, for instance. Sure, Cloud9 was teetering at the time, but this was still one of P1's best victories.
The team picked a couple pushing lanes and just needed Arrow to keep C9 busy. They didn't need a solo carry performance from him. So, on just his second back, he bought Boots of Swiftness in order to better spread influence around the map. You don't normally see the duo lane roaming before turrets are down, but that's exactly what Arrow did.
Arrow has the highest kill participation among ADCs and deals the most damage to boot. His positioning is immaculate as he kites around the outside of fights, throwing out damage without putting himself at risk. He was good enough on the lethality-based utility champions that dominated the early meta. But lately, he's been an absolute monster on more traditional carries like Ezreal.
When Phoenix1 are able to stay together and set up for Arrow, they are a hard team to beat.
Winning in chaos
The problem is that, since trading support Adrian Ma to Team Liquid, the P1 duo lane has been much more inconsistent. The lane that won the first meeting against Cloud9 totally fell apart in the second, as both William "Stunt" Chen and Jordan "Shady" Robison struggled to keep up. Without that advantage, P1 quickly lost control of the map.
That's something Dignitas has to capitalize on. If they can control the side lanes, they can set up those chaotic objective fights that P1 would like to avoid. P1 top laner Derek "Zig" Shao likes to play split pushers, but also has a tendency to be caught over-extended, without the requisite vision. Dignitas has a shot to set up split pushes that make P1's macro fall apart.
On the other side, P1 look much more comfortable fighting together. Outside the jungle position, their vision and objective control is typically stronger, at least when they can get the side lanes in their favor. If they make the right objective calls, it should be tough for Dignitas to fight five-on-five. If they don't, well, an entire piece can be written about their failures in the Baron pit.
This is the playoffs. Stars like Ssumday and Arrow are expected to make plays. But battle lines can get hectic as games drag on, and the winner of this series is likely going to be the team that makes the fewest critical mistakes.
Photos via Riot Games, statistics via EsportsWikis and Oracle's Elixir