Last season, Evil Geniuses nearly dropped out of the League Championship Series. Despite finishing the year with a solid Super Week, the team still had to claw through relegations.
This season they’ve dropped the last vestiges of the old roster, donning a new brand with new players hoping to take them into the new era of success as Winterfox. Defined by its two young stars, Eugene “Pobelter” Park and Johnny “Altec” Ru, Winterfox enters the 2015 LCS split as a dark horse with potential to rise up the standings.
Why not take a chance on the potential upside of someone like Avalon?
They’re off to a good start—despite fielding a lineup with three substitute players, Winterfox beat Gravity Gaming to open their season.
“Feels pretty good, you know,” Park said after the match, in which he put together an imposing 7/0/6 KDA on Fizz. “I think this is the first time I’ve won in the LCS in the first week. The other times were zero and four super weeks, so it feels good to come in with a win right off the bat.”
For fans it feels good too—but it raises an interesting question. Is Winterfox really going with the right lineup this season?
It’s one many are asking after the team decided to pick up two unknown Korean players to fill their open positions, Jang “Imagine” Hyeon-su at support and Shin “Avalon” Dong-hyeon at the top lane. Shin, the brother of Winterfox jungler Shin “Helios” Dong-jin, in particular raises questions. Only a Diamond I player in Korea, the apparent nepotism has some fans wondering whether the lineup of substitutes might be a better play, especially after a convincing win.
Park is certainly aware of the controversy, but he’s also confident in his team’s decision. There was a reason they went to Korea to practice and bootcamp before the season, after all.
“People have been saying [Avalon]’s not that good, he’s just a Diamond 1 player,” Park said. “People are being negative about it. I think that he’s a lot unpolished talent. Some people incorrectly say that he’s been trying to become a pro for the past few years, and now this is just his chance and he’s taking it, but that’s not true actually, he’s been in school.”
In fact, Park lauds Shin for his work ethic, even if it hasn’t shown in his solo queue ranking—yet.
They’re off to a good start—despite fielding a lineup with three substitute players.
“I think that if he comes to America, even if right off the bat he’s not that great, he has the ability to improve a lot,” he says. “To me work ethic is a lot more important than immediate talent, because it’s a long season and good work ethic shows that even if you aren’t at the level required you will get there eventually.”
The team wasn’t looking for players from North America, Park says, so Korea was the obvious place to mine talent. Shin may not be an obvious choice, especially if he is as “unpolished” as Park says, but in some ways that fits with the team’s goals. In the first split, Winterfox is focusing on growth to make sure they have a shot at a title in the second.
That means taking some risks on talent acquisition, betting on the high ceiling player over the one with a high floor. And Avalon doesn’t come without solid endorsements, including from one of the people who knows him best.
“I’ve kind of trusted Helios a lot on this,” Park said. “It wasn’t my personal decision to say ‘Hey, lets use your brother!’ I trust him and I trust that he knows his brother and that he will work really hard.”
Is Winterfox really going with the right lineup this season?
Team owner Brian Cordry was quick to point out that Avalon’s addition wasn’t a unilateral one by Helios. The entire team agreed to pick up the player, something Park attests to. It was a team decision.
As for why Winterfox chose an inexperienced Korean player like Avalon over Cuong “Flaresz” Ta, who put together a cheeky 3/0/10 performance on Renekton in his LCS debut as a Winterfox substitute, Park struggled to find the right words. Cordry chimed in: “I’m not sure there’s a way to answer that without sounding condescending to Flaresz, so why don’t we pass on that.”
But there’s no need to condescend. Park believes the team will place in the top five this split, and do “better than people expect.” But Winterfox has billed this split for “growth.” So why not take a chance on the potential upside of someone like Avalon?
If things don’t work out with him, you can’t do much better than putting in Ta, your already-blooded substitute who’s shown he’s capable of dominating the challenger scene and even an LCS match to boot. That may not be the perfect situation for Ta, but in the increasingly competitive world of professional League of Legends, that’s business.
Photo via Riot Games