Can anyone challenge SKT and KT in the LCK?
When news broke that KT Rolster was assembling a super team last fall, pundits immediately began comparing them to rivals SK Telecom T1. The two telecom giants were expected to dominate the LCK, and indeed they have. Aside from giving us one of the best series of the year (one caster called it the greatest best-of-three he’d ever seen) they are sitting atop the league standings. The two teams have only dropped a few games aside from the series they’ve played against each other.
But that doesn’t mean these teams are unbeatable. There are three teams in particular that have a shot at unseating them come playoff time. Samsung Galaxy, MVP, and Lonzghu Gaming all have winning records and, importantly each has won games against the telecom giants. So what chance do they have of beating either SKT or KT when it really matters?
Of course, one of these teams has already done it before—Samsung has proven its mettle, taking SKT to game five in last year’s World Championship.
Samsung Galaxy: Stepping up when it matters
Samsung chose to bring back all five members from that Worlds squad. But the veteran of the group, jungler Kang “Ambition” Chan-yong, has been frequently subbed out for second-year player Kang “Haru” Min-seung. Haru is an aggressive jungler who takes risks Ambition avoids, posting the highest first-blood percentage among LCK junglers. He is also better on the meta assassins like Kha’Zix and Rengar.
While other teams have taken some time to jell, Samsung has displayed good team coordination. They’ve needed it, since the side lanes haven’t been as good. After popping off late last year throughout playoffs and Worlds, top laner Lee “CuVee” Seong-jin has fallen back to earth. And second-year ADC Park “Ruler” Jae-hyuk hasn’t shown much growth—he’s still a utility player whose job is to clear waves and stay safe in fights.
Of course, that strategy exactly fits the Season 7 meta, which is heavily concentrated around mid and jungle. That’s where Samsung has shined. Mid laner Lee “Crown” Min-ho has been absolutely fantastic. His was the one position Samsung could attack in their week eight win over KT, and he delivered. And when it got to late game, team coordination in fights carried the day.
There’s not much in immediate impact to this fight—only one person dies. But look at the way Samsung fought. CuVee did his job on Maokai, creating chaos, soaking damage, and barely surviving. Ruler stayed safe on Jhin. And Crown was the primary damage dealer with help from Haru.
Still, questions remain. Even though Crown leads Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok in MVP points, it’s unlikely that Samsung will be able to abuse that matchup against SKT, who they’ll face for the second time this week. And as the ADC meta shifts slightly away from utility champions, Ruler will have to prove that he can provide consistent DPS in fights. Finally, their 2016 run required some luck, avoiding both ROX and SKT until the Finals at Worlds. They may need more of the same this year.
MVP: Giant killers
MVP has kind of snuck up on people this year. After losing to Faker’s troll Gallio pick in last winter’s KeSPA Cup, not many people took them seriously. It doesn’t help that this is largely a homegrown team with players who have never played on an international stage.
But don’t be fooled. They may not the best early game team, but they make up for it with preternatural synergy in fights and a knack for good mid-game plays. They won their first matchup against KT by allowing KT to push all three lanes and then collapsing.
KT looked like they were going to get revenge last night, rolling to a game-one victory despite an insane Baron steal and quickly taking control of game two. MVP’s duo lane of Oh “MaHa” Hyun-sik and Jeong “Max” Jong-bin are nowhere near Kim “Deft” Hyuk-kyu and Cho “Mata” Se-hyeong’s level, and Max picking an extremely off-meta support Sion didn’t help. It seemed like all they could do was survive and try to find the perfect fight.
Sometimes that perfect fight never comes and you have to make the best of what you’re given. Max made some chicken salad out of you-know-what and came up with a crazy Quadra Kill.
This was a fight KT wanted, but grouping without vision of the Sion was a death knell. In game three, it was more of the same. MVP looked more on the same page, making up for weaknesses by executing teamfights better.
You can chalk this up to luck or arrogance on the part of KT. But this team knows how to control objective like dragon and baron. And they’re not a flash-in-the-pan either—like any good team, they’ve defeated the lower echelon teams they should beat. MVP actually is tied with KT in the standings, although they have one more game against SKT coming up.
Like Samsung, that series against the world champs will go a long way to establishing MVP’s legitimacy. Unlike Samsung, MVP still has more to prove. We don’t know what this team will look like under the bright lights of the playoffs or how they’ll react to the grueling best-of-five format.
Longzhu: Back from the dead
Originally, this piece was about just two teams, Samsung and MVP. Longzhu looked dead in the water in the middle of the split as they went on a seven-game losing streak and saw their coach depart. It looked just like last year when Longzhu also signed a star-studded roster only to fail miserably. But this team has fought fervently over the last several weeks to push their way back into the playoff conversation.
It’s easy to see why this team refuses to die. The duo lane of Kim “Pray” Jong-in and Kang “GorillA” Beom-hyeon is playing absolutely breathtaking League. There are a lot of good duos in Korea, but what these two are doing is sensational. They almost single-handedly took a game off SKT a few nights ago because Pray’s Ashe was sparkling clean. And he was playing Bae “Bang” Jun-sik, one of, if not the best, ADCs in the world!
If Longzhu wants to start taking those game wins and turning them into series wins, they’ll need more, especially from top laner Koo “Expession” Bon-taek and jungler Lee “Crash” Dong-woo. They know what they’ll get from mid laner Song “Fly” Yong-jun—pocket picks and wave clear, with some clever roams. He’s never been someone who can carry games.
Expession needs to be that carry. His play on Shen was a big part of Longzhu’s game one victory over SKT last night. But then SKT switched up their strategy in game two, that stymied Expession, who ended up picking a strange champion (Ekko) that screwed up Longzhu’s team comp and he never looked the same. His decision-making got more and more questionable as the series went on and the team got too hard for Pray to carry.
Pray and GorillA are a ton of fun to watch. Here’s hoping that the rest of the team can join them at that level and make for some great playoff series.