Ssumday: The Maestro of Top Lane
He did it.
Jumping out of the soundproof booth alongside the rest of the KT Arrows, the once quiet top laner ran to the trophy they had just won. A long best-of-five spanning over three hours turned the sunny Haeundae Beach pitch black. In a matter of seconds, he found himself facing the trophy he had spent his entire career thus far pursuing.
Heading into the finals, his team was thought to have no chance. Up against the Korean spring champions, Samsung Blue, no one expected the KT Arrows to emerge victorious, making the final result a total upset.
Surrounded by a cheering crowd, the 18-year-old, along with his teammates, hoisted the silver trophy up in the air. Under the dark sky, with one hand on the trophy, this man realized he accomplished something few will ever achieve. Ssumday had won OGN Champions.
A veteran in Korean League of Legends, Kim "Ssumday" Chan-ho has consistently remained one of the best top laners in the world. The rock of KT Rolster over the past three years, Ssumday played in three OGN Champions finals with the organization, winning Champions in 2014. Now embarking on a new chapter of his career, it seems fitting to recount the qualities that made Ssumday the player that he is today.
Unique and Versatile
Getting his start on the semi-pro team PSW Ares, Ssumday made his official debut in the competitive scene on Feb. 27, 2013 when he joined the KT Rolster Bullets. Despite being just 16 years old at the time, Ssumday quickly went from a Renekton one trick to one of the most versatile players in the league. Having the ability to play almost every type of top laner, whether it be tank, carry or something in the middle, Ssumday was, and still is, the ideal top laner for almost any team.
Unlike many other top laners, Ssumday is seemingly unbannable. No matter what you ban away from him, Ssumday always has another champion to pull out. If you watch almost any best-of-five including Ssumday, you will quickly notice his versatility as a player. Back In the quarterfinal match between the KT Rolster Bullets and MVP Ozone in Champions spring 2013, Ssumday played a different champion in all four games, displaying his ability to play a myriad of champions early in his career.
In KT Rolster’s win against the Koo Tigers in the semifinals of LCK summer 2015, Ssumday once again flexed his diverse pool, playing five different champions. And we're not talking five different tanks. Ssumday played Gnar, Fizz, Riven, Lulu and Maokai, all very different from one another. And to put a cherry on top, Ssumday pulled this off against Song "Smeb" Kyung-ho, who many would argue was the best top laner in the world at the time.
Ssumday, confident in his ability, would even play both sides of a matchup during a series. In the famous group stage match in Champions spring 2014 where the KT Arrows ended SK Telecom T1 K’s legendary win streak, Ssumday outplayed world champion Jung "Impact" Eon-yeong in both sides of the Renekton vs. Shen matchup.
With versatility comes uniqueness for Ssumday. Unafraid to play off-meta picks in important matches, Ssumday has historically always had one of the most unique champion pools. Trying out off-the-wall ideas, like teleport Diana in season three, a year before the summoner spell became a mainstay for the role, Ssumday, early in his career, constantly tried to stay ahead of the meta, even if it did not always work out in the end.
A Tank Aficionado
When most people think of Ssumday, the word carry instantly comes to mind. Remembering Ssumday’s slick moves on Ekko and Fiora, it’s hard not associate Ssumday with the word. And while his carry play is definitely nothing to scoff at, Ssumday's bread and butter has always been tanks. A maestro on champions like Maokai, Gnar and Shen, Ssumday could conduct the flow of the game to his liking. Virtually ungankable as a tank, Ssumday in 2014 would practically invite members of the enemy team to come top to try and kill him. And when he succeeded in baiting the enemy team, Ssumday would masterfully avoid death. Ssumday made an art out of dodging skill-shots on bulky tanks. Even the best teams were made to look like fools trying to gank Ssumday’s Maokai.
Once teleport became the primary summoner spell for the top lane, Ssumday skill as a player was fully unlocked. One of the first players to truly master the spell, Ssumday’s teleports were game changing. Without hesitation, Ssumday would pull the trigger on his teleport, forcing unfavorable team-fights for his opponents. Against Ssumday, enemy carries had to be extra vigilant, watching for a surprise Renekton pinsir from behind.
A Strained Back
The saddest irony in Ssumday’s career was that as he got better, his teammates equally got worse. 2015, the year Ssumday blossomed as a player, was unfortunately the year of the “Korean Exodus.” Losing Lee "KaKAO" Byung-kwon and Song "RooKie" Eui-jin, two of the top performers of the KT Arrows, their replacements were... less than exceptional. Go "Score" Dong-bin, KT’s new jungler, was still transitioning from the AD Carry role, not finding his stride as a jungler until the following year. And Kim "Nagne" Sang-moon, RooKie’s replacement, was simply a poor laner, often getting abused by the other mid laners in the league.
Compared to the stacked rosters of his rivals, Smeb and Jang "MaRin" Gyeong-hwan, Ssumday seemed to have drawn the short straw in teams. Since Noh "Arrow" Dong-hyeon’s performance was hit or miss, Ssumday had to carry most games, whereas MaRin and Smeb could rely on their teammates and focus on their lanes. But even with this handicap, Ssumday managed to outshine his rivals. Having the highest KDA and kill participation stats of any top laner during the 2015 summer split, Ssumday earned himself the summer split MVP award that year.
While 2016 saw upgrades for the KT lineup, the same problems remained. Arrow and Song "Fly" Yong-jun (KT’s mid laner in 2016), would usually not have the greatest laning phases, forfeiting almost any pressure in their lanes.
Having virtually no map pressure in the bottom half of the map, Ssumday was forced to create pressure himself so that his teammates could survive the laning phase. Constantly pushing his lane on champions like Ekko and Fiora for the sake of his team, Ssumday made himself an easy target for the enemy jungler. It was this burden that ultimately led to Ssumday's supposed “falling off” by the end of the 2016 season.
Unlike Smeb, his primary rival once MarRin left for China, Ssumday didn’t have the freedom to play the lane like he wanted. Ssumday essentially sacrificed his own play for the sake of his team. And this sacrifice not only hurt his play, but Ssumday’s legacy as a player.
But luckily for Ssumday, his legacy is still being written. Parting ways with KT Rolster, the organization he spent the entirety of his career on at the end of 2016, Ssumday has set his eyes on the NA LCS. Now the starting top laner for Team Dignitas, Ssumday has started the next chapter in his career as a pro player.
Trading in the GOGA and Nexon Arenas in Seoul for the Battle Theatre/Arena in Santa Monica, Ssumday’s life as a pro has changed completely. Three years have passed since that historic final was played on the Haeundae Beach in Busan. No longer with those he played with for years, Ssumday now walks up onto the stage for his weekly matches surrounded by new teammates he would have considered strangers up until the last few months. But this is fine for Ssumday, because he’s found a new goal to strive towards: winning the NA LCS.
Do you think Ssumday can conquer the NALCS? Let us know by commenting below or tweeting us @GAMURScom.
Article by Malcolm Abbas. Follow him on Twitter @SmashhLoL.