Record: 7-0 (14-2)
Win vs Incredible Miracle (2-0)
Win vs Samsung Galaxy (2-0)
Win vs Jin Air Green Wings (2-1)
Win vs CJ Entus (2-0)
Win vs KT Rolster (2-0)
Win vs NaJin e-mFire (2-0)
Win vs SK Telecom T1 (2-1)
Champions Spring is officially half way over, and there are plenty of exciting storylines playing out across the Korean league, but none quite as captivating as the emergence of the GE Tigers. A roster made up of former NaJin and Incredible Miracle players is currently the undisputed best team in Korea; and the most exciting part? GE Tigers was literally formed only four months ago. Coached by OGN veteran NoFe, GE are on a strikingly similar path to the SK Telecom T1 K team that went on to be world champions in season three. The hype is not un-warranted either, because from the half season of results we have so far in LCK, we’ve come to understand that the GE Tigers are capable of playing out a variety of extremely difficult strategies against some of the best League of Legends teams in the world. Add onto that the cast of veteran players, whom have all displayed highlight level individual play, and you have the makings of not just the best team in Korea, but perhaps the world. To get a better idea of what GE has been doing so well this season, we first need to look into the players themselves. I’ll then give a basic breakdown of their most run team composition, then write out some of their strengths and weaknesses as a team, and finish by giving a quick preview of what they have on the horizon.
Smeb (Top Lane)
Song Kyung-Ho, Age:19
Smeb is the one member of GE that has never played within the NaJin organization, spending his entire career with Incredible Miracle. With IM he was far from standout, and was consistently in the pool of worst top laners each season. He would struggle immensely with the top Korean players, and fail to stand out against the lower tier. He was let go of by IM after Champions Summer; well before the one team rule came into place, and spent several months team-less. He played solo que to the point where he was near the top of challenger, and caught the eye of the forming GE Tigers team. With GE he has looked nothing of his former self; not only has he opened up a huge champion pool out of seemingly nowhere, but he has played these champions up to the level of the best top laners in Korea. Smeb generally plays lane safely, and just looks to farm up for team fights. However, Lee is quite fond of ganking the top lane and their synergy has led to many in-lane kills. Smeb makes his picks around what the composition of GE needs for each game, and on champions like Gnar, has proven to be a legitimate carry.
Lee Ho-Jin, Age:23
Lee only debuted in Korea less than a year ago, but has been fairly impressive since the debut. He played with NaJin Black Sword for one season in which he was a bright spot on the team, and even helped them qualified for playoffs. After a narrow 2-3 loss to SK Telecom T1 S in the Quarter-finals, he looked to be a for sure starter as they entered the offseason. However, when the one team policy came into play after worlds, NaJin made the decision to keep Watch, and thus Lee was released from the organization. He was quickly picked up by GE and has not dropped a beat. As of mid-season, he is currently tied for second place in MVP points in LCK, and has been the catalyst in many GE victories so far. Lee will often get a feel for the game, and structure his jungling around the win conditions for the team. He has shown he can play a slow farm-heavy game, or snowball lanes when required. His most impressive skill so far is his ability to start fights with Jarvan and even Rek’Sai, and many team fight victories have him as the center piece. With MVP plays on several champions, he’s undoubtedly one of the most in-form junglers in the world.
KurO (Mid Lane)
Lee Seo-Haeng, Age:21
After playing for Incredible Miracle for an entire year, KurO eventually made the swap to join NaJin in Champions Summer last year. In his time with NaJin Black Sword he was a bit improved as a player, and showed he could play more than just LeBlanc at a professional level of play. Still, he was not at the skill level of NaJin White Shield mid laner Ggoong, and when the teams had to merge, KurO was on the outside looking in. He joined his fellow kicked teammates in the forming of GE, and never looked back. KurO has been much improved for Champions Spring 2015. He has further branched out his pool, and typically plays what is needed in the teams’ composition. KurO is a passive laner who is not prone to getting kills in lane, but is talented with assassins in the mid and late game. He resembles PawN in a lot of ways, and is almost always doing a better than decent job in team fights. Of course none of this has stopped him from bringing out his signature LeBlanc and making big plays from time to time.
Kim Jong-In, Age:21
For a player who made his name internationally at worlds and season three all-stars, he has only had decent success within Korea. In fact after Champions Spring 2014, he was dropped completely from NaJin and spent the next half year with no team. He hadn’t been playing well when he was dropped so it seemed more and more likely as time went on that he wouldn’t ever find a team. PraY eventually found his break with GE, and after a tryout and a qualifier he was back in the top tier of Korean play. What we have in PraY is different from before though, it’s a player who looks like he never dropped off, and could still be potentially the best marksman in the world. His Corki play is phenomenal and his positioning in team fights is as close to prefect as anything we’ve ever seen. Most teams even fail to get onto him successfully when he plays Kog’Maw, which is now used in a GE specific team composition that has yet to lose a game. PraY is arguably the most consistently good player on the team, and is a clear driving force for GE.
Kang Beom-Hyeon, Age:20
GorillA was one of the best support players in the world when he was cut from NaJin White Shield in favor of Cain. He had just changed the entire competitive scene after he used Janna to help win White Shield’s way through the Korean regionals, and was still in good form. GorillA joined Lee and KurO to help with the creation of GE Tigers, and was paired bot lane with PraY. This bot lane duo were both a part of NaJin, but had never laned together in their careers. The results look good. GorillA has continued to look his normal self with GE (an elite support player in the world), and has been a crucial part of GE’s pick/ban strategy. He is good at vision control, and a real weapon when it comes to ganking other lanes in the early game. With high level play from the bot lane, his trademark Janna pick, and good roaming play, GorillA is once again in the argument for best support player in the region.
Hard Engage/AOE CC Compositions
GE have defaulted to using this style of team composition in the majority of their games this season, and have yet to lose with it. The goal is to grab so much area of effect crowd control, that it would be more difficult to actually mess up an engage then to succeed with it. The great thing is that the champions to coincide with this composition are all things that the GE players want to play. Power picks are champions like Lissandra, Jarvan, Gnar, Leona, and Rumble. GE will use champions like these to wait for fights around objectives and hard engage, but default to pick plays when nothing else is on the map. As a team they will almost always peel off dragons and barons to start a fight, even if they are close to finishing. Also when they have a significant gold lead, dives under turrets are almost a guarantee.
Notable Games: (Game 1 vs Incredible Miracle, Game 3 vs SK Telecom T1)
This play style has only been used by GE on a handful of occasions throughout the season so far, but it’s still a composition that they can execute at an extremely high level. GE will use this style of composition when the enemy team is prioritizing hard engage in pick/ban, and use it to control fights within the game. Strong champions that can be used here are Kassadin, Janna, Jarvan, Rumble, Ezreal and Morgana. By using champions that can get away or kite a hard engage composition, GE gets to pick the fights they want, something that is probably their best strength as a team. Often they completely disengage with this composition, and if they manage to burn enough cool downs, they will heal up and start a fight during their window of advantage. They will also use these champions to try and catch out opponents that wander to places they shouldn’t be according to the vision battle.
Notable Games: (Game 2 vs CJ Entus, Game 2 vs NaJin e-mFire)
Buffed Hyper Carry/ Disengage Composition “Juggermaw”
This composition is something only GE Tigers have pulled off in LCK, and not just simply pulled off, but probably used to its absolute full potential. The idea here is to grab a hyper carry, in GE’s case Kog’Maw, and use as many spell buffs as possible so that it temporarily becomes an unstoppable killing machine. There are two key components that must be used to make this strategy works. First, the marksman must have an absolute understanding of positioning within the composition, and second, there must be enough champions to buff the hyper carry. The marksman literally works as the front line, and while it’s counter-intuitive, having the hyper carry take cool downs and damage is just a part of the plan. Champions that are good at protecting and buffing the hyper carry are priority such as Janna, Lulu, Nami, and Lee Sin. GE can pull this off because PraY is a positional master at marksman, GorillA is a Janna and Nami specialist, and Smeb can play a good Lulu, which is absolutely crucial for this aggressive style to work. Basically across the board GE is suited to run this composition, as it plays to the individual strength of all their players.
Notable Games: (Game 2 vs Jin Air Green Wings, Game 1 vs KT Rolster)
Strengths and Weaknesses
Far and away the best thing GE Tigers have going for them is their ability to team fight, and it’s not just how they fight, but when they fight. They play around objectives and cool downs in such a calculated way that they hardly ever come out on the losing end of a fight (Based on what they received and gave away in pick/ban changes how they go about fights). They are talented at disengaging when they are up against unfavorable champions and cool downs, and they are particularly talented at hard engaging when they have the tools. Most importantly though is that GE knows who they are as players, and the proof of that is the existence of the Juggermaw composition, something that would be extremely difficult to pull off with any different cast of players. This team is in touch with what they can pull off and focus on that, whether the credit goes to NoFe or the players is a bit of an unknown, but what we do know is that they don’t just play to their strengths, they build around them.
Still, this team is beatable, as they did lose single games within sets to the Jin Air Green Wings and SK Telecom T1 respectively. The Jin Air loss was a game where a good pick/ban phase forced GE onto weaker power picks, as well as great play from support player Chei. The enemy support Annie built Talisman of Ascension and Righteous Glory for some insanely good all-in plays, which even GE failed to play around. Their loss to SKT exposed one of the weaknesses in GE, in that their laners are quite tame until either Lee shows up or they group up for team fights. After Faker got a kill in lane with his undefeated LeBlanc, he left to snowball other lanes and GE didn’t have much of a response to the fed mid laner. Aside from early game there are other areas in which I think a team can get a step up on GE. GorillA, especially early game, but at all points in the game, will go on dangerous warding and roaming missions where he can be easily taken advantage of. This has led to many hiccups for GE, but never anything detrimental yet. Also in many games where they get early game leads or plan to give up dragons, they will make very aggressive Baron plays as early as 21:00 minutes into a game. This risky objective trading has so far gone unpunished, but with more teams aware of it I don’t expect it to work as well in the second half of the split.
Outlook for Champions Spring / IEM World Championships
vs #6. Incredible Miracle 3-4 (7-9)
vs #8. Samsung Galaxy 0-7 (2-14)
vs #3. Jin Air Green Wings 4-3 (11-7)
vs #2. CJ Entus 5-2 (10-7)
vs #7. KT Rolster 2-5 (5-11)
vs #5. NaJin e-mFire 3-4 (8-9)
vs #4. SK Telecom T1 4-3 (9-7)
The GE Tigers are basically only two set wins away from guaranteeing themselves a spot in the Champions Spring Playoffs. Wins they will likely earn right off the bat. After that it’s hard to say if GE will take the rest of the season as serious, and results may be un-telling of where they are as a team. I will say that it’s unlikely even a full force GE Tigers will pull off a 14-0 season, as there are some good teams that will be hard to beat in a second best of three, and GE is beatable despite their good play so far. I think the toughest games they have remaining are against CJ Entus and SK Telecom T1. CJ Entus is a big trap game for GE, and if you look back on the set they played earlier, CJ did poorly in pick/ban phase, but still dragged the games on for longer than they should have with the weaker champions. If CJ Entus have even a decent pick/ban strategy by week nine, then they are quite capable of the upset. SK Telecom T1 is the more obvious challenge, as the best of three they played against GE was an absurdly close series that could’ve still gone either way in a best of five format. The problem here is that this rematch occurs in the last week of LCK, and it’s very possible one or both of the teams will not be in need of a result, and might hold back before playoffs.
IEM World Championships: Qualified Teams
GE Tigers, Team World Elite, Cloud 9, Gambit Gaming, yoe Flash Wolves, (SK Gaming or Fnatic), (Team Solo Mid or Counter Logic Gaming), (Unknown Spot).
From the pool of teams that have qualified so far the strongest opponents to GE are probably Team Solo Mid and SK Gaming. This is a bit disappointing because China is basically not represented despite having many qualities teams that could present a challenge to GE. That said the best teams in the West will still be there, and both of these teams are more than capable of taking a single game off GE. The format of the tournament is unreleased so it’s hard for me to make any guesses on how it might play out, but I feel safe in saying that GE will be the most strategic, and best overall team fighting team at the tournament.
I don’t think there is much room to argue whether GE is the best team in the world right now, as we’ve seen that when a team is dominating Korea as a region, they are more than likely at the top of the world as well. That isn’t to say that they won’t be passed up in the near future by a team Korean or foreign, but based on the evidence we have I think it’s a safe to say they are number one. If they continue this form into the rest of Champions Spring they will likely be at the Mid Season Invitational, so we may get to see even more of GE against international teams in the future. Worlds are still well off in the distance to start any speculating, so there’s no point in looking that far ahead. All that’s clear is that for the time being, we have a new dominate team in Korea, which for the time being, should be considered the best League of Legends team in the world.
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