The 2019 season has been a pleasant surprise for Kingzone DragonX fans. Losing five players in the offseason, Kingzone were forced to rebuild, creating a new roster which many pundits—including myself—projected to miss playoffs prior to the season’s start.
Duncan “Thorin” Shields even bet League of Legends journalist Ashley Kang that Kingzone wouldn’t make playoffs in spring, offering to pay for her flight to an international event should he lose.
To their fans and Kang’s glee, Kingzone proved Thorin and the other skeptics wrong, not only making the playoffs, but finishing spring in third.
For the summer, Kingzone needed to make another roster change, promoting Yoo “Naehyun” Nae-hyun to the starting mid laner position following the announcement of Heo “PawN” Won-seok’s break from competitive play for health reasons.
Despite lacking any reserve players, Kingzone maintained their high LCK standing and were arguably Korea’s best team at Rift Rivals. The last time Kingzone were lauded such praise was just over a year ago, when they last won an LCK title. But only two players from that title win remain on the roster: top laner Kim “Rascal” Kwang-hee and jungler Moon “Cuzz” Woo-chan, both of whom were substitutes at the time.
“We all think we are being overrated at the moment,” Kingzone AD carry Kim “Deft” Hyuk-kyu said in an interview with Korizon in week three regarding fans’ rising expectations. Deft admitted that “Kingzone don’t have the perfect performance yet,” and that “it all comes down to how much we can perfect our plays until the playoffs.” Succeeding in playoffs means returning Kingzone to the apex of Korean League of Legends, giving this roster the opportunity to find the organization its first major international title at Worlds.
It’s easy to find similarities between the past and current versions of Kingzone. Deft and support Park “TusiN” Jong-ik play the role of the team veterans, just like Kingzone’s previous bot lane duo in Kim “PraY” Jong-in and Kang “GorillA” Beom-hyun. Rascal—like current SK Telecom T1 top laner Kim “Khan” Dong-ha—spent his professional career riding the bench before starting on Kingzone. Both Naehyun and now KT Rolster mid laner Gwak “Bdd” Bo-seong were stuck in bad team purgatory before joining Kingzone. And Cuzz—well, Cuzz is still Cuzz, though considerably better.
But these similarities are purely superficial, with this current version of Kingzone operating quite differently to the old roster.
Deft recently called Kingzone “a team with a very strong bot side.” That’s an understatement. It would be hard to find a regular LCK viewer who puts any other bot lane above Deft and TusiN, with Deft once again looking like the best AD carry in Korea. Previously an independent point of consistency for Kingzone with Pray and Gorilla, the bot lane is now the primary focus with Deft and TusiN in charge.
With performances like Kingzone’s victory against arguably the best team in the world in FunPlus Phoenix (in which Deft nearly earned himself a pentakill as Lucian) it makes sense that Deft and TusiN have the spotlight whenever Kingzone plays. Quietly supporting Deft and TusiN, in addition to Kingzone’s two solo laners is a much improved Cuzz, who’s become a pivotal player in Kingzone’s 2019 successes.
Originally a jungler criticized for needing winning solo lanes to succeed, Cuzz is no longer that overaggressive rookie from 2017 with easy-to-exploit pathing. Since Kingzone’s roster reshuffling, Cuzz has become quite the versatile jungle who’s become known for his seemingly unique ability to actually play and make full use of Karthus jungle.
In an interview with Korizon, Cuzz described Karthus as “a risky champion [that] needs to be played well in order to have an impact,” calling Karhus a “glass cannon.” Over the past year we’ve seen countless LCK junglers pick Karthus jungle, only to fail, giving LCK caster and resident Karthus jungle expert Nick “LS” De Cesare a headache as he’s forced to watch and commentate over their travesty of a performance.
But having skilled players in multiple roles doesn’t equal success, just look at all the failed superteams in League of Legends history.
In his first LCS interview after returning from a top two finish at this year’s MSI, Team Liquid’s Peter “Doublelift” Peng explained the “60-40 percent of success plays.”
“Teams that are willing to take those 60-40s, and really practice at them, and even [do the same with] 50-50s, are just way better as a team,” Doublelift said. “They have so many more chances to win the game than you, because you’re only looking for those tiny moments in the game that are overwhelmingly on your side.”
Kingzone embody this 60-40 mentality more than any other LCK team. Kingzone never take their collective foot off the gas pedal, pushing the limits of what they can take following a successful play. If Kingzone find a pick at 20 minutes, it’s almost guaranteed they’re running straight to the Baron. It’s a move most LCK teams wouldn’t make given the relative strength of Baron at that point in the game, never mind the risk such a play poses.
In these last few weeks though, Kingzone’s constant gotta-go-fast mentality has led to many unexpected crashes. Kingzone are in the midst of a three-game losing streak, having their name fall further and further down the standings with each loss.
With the top seven LCK teams all within one game of each other, Kingzone’s place in playoffs is still not confirmed. Their road to the playoffs has also become more difficult, with teams like Gen.G and Afreeca Freecs finding unlikely wins to bring them into the playoff race.
The praise lauded on Kingzone for most of summer has been replaced with confusion and doubts on the heights possible with this roster.
Deft’s comment earlier in the summer, when he said Kingzone was overrated by fans, carries a level of foresight that really only those within Kingzone could have known. Perhaps Kingzone simply had a really good read on an earlier patch, and have hit a slump of sorts. But regular season wins aren’t what qualify teams for Worlds. If watching Griffin for the past year has taught us anything, it’s that regular season wins become meaningless once playoffs begin.
Playoffs are Kingzone`s real test. Now they just have to get there.