YellOwStaR: The Immortal Veteran

Jönköping, 2011. A Crystal Arrow is launched by the AD carry of aAa. After soaring through the Rift for a few seconds, covering impressive distance, it hits the target perfectly, securing a kill.

Jönköping, 2011.
A Crystal Arrow is launched by the AD carry of aAa. After soaring through the Rift for a few seconds, covering impressive distance, it hits the target perfectly, securing a kill. The name of the perpetrator is not immediately uttered by the caster. Yet it is a name that was destined for more.

Los Angeles, 2012.
A visible argument between two SK Gaming players occurs after a lost game. One of them, the AD carry, appears to be blaming his jungler for not being able to defend the Nexus. The result being that the game is lost due to a backdoor.

Los Angeles, 2013.
The AD carry is now playing support for Fnatic. His charitable playmaking delights the craving observers of the world, each ult from Zyra or Leona being followed by audible aah’s and ooh’s.

Singapore, 2014.
This is his fourth World Championship. He is there as Fnatic tries to tear OMG’s Nexus down. He helplessly watches in disbelief as his teammates fails in applying the last hit. OMG survives, Fnatic is out.

But by now, Bora “YellOwStaR” Kim is universally known. Outlasting four seasons, three seperate World Championship teams and a role-swap, he is now recognised as the finest Western support player. As this super-veteran of LoL moves into his fifth season, he is surrounded by new untested teammates. Driving these rookies to greatness will perhaps be his final test. And not just a test of his in-game play-making, but also a test of his vast experience and leadership abilities.

Assessing YellOwStaR’s style – AD Carry

In the early game, I’m the main voice, I’m calling everything, Level 1 I’m calling what we’re going to to, first levels, probably the first drake, calling the first ganks and so on. But then, probably the main voice of the team is YellOwStaR.
– Araneae, as SK Gaming jungler

As great as his support plays are today, it’s fair to say that his performance as an AD carry was unremarkable internationally. While always a solid player in terms of positioning and mechanics, he was one of the few AD carries who also had the responsibility of being the main shotcaller. Perhaps because of the extreme simultaneous stress of being both the shotcaller and handling the heavy mechanical burden of the AD carry position, he adopted a mainly supportive playstyle. One of his most successful champions while playing AD carry for Fnatic, was Varus. With Varus and similar champions, the Fnatic botlane would often provide heavy support for sOAZ and xPeke, the main carries of Fnatic.

But YellOwStaR also faced harsh criticism, mainly while playing for SK. During Season 2, he was one of the relatively few top level professionals who tried to balance a life of competitive LoL with studying. After Season 1, most pros of the top teams of Europe (such as had either limited or stopped their schooling completely. It was believed that SK’s inability to bootcamp properly prior to the Season 2 World Championship, was due to conflicting schedules between the bootcamp and YellOwStaR’s studies at his university. When he was removed from SK at the end of Season 2, it was unclear if he had a future within competitive LoL. When he joined Fnatic, however, it was with his promise of full dedication to LoL.

Today, his supportive style of AD, combined with his already present shotcalling duties, makes us wonder why he didn’t play support to begin with.

The Role-swap

Bora is this kind of player, that is so intelligent in the game, that he can control a single game alone.
– Araneae, as Fnatic coach

When it comes to the results of role-swaps, there are only a few kinds. They can either be wholly unsuccessful, like in the case of Locodoco, with the performance being obviously bad and the swap deemed an instant failure. Then there are the ones which, sometimes desperately, maintains a certain player’s relevancy. Perhaps it isn’t clear whether the player is better or worse off in his new position, but the swap still doesn’t feel satisfying. A player like Voyboy fits in this category. The last kind is the magical one that unlocks hidden potential. This is probably the desired result of every roleswap, but only a handful of players actually belong in this category.

And rarely has a role-swap made a player reach his final form to the degree it did it for YellOwStaR. Though it did take some time to make him reach this level, he went from being a a decent AD carry (in a region of mediocre AD carries) to being the best Western support, or, at the least, on the same level as Xpecial and Lustboy. For while his mechanical ability is not on the level of a player like Xpecial, the support role allowed him to fully unleash his tactical understanding of the game.

Initial fan reaction was not positive. nRated, the player he replaced, was highly respected by sections of the LoL community. While nRated wasn’t present in the Season 1 Championship, he was in the Fnatic squad at IPL5, famously securing second place in a very stacked international tournament. Looking back at the swap, to this day the exact reasons behind nRated’s removal are still unclear. While generally accepted to be a mix between bad team chemistry and alleged lack of commitment, there was a macro-game dimension to this swap as well. It’s quite possible that the presence of YellOwStaR on the team, made nRated’s contribution to the strategical and tactical aspects of the team, feel superfluous. As necessary as nRated is for SK Gaming in these matters today, back in Fnatic he was far more disposable – especially considering that sOAZ and xPeke were also strong voices in defining how Fnatic should play. This oversaturation of players with determined macro-game ideas, might not be the exact reason nRated was removed, but it makes sense that it could happen so painlessly.

Assessing YellOwStaR’s style – Support

I’d say Yellow prefers roaming and leaving the AD alone, meanwhile Nyph prefers staying with the AD is the biggest difference, otherwise they are actaully more simular than I thought. [sic]
– Rekkles, AMA 2015

While changing from AD carry to support helped making his shotcalling duties more manageable, it left the question of how YellOwStaR would chose to embrace his new in-game duties. Playing support obviously requires a different skillset than playing AD carry. As mentioned previously, critical for the new Fnatic with YellOwStaR as support, was the full development of a bot-lane strategy that gave sOAZ and (more importantly) xPeke, as much support as possible. Following the style of C9’s support heavy bot-lane of 2013, Fnatic would play bot-lanes overloaded with crowd control. Ashe/Zyra and Varus/Leona being some of them.

But, removing ourselves from the bigger strategical aspects of the game, in his play YellOwStaR applied two critical tactical styles as well.

The first was his style of early, sometimes pre-6, support roaming. While not limited to YellOwStaR (it was very popular in Korea), he was the European player to incorporate this tactic most dominantly. And it is something that still very recognisable in his playstyle today, as testified by Rekkles in the quote above. In the context of Fnatic, it could create huge amounts of pressure on specifically the mid-lane, since sOAZ was also known for being a potential early game roamer. Doing this, YellOwStaR would often selflessly sacrifice XP in order to give xPeke an edge in the mid-lane. While the practice of this style depended on the strategic value of role of 2v1 laneswaps (and Rekkles’ tendency to stay in lane) at any given time, it is a skill that he might need more than ever in his new Fnatic squad. Combined with sOAZ and xPeke, this made Fnatic one of the most dynamic teams in terms of map movement.

The second was highly active playmaking. Both in lane, but especially in applying crowd control in teamfights. He revitalised the idea of the ‘playmaking support’ (described here link), but unlike his American counterpart Xpecial, the strongest NA support, he wasn’t the type of player to employ ‘brute mechanics’ in forcing plays. Indeed, his famous mechanical blunder on Thresh is now simply known as pulling a YellOwStaR. Instead of going for tough mechanical plays, he’d look for openings that required less mechanical prowess, but greater tactical awareness. Usually by flanking, baiting or hiding. This was most visible in the S3 World Championship where his Zyra and Leona plays earned the perpetual admiration of the Korean casters and analysts. Over time, this flair developed, and even today, he remains generally more of an engager than a peeler.

Below are two clips that illustrate YellOwStaR’s uncanny flair for engaging and applying crowd control. The first, beginning at 1:28, features him flanking Vulcun, then flashing in for the 5 man Zyra knock-up. The second, in a rather similar fashion, he does the same to Royal Club. Both are classic YellOwStaR plays in that they come from a position of stealth,


YellOwStaR’s Leona and the Fnatic-C9 Rivalry

“I discovered Leona when I was playing AD carry, back then it was with Nrated, and I knew how strong this character was, but it was a bit too all-on. Once you’re in, you cannot get out. If you get baited, you die. If you go in at that time, you die as well. So it’s really about timing and map awareness. […] This could match me, I could choose this hero, because I like this style,”
– YellOwStaRThorins Reflections #5

Even though his Zyra plays at Worlds were impressive and admired at the time, his performance Leona was immortal. In lane, his acute sense for all-ins, made even seasoned bot-lanes question their strength. Today, it looks strange how Puszu could even match up to AD carry legends Imp and Uzi. But when YellOwStaR played Leona, he was playing as if he didn’t even know or care who he was up against. His aggression in lane and willingness to fight, is even more surprising when you consider the inexperience of the Puszu-YellOwStaR botlane, with both only having  played a few months of their respective roles competitively. Combined with his roaming, he would transition from being a lane terror to being a global terror.

Moving on, one of Fnatic’s greatest assets in their matches against C9, was their affinity for picking off Lemonnation and Sneaky. It was often the result of either catching them mid-rotation, or simply catching Lemonnation while he was warding. In an interview with Thorin, YellOwStaR specifically mentioned his affinity for this aspect of the game, knowing the warding patterns of the support role. While the overall scoreline in the C9-Fnatic rivalry is in C9 favour today, what caused Fnatic to be such a threat to C9 to begin with, was the discrepancy between YellOwStaR and LemonNation,

sOAZ and Balls were roughly comparable, and whatever advantage xPeke was expected to have in mid, was partly countered by the presence of Meteos on C9, and partly by Hai stepping up in a number of games. As great as LemonNation is regarded in pre-game strategical matters, his numerous missteps in the games against Fnatic really exposed C9 weakest in-game link. Looking on broader aspects of the matchup, YellOwStaR was highly active in his play, LemonNation was largely passive.

Using so many examples from the S3 World Championship, is not coincidental. Not only was it his breakout tournament as a support, testing him against various world-class opponents. In terms of pulling out in-game plays, YellOwStaR and xPeke were certainly the main contributors in Fnatic securing 3rd-4th place at Worlds. But when you add to the equation that YellOwStaR was also the main shotcaller, he truly was Fnatic’s most valuable player.

 ^ 16:38

Final Remarks

Puszu, dont be scared, I’m fucking strong!
– YellOwStaR

It is rumoured that YellOwStaR might quit Fnatic after this spring split. It is believed that his current role in the team is to prepare and train them for the next split, where a new support is to take over, so that they’d be able to play with this support through the Worlds Championship. This is due to the fact that the World Championship schedule would conflict with virtually all semester-starts in places of higher education. In an 2014 interview with the French Le Figaro, he clearly stated that his plan is to return to his studies after one or two years of further competitive play, leaving things unclear.

I’d say to him that he owes his fans to complete the season with this new Fnatic. Then I recall how much he he has already given, and you can’t really blame him for returning to his original academic pursuits. It will be bitter piece of news to witness, if he chooses this path come summer. That four stops at the World Championship would be the end.

Regardless of his possible exit after this split, his task remains the same. Turn four rookies into superstars. In-game, this probably flat out means that he needs to play his best split ever. Even if Febiven and HuNi turns out to be great players, fully replacing sOAZ and xPeke, both also being super-veterans from S1, will be virtually impossible. YellOwStaR will need to continue his historic flair for roaming and playmaking, as well as keeping up his performance as shotcaller. Out of game, his responsibilities as captain and leader will be greater than probably any European captain before him. The players will look to him whenever they question their own abilities, when the big LAN’s looms on the horizon, or if they start to buckle under the pressure of underperformance.

HuNi, Febiven, Reignover, Steelback. Don’t be scared. There is nothing you can’t do if YellOwStaR is fucking strong.