The Return of the Old Gods: Korean Titans Leave China
With the recent announcement that Kim "Deft" Hyuk-kyu and Heo "PawN" Won-seok have opted to leave EDward Gaming at the end of the season, the world super-agent market heated up with thoughts of where they will land for the 2017 season. What is also important to note, is that superstar jungler Lee "Spirit" Da-yoon and former Worlds' MVP Cho "Mata" Se-hyeong are also available free agents as season six draws to a close.
One of the obvious questions that comes to mind with this announcement is "where will they go," a question which still lacks a clear answer. Breaking down potential options, powerhouses such as SK Telecom and ROX Tigers are immediately ruled out. SKT is just coming off their third world championship, and while they did not look as dominant as they did in season five, their win was still convincing nonetheless. Thus, the likelihood that they make a roster change going into next season is unlikely.
The same can be said of the ROX Tigers. While they did not win the world championship and fell victim to SKT along their path to victory, their series was nothing less than spectacular and a candidate for the greatest of all time, thus ruling out another team for a potential roster swap. It also seems unlikely that Samsung would look to make a roster change either, having just lost to SKT, but still found consistency in their rookie AD Carry Park "Ruler" Jae-hyuk, and their superstar mid laner Lee "Crown" Min-ho.
So, that leaves us with the question, where do our former Samsung kings go? While Spirit did not have such a spectacular season playing on Fnatic, he has shown that he has the ability to take over and hard carry if the meta suits him, as seen from his time on Team WE. Mata is coming off of an unsuccessful Worlds quarterfinals exit, but can still be considered a top-tier support, and may return to form given the right teammates and coaches. The same can be said for Deft; although he shares the same characteristics as Spirit in the sense that he has improved since leaving Korea, and is returning in much better form, despite not having international success since MSI in season five.
For me, the biggest question mark surrounds Pawn, the former mid laner for Samsung White and now EDG. While he was showing decent form in the spring of season five, his play during the Summer LPL split and Worlds season five left a lot of questions surrounding his health and level of play. Pawn has been in states of flux, being unable to play due to a back injury, to subbing in and having a few great, but mostly underwhelming, stints in the mid lane for EDG. In fact, he didn't even play for the majority of their dominant undefeated summer split, where he rode the bench in favor of Lee "Scout" Ye-chan. Questions aside, perhaps a return to Korea is what Pawn needs to light the competitive fire again, and provided he has the right team around him, become the notorious Faker-killer once again.
All these issues aside, the major question still left in the air is, where do they go? In my ideal world, the trio of Spirit, Mata, and Deft combine somewhere and form a super team of sorts under some organization. With potential free agents such as Gwak "BDD" Bo-seong lying around, and the possibility of Heo "Huni" Seung-hoon returning to Korea to play in LCK, a veteran group of achievers such as Deft and co. would be a perfect fit to lead young prodigy's to success in LCK.
While it is unlikely that those three will team together, they are definitely the most likely to find a team. LCK lacks strong junglers after the exit of Lee "KaKAO" Byung-kwon and Choi "DanDy" In-kyu, making Spirit a hot commodity going into the offseason. Deft and Mata will also not struggle to find teams, seeing as their strong performance in China showed that their skill has not deteriorated since leaving Samsung. Pawn, however, might find difficulty in locating a team, due to his weak domestic performance, but he may fit well into a team that has a weak mid lane, but strong players elsewhere.
After weighing all these options, there are a few teams that come to mind for potential roster swaps. Longzhu-IM had a lackluster performance after putting together a supposed Korean super team with players such as Lee "Chaser" Sang-hyun, Shin "Coco" Jin-yeong, Lee "Fury" Jin-yong, and Lee "Flame" Ho-jong. While they had plenty of talent to work with, they never could seem to find the right combination of players to get the ball rolling. Along with Fury's weak performance and inconsistent play from their supposed superstars, Longzhu-IM is looking to upgrade. This team immediately comes to mind for Deft and Mata, seeing as Mata is a guaranteed positional upgrade over Kim "Pure" Jin-sun, and Deft serves as an upgrade for the underperforming Fury.
Another good place for Deft or Mata to land would be Jin Air or KT Rolster. While Jin Air does have a solid ADC in Na "Pilot" Woo-hyung, he suffers from weird stints of inconsistency, and at this point, Deft is an upgrade over most Korean ADC's. While Mata may not mechanically be an upgrade in his current form, he still carries the experience and shot calling advantage that makes him a candidate for the greatest support of all time.
KT is also a good fit due to their bot side of the map being their weak point. Go "Score" Dong-bin and Kim "ssumday" Chan-ho hard-carried KT, while Song "Fly" Yong-jun's consistency allowed Score to have full control of the top side of the map. No "Arrow" Dong-hyeon and Ha "Hachani" Seung-chan have never been top-tier players for their positions, and potentially bringing in Deft and Mata could launch KT from a title contender to an international powerhouse.
This leaves the question of where Spirit and Pawn end up. It would not be surprising if Spirit was picked up to fill the void after his MVP performance last season. A team like Afreeca Freecs could also use another strong carry presence, and to have Spirit around the likes of Son "Mickey" Young-min and Gwon "Sangyoon" Sang-yun would provide them with valuable leadership, as well as a carry threat from the jungle.
Circling back to Pawn and his woes, the most logical progression would be for him to join a mid to low tier LCK team and work his way back, since his play has been less than consistent over the past year, but there is one team that I would actually like to see him end up on. While the ROX Tigers are finishing the year on a high note, their consistent problem has always been surrounding Lee "Kuro" Seo-haeng in the mid lane. While the Tigers have adapted to Kuro's weaknesses and actually planned on it for many of their series, a potential laning upgrade with the same team-fight prowess would be an ideal fit. While I'm not saying this will happen, it seems like a good fit for Pawn. In Samsung White, Pawn was given free reign to do as he pleased in the mid lane; as DanDy and Mata worked together to provide vision and lane control in bot and top, while Pawn spent most of his timing getting in his lane opponent's head, like when he solo killed Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok three times to get to Worlds in 2014.
When examining the ROX Tigers, we find many of the same factors, with some upgrades in fact. In the top lane, you find an upgrade over Jang "Looper" Hyeong-seok in Song "Smeb" Kyung-ho, a candidate for the best top laner in the world. Han "Peanut" Wang-ho, in the jungle, showed incredible dominance over the LCK spring and summer splits, while ROX also hosts a highly skilled bot lane with the best support player in the world over the past year. The echoes of Samsung White run through this team, and personally, I think Pawn would be a great fit.
While this is all a world of hypotheticals, it will be interesting to see where these former Samsung players end up as they return to Korea.
Where would you like to see these players wind up? Let us know by commenting below or tweeting us @GAMURScom.