Third Time's the Charm: The ROX Tigers Victorious Summer
After almost two years of being in the shadow of SK Telecom T1, the ROX Tigers have finally become LCK champions. The team known for monstrous regular splits has had a history of faltering in the finals, which made their long awaited championship title even more special. Not only do the ROX Tigers come into the World Championship as the clear favourites, but their top laner, Song "Smeb" Kyung-ho, enters the tournament with the title of the world’s best player.
After a heartbreaking loss to SK Telecom T1 in the spring finals, the ROX Tigers needed to completely overhaul their playstyle. Throughout the spring regular season, the Tigers’ rookie jungler, Han "Peanut" Wang-ho, dominated every other jungler in the league. Peanut was known as the first blood king, topping the league with a 66 percent first blood rate. In the finals, though, it seemed as if he switched roles with SKT’s jungler, Kang "Blank" Sun-gu. Throughout the series, Blank continuously out-jungled Peanut, in terms of map pressure and ganking. Aside from Peanut, the rest of the Tigers were disjointed. The team’s style of extreme aggression, with very little warding, was finally being punished.
While the start of the split was met with an unfortunate loss to Samsung, the Tigers went on to have another dominating split, which was expected from them. What was not expected though, was how much their playstyle would change. The team dramatically increased their ward usage, going from the third worst in the league to the third best in terms of wards placed per minute. Peanut’s playstyle would also change dramatically over the offseason. Peanut went from a jungler who would become lost if he couldn’t get ahead early on a champion like Kindred, to being proficient on more utility champions, like Rek’sai and Gragas.
For the ROX Tigers’ top laner, Song "Smeb" Kyung-ho, the summer split solidified him as the best player in the world. With a KDA of 4.7 and an average CS lead at 10 minutes of 5.7, Smeb was far and away the most impactful player in the league. Aside from KT Rolster’s Kim "Ssumday" Chan-ho and SKT’s Lee "Duke" Ho-Seong, no other top laner could succeed against Smeb. Patch 6.15, which brought back standard lanes, really unlocked Smeb, allowing him to crush the enemy top lane once again in the laning phase. It is due to Smeb’s dominance in his role throughout his region that many analysts have given him the title of the best player in the world.
While the ROX Tigers’ mid laners Lee "Kuro" Seo-haeng and Kim "PraY" Jong-in stepped up and became consistent rocks for the team, their support, Kang "GorillA" Beom-hyeon, seemed to be out of form for most of the split. Throughout the summer split, GorillA kept getting caught out, having the fourth most deaths of all supports in the league. These deaths were quite uncharacteristic for someone who has been considered by many to be the best support in the world. It was not until the latter half of the split that GorillA returned to his normal form.
By the end of the regular split, the ROX Tigers had fully regained their fantastic team play. The ROX Tigers’ strong team cohesion allowed for split second decisions, where the team would collapse on a play at a moment's notice. This team cohesion meant Smeb would almost always teleport faster than the rival top laner.
If there were any two words to describe the ROX Tigers’ LCK championship win against KT, it is definitely “proactiveness,” and “Smeb.”
Throughout the series against KT, the ROX Tigers were continuously making team plays throughout the map. Whether it was Smeb roaming down to the mid lane multiple times to get Kuro ahead, or the five man dive mid lane off PraY’s Ashe arrow, the ROX Tigers were relentless when trying to create advantages.
Smeb’s play throughout the series was also extraordinary. From getting a solo kill on Ssumday in the first game, to his Baron steal with Gangplank’s Cannon Barrage in the final game to win them the series, Smeb was continuously making game winning plays. This series illustrated how integral Smeb was to the Tigers' championship win. If not for that Baron steal, it's very possible that KT would have snowballed off that Baron to win the series.
After three failed attempts, the ROX Tigers finally won the championship they worked so hard to attain. As the teary eyed Tigers held the championship trophy, they knew that the painstaking two years they spent practicing in that tiny house without any real sponsors paid off. For Smeb especially, this was the pinnacle of his career. As a player once considered to be the worst in the league in his debut season, to becoming the best in the world, Smeb proved his skill to the world.
With this domestic victory, it is time for the ROX Tigers to set their sights on the World Championships. After their shocking semifinal exit at IEM Katowice and second place finish at the previous World Championships, this is the Tigers' shot at redemption in global competition. By the time season seven rolls around, League of Legends may have a new Korean dynasty.
How do you think the ROX Tigers will do at Worlds? Let us know by commenting below or tweeting us @GAMURScom.
Photos courtesy of Fomos/Yong Woo 'Kenzi' Kim, and the ROX Tigers