Last Shot at Glory: Players to Watch in the KeSPA Cup

An overview of this year's LCK, its fall, its rise, and its return to glory, followed by my top players to watch at the KeSPA Cup.

The world's largest ecommerce site is moving into esports, reviving an iconic tournament with millions of dollars on the line in the process

The 2015 World Championship is over. For the first time ever, we’ve had a Korea vs Korea final, and in the end SKT T1 took home the Summoner’s Cup in dominating fashion. But, in 6 days, they have to prepare themselves for another tournament: the newly instated KeSPA Cup, full of players with unfulfilled dreams of international glory and teams hungry to prove themselves and perhaps perform the gargantuan task of taking down the mighty world champions.

What is the KeSPA Cup?

Fourteen Korean teams will be competing in this tournament, which was first established last year for Starcraft II, and later expanded to League of Legends thanks to the removal of OGN Champions Winter, which would have occurred in place of the KeSPA Cup had it not been removed. The top two teams from Champions Summer, KT Rolster and SKT T1, will be automatically seeded into the round of 8, while the remaining twelve teams will have to play in a round of 12 to advance. Among those 12 teams are the remaining 8 LCK Summer teams and 4 Challenger teams who won the offline qualifier. Each match will be a Best of 3, and the finals will be a Best of 5. The victor of this tournament will win a hefty prize of about $40,000 and will qualify for IEM Cologne. 

An Overview of Korea: a Season of Lost Glory

Korea has once again proven that its top teams are far above the rest of the world, however, they have yet to reclaim their former glory. In past years, it could have been argued that LCK was the World Championships, with several of the tournaments being stacked with the very best of the best. Even middle tier teams could have conquered Worlds given the chance, albeit in a less dominant fashion. However, with the advent of the Korean Exodus, we saw the Korean scene flounder like never before. In spring, teams like Najin, CJ, and even SKT struggled to find consistency, and Korea had, for the first time since 2012, lost in, not just one, but two, international tournaments. Even when the top 3 teams rose to power this fall, the bottom 7 were still struggling. Najin and Watch got exorcised from Worlds after 3 years, CJ nearly reverse swept only to get crushed again, and KT stomped on Jin Air’s dreams of a World Championship. 

But now, those teams have a chance to regain their honor, right before the end of the season.

A Fresh Start… Before the New Year

We all know what happened at Worlds thanks to Patch 5.18. As of now, we don’t know what patch the KeSPA Cup will be played on, but it’s safe to say that we’ll be seeing some carry top laner action. And don’t forget, we’ll be seeing it in the land of carry tops. Old blood will be given the spotlight for the first time in almost two years to carry, while new blood has a chance at showing teams what they can do. These teams have learned. They’ve scrimmed against world-class teams during the Korean bootcamps. And nobody knows how these guys will play. Koo, KT, and SKT will be going in almost completely blind, while the others have seen all their strategies (except maybe SKT’s), and most definitely have been scheming new ways to defeat those strategies. Similar to how Worlds played out, we as spectators have no idea as to how these teams will play on the new patches, and we might be seeing some major upsets. 

What better way to end the year than beating the teams that denied you Worlds? Or even better, beating the reigning world champions?

Who to Watch?


This guy is a god of Lee Sin. When you have the opposing team, even if it’s just a Challenger team, first picking Lee Sin just to deny it from you, then you know you’re good. And even then, he showed an amazing performance for his debut. Think TiP Rush. Except, from what I’ve seen, much more efficient, and way smarter. He knows when to gank, when to farm, and his pathing is great. Oh, and his mechanics are insane. He pulled off inSec after inSec, ward hops and ult-flashes, multi-man ults, etc. In 1 game. Yeah. You wonder why Ever first picked Lee for the first 3 games. This guy brings the proactive plays and the global pressure that Sbenu lacked, and he’s looking to bring the heat into the jungle, while also stamp his name as one of the best in the league. 

NaJin Duke

Ggoong’s small champion pool. Ohq with his Ohq moments. Watch not getting his Worlds qualification buffs. And standing alone, biding his time to unleash his full carry power, is NaJin’s Duke. 

In Spring, he was a major contender for best top laner in Korea. In Summer, he struggled along with his team, but he still showed amazing performances despite those of his teammates. Even during the tank meta, Duke was a carry. His Maokai play single-handedly won NaJin some games, and his TP flanks outclassed even the best in the world. And let’s not forget, in Season 4, this guy had a huge champion pool, crushing all competition on KT Bullets during IEM Katowice. We saw what the likes of Ssumday, Smeb, and Marin could do in the carry top meta. But another god still has yet to prove himself, and that player is Duke. He’s got the skills. He has the champion pool. And he might dethrone Marin and Smeb as the best top laner in the world. 

Jin Air SoHwan/TrAce

Now, from what I know, TrAce is still on the starting lineup. But, as of now, it’s safe to say that SoHwan will be seeing some action in the top lane. TrAce has struggled to expand his minuscule pool of 3 champions, despite having a full season to do so. Yes, he’s still good mechanically. but the question is whether he can play the strongest of the meta picks. His failings have resulted in Jin Air having weak drafts and little strategetic diversity, or to be blunt, only one strat. It’s all eyes on him in this top centric meta, and the big question is, can he play these carry split pushing threats? Nope.

But sitting in the sidelines is Jin Air’s recently acquired and up and coming top laner, SoHwan. I haven’t watched Korean Challenger, but his soloqueue games, it’s obvious that he most certainly can play carry tops. This might be what Jin Air needs. Not another peeling team fight top laner, but a top laner that can draw pressure away from his team and put the enemy team on edge. TrAce may be what Jin Air needs now, but SoHwan might be what they need to break out and become a great team. 

KT Rolster Ssumday

For our last player, we have KT’s esteemed top laner, Ssumday. If anybody wants a second chance, it’s this guy. Knocked out in convincing fashion in the quarterfinals, overshadowed by his fellow countrymen Smeb and Marin, and losing his chance to show the world that he was the best top laner in the world. This guy went toe-to-toe with Smeb in the quarterfinal match, despite the later being given arguably his best champion, and steamrolled through the rest of the competition within group D which was stacked with talent like Acorn, Flame, and Soaz. At this Worlds, he made a good case for himself as the third best top laner in the world. But was that enough for him? This is his last shot, and you can bet it’s going to be explosive. 

Well, that’s a wrap

Welp, these are my players to watch out for when you watch this year’s KeSPA Cup. There are so many other good players that I didn’t get to, but these are the players that I think have the most to prove. I’m sure there will be many more surprises when the games actually play out, so don’t fret. You can catch the first match at 1:00 AM EST on Friday of this week, 11/6. For more information about the tournament, check out  http://lol.esportspedia.com/wiki/2015_LoL_KeSPA_Cup.