Every week, I’m going to cover one LCK match that stands out, either because the match just had very high quality play or an interesting team comp or strategy being used. This week, we look to KT Rolster taking on the Afreeca Freecs.
- Top – Song “Smeb” Kyung-ho
- Jungle – Go “Score“ Dong-bin
- Mid – Heo “PawN” Won-seok
- ADC – Kim “Deft” Hyuk-kyu
- Support – Cho “Mata” Se-hyeong
- Top – Jang “MaRin” Gyeong-hwan
- Jungle – Lee “Spirit” Da-yoon and Jaeha “Mowgli” Lee
- Mid – Lee “Kuro” Seo-haeng
- ADC – Ha “Kramer” Jong-hun
- Support – Park “TusiN” Jong-ik
KT Rolster put together a real “super team” over this off-season. With a hot start in the first two weeks, KT came into this match without dropping a single game in the three series they played. For now, KT has been matching SKT’s results, but with PawN seeming like a weak link in the team, many wonder how long they will keep this up.
Afreeca put together a pretty solid lineup coming into the split, but has shown some inconsistency. MaRin’s return to Korea had a lot of hype around it, but he has been a key component of the team’s inconsitency. That being said, Afreeca held a 1-1 series record coming into the match and the potential is certainly there.
Key Matchup: Smeb versus MaRin
While MaRin went to China for 2016, Smeb stayed in Korea and went from great to godlike. Smeb was even hailed by many analysts as the best player in the world heading into the world championship. While the most common picks in the top lane have been tanks such as Maokai and Nautilus, we have only seen MaRin on tanks in two out of the six previous games. While Smeb has mostly been playing tanks, we still got to see one Jayce and one Fiora game from him where he was absolutely incredible. Both of these players have already shown how to carry from the top lane in this meta, so let’s look back at how things went down.
Winner: KT Rolster (Blue Side) in 34:42
Bans in order
- KT – Maokai/Varus/Kennen/Cassiopeia/Nautilus
- AF – LeBlanc/Rengar/Camille/Syndra/Elise
Picks in order
- KT – Jayce/Zyra/Caitlyn/Ryze/Ivern
- AF – Ashe/Kha’Zix/Miss Fortune/Rumble/Orianna
KT first picking Jayce immediately set the tone of the game. While Jayce can go mid, and PawN has more than his fair share of games on the champion, you could safely assume that the Jayce would be heading into the top lane for Smeb. AF responded by securing the highly valued jungle pick in Kha’Zix, as well as a top tier AD carry in Ashe. Not wanting to grab mid lane yet, KT picked up the Caitlyn/Zyra bot lane, seeming to not really be worried about the Afreeca countering with Miss Fortune.
The only real problem I had with the draft was in the second pick phase, as Afreeca let KT grab Ryze by picking Rumble first. With Cassiopeia being banned, it seemed KT was already interested in grabbing Ryze. Afreeca could’ve easily picked it up, as with PawN’s current form they shouldn’t be too worried about what wacky counterpick he may have come up with, and giving Ryze to PawN can really cover up for KT’s primary weakness.
The most interesting pick was definitely the Ivern, and the reasoning behind it is great. If you can think back to the 2015 Mid-Season Invitational semifinal game five of SK Telecom T1 vs Fnatic, you’ll remember a monster performance from Bae “Bengi” Seong-woong on Nunu. While “three-buffing” against a team is a feat on it’s own, Bengi took this to a new level by taking away all four buffs in the beginning of the game, and was even able to grab first blood against the opposing jungler. I like to think of Ivern as a more up-to-date Nunu. He doesn’t have the greatest dueling capabilities, but he’s incredibly hard to chase down and is able to instantly take buffs away with smite available, making opposing junglers just have to sit there and watch as he takes their camps away. With Afreeca starting their substitute jungler Mowgli in game one, taking a champion that can ruin a jungler’s day and putting it on a veteran such as Score is an excellent strategy.
The game immediately started off exciting, as Mowgli mistimed his smite on the red buff, resulting in an auto attack from Smeb taking it away. As this happened, Score was already heading over to take away Mogli’s blue. Mowgli was able to respond by taking KT’s blue, but with Score taking away the rest of Afreeca’s blue jungle, Mowgli recalled at almost four minutes at level two with not much farm to pick up.
The Jayce versus Rumble matchup is a rough one early on for Rumble without interference, and since Smeb grabbed the red buff at level one, he was able to bully MaRin ruthlessly while knowing that the enemy jungler was too far behind to do anything about it. This resulted in Smeb picking up a nice early lead, reaching 18 creep score (CS) before MaRin could even get one.
Despite a very rough start, Mowgli wasn’t afraid to head into some fights and get Afreeca a 2-1 kill advantage in the early game. Smeb continued to press his advantage, however, and maintained a 20 CS lead over MaRin. Looking at the duo lane, Caitlyn and Zyra are a very tough matchup to deal with for the first few levels. Afreeca’s duo lane was just hoping to stay in the game until level six, when the combo ultimates from Miss Fortune and Ashe could delete either member of the enemy duo lane. Unfortunately for Afreeca, that strategy is very reliant on landing the Ashe arrow. Deft and Mata are probably the toughest bot lane to pull that combo off against because of their unmatched ability to dodge skill shots. Afreeca’s bot lane slowly fell behind until a gank from Score got a kill and secured first tower for KT.
At this point, KT had leads in all lanes and Score had been doing an excellent job of staying in Mowgli’s jungle to keep him down. Picking up an early tracker’s knife allowed Score to get some deep vision, making it much harder for Mowgli to really find his footing in the game. With all lanes winning on their own, this was really all Score needed to do to keep his team in the driver’s seat for the mid game. With Jayce and Caitlyn, KT had all the poke they needed to put up strong sieges in the mid game.
As their 3,000 gold lead became 5,000 and eventually 10,000, KT had a pretty easy time slowly closing out the game. Looking to game two, Afreeca was going to need to really switch up its draft. While all of Afreeca’s lanes were manageable matchups, they either got out-scaled or were just not feasible given their opponents. Afreeca needed to try and secure two out of three winning lanes if they didn’t want KT to have such an easy victory in the second game.
Winner: Afreeca Freecs (Blue Side) in 40:50
Bans in order
- AF – Kha’Zix/Miss Fortune/Zyra/Syndra/Elise
- KT – LeBlanc/Camille/Rengar/Maokai/Rumble
Picks in order
- AF – Malzahar/Olaf/Ashe/Orianna/Renekton
- KT – Jayce/Varus/Karma/Rek’Sai/Azir
Afreeca was able to adapt quite nicely from game one, and take full advantage of their blue side draft. Their first set of bans allowed them to take the only remaining S Tier support without KT being able to respond with Kha’Zix. With Spirit back in the game, Afreeca took Olaf, which is the only champion that Spirit has had wins on so far (aside from a Rengar game, but that doesn’t count). They also had the surprise pick from MaRin grabbing Renekton, whose strong laning phase can definitely fare well against Jayce. Of course we have a confusing pick from PawN, grabbing Azir instead of taking the same matchup from game one that went just fine. The Azir pick is something that can handle Renekton a bit better than Ryze, but is very punishable in the early game and doesn’t have the durability to survive an Olaf running through his wall.
KT seemed to be ready for MaRin’s aggression at early levels, but Afreeca didn’t properly prepare around it. MaRin without a ward, and his jungler in the bottom half of the map, fell victim to a fairly predictable three minute gank by Score for first blood to Smeb. It did take both Smeb and Score burning their flashes to get the kill, however, allowing MaRin to get a kill just a minute later with assistance from Spirit’s Olaf. This game started off much better for KT, as they were able to withstand in the bottom lane and an early Ninja Tabi from MaRin made it much more difficult for Smeb to get control in the lane without help.
By the mid game, we started to see Afreeca’s composition gaining some control on the map. These games were on patch 7.1, so the Lethality buffs were yet to be seen, and there just isn’t much of an answer on KT for a mid game Renekton/Olaf. Most of the strength in KT’s comp would come from sieging, as Azir, Jayce and Varus can melt towers while all poking extremely well. Afreeca, however, had many ways to jump on these targets. If anybody was caught by as much as an Olaf axe, the following Ashe, Orianna, and Malzahar ults would be more than enough to take them down. Since they were unable to siege, KT was going to have to look for some smaller skirmishes to get them advantages, but Afreeca didn’t give them much of a chance.
We saw KT pick up three Quicksilver Sashes and a Guardian Angel on Score, but even this wasn’t enough to avoid getting run down by a speed-boosted Olaf/Renekton. Afreeca was able to break open the base with Baron, and they were just far too ahead for KT to have any sort of comeback potential. Afreeca certainly drafted smarter from game one, but they were back on red side for game three. Afreeca had a pretty convincing game two, but a proper draft phase from KT could be the deciding factor as to whether or not Afreeca can do the same thing in game three.
Winner: KT Rolster (Blue Side) in 32:12
Bans in order
- KT – Olaf/Kennen/Orianna/Cassiopeia/Taliyah
- AF – LeBlanc/Rengar/Camille/Syndra/Jayce
Picks in order
- KT – Varus/Kha’Zix/Zyra/Maokai/Corki
- AF – Ashe/Elise/Malzahar/Ryze/Renekton
The reasons behind KT’s first three bans were pretty self explanatory: Force Kuro and Spirit onto new champs, and don’t let MaRin have Kennen. KT, however, opted to first pick the Varus instead of Jayce this time around. Afreeca got to keep the successful bottom lane they had in game two, but being on blue side allowed for KT to pick up Zyra this time. I like that Afreeca grabbed the Ryze in the second pick phase unlike game one, but we got to see a new challenger in the top lane as KT grabbed Maokai for Smeb. KT’s composition spikes harder in the mid game, but Afreeca’s comp has a lot more play-making potential in the early game. With every member of Afreeca having a form of single target lock-down, the team was built to look for picks, while KT wanted to group up as early as possible to utilize their strong five-on-five potential.
This game started out a bit slower than the last, with neither jungler finding a successful gank in the first five minutes. Over-aggression from TusiN resulted in him giving up first blood in a straight up two-on-two between the bottom lanes. Afreeca was able to hold on, however, and stay alive until a nice teleport play from MaRin resulted in two kills in their favor. Despite the good play, Afreeca’s bottom tower had taken enough damage that a four-on-four in the bottom lane resulted in kills being traded one for one, and KT picking up the first tower of the game.
At this point, Afreeca had been doing an okay job of not fighting and giving into KT’s style, but KT was able to get the first tower and dragon as a result of Afreeca’s caution. Afreeca needed to make some aggressive pushes into the enemy jungle to get proper vision and set up picks if they wanted a way back into the game. Around the 15-minute mark, Score was caught out by Afreeca and had no chance to escape due to the lockdown from TusiN’s Malzahar ultimate. While the pick was nice, what happened afterward ended up being a key error from Afreeca. Kramer was in the bottom lane while this happened, making a push on to the outer tower. This meant that despite the pick, Afreeca was still fighting a four-on-four. Using Ryze’s Realm Warp, Afreeca continued the chase into KT’s blue jungle and earned two more kills, but allowed KT to answer back with three of their own. While Afreeca still managed to get the bottom tower, the kills being traded meant that Afreeca didn’t get to capitalize on the initial kill as much as they could have.
With things resetting, Afreeca grabbed themselves a cloud drake in exchange for their top tower. At this point, KT had some decent vision established and Afreeca attemped to defend a siege from KT in the mid lane, which went quite poorly for Afreeca. The team lost two towers as well as several members, boosting KT’s gold lead up to 4,000. From here, KT attempted some Baron baits, eventually getting the kills they needed to grab themselves the Baron. KT had a pretty easy time closing this out, as Afreeca’s team composition just didn’t allow them to have any sort of defense from behind.
This series is a great one to watch for teams going against these two in the future. We saw some key flaws in Spirit’s jungling, as well as ways to actually deal with Smeb in the top lane. The key matchup did not dissapoint, as it was really back and forth between the two titans in every game of the series. Overall, KT did the better job of playing to their team composition strengths and that’s why they grabbed the victory for the series.
While KT had the advantage coming into the series by getting to start on blue side, it was really Afreeca’s inability to play around their red side team compositions that cost them the game. Afreeca’s lanes were able to go toe-to-toe with KT as their bot lane held up surprisingly well against the force that is Deft and Mata. A very worrying trend continued of Afreeca being unable to win without Spirit on Olaf. It seems that without the ability to brute force things via a ghosting Olaf with ultimate, Spirit is unable to make things happen in the mid game. While Afreeca has shown that they can run compositions with Olaf quite well, they are going to need to find some red side picks that they can work with if they want to be a real threat to these top teams.
Photo Credits: OGN