LOL Champions Korea, my personal favorite league, returns tomorrow morning and I wanted to provide you all with some cursory thoughts on each of the teams, my tier list, and the futures/outrights I’ll have in my portfolio for this Summer.
F Tier – I’m not sure I’ll give any of these out but it’s mostly reserved for uniquely bad situations like maybe an expansion team or team from a smaller, weaker region at a large tournament or something.
D Tier – Non-playoff teams that have next to no shot without a borderline miracle developing to have a chance at playoffs. Not all regions will have these. Often rebuilding teams, teams with large rosters and constant swaps of subpar players, or straight up awful teams.
C Tier – Non-playoff teams that need a lot of things to go well to have a shot at competing domestically.
Often these teams are trying and competing but lack the players/skill to really compete with the stronger teams. Sometimes will beat middle of the table teams but will also drop some games to worse teams.
B Tier – Teams that might make the playoffs or might just miss. Most of the “middle of the table” teams fall into this category. Often they either do one thing well but have weaknesses or they’re a pretty solid team that just doesn’t have the skill/ability to be much better than they are.
A Tier – Likely playoff teams that could contend for a title if a few things go their way. Usually solid teams with a weakness or high upside teams with multiple question marks.
S Tier – World championship caliber teams and/or teams that are substantially ahead of their region. S+ rating indicates teams that I feel have a great chance at winning the world championship.
SeolHaeOne Prince (former APK Prince)
Arrivals: Mickey (mid)
Departures: Cover (mid) becomes inactive to move to other role in organization
Projected Starters: Ikssu (top), Flawless (jungle), Mickey (mid), Hybrid (ADC), Secret (support)
Substitutes: Alphamong (top), Kuma (jungle), Keine (mid), Trigger (ADC), Mia (support)
Odds: +6600 to win Summer
In a strange move Cover moves to another role in the organization and SHO Prince decide on bringing Mickey back to Korea after he was expelled from Excel. There was a time when Mickey was one of the rising stars in mid lane worldwide but it was a long time ago. He’s since struggled in multiple teams and has never really found a home for his unorthodox style. However, every time he’s played in Korea he’s been a solid at worst player so it’s going to be interesting to see how he looks after such a long layoff. Cover was a liability in most games last split so you can’t really do much worse but I question how a stronger option wasn’t found for SHO Prince. Perhaps they missed out on the UCal sweepstakes.
APK Prince were the “metagame checkers” last season. They played good, fundamental LOL and if you screwed around they could punish you. Once in awhile they’d mix in a weird pick to throw you off but largely they were a team that reminded me a lot of FlyQuest in NA. Not particularly talented but able to capitalize on the blunders of other teams. I don’t see them having the same success this season with the other bottom half teams taking a step forward. I wouldn’t even be surprised if they finished behind Team Dynamics who I think have a better roster overall. SHO are the Hybrid show. If he and Secret can’t carry then this team doesn’t win. Luckily we’re in a marksmen-centric metagame so they should remain competitive at the very least even if I think they finish last.
Arrivals: self to LCK
Departures: Feiz (ADC) renames to Deokdam
Projected Starters: Rich (top), Beyond (jungle), Kuzan (mid), Deokdam (ADC), GuGer (support)
Substitutes: none listed
Odds: +10,000 to win Summer
Team Dynamics are the final new team to join the LCK from the challenger scene with the retiring of the relegation system. While this team wasn’t as dominant as some previous Challengers Korea teams they should bring a competitive roster to round out the LCK. The blend of solid veterans like Kuzan, GuGer, and Beyond with highly touted prospects like Rich and Deokdam (former Feiz) is always a welcome sight and remarkably similar to the construction of teams like DragonX and T1. I don’t expect Team Dynamics to be a playoff team but they won’t be a “free square” or an easy out by any means. This team should compete right away as most of the roster has LCK experience. As we saw last season with KT Rolster, veteran leadership and savvy can be a potent tool and should not be underestimated.
Arrivals: Rigby (coach), Cat (analyst)
Departures: Save (sub) retires
Projected Starters: Kiin (top), Spirit (jungle), All-In (mid), Mystic (ADC), Jelly (support)
Substitutes: Dread (jungle), Fly (mid), SS (bot), Ben (support)
Odds: +2100 to win Summer
The jungle and mid situations here are tough to predict. I’d guess Spirit plays the majority of the games unless Dread has picked up the current champion pool. Both are great players. Given the current metagame’s focus on marksmen like Aphelios and Ezreal, Afreeca could be well-positioned with an elite, world class talent like Mystic at the helm but their mid lane is arguably the weakest in the LCK. I feel that UCal would have been an incredible addition to this team but it feels as if Afreeca missed out in free agency or lacked the funds to pony up to get him. Kiin and Mystic are two of the best in the world at their positions and are always capable of carrying games but unless Afreeca come up with some creative solutions to their mid lane situation they’re going to have a tough time making it to the top of the table.
Stylistically, I think this team should embrace a style similar to Team WE or Vici Gaming in the LPL. Get the mid lane out of lane and into side lanes or jungle skirmishes. Force other teams to play your game. All-In has a similar pool to Teacherma and Fly does as well. Both are well-equipped to play in a metagame that includes Twisted Fate, Pantheon, Aurelion Sol, Diana, Galio, and other priority-focused mid lane champions. If we see Afreeca take on this kind of identity then I could see them challenging for a playoff position. If not it’s difficult to see a path even if you expect a more motivated squad for the Summer season.
Afreeca have the largest range of outcomes. I could see them finishing in the bottom two or as high as playoffs depending on the direction they choose.
Arrivals: YamatoCannon (coach), Irove (support) joins and renames back to Kabbie
Departures: DDotty (co-founder/CCO) leaves
Projected Starters: Summit (top), OnFleek (jungle), Dove (mid), Route (ADC), Kabbie (support)
Substitutes: Lonely (top), Punch (jungle), FATE (mid), Leo (ADC), Gorilla (support)
Odds: +4900 to win Summer
YamatoCannon will be the first non-Korean head coach in LCK history. Over the years, Korea has had incredibly strong coaching and infrastructure that has given them a big advantage over the rest of the world but in the past two years we’ve seen a significant shift away from the style of LOL that Korea dominated with for so long. Arguably Korea’s biggest flaw is their stubbornness. While not entirely lacking creativity, the region sometimes falls into a inbred metagame and grows stagnant. That’s where I think a bit of European flavor could be good for everyone.
Historically, YamatoCannon has been a strong coach, particularly in his first few splits with a new team. He immediately finds what a team is good at, an identity, and his teams always embrace it in full. Eventually, for whatever reason, his teams tend to get “figured out” over time, which has earned him the title of “the Peter Laviolette of LOL” by yours truly. It’s going to be interesting to see how Yamato fairs in a best-of-three region competing at this level and with the more condensed schedule. Perhaps his teams get figured out a bit sooner than usual.
The other fascinating angle to this is the age. Most of the LCK coaches are older and in a culture that reveres their elders the unflinching loyalty and obedience has been a huge contributor to what has made the highly structured, militaristic style of LOL that Korea plays successful. Perhaps a more youthful, relatable coach could be a welcome change of pace for the players. I could see a much looser, riskier style of play coming from this which could be a great addition to the region.
Sandbox aren’t lacking for talent. They never have been. Last season somewhat got away from them and they lacked direction. I’d expect a significant improvement. As a side note: I really do hope Yamato succeeds here and sets a new precedent. The LCK could use a little shot in the arm even if it’s just to introduce some variety in playstyle to the region and test the rest of the league.
Hanwha Life Esports
Arrivals: Viper (ADC) joins, Dudu (top), Max to coaching role
Departures: Tempt (mid) and Zenit (ADC) leave
Projected Starters: CuVee (top), Haru (jungle), Lava (mid), Viper (ADC), Lehends (support)
Substitutes: Dude (top), Vsta (support), CaD (jungle), YeongJae (jungle), Mireu (mid)
Odds: +4900 to win Summer
Hanwha reunite Viper with his former support Lehends, drop their depth and appear to have a clear-cut roster moving into Summer. Top-to-bottom this is yet another tremendously talented team. We didn’t see much of Lava last season but in 2018-19 he was the best player on a poor Hanwha team and seemed destined to be picked up by a better team in the offseason. He stuck with the team and with Tempt now gone appears to finally have a shot at a full time starting role.
I like this roster quite a bit and think reuniting what was one of the best bottom lanes in the world just last year is a huge addition. With Tempt and Zenit gone we should also have less temptation to make substitutions and give this roster plenty of stage time to build chemistry. Hanwha should challenge for the final playoff spot.
Arrivals: UCal (mid) rejoins, Smeb (top) rejoins
Departures: Ray (top) becomes inactive
Projected Starters: Smeb (top), Bono (jungle), UCal (mid), Aiming (ADC), Tusin (support)
Substitutes: Kuro (mid), Sohwan (top), Malrang (jungle)
Odds: +2100 to win Summer
KT Rolster already had an experienced veteran lineup that turned an awful start into a successful season. They add UCal, an elite mid lane talent, to challenge the constantly underrated Kuro for a starting position as well as Smeb who has come out of retirement to rejoin the team he finished his career on. For those that are new, Smeb is a two-time regular season MVP (2016 Spring and Summer), two-time LCK champion (2018 Summer, 2016 Summer), a World Finals appearance in 2015 against SK Telecom, a Worlds Top 4, and a Worlds Top 8. He’s a living Cinderalla story. Prior to all of his success he was often ridiculed as one of the worst top laners in the league during his time on Incredible Miracle before a meteoric rise the next year.
UCal and Kuro are both elite players. Sohwan has been a servicable starter for most of his career but had one of his best seasons last season. Smeb hasn’t played professionally since July of 2019. He lost 16 of his final 20 games on a very poor KT Rolster team. If Smeb can recapture even 80% of his previous form then KT Rolster are going to be a team to be reckoned with regardless of who starts in the mid lane and jungle.
Initially I wasn’t sure I’d anticipate seeing the new lineup on day one but the more I’m reading and trying to break all of this down the more I think we’re just going to see the two new starters on day one. As big a fan of Kuro as I am, UCal is a stronger player and a younger player. He’s already shown superstar flashes in his career and even has an LCK title under his belt in one of the most memorable finals I’ve ever watched (Summer 2018).
Watching the savvy, older veterans dissect the LCK last split was a blast but these two additions add tremendous upside to a team that was already on the cusp. If it all comes together for KT Rolster they have league-winning upside.
Departures: Travel (asst coach) leaves
Projected Starters: Nuguri (top), Canyon (jungle), ShowMaker (mid), Ghost (ADC), BeryL (support)
Substitutes: Flame (top), Nuclear (ADC), Hoit (support)
Odds: +1000 to win Summer
DAMWON played their best LOL of the year in playoffs and at the Mid-Season Cup. When this team drops the ego and just plays good champions and compositions they’re capable of beating any team in the world. They’re young, immensely talented, and have a swagger that most of the Korean teams don’t have. I’d expect DAMWON to take a step forward in Summer after an inconsistent Spring split but they still have holes in their macro game that leave cause for concern when it comes to consistency. That said, this team also has league-winning upside.
Arrivals: Winter and Asper join as trainees
Departures: Edgar (head coach) leaves
Projected Starters: Rascal (top), Clid (jungle), Bdd (mid), Ruler (ADC), Life (support)
Substitutes: Kellin (support)
Odds: +350 to win Summer
The departure of coach Edgar is the biggest concern for Gen.G coming into Summer. They looked better than I thought they would against the world’s best at the Mid-Season Cup and with the level of talent on this roster are almost a shoe-in for top three. Their struggles came with in-game adjustments when caught off guard and the occasional stubborn drafting which could either be construed as a symptom of the coaching staff or the players or just a missed read.
Gen.G are simply too good at every position not to at least be a playoff team even in a highly competitive LCK. The question will be whether or not they remain in the elite three or drop off a bit and whether or not one of the teams in the pack below them will join them in a similar level.
Arrivals: various trainees
Departures: Gori (sub mid)
Projected Starters: Canna (top), Cuzz (jungle), Faker (mid), Teddy (ADC), Effort (support)
Substitutes: Ellim (jungle), Roach (top), various trainees
Odds: +110 to win Summer
Canna exceeded even the loftiest expectations in his debut season and he was by far the biggest question mark for T1 heading into 2020. There’s not really a lot else to say on T1. Cuzz, Faker, and Teddy are all towards the top of their positions in the world and Effort has steadily improved over the course of his career to the point where he’s a world class support as well. T1 can do it all. They’re extremely versatile, possess high in-game intelligence, and their drafting has improved over the course of the year. Unless we get a big slump from Canna it’s tough not to see T1 in the conversation for an LCK title yet again.
Projected Starters: Doran (top), Pyosik (jungle), Chovy (mid), Deft (ADC), Keria (support)
Substitutes: Quad (mid), various trainees
Odds: +350 to win Summer
Statistically, DragonX were one of, if not the best team in the world this season and with two rookies maturing and getting valuable experience I think they’ll only improve. DragonX are versatile, talented, well-coached, and offer tremendous upside. They’re my pick to with LCK Summer and represent Korea at Worlds.
S: DragonX, T1, Gen.G
A: DAMWON, KT Rolster
B: Hanwha Life, Sandbox, Afreeca
C: SeolHaeOne Prince, Team Dynamics
I still think the top three teams remain in a tier of their own but with questions about the effect Edgar’s leaving Gen.G could have as well as a more competitive mid tier I could see that line becoming a bit more blurry. For the time being I’m giving their overall talent and rest of the coaching staff the benefit of the doubt.
Team Dynamics enter in a similar, if not more optimistic position to APK last season with a few experienced and successful veterans and a hot prospect which should make them far from a pushover.
Top-to-bottom the LCK looks to be very competitive and if any of these bottom half teams overachieve it will become even more-so. DAMWON looked to be playing their best LOL of the year during playoffs and improved further at the Mid-Season Cup. In combination with KT Rolster and Hanwha Life’s new additions as well as the potential marriage of coaching to Sandbox’s talent this should provide a boost to the middle of the table and blur the line between the elite teams and the rest of the pack this season.
There are reasonable arguments for a number of teams in the LCK this season. I personally like DragonX at their odds but you could say the same about Gen.G. T1 are a bit too pricey given the level of competition to feel confident about a +110 number. In the middle of the table you could look at the upside of a number of teams. I like the allure of the unknown with Sandbox. Korea could be completely caught off guard by someone with his coaching style if that team adopts a new persona quickly. KT Rolster are also incredibly appealing when you consider the potential influx of talent. UCal is world class, Smeb was one of the best in the world in his prime and perhaps the time off was what he needed.
I’m going to take my favorite, DragonX, as well as a smattering of these mid-table long shots with tastes of KT Rolster and Sandbox. I’ll also be taking a beer on Team Dynamics because 100 to 1 is worth a “you never know” position. Hell, eStar were similar odds last split. You never know and that’s a massive number.
As always shop around. Futures numbers tend to have large disparities especially in the middle of the table.
To win Summer: DragonX +400 (2 units)(Bovada)
To win Summer: KT Rolster +2100 (1 unit)(5Dimes)
To win Summer: Sandbox +4976 (0.5 units)(5Dimes)
To win Summer: Team Dynamics +10,000 (0.1 units)(5Dimes)