Monday, January 14, 2019

LCK 2019 Spring Pre-Season Power Rankings

LCK Spring 2019 Pre-Season Power Rankings

The 2019 competitive League of Legends season is already underway with the LPL starting up this morning, CBLoL this weekend and the LCK on Wednesday so it's time for my bi-annual pre-season power rankings!

I've broken the LCK down into five seperate tiers which is a bit more than usual but I think there are fairly clear breaks here and unless a team shows a stylistic strength or weakness to take advantage of that we can more or less rank based on these tiers.

S Tier: The best teams in the league, favorites to win the split championship
A Tier: Definite playoff teams that can be competitive with the S Tier teams
B Tier: One or two of these teams usually make the playoffs but aren't on the same level
C Tier: Non-playoff teams that aren't quite as bad as the worst teams
D Tier: The worst teams, likely to be relegated back to challenger


D Tier

10) Sandbox Gaming
Projected Starters: Wizer, Crush, Dove, Hollow, Joker
Subs: Summit (top), OnFleek (jungle), Ghost (ADC), DoRaoN (support), Totoro (support)
Coaches: Sally (head coach), Dragon, Laden

So with the bottom tier LCK teams the question is always whether or not this is a team that will provide a speed bump for good teams or middling teams. Rarely, actually almost never, do we get teams like Griffin last year who storm onto the scene and make an immediate impact. Actually they were the first team to really do that since SKT's second team did so over 5 years ago. In other words is this a team that belongs here or doesn't.

Sandbox Gaming were formerly Team BattleComics, a squad that convincingly defeated MVP for the LCK spot in the promotional tournament back in September. The finished the Summer season in Challengers Korea in 4th place with an 8-6 series record and a 21-13 game record. They defeated Kongdoo Monster 3-2 and then whooped on Winners 3-0 in the finals before proceeding to the promotion tournament. They actually went 1-1 in regular season with DAMWON as well which is worth noting because DAMWON were far and away the best team in Challengers Korea this Summer once Griffin left.

They have a few familiar names for subs including Ghost and Totoro as well as OnFleek but the likely starting lineup will be Wizer, Crush, Dove, Hollow, and Joker with OnFleek swapping in from time to time. So how good are they? Honestly I can't say I'm that hopeful for Sandbox and I'd say they have a greater than 50% chance to be back down in Challenger after the Spring split. It's debateable whether they were even the second best team in Challenger. They just happened to catch Winners off guard in one series.

Bottom line is I'd be shocked if this team won more than one two series this split and think it's not outside of the realm of possibility that they go winless. They're going to be REALLY REALLY bad!


C Tier

9) Jin Air Green Wings
Projected Starters: Lindarang, Malrang, Grace, Stitch, Nova
Subs: TaNa (top), CheonGo (mid), Route (ADC), Kellin (support)

Coaches: H-Dragon (head coach), Alvingo, W

I'm not really sure what Jin Air was thinking letting Teddy go unless it was just a financial situation or that he was unhappy. Teddy is a super star. Think of it like the Raiders trading Khalil Mack but instead of getting a lot back they got next to nothing. Really outside of Teddy, Jin Air were an awful team last year despite a few memorable upsets. They're extremely one dimensional and while they've added a few coaches that I'm sure will have this team adjusting to the new state of the game, I actually can't guarantee that. As a matter of fact I thought they'd do that last season and they didn't, they just kept playing like Jin Air does. Slow and steady. 

With all the bad things said I do think there are some redeeming characteristics to this team and they won't be quite as bad and the potentially winless Sandbox. Malrang and Grace stick out to me as potential solid performers based on what I've seen from them but unless this team completely changes who they are they're going to have a lot of work to do to make a playoff spot. I just think in a micro-focused metagame this team is going to struggle against superior individual talent and it's going to be tough to overcome that.

8) Hanwha Life eSports
Projected Starters: SoHwan, bonO, Tempt, Sangyoon, Key
Subs: Thal (top), Moojin (jungle), Lava (mid), Clever (ADC), Asper (support)
Coaches: Kang Tae-woo, OnAir (head coach), LinLan, Woong (former MIG/Azubu Frost)

Hanwha Life eSports were the darlings of the LCK last split. The "try-hards" as I titled them. They were exceptionally well-coached and Lava really showed potential to be a player to build around. They've added Thal from SKT, and a few new ADC's and Bono from BBQ but it appears they'll be continuing to start Moojin who showed potential last season. SoHwan and Thal, two fairly underrated players, will battle for time in the top lane.

There is a chance the competition keeps this team hungry and that coaching matters more than I'm giving it credit for. That was arguably this teams strongest aspect last year but in a metagame that's less about macro decisions and more about micro as it's appearing Season 9 will be makes me feel that this team could struggle unless Lava and Moojin can do some heavy lifting. Hanwha Life are a team full of underrated players which makes me think this team could end up challenging for a playoff spot if they all perform well but I also think they'd all need to perform well in a micro-focused metagame. I don't like to reference Demacia Cup for a lot but losing to a non-challenger team is something that shouldn't be ignored but they were also doing that with new subs. Just something to note is all.

7) DAMWON Gaming

Projected Starters: Nuguri, Canyon, ShowMaker, Nuclear, Hoit
Subs: Punch (jungle), Calm (ADC), BeryL (support)
Coaches: Micro (head coach), MorNinG, Kang Tae-su, Kim Jeong-soo

So a lot of people are going to be a bit overhyped on DAMWON after the results Griffin put up last season. "Gelati, if Griffin can do well so can DAMWON!?" You're right they could but I also think Griffin was a generational new team. The kind that only pops up every 5 years or so (a generation in pro gaming). Contrary to how this appears, I actually think DAMWON could be the second best team to ever come from the Challengers Korea only to Griffin but that doesn't mean they're going to be as good as that team. For those that don't know DAMWON were the only thing remotely close to competition for Griffin in their last challenger split in the Spring and then proceeded to go 13-1 with their only series loss to BattleComics (now Sandbox) in the Summer CK split. This team is really good and has a good blend of young talent and veteran players but the LCK is a different beast than Challengers Korea and unlike Griffin, who were the exception to the rule, I think DAMWON will have their struggles. 

That said there is enough individual talent on this roster to succeed in a micro-focused meta that it appears Season 9 will be. With veteran leaders like Nuclear and Punch as well as former pros along the coaching lineup I think we could see a blazing hot start from the new kids on the block that will remind people of Griffin last split. I just don't think they're quite as good as Griffin and the LCK is looking to be extremely competitive once again this split. I have DAMWON with about a 40-50% chance to make the playoffs and it wouldn't surprise me if they did. It would just take one of the "old guard" having a below average split. DAMWON look to be the "best of the rest" to me.


B Tier

6) Gen.G eSports
Projected Starters: CuVee, Peanut, Fly, Ruler, Life
Subs: Roach (top)
Coaches: Lee Ji-hoon, Edgar, oDin, TrAce

Continuity is underrated in the Spring split. This ranking is a combination of a few factors for me. One of them is that I think Gen.G will be underrated by the public because of their poor performance at Worlds this year as well as the first roster change they've been through in a few years with CoreJJ going back to the NA LCS. The second factor is that I think this is that I think this team isn't built to succeed in a micro metagame but they proved last year that they can overcome meta considerations so take from that what you will. The third factor is that they've made improvements.

Individually this team is unbelievably good but their strengths are somewhat out of line. Peanut is an exceptional early game player and will certainly give this team a much needed boost there. If Gen.G were able to play from ahead last year they would've been one of the best teams in the world but they were so consistently behind that it became a problem for them. Peanut was an EXCELLENT addition. However I do think there are going to be some growing pains with this team as they have a collection of players that are stylistically at odds and it will take time for them to all meet each other in the middle. I expect a slow start from Gen.G and a strong finish. They'll likely be a playoff team as long as their start isn't too slow. I think they're a cut better than DAMWON and WAY better than the other bottom teams.

5) Kingzone DragonX

Projected Starters: Rascal, Cuzz, PawN, Deft, Tusin
Subs: Naehyun (mid)
Coaches: Hirai (head coach), Supreme, Acorn (former Samsung)

I'm going to get some that disagree here but I actually love this Kingzone lineup. It's got a lot of continuity, veteran experience, and excellent individual players. I think a lot of people are going to look at Rascal and Cuzz and think these are huge downgrades when in reality they aren't that big of a drop off from Khan and Peanut. Yea I said it. Khan and Peanut are world class players but I think people are forgetting that Cuzz was, at one point, the premier super prospect ON THE PLANET. It's why I was so high on Kingzone in previous years because they had both Cuzz AND BDD. Now the downgrade of BDD to Pawn isn't to be understated. BDD is one of the best players on the planet in any position and Pawn is in the twilight of his career and often struggling with health problems. Naehyun will have to be ready to roll if Pawn begins struggling with health again but hopefully the hall of famer can get over that and return to form.  Tusin was an underrated player during his entire career on Afreeca and was one of the main reasons that team performed consistently well across many metagames in his two year career there. Deft is... well Deft doesn't need an introduction, he's still one of the best of all time at any position. 

I think this team is going to surprise a lot of people, especially Cuzz and Rascal but a lot depends on Pawn's health and/or Naehyun's ability to step in if, unfortunately, Pawn's health becomes a concern. I expect to make a lot of money on people sleeping on the Kingzone roster this split just because it isn't as star-studded as last years.


A Tier

4) KT Rolster
Projected Starters: Smeb, Score, BDD, Gango, SnowFlower
Subs: Kingen (top), UmTi (jungle), Zenit (ADC), Mia (support)
Coaches: ZanDarc (head coach), Noexcuse, S0NSTAR (former CJ)

I can't believe KT let UCal walk but I'll touch on the unknowns first here. Gango used to be known as Skatch and played for a number of years in the Chinese LDL for Vici, Unlimited Potential, and then last year spent time in the new Japanese league the LJL for USG. USG were the 2nd place team in the LJL Summer with a 6-4 record. His numbers were decent but nothing spectacular. 

I don't really think the rest of this roster needs an introduction. You could make arguments for Smeb, Score, and BDD being in the top two or three at their positions in the world. The top side of the map is going to be fine. SnowFlower has always been an underrated and solid support player. It's just going to depend on how Gango performs or Zenit if Gango isn't up to snuff. One thing Gango did well was present good damage per gold numbers and an impressive 3.7% first blood victim during the summer in the LJL. If KT wanted to find a player that would lose gracefully then they appear to have found one. Whether he can become a plus at the position might not matter with this lineup but we shall see. I personally think KT missed out on the Teddy sweepstakes as SKT scooped him up.

This top side of the map is so utterly dominant that I can't see this team finishing anywhere outside of A Tier even with a potential liability at the ADC position. SnowFlower should be able to babysit him and show him the ropes as a veteran of many years in the LCK. We've seen with players like CodySun and Stixxay that you can get by and make a mediocre talent, relative to the league, at the ADC position look good if the rest of the team is built to do so (shots fired). KT will be a competitior.

3) Afreeca Freecs
Projected Starters: Kiin, Dread, UCal, Aiming, Jelly
Subs: Summit (top), Spirit (jungle), SSUN (mid/inactive), SSol (ADC/inactive), Proud (support)
Coaches: iloveoov (head coach), NoFe, vINylCat, Yeon

I honestly can't believe KT Rolster let UCal walk (yea I said it twice) but they at least got BDD who is a similarly world class talent. For my money Afreeca and KT Rolster (and really SKT also) have assembled to the two best pairs of solo lanes in the world. Kiin and UCal is terrifying and seemingly impossible to gameplan for as an opposing team. Dread (formerly Twinkle and Hyeok) has been kicking around the challenger scene in Korea for a number of yeras on Gangwon and, most recently, on REVERSE Gaming with mixed success. He'll either have Spirit showing him the way or Spirit will be the starter and Dread was just playing for Kespa Cup. Aiming has been a member of Afreeca for a couple years and had some success as a starter last year. During the Summer split he actually started more than three times the number of games Kramer did but was unfortunately not brought to Worlds due to the 6 player limit. TL:DR - Aiming is a good ADC. Maybe not a superstar but a solid starter. Jelly has been dying for a chance to play in the big leagues as he's been riding the bench for Afreeca for more than a year at this point. I tend to like players that are finally getting their shot like that. Afreeca and KT Rolster are both in the A Tier to me and you could make the argument that KT should be ranked higher than Afreeca but they're interchangable. I'm breaking the tie for Afreeca only because I like Kiin quite a lot and think Jelly could potentially make a name for himself but they're very similarly built and even in strength.

S Tier

2) SK Telecom T1
Projected Starters: Khan, Clid, Faker, Teddy, Mata
Subs: Crazy (top), Haru (jungle), Gori (mid),Leo (ADC), Effort (support)
Coaches: kkOma (head coach), Fly, Zefa, Sayho

They're baack!! Man oh man what a ridiculously good offseason for SK Telecom. They got the best free agent ADC BY FAR in Teddy as well as the best free agent top laner in Khan. If that wasn't enough, they've assembled arguably the two greatest players of all time on one team with the addition of Mata to Faker. This isn't even mentioning the addition of Clid from the LPL's JDG who was excellent last season. They even added Crazy from BBQ, Haru from Gen.G, and retained Effort who looked solid at points during last season once the roster settled down. This team looks exceptional top to bottom. If Clid is your weakest player you're in good shape. I also love not only the quality of the players but the stylistic pairings here. These are all excellent aggressive players and thrive in the early game. They'll be able to enable each other to have explosive starts. Not to say they can't play late but players that thrive individually in the early game and in skirmishes are going to be the most well positioned this season unless dramatic changes happen.

SK Telecom saw the problems that not only they had internally last season and addressed them but also saw the potential improvements Korea as a whole needed to make to the way they play the game and addressed those too. This is going to be a contender for the World Championship this year and I might be delusional ranking them at 2 instead of 1 but....

Projected Starters: Sword, Tarzan, Chovy, Viper, Lehends
Subs: Kabbie (support), Rather (mid, loaned to Flash Wolves)
Coaches: Cho Gyu-nam, TINO, cvMax (head coach), Byun Young-sub

Griffin burst onto the scene last year. I had them ranked #5 in my Pre-Season Power Rankings for the Summer split but still in the S- Tier and they honestly overperformed that lofty expectation. Not only did Griffin dominate all season but they did so in a completely different way than they stomped the challenger scene. Impressive. This team is the truth. They're all young, they've all had their contracts extended, they looked hungry as all hell in the Kespa Cup and I expect them to come out and prove to everyone that they should have been one of the Korean representatives at Worlds last year. 

Why do I have them ahead of all the hall of famers and the excellent lineup of SK Telecom? Not only do I think this is the next generation of super stars already but I think they've stayed together and continuity is important. They're also so ridiculously young that they have room to grow into even better players. We've also seen that they don't plan to start slow and as mentioned earlier, this team has way more tools than they showed us last year. If they didn't run into a KT super team last year in one of the best finals I've ever seen then they likely would have had a shot at winning the World Championship last year and they're going to have that in mind for this entire calendar year to motivate them.

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