Wednesday, May 29, 2019

LCK Summer 2019 Pre-Season Tier List

LCK Summer 2019 Pre-Season Tier List

A few big moves, a few sudden ones, a few young teams, and a few older ones. Korea is looking to be really interesting this summer! Keep in mind these are only tiers and this isn't the exact order that I'd power rank these teams. I think it's more important to distinguish relative strength when comparing one another. There is also a lot of stylistic considerations when matching these teams up against one another. 

Actual ordered power rankings at the end.


C Tier

Jin Air Green Wings

Projected Starters: Lindarang, Seize, Grace, Route, Nova
Subs: TaNa (top), Malrang (Jungle), CheonGo (mid), Stitch (ADC), Kellin (support)

They should have never let Teddy go. This team has just about no redeeming characteristics to me other than a roster of 10+ players all fighting for a job for next season. To me this is one of those blow it all up and rebuild situations. I have absolutely no faith in the Jin Air coaching staff. They're a lot like Gen.G who are playing League of Legends in an outdated and vastly inferior way and they refuse to adapt but unlike Gen.G who have good enough players that specialize in that exact style to play themselves out of bad scenarios Jin Air does not. I want to see wholesale change here but I doubt we'll get it. It'd be pretty hard for Jin Air to be as bad as they were last split so I expect a little improvement but I also expect the rest of the league to improve leaving Jin Air with a ceiling of maybe 3-5 match wins. It's going to be a long summer for the boys in green.

Hanwha Life eSports

Projected Starters: SoHwan, bonO, Tempt, Sangyoon, Key
Subs: Thal (top), Moojin (jungle), Lava (mid)

Hanwha Life had a really bizarre split in the Spring. They had a shot at a playoff spot and seemingly gave up prematurely and went into a sort of "rebuild" mode where they started experimenting with different lineups. I don't know if this was actually that they didn't have any faith in their ability, them being real with themselves, or trying to do both at the same time because it felt like they were trying to do both. This team has a lot of holes and were reluctent to play who I consider to be their best player in Lava but they're the ones who see him in practice not us so maybe he's not what he was in 2018. Hanwha leave a lot of questions to be answered but I think ultimately this isn't going to be a strong team even if they perform at their ceiling. If that ends up being the case you're looking at a small chance of a 5-7th finish at best. They simply don't have the pound for pound talent the other teams in the LCK ahead of them do and I think that matters a lot in the current iteration of the game. In 2018 Hanwha's coaching staff worked wonders and were able to keep this team prepared and motivated against superior competition and we didn't see any of that in Spring 2019. I'm skeptical.


A Tier

Sandbox Gaming

Projected Starters: Summit, OnFleek, Dove, Ghost, Joker
Subs:  Crush (jungler), Hollow (ADC), Justice (mid), Wizer (top, on loan to Kabum!)

Sandbox really surprised me. I'll eat my hat on this one because I had them finishing dead last and they ended up making playoffs and starting the season off extremely strong. Sandbox are a coaching and teamwork team that have some particularly strong individual players in OnFleek and Summit to give them a bit more punch than a traditional "greater than the sum of their parts" type lineup. They are extremely well coached, possess a willingness and ability to utilize unique picks, and play a very old school Chinese style of aggressive, never say never team fighting League of Legends that's refreshing and fun to watch. It's also very good for the LCK to have this type of team challenging them. They've clearly learned a lot from how Griffin plays but lack some of the tact and nuance that Griffin do. With all those good things said I'm expecting a bit of a regression from Sandbox in the summer. By seasons end they felt a little "figured out" which sounds weird with all the strange picks they showed but, at the end of the day, Sandbox are a really linear team and that gets punished as a season goes on. I wanted to put Sandbox in their own tier above the bottom teams but slightly below the mid tier teams but I'm going to remain optimistic about this coaching staff and their star players and say Sandbox will remain in the hunt for a playoff spot. Sandbox will still be good but I'm expecting them to fall a bit this summer.


Projected Starters: Nuguri, Canyon, ShowMaker, Nuclear, Hoit
Subs: Flame (top), Punch (jungle), Aries (ADC), BeryL (support)

DAMWON appeared to have figured out a way to successfully swap between two lineups but it, along with a few other issues caught up with them in playoffs. DAMWON are a lot like Sandbox to me but they trade aggression for a bit more tact and have better players overall which makes their ceiling a lot higher. DAMWON playing at their peak are as good as any team in the LCK but we only saw that team a few times. This isn't to say they are inconsistent or anything, they're a really solid team but unless they can have those ceiling performances more often, the fact that some of the bottom teams like Afreeca, Gen.G, and KT should be better this split make it hard to me to put DAMWON as high as they were last season. They can hang with anyone on the right day it's just a matter of how many of those we get. Ultimately I think DAMWON will be a playoff team with tremendous upside and perhaps they can pull off something like we saw Kingzone do in the Spring split but I think with the rest of the table also improving for the most part they'll have a much harder time and aren't a total lock for playoffs like they appeared to be (and were) by seasons end in Spring.

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

I'm not entirely sure whether or not Fly or Kuzan will be the starting mid laner but I have a lot of respect for Kuzan and Fly both. Gen.G played the way they play last year. At times they looked good and showed a willingness to scrap with people but for the most part they were exactly the same. Gen.G is the team I'm most likely to be wrong about I think. This team has the players to compete with the rest of this tier but I also feel that they're pretty clearly the worst of the group unless they're playing at their ceiling the whole split. It's just hard to tell what you're going to get from them on a week to week basis. Gen.G will be firmly better than the worst teams but likely lose to them sometimes while also having the occasional spike performance against one of the mid or top level teams. I'd call this team two-faced. Gen.G are, however, full of a great players and Ruler is one of the best to play the position over the past couple years. You could argue he's the best ADC in any region right now. That's not to be forgotten about but Gen.G will need more than just heroics from Ruler to consistently win in the LCK.

KT Rolster
Projected Starters: Smeb, Score, BDD, Pray, SnowFlower
Subs: Kingen (top), UmTi (jungle), Zenit (ADC), Gango (ADC)

KT Rolster have maybe the highest ceiling besides SK Telecom in the LCK with the off season acquisition of Hall of Fame ADC Pray. It's really easy to get overhyped on a team adding a free agent of his caliber at a position of need. After all, we see it all the time in traditional sports. This is a case where I feel the hype is warranted. Pray is, for my money, one of the four best to ever play the position along with Deft, Uzi, and Bang. Not only that but he is filling a position that was one of the worst in any major region. The collective KT Rolster bottom lane of Gango and Zenit was absolutely dreadful last season. Poor lane phases, limited pools, lots of deaths both in and out of lane, and perhaps most importantly a lot of untimely deaths that ended up losing them games on the spot. They took a position that was maybe a 1 or 2 out of 10 and made it into a 9+ out of 10. I don't think rust will be an issue. Pray has been absolutely demolishing solo queue and perhaps the time off and needed for the old veteran to refresh his mind and body. While I think Kingen outperformed Smeb I can't help but think that every single time we've thought Smeb was bad in his career, and he was quite literally awful when he first started, he's found a way to prove everyone wrong. If that's not the case, Kingen did look quite good at times during the season. It wouldn't surprise me to see either start or a commitee approach. With the bottom lane sured up, the "sky is the limit" potential of BDD, and a top half in Smeb/Kingen and Score that simply can't be as bad as they were during Spring I have very high hopes for KT Rolster and think they'll be competing for the Worlds #3 spot by seasons end and perhaps right away.

Afreeca Freecs
Projected Starters: Kiin, Dread, UCal, Aiming, Jelly
Subs: Summit (top), Spirit (jungle), SSUN (mid/inactive), SSol (ADC/inactive), Proud (support)

There is absolutely no way this team stays as poor as they were in Spring. We saw glimpses of what this squad could be at times but they just never found the consistency. I don't know if it was just the constant roster shuffle, the coaching staff, or just the chemistry amongst the players but something didn't feel right. I can't help but think this team gets it together. In a solo lane centric game like League of Legends has been I just can't see a team with Kiin and UCal ever being as poor as Afreeca was in the Spring. Now hte real question is what the rest of the roster will look like. Personally I thought Dread outperformed Spirit which pains me to say and that all of the bot lane iterations were inconsistent. I'm going to say the same starting five that I did in Spring and have Afreeca improving significantly this split. Sometimes when you see a potentially great team struggle early it all gets derailed. Think of Suning in the LPL last split. Sometimes it's frustration, sometimes it's a weak player that you don't want to give your all for, etc. Whatever the cause I have faith that Afreeca can shake it off and I expect them to be competeing at a much higher level this split.

Kingzone DragonX

Projected Starters: Rascal, Cuzz, Naehyun, Deft, Tusin
Subs: PawN (mid, rest for injury)

Originally I had Kingzone in a half tier between S and A at A+ but with the news of Pawn resting for injury reasons I'm now slightly skeptical because he played such a huge roll in Kingzone's Spring success. I still think this team should be good and Naehyun has seen some playing time and will not be a stranger to the stage with time to develop but I expect they'll be a slower start than I originally though.

I was higher on Kingzone than some people last season putting them at 5th in my pre-season power rankings but Kingzone blew those expectations out of the water. This team was RED HOT almost the entire season and if it weren't for the fact that Griffin and SK Telecom are just unbelievably good then this would have been a respectable representative at MSI. Perhaps my only concern with Kingzone is whether or not the level they played at last season is their ceiling or just their normal level. If we saw their ceiling last season I'd actually expect the level of competition between them and the other mid tier teams to be rather close but if they have room to grow or just remain as steady as they were they deserve to be in a tier all their own above the rest of that pack but just behind SKT and Griffin. I think what we saw is closer to what we can expect from this team rather than them overachieving. Are they going to win a bunch of matches in a row like they did this Spring? Not necessarily. Their record might not look as good but they deserve their own spot if they can return to even 90% of their level last season. I'll add that it's a real joy to see the blend of veterans like Pawn, Deft, and Tusin and the younger, but not green, talents of Rascal and Cuzz. It's a great combination and I have high hopes for this team once more.


S Tier

SK Telecom T1

Projected Starters: Khan, Clid, Faker, Teddy, Mata
Subs: Crazy (top), Haru (jungle), Gori (mid), Leo (ADC), Effort (support)

SK Telecom might have disappointed some people at MSI with their loss to G2 but I think it'd be unfair to G2 if we didn't point out just how good a team they are. It's not like SKT lost to a bad team. G2 looked like the best team in the world at that tournament. Anyway SKT will be back at it again in Summer and I expect them to finish in the top two along with Griffin in a tier above the rest. I wouldn't be surprised to see this team taking a game off or starting subs here or there just to rest the starters but I expect them to come out of the gates firing to build a comfortable lead in the standings for themselves.


Projected Starters: Sword, Tarzan, Chovy, Viper, Lehends
Subs: Kabbie (support)

There is a non-zero chance that Griffin are becoming tired of always being the bridesmade and never the bride but I tend to think, much like KT Rolster teams of yore, that it will just provide motivation to a team that doesn't even need it. Griffin looked incredible for most of the season and unfortunately ran into an absolute buzzsaw in SK Telecom come time for finals. Could we have seen this coming from Griffin's "struggles" during the regular season or was it just taking games off to rest and prevent burnout. Hard to tell which but I think Griffin have the coaching, individual talent, and teamwork to finish atop the LCK once more. Sometimes Hall of Famer's just play on an otherworldly level and there's nothing anybody can do about it on that day. I tend to think that's what happened with Griffin in the final against SKT. I didn't particularly like their gameplan but on that day I'm not sure anybody was going to beat SKT. I won't hold that against Griffin. This team has continuity, hunger, and the talent to win the Summer split and I fully expect this team to represent Korea at Worlds this year.


As I mentioned earlier the order of these teams isn't necessarily where I believe they'll finish. The tiers are what is important but if I had to actually guess finishing power rankings it'd be as follows:

10) Jin Air
9) Hanwha Life
8) Sandbox
7) Gen.G
6) Afreeca
5) Kingzone
4) KT Rolster
2) Griffin
1) SKT

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