DWG KIA came into Worlds 2021 as the favorites to win and they’ve lived up to the hype so far, going 10-0 before their first lost game (to T1 in the semis). Kim “Canyon” Geon-bu and Heo “Showmaker” Su are lauded as the best mid/jungle duo, and Kim “Khan” Dong-ha’s having one hell of a swan song for his last tournament as a pro player. However, DWG KIA's bot lane tends to be criticized and it’s common to see Jang “Ghost” Yong-jun and Cho “BeryL” Geon-hee pointed out as Damwon’s weak point.
Even if they aren’t making the highlight reels, Ghost and BeryL have been stellar at Worlds and their consistent performance has been a boon for DK. However, with BeryL practically inting earlier in the season and Ghost performing poorly enough to get benched in Summer, DK’s bot lane has had a long and tumultuous road back to the top.
So, why is DK's bot lane still criticized so heavily? Are they just getting carried through Worlds?
Struggling to stand out
While BeryL was part of the problem through MSI and DK's rough start to Summer, Ghost is the player that gets the most flak. DK's record coming out of MSI was spotty. That isn’t to say Ghost had an overall poor performance. Hell, he managed a penta and quadra kill in their MSI Finals set against RNG.
Ghost had it in him to do well, but his inconsistency was apparent in late-game teamfights. In some games, he carried. In others, he’d drop the ball.
In game 5 of the DK vs. RNG set, both Khan and ShowMaker were behind. Ghost had a single death, and he was their best chance at keeping the game alive. After getting devoured by BeryL and being kept alive, Ghost wasn’t able to bring the game back. He fell with the rest of DK without putting up much of a fight, and it was an anticlimactic game 5 loss. You’ll almost never see Ghost bring DK back into the game if they’re behind.
After MSI, it was clear that Ghost wasn’t the consistent carry that DK needed. After getting 2-0'ed by KT Rolster in the first week of Summer, Kim “Malrang” Geon-sueng was put in the jungle with Canyon swapping to mid and Showmaker going ADC. Ghost was on the bench and put through bootcamp until he was fit to play. Four sets later, DK were ready to get Ghost back in. DK won games with their thrown-together roster, but it was clear that these roster moves weren’t permanent. Ghost needed to step up.
Thus began DK's rough streak through Summer.
It’s worth mentioning that a rough streak for DK is better than what most mid-tier teams can hope for. While they brought their record back and managed to take first place in Summer with a 12-6 record, going 4-4 after the first eight sets was a stark contrast to their dominant Spring performance. Ghost was the easiest player to point to seeing as DK's entire roster shuffled around for him to improve, only for them to have a rough split.
However, Ghost isn’t entirely to blame for this downward trend. At least, not directly.
Locked out and locked down
Meta changes hit hard in Summer, and a trend of early-game-focused ADCs set in. Melee bruisers like Lee Sin, Sett, and Renekton were popular mid laners in Korea, and Rumble jungle hadn’t been nerfed yet. The meta through Summer wasn’t kind to Damwon.
This early Summer draft is a completely different look from DK compared to what we’d see now. Trundle was starting to take over the meta, and Viego was still a very strong lane pick. DK had the big teamfight comp, while Afreeca’s draft was focused on skirmishing and finding picks. DK didn’t have any lanes with strong early game prio. Except for bot lane.
And, counter to the narrative put forward at MSI, DK focused bot side and got Ghost ahead early on.
With some stellar ganks and great initiation from BeryL, Ghost almost doubled Draven’s CS at the 6:30 mark. Kalista from ahead is scary. However, Ghost didn’t do much with his lead through this game. Afreeca’s Han “Leo” Gyeo-re was able to pry his way back into the game and outscale Ghost. Hard.
It’s hard to determine whether or not Damwon would have won this fight if Ghost hadn’t been hooked, but him getting caught out certainly didn’t help. Starting the fight with a man down, combined with AF’s Song “Fly” Yong-jun being incredibly fed, made this fight a one-sided affair. DK put a ton of effort into getting Ghost ahead, and he did next to nothing with that lead on Kalista. This may be due in large part to how close Kalista has to be in order to do damage.
Ghost historically has had a hard time positioning well with ADCs that have to be in the fight to do well. DK is a very front-to-back team: they always have at least one frontliner, and lately it’s been either Canyon or BeryL picking up that mantle. And when Ghost gets his hands on a champ that can pump out mid-late game damage from a distance he shines.
In this clip from Ghost’s first set back on DK's main roster in Summer 2021, he had a beautifully played teamfight on Kog’Maw. He managed to keep himself alive and played out most of this fight with less than 500 HP. While Kog’Maw’s early game is much weaker than someone like Kalista, Ghost is the type of player who’s going to play for the late game whenever he can.
When DK hit rock bottom in Summer, teams often prevented Ghost from playing the game at all. The meta junglers simply didn’t have the impact that champs like Xin Zhao, Lee Sin, and Jarvan IV have on the map. Thus, DK often fell to lane dominant bot combos that had the backing of their team.
Nongshim, the team that had DK's number through Spring, would dive and re-dive, and re-dive again until Ghost was completely locked out of the game. Since Seo "Deokdam" Dae-gil was one of the best ADCs in the LCK, it made sense to play around him for Nongshim. Games like their losses to Nongshim contributed to the narrative of DK's bot lane being weak, and it was a fair takeaway.
Ghost wasn’t a bad player, but the MSI and subsequent early Summer meta wasn’t a good fit for him. He still wasn’t the hard carry that DK needed, but that raises the question as to whether or not DK need another carry in the first place.
Back on top
At Worlds 2021, Ghost has been undeniably strong within the current meta. His playstyle is a perfect fit for long-range hard carries, and he’s been a pivotal force in DK's recent victories. There’s a reason they didn’t drop a single game up until the semifinals.
Ghost’s biggest strength may be how damn hard to kill he is when he’s got the range to play things out from a distance. T1’s Lee “Gumayusi” Min-hyeong invested so much into Ghost, only for Ghost to ult from the safety of his tower line and watch his team clean up T1. This is where Ghost is at his best.
However, Ghost crumbles when his champion doesn’t have consistent long-range DPS. In game 2 of their semifinal against T1, Ghost picked Draven and didn’t get his first kill until over 18 minutes in. We didn't see Ghost try to make the aggressive plays you pick Draven for. Ghost got one kill with his ult this game, and… That was it. No other kills, he ended 1-2 with no significant impact. His farm was good, he never really got caught out, and he just played passively for most of the game.
After one poorly played fight over Baron, the game was over. Ghost may have strong macro, game sense, and positioning when it comes to keeping himself alive, but all that goes out the window the moment he doesn’t have a team creating a wall for him.
So, Ghost’s strengths and weaknesses are still the same as they were at the start of the Summer Split. This Draven game was practically a mirror of his Kalista game when it comes to his poor late-game performance. Putting Ghost on a hard carry champion didn’t work, and putting resources into him doesn’t pay off. However, when Ghost hits 30 minutes with a scaling champ, he’s an absolute menace in teamfights.
Ghost is less of a weakness for Damwon and more of a player that doesn’t shoulder games. He can carry a late game teamfight, but it’s always the rest of Damwon that gets him to that point. Taking that pressure off of Ghost seems to have improved his performance across the board, and he’s been a much stronger player when he’s left alone. Who needs a strong lane phase when you can farm things out and land one big bomb at the perfect moment?
When EDG’s Park “Viper” Do-hyeon was asked what he thought of Ghost at their post-semifinal press conference, he had an enlightening perspective on Ghost’s playstyle and strength at Worlds.
“[...] I think he is the best player that fits DWG KIA's style. And also I think he is the best player as an AD carry in the current meta. And I was surprised, to be honest, because this might sound a little bit arrogant, but I thought there was nothing more to learn as a player for myself. But after watching him play, I realized that I have a long way to go."
Considering that Viper is one of EDG’s star players, this is high praise and perhaps a surprisingly positive view for those who think Ghost is the weak link on DK. Viper’s assertion that Ghost is both “the best player that fits DWG KIA’s style” and “the best player as an ADC carry in the current meta” lines up with how Ghost’s performances have shaken out over the course of the year. He knows what he’s good at, and he’s at his best when he’s playing that long-range late-game scaling playstyle.
A change in priority
As for the other side of Damwon’s bot lane, BeryL’s been on an upward trend since MSI. It’s easy to trace both of these players’ downward trend back to MSI, and BeryL just had a habit of making some questionable plays.
Ghost got picked off by Matyáš “Carzzy” Orság and Norman “Kaiser” Kaiser, but, rather than just walking past Xayah’s feathers after she just used E, BeryL decided to walk back in and… go for the solo kill? This was the sort of play that shook spectators’ faith in Damwon’s bot lane.
It was hard to tell how strong DK's bot lane was outside of the lane phase because they so often threw their early game away. BeryL may have been dead either way in this early gank from RNG, but using Zenith Blade to go into a 2v3 was never the play here.
It seems like the adaptation from BeryL post-MSI has been to fight a lot less early. At least, in lane.
Seeing an early 4v4 like this is pretty common in this meta. Bot lane is mostly ignored largely due to hard carry top laners being the norm and Herald being so heavily valued. As a result, BeryL seems less worried about fighting early and more concerned with rotating early and making an impact wherever he’s needed.
DK's bot lane definitely isn’t perfect, but the stars have aligned for them in this meta. The fact that Ghost can carry comes in handy when he doesn’t have to, and Viper’s praise makes a lot of sense when watching how resilient and reliable Ghost has been at Worlds 2021. Putting resources into bot lane rarely works out for Damwon, but Ghost does just fine on his own. This independence and self-sufficiency is what makes Ghost the perfect fit for Damwon.
As for BeryL, he seems to be on the same page as his teammates. He’s inting a lot less in lane due to better decision making and some shifts in map priority. If MSI created a negative reputation for DK's bot lane, Worlds 2021 will be what redeems them.
Carver is an esports journalist and analyst who specializes in Eastern League of Legends.