That was DWG KIA top laner Jang "Nuguri" Ha-gwon’s KDA through the first two series of DWG KIA’s Summer Split. 8 kills, 2 deaths, and 31 assists over four games.
Since then, in DWG KIA’s first series loss of the split against Gen.G, Nuguri’s KDA has cratered to 4.25 which is now only second-best to Hwang "Kingen" Seong-hoon’s 7.8 KDA. In that series, the first series this split in which Gen.G has lost a game, Nuguri went a combined 4/10/8, a 1.2 KDA. That’s pretty bad, but the fact that Nuguri was performing at such high level before the last series is particularly impressive when you remember one fact.
Nuguri didn’t play professionally during the 2022 Spring Split.
While other players have returned after extended absences, none came back and immediately dominated like Nuguri did in his first two series back. There were zero signs of rust and he fit right back into the DWG KIA topside of the map along with old teammates Kim "Canyon" Geon-bu and Heo "ShowMaker" Su like a glove.
But how has Nuguri returned to form so quickly and how much concern should there be over his performance against Gen.G?
The answer is largely about champion picks.
Over the course of his career, Gnar and Gangplank are two of Nuguri’s most-picked champions at 37 and 26 career games, respectively. Unsurprisingly, those champions have been two of his best so far this year.
Even in his worst game on Gnar, a 1/3/0 performance in the Game 3 loss to Gen.G, Nuguri still led his team in total damage to champions despite being third in total gold. So it’s not as though he was completely inting on his comfort champion.
On the other hand, two of Nuguri’s worst performances this split (a 1/5/4 victory over Gen.G and a 2/2/4 loss on Sejuani versus Gen.G) came on two champions that Nuguri has played fewer than ten times during his career. In fact, his only two career Sejuani top cames were those he played against Gen.G. So Nuguri has clearly thrived playing some of his favorite picks.
This is evident from Nuguri’s second game after his return (the first game was a 35-minute sleeper in which DWG KIA only had 3 kills total and Nuguri went 1/0/1 on Sejuani for the first time). In this game, Nuguri is playing Gnar into Park "Morgan" Gi-tae’s Camille, a matchup that Gnar typically loses (per the latest stats from OP.GG) because of Camille’s all-in potential.
In this game, the Camille top was paired with a Wukong jungle, making for a difficult early lane for Nuguri and Canyon (on Lillia) to successfully fight 2v2.
Despite this, at the 9-minute mark Nuguri is ahead 12 CS (which is to be expected given Gnar’s range advantage over Camille). However, a 4v4 fight breaks out at Rift Herald when Fredit Brion had made the first move, as their support, jungler, and top lane were all on the Herald while Nuguri and Canyon were still rotating down from top side.
After a slick dodge of a hook, blind, by Showmaker, the fight seems bad after a great Hero’s Entrance from Kim "Lava" Tae-hoon on Galio. But DWG KIA don’t panic, Nuguri and Canyon make the rotation at the correct time. With their assistance, plus an Ezreal ult from ADC Seo "deokdam" Dae-gil, Nuguri is able to pick up first blood and DWG KIA get two kills plus the Rift Herald.
As a result of this early advantage, Nuguri is able to continue building a lead over the Camille, gaining a 26 CS advantage and taking four turret plates by the 15-minute mark, giving him a 1.8k gold lead. In fact, the lead could have been more if not for Morgan narrowly escaping a follow-up gank from Canyon with under 300 HP. In a lane he should have lost, Nuguri managed to come out on top.
Despite being away from the competitive stage, Nuguri has returned and shown no signs of a decline in his play. Yes, he had a rough outing against the best team in the LCK (and perhaps the best top laner in the league right now) but it was mainly on champions that he is not as practiced on. As the split goes on, there’s no reason to believe that Nuguri will not continue to grow and improve.
Diamond TFT Player & esports watcher.