It’s not uncommon to see Korean players in NA LCS these days. With a few exceptions, many teams have one or two Korean players in their starting rosters. This is understandable, especially since LCK has consistently produced new talents every year and the number of players is larger than that of the domestic league’s capacity limit.
Those who left LCK looked overseas for their next move. While some stayed in parts of Asia such as China and Taiwan, others went as far as Europe. Still, a not too insignificant number of players found their homes in NA LCS. As such, this summer split saw a few instances of matchups between Koreans, mostly in the top lane where the pillars and shields of the team reside.
Out of 10 NA LCS teams, half of them featured Korean top laners, with C9 even having two Koreans in the top lane: Impact and Ray. Incidentally, they all share the common theme of fighting spirit and competitive nature.
Mid laners are required to have an impeccable sense of seeing kill potential and clean mechanics, whereas AD Carries must have a presence of mind in all situations so they can calmly dish out damage while staying safe. Logically, the virtues of a good top laner are different from other roles — namely, the confidence to stand up to any foe as well as decisiveness and the fighting spirit needed to jump head first into battle. Top laners have been always asked to possess these attributes, and Koreans did not disappoint in that regard.
After the regular split and before the playoffs, it would be a good time to look back on their past performance in the season — from Korean top laners to Danish mids. Removed thousands of miles from home, how do they stack up in this one season? Here’s the rundown of every Korean top laner in NA LCS except for C9 Ray, who did not play enough games to warrant a thorough review.
▣ IMT Flame: The born-again leader of the pack ★★★★ (8/10)
Flame’s reputation precedes his name, thanks to his boyish good looks and hyper carry potential all the way back from his LCK days. During his peak, he would ruthlessly take down lane opponents with his potent aggression; once he was fed enough, he would dismantle any enemy who stood in the way of victory. In a different light, though, he was quite a self-centered player who often prefered to stand in the spotlight rather than engage in teamfights.
Because of this tendency, he wasn’t as effective with tank champions as he was with carry ones, as evidenced by the struggles he went through in the spring split when Nautilus and Maokai reigned supreme in that meta. It also showed in Immortals’ disappointing record in the last split. Coming into the summer split, however, Flame definitely was a changed man. He fully understood his shortcomings and took steps to address them, which directly translated to in-game performance.
Despite the meta favoring aggressive champions, Flame strictly focused on improving his teamfighting ability. Additionally, he proved that he could do equally well on champions which require both aggressive and passive macro game play, as he excels with late-game carry champions. A case in point would include his most played picks such as Renekton and Jarvan IV.
It’s still reaching to say that he is the best top laner NA has to offer. There are many comparable peers and he does not yet have the same oomph as the NA top lane icon, Hauntzer. Nevertheless, Flame is one of the most impressive top laners this split, since it is a tremendous feat to alter one’s play style.
▣ DIG Ssumday: An imposing presence in the smallest package ★★★★☆ (9/10)
Dignitas’ top laner is one of the most outstanding players, not only within the top lane position, but within all of the players this split. Period. When the team was doing well early in the season, Ssumday was at the forefront of the art of decimating opponents. After the middle of the regular play during the team’s losing streak, he still somehow managed to hold up. Thanks in part to Ssumday’s unflinching determination, Dignitas recovered toward the end of the split and secured their spot in the playoffs.
To sum up his play style in a word, it would be flexibility. Among all the top laners in NA LCS this split, he is second to none when it comes to having a wide champion pool. Most players typically used 9-10 champions, while Ssumday played 16 champions with respectable results on all of them.
Another odd aspect of his style is that his champion pool doesn’t necessarily follow a certain pattern, as he had good results on bruisers like Jarvan IV and Renekton as well as AP tanks such as Maokai and Gragas with a 100% win rate. He also won with hyper aggressive AD characters like Fiora and Jayce, not to mention his top Lucian, which was able to rack up 7 kills.
If his past picks are anything to go by, Ssumday has always pulled out champions that the team needed the most. From aggressive and defensive strategies to mind games in draft, Dignitas did not shy away from mixing up their methods in order to win, and Ssumday delivered by using different champions each time. While korean players in NA LCS tend to be small in stature, he is especially small. One could say he is Gnar-sized small. However, his in-game presence is comparable to Mega Gnar.
▣ C9 Impact: Less impactful than before ★★★☆ (7/10)
From the NRG days in 2016 to playing for C9 in spring split, Impact always has been the go-to name when discussing who NA’s best top laner is. Coupled with the tank meta, he was a force to be reckoned with as his prowess as a tank was unparalleled. It got so bad at one point that he wanted to do away with his tank main status.
That isn’t to say that Impact only fixated on tanks. In the spring split, his Camille won two out of two games and Rumble secured four out of five games. Granted, it pales in comparison to the 23 combined wins on his comfort picks (Nautilus, Maokai, and Shen), but my point still stands that he was in a highlight of his career, even after factoring in his falling performance at the end and giving up his All-Pro spot to Hauntzer.
Fast forward to the summer split and it seemed as though Impact lost some of his flair. Looking at the numbers alone, he is still very much competitive. His most played champion, Galio, is at an over 70% win rate, and he’s very much competent on tank champions, nearly winning every match with Gragas, Maokai, and Cho’Gath.
Additionally, he did not start in all of the games this split. Whether it was by his choice or not, C9 alternated between Ray and Impact in the middle of the season. As such, his impression is somewhat less apparent than the other top laners who participated in all the games. Lastly, Impact tends to be too “support-esque”. He’s known to sacrifice himself to collapse on the enemy, but this type of approach is most likely from habit rather than calculated necessity. His 100% win rate out of his 3 games as Gragas, with a combined KDA of 1/9/24, serves to prove this point.
▣ FOX Looper: Taking a break? ★★☆ (5/10)
Looper is the last player who would get this kind of score. Since his debut in 2013, he has always been nothing less than top-notch. When his peers were stealing the public’s attention with outlandish personalities and even more outrageous plays, Looper remained an unsung hero in the top lane. No one questioned his skills up until 2016, when his career in China was wrapping up. Currently, he has been unable to find his footing in NA LCS.
Some of that has to do with Echo Fox itself, as his teammates are known to have fluctuating performances. That said, Looper’s presence still leaves much to be desired. One may point out top laners’ inherent limitation in creating game-changing plays, but, knowing what Looper is capable, through the sheer notoriety of his name itself and his genius positioning in teamfights, he can accomplish much more.
On a brighter note, he may be taking a break this split. It still stands to reason that he’s in some kind of a crisis because Brandini has recently been filling in for him. Now the split’s over, and Echo Fox did not impress. The only silver lining is that it could have been worse.
▣ NV Seraph: Fallen angel ★★ (4/10)
Since Seraph played almost three years in NA LCS, it doesn’t feel entirely right calling him an import. At any rate, he has consistently participated in the league. Despite his varying levels of performance throughout the years, he mostly lived up to the League’s standards, issues outside of the game notwithstanding.
However, his form in this split was especially lackluster. Though Envy tends to rely heavily on Lira’s jungle, Nisqy can mostly hold his own in the mid lane, even when Lira falters. The same can be said for the bot duo, Apollo and Hakuho; while they may not be able to crush their opponents in lane, they can safely transition into late game without active interventions from their jungler.
On the other hand, Seraph seemed to echo Lira’s form in this split. When Lira didn’t make plays, neither could Seraph. Top laners should be the shield and the fortress of a team. A deficit from one lane can be made up in another, but a broken shield spells disaster for the whole team. Even if top laners in other teams are playing out of their minds, the fact that Seraph’s plays don’t ring any bells implies that his output in this split is underwhelming.
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