On the 8th of September (KST), Griffin will go against kt Rolster in the 2018 LCK Summer finals.
With the biggest LCK event of the year just around the corner, this Summer finals is expected to be quite a spectacle. The fact that Griffin, an LCK first-year team with mainly rookies in their roster, made it to the playoffs is astonishing.
On the opposing side, kt Rolster is aiming for their first LCK trophy after their sister team, kt Arrow won the LCK Summer in 2014. In contrast to the young Griffin roster, kt is currently stacked with veteran players, making them one of the most experienced teams in the LCK.
Although kt has a good record against the ‘LCK super-rookies’ Griffin, being undefeated against them in the regular split, it is hard to predict which team is on top since the two teams have different backgrounds and play styles.
The prepared rookies
After Griffin dominated the Challengers Korea league and soon started to defeat the LCK teams, fans were still skeptic on their performance. The Griffin crew was mostly composed of young and less-experienced players. Even their head coach, former pro gamer and streamer cvMax, started his first coaching career in Griffin in mid-2017. Also, they were a team that didn’t use wards a lot, which went right against the LCK playstyle that mainly focuses on vision control. However, it did not take long for the LCK fans to realize that this team is not just a group of unprepared rookies with beginner’s luck.
Experts say that they were already an LCK playoffs contender in their Challengers Korea days. However, Griffin was just a team with ‘named’ amateur players in their early days. Everything changed after former pro gamer and streamer cvMax joined the team as head coach. Using his unique leadership and in-game knowledge, he started to shape Griffin into an LCK team.
"A vertical relationship between coach and players is inefficient in this environment. You need to constantly have doubts. That's how scientists think. Do you have no doubts about anything I say? Don't live so passively." - cvMax Inven Global interview
Although this might be somewhat different in other cultures, ‘coach-player’ relationships are mostly vertical in Korean society. What this ‘LCK rookie’ head coach cvMax did first was to break down this relationship barrier. Since feedback is a key element in the LoL pro scene, his ‘different’ coaching values made the team quickly adjust to the fast-changing LCK.
The LCK Galácticos
In 2016, numerous Korean LPL import players made their comeback in the LCK. With the original ROX Tigers members leaving the team, the 2016 transfer market was full of renowned free agents. kt Rolster, who only made a contract extension with Score at that time, started to sign on some big names. They first brought in Smeb as top. Then, they signed the former Samsung Galaxy mid and bottom laners, PawN, Deft, and Mata from the LPL.
Despite their high reputation and expectations, the “LCK Galácticos” somewhat struggled to find a spot in the LCK. Deft and Mata, who were expected to be one of the best bottom duos in the LCK, failed to deliver the performance they showed in their Samsung and LPL days. PawN, who was suffering from health issues, had to get some time off from the roster. Smeb was also having a hard time reforming his aggressive laning ability he displayed on ROX Tigers. The team’s veteran, Score, seemed to be somewhat pressured and underperformed in important matches.
To make things worse, head coach Lee Ji-hoon, who was one of the early legends of the kt esports organization, left the team in 2017 for the team’s underperformance. With coach ZanDarc named as temporary head coach, some even said that this might be the end of the “LCK Galácticos”.
Fortunately, these star players decided to stay another year. After signing Ucal and Rush, the team finished the 2018 Spring split in 3rd place. kt Rolster finally started to perform as a Worlds contender in this Summer split. Despite their rather shaky performance at the beginning of the split, they managed to dominate the 2nd round after being undefeated in Rift Rivals.
Teamfight vs Macro
When talking about the secret behind Griffin’s successful LCK debut, the first thing that comes to mind is their exceptional teamfights. Although they did deliver concrete laning and macro at the beginning of the split, it was their solid performance in teamfights that saved them from their shaky 2nd round performance.
▲One of the many teamfight highlights of Griffin in the LCK Summer split
Fans do say that Griffin is somewhat reliant on their teamfight abilities. However, in their games in 2018 LCK Summer round 1, they were actually never that far behind in laning. Even in the ‘Non-ADC / bruiser meta’, their top laner Sword, who usually picked tanks in the LCK, managed to go even in lane against his opponent top laners. With Sword solid on top, their mid laner Chovy and bottom duo Viper-Lehends displayed stellar in-game mechanics. Griffin’s Tarzan, who spent less time in the spotlight compared to his teammates at the beginning of the split, was always steady and supported the team.
These talented, albeit young and less-experienced Griffin players, have now experienced the high competitiveness of the LCK playoffs in the semifinals against Afreeca. If they can successfully recover their 1st round performance, fans may very well witness a first-year rookie team claiming the LCK trophy.
On the other hand, kt Rolster, a team made up of some highly experienced LCK veterans, is performance-wise a more balanced team to Griffin. Despite the fact that they were shaky at the beginning of the split, they started to gain momentum after defeating the undefeated Griffin in round 1. In this 2:0 victory, kt displayed concrete macro plays which gave the other LCK teams a hint for how to deal with these monstrous rookies.
kt used similar pick & ban strategies in both games 1 and 2 against Griffin in round 1. They excluded ranged champions and went for aggressive bruisers. The kt players constantly sought small skirmishes. By focusing on the top lane, they managed to destroy the tier 1 turret early in the game and let Smeb’s AD Kennen freely split push. Then they got both the Drake and Rift Herald.
It was not long until the kt players found out that they were far ahead in gold and items compared to Griffin. That’s when they began to speed up. In game 1, they slew the first Baron near the 20-minute mark; the gold difference was already up to 10,000. Although kt seemed to be struggling against Griffin in teamfights in game 2, they used a similar composition and again focused on the top lane to let Smeb freely split push.
The key was to avoid unwanted teamfights by constantly split pushing. kt made this possible by focusing their resources on Smeb. With Smeb freely split pushing, the rest of the members gained vision control, avoided teamfights, and engaged in small skirmishes near Rift objectives.
Key Matchup: Jungle
After losing against kt, LCK teams started to display fierce matches against Griffin. Some said that they started to underperform after the ‘non-ADC / bruiser’ meta came to an end. Another reason might have been their lack of experience on how to recover after losing. As a matter of fact, Griffin players and cvMax did admit that they played passively in the middle of the split in order to maintain their 1st place spot.
However, while the team was going through difficulties in the 2nd round, Griffin’s jungler Tarzan remained solid. In the middle of the split, Tarzan managed to put 3 of his solo queue accounts on the top 20 Challengers list; currently, his main account is at 1,329 LP with an unbelievable 72% win rate. His Taliyah, which is at a 90% win rate (26W 3L), was a must-ban pick among the Korean Challenger tier users.
He managed to deliver the same level of performance on-stage as well. During the 2018 LCK Summer, his kill participation is currently at 77%, which proves that he’s been a big part of Griffin’s concrete performance. Also, his signature pick, Trundle, with a total of 12 wins, was undefeated in the Summer. He has also been performing well on other champions such as Sejuani and Nocturne which are respectively at a 70% and 80% win rate. He only had the chance to use Taliyah twice in the Summer since it was a clear must-ban card against Griffin; Tarzan was untouchable in those two games.
In this Summer split, Smeb played an important role in kt Rolster’s early-game. With Smeb recovering his ROX Tigers form, he started dominating each top matchup. Like a lot of LoL users say, gaining the advantage early in the top lane is about how fast and efficiently their junglers give support. They might help you with a gank or sometimes the top-jungle comp might plan an aggressive top dive; sometimes even a single ward near the top brush can be a big help. Nevertheless, it’s how the top and jungler plan and sort out the game that determines the early-game laning in top.
In this case, the veteran jungler Score knew exactly what to do. He seemed to be above all LCK junglers; by moving a step faster, he did what he could to support Smeb and allow him to dominate his top lane matchup. It’s not a big surprise to see kt’s early-game kills mostly coming from top.
With his teammates regaining their heyday performance, Score also seemed to have been relieved of the pressure on his Smite usage in important games. Now he is free from the “2 HP Baron steal” meme that was born from Score’s bad reputation with Smite. This veteran has redeemed himself by stealing Barons and Drakes multiple times this split.
Another positive factor for Score is that his signature pick, Gragas, has become a meta pick in the jungle. With most of the meta jungle picks nerfed, players like Score started to use Gragas once again. Although Score used Gragas just 5 times in the LCK Summer split, he only lost once; his KDA is a surprising 7.80. He showed concrete performance on Gragas in the Asian Games as well.
Griffin and kt’s top laners have both significantly different playing styles. Griffin’s Sword focuses on the team’s mid to late-game teamfights and mostly picks tank champions that can support the team. On the other hand, Smeb is expected to once again use strong and aggressive laning champions such as his AD Kennen which was exceptional in the matchup against Griffin. Regardless of their top laners’ different styles, both Tarzan and Score will have to focus on top early in the game in order to secure a win.
While LCK junglers were receiving criticism in the Rift Rivals for their trite jungle routes, Tarzan and Score were the only LCK players who were valued as world-class junglers. The key point for the finals will be on how efficiently the two junglers support their laners. If one side succeeds in gaining an advantage near top early in the game, things might actually become a rather one-sided match in the clash between these two early-game beasts.