January 16th (KST), 2019. The start of the upcoming LCK Spring Split has been confirmed. Riot Games announced this right after the end of the LoL All-Star live broadcast; the fervor for the LCK is heating up.
At the same time, the transfer market for the Spring Split is almost at its end. Compared to last year, which was rather quiet with mostly contract renewals, this year was more of a revolution that was packed with dramatic changes. It took almost a whole month for the teams to end contracts with their existing members and bring in new players for their rosters. With most of the teams finishing their recruitment, this ever-so-heated transfer market is coming to a close.
Key players left teams and new contracts were made. There were times when official announcements were delayed which left the fans in suspense. Now that the long storm passed, it’s time to sum up the ins-and-outs of the LCK teams.
: teams that have chosen to rebuild
Among the teams that underwent huge rebuilds, SKT T1 would probably stand out as the team that had the biggest makeover. With 7 players leaving the team, the only person from the starting lineup who decided to stay is Faker. Soon enough, they recruited prominent players from Korea and overseas to finalize a concrete roster.
Seeing the names of the players who joined, the word “Dream Team” naturally comes to mind; their roster is that exceptional. Khan, who has always been performing solidly, will be filling in for SKT T1’s top lane which was has been a pain in the neck since 2015. For the jungle, Haru, who was at the helm of Gen.G Esports’ aggressiveness, has joined, as well as Clid - one of the most aggressive junglers in the LPL. There quite a bit of talk about whether they will change their playstyle to SKT’s traditional lane supportive jungle style.
To supplement Bang’s absence, Teddy joined. Wolf’s spot has been filled in with a huge signing; the star support, Mata. It’s fascinating to see Mata - who was always performing in Faker’s rival teams - become a part of SKT. It seems likely that Mata will act as a control tower in for the current SKT players who each have their own unique and strong personality.
SKT has brought in some good coaches as well. They acquired former Jin Air Green Wing coach Kim Sang-chul and Afreeca Freec's unsung hero, Zefa. Since the two are known for their draft and understanding of the game in general, it seems that they'll make some positive synergy with head coach kkOma.
Kingzone DragonX, who were LCK champions two consecutive times but slipped right before the start of the Worlds, also made a big decision. They lost all of their key members starting from Khan and GorillA. Whilst the transfer market was ongoing, they seemed rather passive towards signing players for most of the duration. The fans’ worries festered and at the last minute, they successfully recruited Deft and PawN, who had just left KT Rolster. Soon after, Kingzone signed TusiN, who performed as the support for Afreeca Frees.
Those were some impressive additions. With the gradual decrease of Pray-GorillA’s performance throughout the Summer Split, substituting them for the Deft-TusiN duo seemed like a fair enough choice. The two newcomers are known for their aggressive laning, and if they can keep from going too far, they seem like a pretty strong duo.
PawN, who was known as the best mid laner in 2015, did not perform for a long time due to personal and health issues. Although he has a long career and experienced a championship, he’s evaluated as a player that currently lacks stage experience. As a matter of fact, Kingzone stated that they will do their utmost to support his health. It seems that they have more issues to sort out with PawN. Still, his reputation as a high-class player makes us anxious to see him recover and make his comeback.
They successfully made a contract renewal with coach Supreme and signed former Samsung Galaxy and LGD player, Acorn as coach. Fans will see former pro, Acorn perform as a coach in the LCK for the first time in quite a while.
Although they did change…
: They seem determined but unstable
kt Rolster, a team that claimed the LCK trophy and was recognized as the favorite for the 2018 Worlds, went through a big change after being knocked out in the Quarterfinals. They parted with Ucal and their bottom duo, Deft-Mata. Although a substantial loss, they succeeded to make their key member Score and top laner Smeb remain. By doing so, it is likely that kt Rolster will at least be able to maintain their team style.
To make up for Ucal’s absence, they signed Bdd. This contract received some attention since Bdd was the known ‘big fish’ for this transfer market. The fact that kt acquired Bdd, who has a similar playstyle to Ucal with his phenomenal laning ability, makes kt Rolster’s upper lane carry potential greater than before. UmTi, a jungler who is solid in his early game pathing, also joined; it seems he’ll be in the same role as their former player, Rush.
kt Rolster went through a big rebuilding process. However, their bottom lane seems unstable. They successfully signed SnowFlower, but kt failed to recruit a concrete ADC during this transfer market. Although they made contact with numerous players, there was no official announcement of a new ADC for quite a long period of time. The fans’ concerns are definitely well-placed.
Meanwhile, ZanDarc who was 'temporarily' in charge has finally been promoted to an 'actual' head coach. The kt coaching staff will be together for another year with coach Noexcuse and Sonstar renewing their contract.
Was it due to their 2018 Worlds failure? Gen.G Esports underwent some large tweaks and eventually chose to rebuild around Ruler. After making their ADC remain, they also renewed contracts with Cuvee and Fly. To some extent, Gen.G has finished preparing their 2019 by signing a few new players to their roster.
The most notable one was Peanut. He is a jungler with a career so impressive that he has been called the “undisputed LCK champion”. Every team he played for lifted the LCK trophy at least once. Peanut pulled it off in ROX Tigers, SKT T1, and Kingzone DragonX. This might be the main reason why Gen.G Esports put so much emphasis on their sign-on announcement of Peanut.
Cuvee, who has always been a reliable player, will now have former Kongdoo Monster top laner Roach on his side. They also secured Fly, who carried Gen.G multiple times in 2018. However, there is one concern with the Gen.G roster - their support role. They still have not found a suitable player after CoreJJ left the team. The focus is on how well their young support, Life will be able to perform. It seems like the rookie has quite a heavy burden on his shoulders.
Afreeca Freecs, a team that has the best top laner in the world, Kiin, could not stop their players from leaving as well. Although they lost their captain, Kuro, which must have been a hard blow, they still managed to secure their other veteran player, Spirit.
Known for their 10-man roster strategy, Afreeca Freecs successfully finalized a concrete roster. Their most significant sign-on would be the former kt Rolster player, Ucal. With this, Afreeca has now gained some prowess in their mid lane, which they seemed to lack before. There are some fairly high expectations for their one-two punch, Kiin-Ucal, as well as some hopeful expectations their synergy with Spirit. When Spirit is on the ball, his performance is second to none, so it would be exciting to see how Kiin-Ucal play alongside him.
However, Afreeca also has a big hole in their support role. They did not find a proper solution for TusiN’s departure. Despite the fact that they still have Jelly and also signed Proud, TusiN’s absence is heavy. Similar to Gen.G, their new support has a heavy burden to bear. Also, Aiming’s performance seems unstable without an experienced support like TusiN on his side. It feels like they are walking on thin ice.
Although Afreeca lost two coaches that were in charge of their tactics, Ccomet and Zefa, they managed to hit a jackpot by signing NoFe as coach.
Hanwha Life Esports made a painful decision by parting with Lindarang and SeongHwan, who were scouted and brought up directly by head coach Onair. It’s still a big relief that they managed to secure some of their starting members such as Lava, Sangyoon, and Key. The issue following that was how they would plan their full roster using their remaining members; Hanwha replied with numerous new contracts.
First, Moojin filled in for the jungle position. He is a player that delivered excellent carry plays during his time with LMS Flash Wolves. Although he and his team underperformed in the 2018 Worlds, he has proven his talent numerous times during his career. The main issue is whether he will successfully deliver the same level of performance in the LCK as well. Also, former bbq Olivers players Tempt and Bono joined and will compete for a spot in the starting lineup. In addition, former Jin Air Green Wings’ SoHwan and former SKT T1 member Thal joined Hanwha Life Esports.
Eventually, they put together a full 10-man roster. Their head coach, Onair is a person that prioritizes team synergy rather than recruiting star players and he has again stated that this will be his philosophy for their new roster as well. We’ll have to wait and see whether Onair, who has been pushing his coaching philosophy during this highly competitive transfer market, can make his team ready for the next split.
With coach Emperor leaving Hanwha, they acquired coach Woong and will be teamed up with coach Linlan. Onair stated that he signed Woong for the change in patch concepts since it's requiring more and more creativity in a team's draft.
Jin Air Green Wings is similar but somewhat different to Hanwha's. They've also set parts with most of their starting members. Although they've lost 5 players including SoHwan, UmTi, and Teddy, Jin Air still managed to finalize a solid roster with signing a total of 7 new players.
They aquired former Hanwha player, Lindarang and Ever8 Winners player, Malrang. Jin Air also brought in Stitch, a player that has performed in Samsung Galaxy and LMS' G-Rex. They signed numerous rookies into their roster as well.
Still, Jin Air Green Wing's new roster is somewhat similar to Hanwha Life Esports'. They seem to have a lot of new faces, but something is missing: the main dish. People say that LoL is a game that can be won only with teamwork and synergy. However, if it's about an official pro tournament, things become different; a star player that can hold up the entire team is also important. They seem a bit more unstable compared to Hanwha since they still have Sangyoon or Key that can act as a leader for the team.
Recently, Jin Air Green Wings' coach Fly left the team and Alvingo was brought in from Winners.
Together for another year
: the 3 former CK teams secure their original members.
Interestingly, teams promoted from Challengers Korea decided to go on with their original members on 2019. One of the best LCK team in 2018, Griffin, is also on that list. They managed to secure their starters. Additionally, they brought in a rookie player, Kabbie.
Things are looking up for Griffin; with STILL8 acquiring the team, 2019 will be a new start for them. While the other organizations will have to start all over by reconstructing the team, Griffin now simply needs to amplify their strengths and fix some of their errors.
Team BattleComis is following Griffin’s example. They haven’t made any changes except for signing Wizer for SoaR in their top lane. Although BattleComics will need some time to adjust with their new top laner, they’ll still be able to maintain their team style for the next split. Their key members, OnFleek, Dove, and Hollow will be performing as always.
DAMWON Gaming hasn’t made any significant changes either. They haven’t lost any starting members and they even brought in 2 young players; the former bbq Olivers ADC Calm (formerly known as Aries) and Canyon joined the roster. It seems likely that their new roster won’t be too different compared to their LCK Promotion Match roster, so they’ll likely just be looking to add in some new spice to their original playstyle.
Another notable factor is that head coach Kim who has just won the 2018 Worlds in iG, joined DAMWON as a 'coach'. Kim, who has stated that he wanted a "new challenge", will now be a coach in the LCK; the focus is on whether he'll successfully fulfill his goal on his new team, DAMWON.