The 2018 LoL KeSPA Cup, held by the Korea e-Sports Association (KeSPA) will take place on the 18th of December (KST). The KeSPA Cup all started in 2005 and involved numerous gaming organizations and amateur teams competing in 4 events including Starcraft, Special Force, Crazyracing Kartrider, and Freestyle. It was a great chance for amateur players to perform with the very best. For the pro teams, the KeSPA Cup was a preseason tournament to test out their new players and tactics for the upcoming split.
The advent of the 'LoL' KeSPA CupThe CK sensation, ESC Ever
The LoL event became a part of the KeSPA Cup in 2015; during this debut, one of the biggest upsets in Korean LoL history happened; a Challengers Korea (CK) team, ESC Ever won the trophy. In the previous CK split, Ever finished in 2nd place with an 8W-2L record. Although they were one of the better teams in CK, they definitely weren’t as dominant as teams like Griffin and DAMWON Gaming.
Losing to SBENU in the 2016 LCK Spring Promotions, they came into the 2015 KeSPA Cup without any high expectations. However, they started to defeat higher-tier teams one by one once the tournament started.
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Among the games they won during the KeSPA Cup, indeed shutting down the 2015 Worlds champions, SKT T1 in the Semis was the most memorable. Despite the fact that SKT could have been having trouble motivating the players, the fact that ESC Ever won game 1 against SKT, who only had one change in their roster -their mid lane- was itself astonishing. In game 2, with Faker subbed in, they went against the 2015 Worlds SKT roster. ESC Ever managed to come from behind with a huge team gold deficit and won this highly competitive 44-minute game.
Aside from the 34,000 US Dollar worth 1st-place prize money, they received a ticket to the IEM Season X - Cologne. After gaining momentum from the KeSPA Cup, they again surprised LoL fans by defeating H2k and QG in the Semis and Finals.
The showcase for the 2019 Spring2018 KeSPA Cup
During its 3-year history, the KeSPA Cup has been recognized as the ‘starting line’ for the Korean LoL season. Taking place right after the transfer market, it was a great chance to showcase their preseason roster and strategies in front of the fans. However, some were skeptical about the significance of the tournament in general since it was only a ‘preseason’ event. Although the KeSPA Cup is a chance for the CK and amateur teams to perform alongside the higher-tier teams, the LCK teams have to withstand the pressure of possibly losing against the underdogs; they have much more to lose.
Yet this year, it seems that there is a lot of positive expectation for the KeSPA Cup. The main reason comes from the drastic changes that most teams went through in this transfer market.
In this stove league, a total of 7 LCK teams released at least 4 players from their roster. Except for the promoted teams and Griffin, every single team in the LCK has gone through a huge rebuild of their starting lineup. This possibly is the biggest change the Korean LoL scene has gone through ever since 2015 when the LCK organizations were prohibited from having multiple teams in one organization.
A new beginningSKT T1
Among the participants, SKT T1 is at the center of attention. After having some disappointing results in 2018, SKT released their starters and decided to rebuild around their franchise star, Faker. With their 2019 roster finalized, their new lineup features strong players: Khan, Haru, Clid, Teddy, and Mata.
Although there will be many changes coming to SKT, there are two main focal points for their run in this KeSPA Cup; one, whether kkOma will change his rather conservative and passive draft style, and two, whether SKT’s traditional jungle playstyle will change to a more aggressive one. Their new junglers, Clid and Haru, are known for their aggressive early-game plays and if kkOma is seeking change in SKT’s plays, changing the team’s traditional laner-focused jungle pathing might be the key to it all.
Nevertheless, with the players of the super-team kt Rolster heading off to another team, the possible rise of a new dream team is an exciting prospect. The new SKT players might not be able to play up to expectations in this KeSPA Cup since this is their first performance as a team. However, one thing is certain: if these players, that are currently known as some of the best in their role, do play up to expectations, this KeSPA Cup might be a huge turning point for SKT; we may well bear witness to this LCK powerhouse hitting their prime once again in 2019.
The newcomersDAMWON Gaming
Most of the LCK teams have gone through a huge rebuilding process. On the other hand, the promoted team DAMWON Gaming will go into the KeSPA Cup with no changes to their starting lineup.
Although there weren’t any significant changes in their players, there are still high expectations for DAMWON Gaming in this tournament. As a matter of fact, numerous officials say that their starting lineup is already on an ‘LCK level’. Their starters delivered exceptional performance in the CK last year. Nuguri, ShowMaker, and BeryL especially are known as some of the best LoL players in Korea who dominated the Season 8 KR solo queue.
It might be a bit too early to say that DAMWON will be leading the tournament. However, DAMWON found their missing puzzle piece with former iG head coach Kim joining their coaching staff. Now that the team has a star coach on their roster, we’ll have to wait and see what coach Kim and their players have in store for us on the 20th (KST) against Brion Blade.
The LCK sophomore Griffin also has no changes in their starting lineup for the 2018 KeSPA Cup. With their starters deciding to remain in their team, the Griffin front additionally signed a new 3-year contract with head coach cvMax. It seems likely that they’ll have a change in their team management with STILL8 being their new sponsor. We’ll have to see whether they’ve improved from their Summer performance with their first match against Afreeca Freecs on the 27th (KST) in the KeSPA Cup 2nd Round Quarterfinals.
Notable players for the 2018 KeSPA Cup
There have been countless changes in this Korean LoL transfer market and it is highly difficult to pick just a few players to look out for in this year’s KeSPA Cup. However, for those who are planning on watching the 2018 KeSPA Cup, here are some of the players who you should pay attention to.
DAMWON Gaming Nuguri
If you’ve been watching some recent KR Challenger tier clips, you’re probably pretty familiar with DAMWON’s top laner, Nuguri. In fact, numerous challenger tier streamers and players picked Nuguri as one of the toughest players to lane against. Before Griffin was promoted to the LCK, their top laner Sword and DAMWON’s top laner Nuguri were the two best top laners in CK. However, despite the fact that Griffin delivered better results, Nuguri was recognized as the best top laner in CK due to his aggressive laning and his ability to one-man carry his team.
In his recent promotion match against bbq Olivers, he didn’t play up to his expectations in the top lane. He had quite a hard time going against Crazy and eventually it was his teammates who carried the team to victory. Now with DAMWON promoted to the LCK, he’ll get a second chance to showcase his abilities in front of the LCK fans. Let’s see whether he can successfully deliver his CK performance in this KeSPA Cup.
SKT T1 Clid
In this year’s international tournaments, LCK teams were criticized for their passive and safe plays in the early game. And of course, they were compared to their traditional rival, the LPL, which has won every international tournament in 2018. Numerous fans and officials cited the LPL junglers’ creative and aggressive jungle pathing as the main reason for their success this year.
Players such as Karsa, Mlxg, and Ning are LPL junglers that gained the highest recognition in 2018. However, if JD Gaming made it to any of the international tournaments this year, their former jungler Clid would have likely been up in that list. He was one of the most creative and dominant early-game junglers in the 2018 LPL. That’s why Clid was on top of every LCK team’s wishlist in the 18-19 transfer market.
Some might think that Clid will have a hard time adjusting to the LCK since he has been mainly performing in China most of his pro career. However, SKT made a smart move by signing former Worlds champion jungler Haru as well. Although Clid seems to be the starting jungler, if he seems pressured on stage and underperforms, Haru will always be ready to back him up.
We cannot be sure if Clid will get a chance to perform in SKT T1’s first 2018 KeSPA Cup match on the 20th (KST). However, with SKT having a clear starter for each role, if they sub in a player, it would most likely be in their jungle position. It will be interesting to see if Clid can bring any significant changes in the traditional SKT jungler playstyles, which were rather passive and merely focused on supporting their laners.
DAMWON Gaming ShowMaker
Faker decided to remain in SKT. Kingzone’s hope, Bdd, moved to KT and Ucal has filled in for Kuro in Afreeca Freecs. PawN, who was once known as one of the best mid laners in the world before his chronic injury, will be performing as a ‘starter’ in Kingzone. Griffin’s young and talented mid laner Chovy will be performing his 2nd year in the LCK and Mickey made his comeback to Korea. It was very tough to pick a single notable mid laner for this year’s KeSPA Cup. However, among them all, I had to pick DAMWON’s mid laner, ShowMaker.
First off, with mainly junglers making it high on the list, he was the only mid laner to climb up to the top 10 Challengers list for Season 8 KR solo queue (ranked 3rd on the account, “DWG ShowMaker”). ShowMaker knew how to use the meta mid picks and had some of his own specialties like Cassiopeia and Katarina that were each at a 74% and 65% win rate respectively.
Also, he was the X Factor for the LCK Promotion match. When DAMWON’s prominent top laner, Nuguri underperformed, ShowMaker was the one who took the reins for the team. He was always consistent in the mid lane. He is also known as one of the best performing DAMWON players in scrims against LCK teams in their CK days.
Similar to the mid laners who are seeking a fresh start in their new teams for the 2018 KeSPA Cup, he’ll also have to prove himself in front of the fans. With no significant changes in their starting lineup and with Worlds champion coach Kim joining the team, his current environment is almost certain to help him perform well. All he has to do is deliver on that exceptional potential he showed in his CK days.
Griffin was undoubtedly one of the best teams in the 2018 LCK Summer Split. Although they failed to make it to Worlds by losing against Gen.G in the 2018 Worlds Qualifiers, numerous fans said that they would have performed quite well in the aggressive early-game skirmish Worlds meta.
It might be nothing more than a hypothetical, but there’s no doubt that their unique skirmish/teamfight-focused playstyle worked in the LCK. They had a consistent top laner, along with a mechanically gifted jungler and mid laner. Also, their head coach cvMax brought in some new pick & ban strategies to the LCK. However, the main reason why Griffin dominated the aggressive, early game non-ADC meta was because of their bottom duo’s versatility. While other ADC and support players struggled to adjust to the meta, Griffin’s Viper-Lehends duo seemed to be ready on any kind of champion.
Viper was an excellent ADC Vladimir; he was consistent in laning and phenomenal in mid-game teamfights. Lehends was known for his rather unique picks in solo queue. His signature pick was his top Singed. Also, he used some off-meta support picks such as Elise and played fairly well on them.
The current Griffin roster is stacked with some highly-talented players and they performed well in their LCK rookie year. Moreover, they did not lose any of their starting members. Another piece of good news is that they now have a solid sponsor backing them: STILL8. Griffin also succeeded in establishing a 3-year contract with their head coach, cvMax.
Now the Griffin players, and their bottom duo especially, have another obstacle to face. Will they be able to overcome the sophomore curse? After the non-ADC meta came to an end, the overall performance of Griffin did decrease compared to the dominance they delivered in the early Summer Split. Will the Viper-Lehends duo switch to traditional ADC-support picks? Or will they showcase a brand new bottom meta for the 2018 KeSPA Cup?