The precursor of the 2019 LCK, the KeSPA Cup, has come to an end and now the Spring Split is just around the corner. On the 16th of January (KST), the 2019 LCK Spring Split will finally kick off. With most of the teams going through both small and big tweaks in their rosters, this Spring is already one of the most anticipated seasons in the history of the LCK.
Except for only a few teams that went with the status quo, most of the LCK participants went through a huge rebuild. That’s why it is so difficult to give a concrete prediction for this Spring’s final standings.
Although it might be quite early in the game to be making predictions for the upcoming split, we were fortunate enough to see a sneak peek of the rebuilt LCK teams at the 2018 KeSPA Cup. While it is merely the beginning, the KeSPA Cup gave us enough information to make a somewhat reasonable prediction. The following is the Inven Global’s 2019 LCK Spring Power Rankings.
They often say that ‘no news is good news’. Griffin, a rookie team that came in at a close second place for the 2018 Summer, has not made a single change in their starting lineup. Despite the concerns, this LCK sophomore team lifted the KeSPA Cup trophy without losing a single set.
As we witnessed at the KeSPA Cup, team chemistry is not an issue for Griffin. They’re still phenomenal in teamfights and it seems like they’ve also improved on some of their weaknesses, such as their rather weak laning abilities. It’s quite difficult to point out a major flaw for them at this point. Sword, who was sometimes criticized for his passive playstyle has proven that he can perform well on aggressive champions. His teamfight ability has been second to none since his LCK debut. Viper and Lehends, who were sometimes seen as the duo that benefited most from the non-ADC meta, is also solid on traditional bottom lane picks as well. Chovy delivered an outstanding performance during the KeSPA Cup and Tarzan is undoubtedly the best jungler in the LCK.
With head coach cvMax signing a new multi-year contract, Griffin didn’t make any big changes, but they look like an upgraded version compared to the last split. They are currently no doubt the number 1 favorites for the upcoming Spring.
2. SKT T1
SKT T1 was the center of attention in this preseason due to the huge rebuild in their starting and sub lineup. Their franchise star, Faker was the only starter that remained. Despite the worries, SKT succeeded to sign on renowned players for the coming year.
They might have put in a lot of effort to build up this new dream team, but SKT needs to focus more on something else now: team chemistry. In this KeSPA Cup, the new players and Faker did deliver strong individual plays at times. However, when watching their performance, one can’t help but see it as a solo queue match. They seemed to have trouble executing their macro in the mid-game. They made small and big mistakes in skirmishes and teamfights. Their draft in this KeSPA Cup was also criticized. One of the examples was the first pick LeBlanc they used against DAMWON Gaming.
Still, if they can shape up their teamwork in the remaining preseason time, SKT will likely do well in the Spring Split. Nevertheless, their ‘Khan-Clid-Faker-Teddy-Mata’ starting lineup itself makes them already a tough team to go against. They have solid players waiting on the bench such as Crazy, Haru, and Effort as well. That’s why SKT’s coaching staff will likely play the most crucial role. They’ll have to do their utmost to shape these star players into a real team. If they succeed, SKT has a good chance of reaching their prime once again.
3. Gen.G Esports
Gen.G Esports also made a lot of changes in their roster. Although Gen.G lost some of their starters such as Crown, Ambition, and CoreJJ, they still delivered concrete performance in the KeSPA Cup and came in at a close second place.
CuVee, who has been one of the most consistent top laners in the LCK, performed decently in this KeSPA tournament. Their new jungler Peanut will probably display solid performance in Spring, just as he has done throughout his career in the LCK. Their mid laner Fly will perfectly fill in for Crown, and their young support, Life, showed that he has the potential to perform at a level similar to what CoreJJ delivered for their past splits. Most of all, Ruler is still recognized as one of the most mechanically gifted ADCs in Korea, and now that he has gained more experience, he will be the one to step up for Gen.G in the Spring Split.
However, in this KeSPA Cup, they did not seem to have changed their late-game focused playstyles. If the Spring meta will be the same early-game, upper lane focused meta, Gen.G will have troubles taking down the higher-tier teams. We saw during the KeSPA Cup that their playstyles are not effective in the current meta against teams such as Griffin. Their jungler Peanut will play an important role in his new team. CuVee and Fly are players that have the capability to dominate their lane matchup, but their plays are more focused on team balance. That’s why he’ll have to do more for Gen.G, especially around the top-mid lane, in this early game skirmish meta. This will indeed be a big help against the higher tier teams for next split.
4. Afreeca Freecs
Afreeca Freecs currently has the strongest upper lane in the LCK. Ucal, who proved his strength in kt Rolster, filled in for Kuro. They also have the veteran jungler Spirit, who still has the ability to carry the team when he is on the ball. Most importantly, they have Kiin, who is one of the best top laners in the LoL scene. Afreeca also acquired former EDG head coach, NoFe, for their coaching staff.
Compared to their solid top-jungle-mid lane, Afreeca’s bottom lane seems rather weak. They’ve lost Kramer and TusiN, who played as the starting bottom duo for the past 2 years. Aiming, who just finished his first year as a pro in 2018, needs to improve in his skills in general. He did deliver good performance alongside his former support TusiN, but now he’ll have to play in the bottom lane with less experienced players such as Jelly and Proud.
When it comes to their prowess in the upper lanes, Afreeca Freecs does seem like one of the better teams in the LCK. However, stage experience is something that can’t just manifest; their bottom duo has to gain experience and prove themselves.
5. DAMWON Gaming
LCK officials say that the gap between solo queues and official matches are closing in the current LoL meta. If this is true, the LCK rookie, DAMWON Gaming will most likely do well this Spring with 7 of their players making it to the top 50 Challengers list, as of January 7th. (Hoit 4th, Canyon, 5th, ShowMaker 7th, Nuguri 9th, Nuclear 16th, Punch 30th, BeryL 33rd)
Their coach Kim stated in his social media account that the DAMWON roster is mostly filled with young and inexperienced rookie players. Although they might be dominating the current Korean solo queue, they do lack on-stage experience which can become a troublesome variable for their LCK debut.
However, the presence of the Worlds champion coach Kim will definitely be a big help for this young team. “The players were so pressured [during the KeSPA Cup] that I had to tell them to snap out of it... Some players even had a hard time breathing and our picks&bans no longer had any meaning.” said Kim in his recent social media post. Fortunately enough, he witnessed the players experience severe nerve issues in the KeSPA Cup and now the team clearly knows what to focus on for the Spring. Let’s see what these rookies have in store for us for their first ever LCK split.
6. kt Rolster
The champions of the 2018 LCK Summer, kt Rolster lost most of their starters. With Ucal, Deft, and Mata departing, they still managed to fill in some notable names such as UmTi and Bdd. However, they had difficulty recruiting an ADC and eventually signed Gango, who is still unfamiliar to the LCK fans.
Their current bottom duo, Gango-SnowFlower seems fairly weak compared to the previous Deft-Mata duo. Their veteran star jungler, Score, is now one of the oldest players in the LCK and soon will have to leave for his military service. Although Smeb was decent in his kt days, he clearly did not deliver the dominant performance he had at his prime, during his KOO-ROX Tigers days.
However, things seem brighter than expected for kt. Bdd, who is currently one of the best mid laners in the LoL scene, is still solid. Also, their new sub jungler UmTi managed to deliver outstanding performance at the KeSPA Cup. Their sub top laner, Kingen, has been dominating the Korean solo queue and SnowFlower was known as the best support in the TCL during his SuperMassive days. Moreover, their new starting ADC, Gango, has experienced competitive LoL in 2014-2015 and 2018. (he streamed for a few years before joining the Japanese team USG in 2018) They still have their veteran players, Smeb and Score, so if their bottom duo can play a bit better than their expectations, this former LCK champion might be able to showcase something more for their fans.
7. Kingzone DragonX
Bdd, who was considered the team’s hope, departed to kt. They then lost their star bottom duo, GorillA-PraY. They also sent their All-Star jungler Peanut away. Last of all, Khan, who was the main carry for Kingzone for the past 2 years, left to SKT. Yes, Kingzone’s Spring is not looking too bright.
There are a few positive factors that can maybe bring this team back up once again. First off, they’ve acquired Deft. This brilliant ADC is always ready to dominate the bottom lane matchup, and if his support TusiN can play up to what he's shown in his Afreeca days, the two may become the most aggressive bottom duo in the current LCK. They also signed PawN, who was known as the best mid laner in his heyday. If he can remain healthy for the rest of the season, he still will play a concrete role for Kingzone.
However, TusiN has been criticized for his inconsistency throughout his career. PawN currently lacks on-stage experience and we are still not sure whether he has fully recovered from his injury. What their former player Khan has proven in Kingzone is incomparable to what their current top laner, Rascal has delivered. With their roster totally rebuilt, the coaching staff will have to take extensive care on the team’s chemistry as well. It might be harsh to say but, the Kingzone organization will have to do so much more to get back on their feet again.
8. Hanwha Life Esports
Although Hanwha did release a lot of their players in this preseason, they still succeeded to sign on some notable players such as Thal, Moojin, and Tempt. Hanwha also acquired SoHwan-Bono and finalized their 10-man roster. They still have their key members, Lava, Sangyoon, and Key. Former CJ Entus player Woong joined the team as a coach. While on the surface Hanwha seems like they built up a concrete roster for the Spring, something is missing: a star player.
Moojin was doing great in the LMS and perfectly filled in for Flash Wolves’ former jungler Karsa. However, this year will be his first year in the LCK, and he’ll play in a totally different team environment. Even though Thal has been doing well in solo queue, he hasn’t been playing up to that performance in official matches. Their bottom duo Sangyoon-Key seems like the key to Hanwha’s Spring, but they also seem to lack consistency compared to the other higher-tier teams’ bottom lane.
Their head coach OnAir’s coaching philosophy is more focused on teamwork and bringing up young prospects. Hanwha has been doing fairly well for the past few splits, so that approach may be seen as a success so far. However, in order to become a playoffs contender and possibly make it to the Worlds stage, they’ll need more than just teamwork.
9. SANDBOX Gaming
Alongside DAMWON, SANDBOX Gaming will also make their LCK debut in this Spring. However, compared to the high expectations that DAMWON is shouldering, fans are rather skeptical about how well SANDBOX will perform for their debut.
SANDBOX performed well during their first KeSPA Cup match against Winners, but they clearly had a hard time going against the LCK team Gen.G and got shut down 2:0. Although they were swept, their top-mid laners did fairly well against Cuvee-Fly. They also have two solid junglers, OnFleek and Crush, who are expected to be the main strength for the team in 2019.
However, compared to their top-jungle-mid, SANDBOX’s bottom duo seems a bit too shaky to competitively perform in the LCK. The team’s overall macro, which has been criticized since Challengers Korea, was still insecure at the KeSPA Cup. We’ll have to see whether they can successfully play up to an LCK level in the upcoming split.
10. Jin Air Green Wings
During the transfer market, Jin Air brought in a total of 8 new players to their roster. Going into the Spring Split, they have a full 10-man roster ready to perform.
However, the loss of their two key players, UmTi and Teddy, seems like a hard blow. Despite the fact that there were numerous new sign-ons, it’s difficult to select a single player that can step up as the main carry for the team.
Of course, people say that LoL is a team game. Can Jin Air’s coaching staff successfully shape up the team’s teamwork before the start of the split? Considering the fact that they’ve released 5 of their players and signed on 8 new faces… Jin Air’s team chemistry might be the issue that their coaching staff has to handle first to compete against the other LCK teams this Spring.