The 2019 LCK season had quite an unexpected start; there was a significant shift in power within the newly-vamped Korean league.
Coming in like a storm, the new blood asserted their dominance, dealing a harsh blow to the veterans. Not only did the ‘rookie’ teams have better individual performance over some of the veterans, but they also seemed to have a better grasp and understanding of the meta; this gave them an edge in terms of aggressive play that the existing teams seemed to lack. There are actually two teams among the rookies that have yet to be defeated: Griffin and SANDBOX Gaming.
Griffin’s strength this season was almost a given, based on how the team shook up the league last year when they joined during the Summer. And as for SANDBOX Gaming, very few people - if anyone at all - predicted that they would be such a powerful force.
While it hasn’t been long since the 2019 LCK Spring Split began, the stellar performance that the two teams have showcased left a strong impression; given their momentum as well, their performance isn’t likely to drop any time soon. This article will review the two teams’ core strengths.
Griffin: "Strength comes from the synergy that the coaches have with the players"
So far in the 2019 LCK Spring Split, the most impressive team is undoubtedly Griffin. Fans and analysts who had the pleasure of witnessing their games were all left eyes wide and jaws open. They delivered flawless team cohesion during teamfights and macro gameplay. But just what makes Griffin so strong?
In most team-based games and sports, communication is essential; and in-game, players tell each other what to do through various shot calls. But instead of working towards improving the quality of their calls to produce clear, accurate shot calls, Griffin is a team that works towards getting rid of communication altogether.
Griffin’s head coach cvMax’s unique philosophy proposes that having to communicate can actually cause players to hesitate - decreasing the overall quality of the plays made as a result. Griffin is a team that aims to essentially read each others’ minds and play fluidly without having the need to make shot calls. So far, cvMax’s method has brought Griffin massive success.
▲ Griffin’s voice comm in 2018. The calls are a lot more curt and calm compared to other teams.
Griffin plays their games with the ‘no risk, low return’ rule that cvMax had established within the team. As the smallest of mistakes can snowball and turn the tides of a game, Griffin plays to minimize their risks in all situations in order to net even the smallest of advantages.
In the clip above, Griffin takes full advantage of the fact that SKT’s mid and top laner were clearing the side lanes. By charging in at the lone Viktor in mid lane with Sion’s long-distance engage, they were able to burn SKT’s primary DPS champion’s flash. This play fits cvMax’s rule of a ‘no risk, low return’ and eventually helped the team snowball by giving Griffin the edge in a later teamfight.
Another interesting aspect about Griffin is how Tarzan almost always has the level advantage over his opposing junglers - a result of how well the laners understand the jungle role. By fully understanding Tarzan’s situation throughout the early game, the laners of Griffin allow Tarzan to take the safest, most experience-efficient jungle route. Game 1 of the GRF vs. JAG is a good example that shows how quickly the GRF laners provide backup for Tarzan and how the team - through various methods - allows Tarzan to position himself in the most optimal location on the map.
Griffin’s synergy and ability to fluently read the flow of the game allow the players to play with the ‘no risk, low return’ approach. It’s also worth noting that Griffin is the only LCK team that saw no change in the roster moving into 2019. As a result, Griffin is currently placed 1st in the LCK leaderboard - without having dropped a single match set.
SANDBOX Gaming: Innovative Strategy, Creative Picks & Bans
SANDBOX Gaming brought a typhoon of fresh air to the League of Legends esports scene.
It’s a normal tactic for professional esports teams to try and cut their losses as much as possible by banning a number of “hard-to-deal-with” champions before grabbing a few of those same champs for themselves during the picking phase. Then, the teams will fill in the rest of the picks with “meta” champions to finalize their team composition. Anything else - anything out of the ordinary - is seen as a surprise pick. From what we’ve seen so far, the team that has had the greatest amount of these ‘surprise’ picks is SANDBOX Gaming. Despite being brand new to the league, SANDBOX wasn’t afraid to think outside the box.
On their very first LCK game, SANDBOX played against a previous world champion, Gen.G Esports. For that match, SANDBOX picked Lucian mid to counter the opposing Galio and picked Kalista to send to the bottom lane. In game 2, SANDBOX took Galio for themselves and locked in Lissandra and Camille. The picks seemed normal up to this point.
During the second phase of the picks & bans, however, SANDBOX astonished not only Gen.G, but the fans as well. They picked Darius and Viktor, revealing the Galio pick to be a support pick. In addition, the Darius pick was then sent to the mid lane to counter the Sion pick, allowing SANDBOX to secure a flawless 2-0 victory on their very first LCK match. SANDBOX would later use the “Galio flex” strategy again later down the road against DAMWON Gaming to aid in their 2-1 victory.
On their second and third match in the LCK, against Kingzone DragonX and SK Telecom T1 respectively, SANDBOX unveiled another weapon: Draven. Known for carrying a stupendous amount of damage, but having an unreliable passive and low survivability, Draven rarely saw play in the LCK.
Yet against KZ and SKT’s Deft and Teddy, two of the most renowned bot laners here in Korea, SANDBOX was able to fully utilize Draven’s overwhelming early game strength to suppress them early on. With their unique and direct approach to picking and countering champions, SANDBOX was able to secure victory once again.
Out of the two new teams in this Spring Split: SANDBOX and DAMWON - expectations were lowest for SANDBOX. Not only does the team have Joker, the oldest player in the league - the team has him paired with Ghost in the bot lane, a player that was criticized as one of the worst bot lane players in Korea last season.
Despite the negative opinions and low expectations, however, SANDBOX played their own game and proved the critics wrong. By coming up with an innovative strategy, and having the necessary talent and teamwork to pull it off, SANDBOX, who is currently undefeated, now stands in 2nd place in the 2019 LCK Spring leaderboard.