For a long time, Korean teams have produced top laners that dominated the world. From Shy coming in 2nd place at the LoL Season 2 World Championships with Azubu Frost, top laners such as Impact, Looper, MaRin, Duke, and CuVee all showed prowess in the top lane that befits the title of a world champion. In most cases, compared to top laners from other regions, Korean top laners showed more presence at Worlds.
Time flew by, and all of the sudden, Korean top laners that are in the LPL started to dominate the world. From IG’s TheShy to FPX’s GimGoon, they won Worlds for two years in a row. With Khan, who was the top laner for T1 and arguably the best top laner that LCK had to offer in 2019, finding his new home with FPX, the LCK top lane talent pool from Worlds had little to no presence during this year’s KeSPA Cup. Even Nuguri from DAMWON Gaming was eliminated after one match, so the LCK top lane talent pool had seemingly diminished.
However, during this year’s KeSPA Cup, there was a top laner who showed incredible presence in the top lane. Even when Afreeca Freecs was falling behind in the lower half of the LCK standings, Kim “Kiin” Gi-in was always considered one of the best, and led his team to win the KeSPA Cup for the first time. His in-game performance in the tournament was a reminder to the world that he’s an incredible player who was Korea’s representative of the 2018 Asian Games, and led Afreeca to Worlds.
Although Kiin was considered a super rookie when he joined Afreeca in 2018, he’s now a franchise star who signed for another 3 years with the team. He mentioned in an interview, that “There’s much merit in staying with a single team for a long time”, and he proved just that, with long-time jungler for Afreeca, Spirit. The two players led the team to beat their opponents in the semifinals and the finals of the KeSPA Cup, 3-0, in both matches, and showed incredible individual performances against DragonX and SANDBOX Gaming.
Kiin’s level of performance surpassed that of any other top laners. If traditionally, top laners’ job was to snowball the lane from laning phase and take control of the side lanes, Kiin took it one step further to lead his team into victory by showing presence around the whole map and having huge impact in teamfights. By saving Teleport and using it bot lane to join his team, the enemy has a hard time following his tempo.
His plays had much more depth than just saving Teleport. This all stems from him setting up conditions from the laning phase. It all starts with him hard pushing the lane, recalling early and returning to lane. From the laning phase, Kiin’s very detailed in the things he needs to achieve in-game.
By gaining vision in the enemy jungle, Kiin made Spirit’s job a lot easier. In the semifinal match vs. DRX, Spirit was in a spot where a 2 vs 2 skirmish against the enemy will make him fall even further behind. Yet, Kiin was very sharp with his usage of wards, where he had the initial push in lane and figured out where the enemy jungler is. For a jungler that fell behind, the location of the enemy Lee Sin was crucial for Spirit. With this, he was able to come back into the game by safely ganking top.
What was even more amazing was Kiin’s bold, yet successful roams to mid and bot lane. Even when you push the minion wave into the enemy turret, if you leave the lane for a long time, you can fall behind the enemy top laner. However, as if Kiin was able to foresee the future, he joined his team to get a bigger advantage. Without deep understanding of teamplay and accurate shotcalling, the type of plays that Kiin showed are impossible to make. With Teleport unable to be interrupted, the advantages that Kiin would get with his usage of Teleports are far more valuable than those that can be earned in the laning phase in the top lane. Even when the enemy saved teleport to match Kiin’s teleport usage, they couldn’t overcome him, as he was always instinctively one step ahead. It was a highlight reel that only Kiin could make.
Before we knew it, Kiin has become a top laner that is highly respected, and has become a role model to other pro gamers as well. The top laner for Spear Gaming's Destroyer, picked Kiin as his role model, and stated, “I learn a lot from many other top laners, but if I am to pick one top laner to learn from, it’s Kiin. He’s a perfect top laner in so many ways."
Now, Kiin finally has earned a trophy for himself. No one knows how far this experience of winning this tournament will take Kiin. For all the participating LCK teams, this year’s KeSPA Cup can be considered as a time to warm up or reorganizing a new roster for the 2020 season of LCK. Putting the size and the importance of the tournament aside, it’s a chance to feel what it’s like to be at the top and find confidence within oneself.
With this tournament victory, Kiin also shared his resolutions for 2020. Even after the win, he stated, “This all still seems surreal, as this isn’t what I expected when I won the finals. Just because I won today, I won’t get complacent, and will aim to make it to Worlds.” Through this year’s KeSPA Cup, he proved that there’s much merit in staying in one team for a long time, so many expects Kiin’s growth in 2020. As the ace for the team that led his team to victory through thick and thin, the sky’s the limit for this top laner that truly represents Korea.
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