Professional League of Legends in Korea has changed a lot over the last couple of years. The country was once known for producing incredibly talented teams with a high degree of parity, but since the end of the 2014 season - when China started headhunting many of the country's most talented players - the scene has been dominated largely by one organization: SK Telecom T1 (SKT). But SKT’s dominance hasn’t been entirely unopposed. Both the ROX Tigers - formerly the KOO Tigers - and KT Rolster have spent the last two years chasing the SKT Juggernaut, and in the LCK 2016 Summer Split, they finally caught up.
Yes, for the first time since the Summer of 2014, the champion of Korea will not be SKT. For the ROX Tigers, this means the chance to claim 1st place in a major tournament — a feat that has been denied to them three times by SKT and once by KT. For KT Rolster, this LCK championship is the opportunity to punch their ticket to Worlds, while offering some payback to the team that ended their run there last year. But most importantly, for both teams, it gives them the chance to be the best team in the world’s best region.
On the whole, the top two Korean teams this split are pretty different. The ROX Tigers rely on a slightly more balanced team strategy, placing kills fairly evenly between their three carries of Wang-ho “Peanut” Yun, Seo-haeng “KurO” Lee, and Kyung-ho “Smeb” Song. For KT, the game plan, as they have found success over the last several weeks, generally revolves around supporting their AD Carry Dong-hyeon “Arrow” No, whose KDA is currently an unprecedented +17 in the playoffs. With those differences in mind, the series is likely to come down to two key match-ups:
Had the question come up over any of the 11 weeks in the regular season -- not including the weeks KurO was given off — this would be a pretty simple match up. KurO absolutely dominated the match up in the team's four previous meetings, but since then the meta has changed. No more, Azir, no more Viktor - two of KurO’s best champions - and an increased popularity on champions like Malzahar and Lissandra, champions that fall more into KT’s midlaner Yong-jun “Fly” Song’s wheelhouse.
More importantly, Fly has recently emerged as Korea’s premier Aurelion Sol and Taliyah player, with an 86% and 100% win rate on those champions, respectively. The downside of the meta shift for Fly is that the new meta also includes a few assassins like Syndra and LeBlanc, both of whom fit KurO’s aggressive style perfectly, and make life in lane difficult for the more utility based champions that Fly often excels at. KurO has almost as many kills as Fly, over the course of 16 fewer games, meaning that the lane is likely to be very dangerous for Fly.
Worse still for Fly, should the ROX Tigers decide they don’t want to try to counter the KT midlaner’s new signature champions, they should have no hesitation banning both. Overall, KurO should enjoy a significant advantage in the match up. In fact, this is likely the most lopsided lane in the series. But, if Fly can find success and provide utility and support for Arrow, it will provide a huge boost to KT’s chances.
Bottom is far and away KT’s strongest lane. Arrow has been absolutely unstoppable in the playoffs and Seung-chan “Hachani” Ha has gone from a mediocre split to being the best support in Korea. The best case scenario for KT is for Arrow to pull out to a huge early lead to help push the team through the rest of the game. It’s been the KT strategy for most of the playoffs so far, and the ROX botlane isn’t going to put up a particularly impressive defense. KT is likely to capitalize on that fact, with increased attention from Score.
As for how ROX can counter that plan, let’s get one thing out of the way immediately: ROX should ban Jhin. In the three games he has been forced onto non-Jhin champions in the playoffs, Arrow has only managed one win. In the five games he has played Jhin he is 36/0/45. Sacrificing one ban as a trade for taking out KT’s best champion is more than a worthwhile trade. Especially given the fact that standard lanes are the new normal.
The ROX Tigers come into the series with a few inherent advantages. They have better map movement and an easier style to win with, especially considering their dominant mid lane play. But, the shift towards standard lanes is the best thing that could have possibly happened to KT, and they already beat a better team in SK Telecom, with the same predictable no frills style they’ll likely use against the ROX Tigers. On the surface it should be easy to counter, but it’s impossible to discount just how well they have played around Arrow in these playoffs. If ROX is going to come out on top and win the LCK 2016 Summer Split, it won’t be through outsmarting KT, it will be through shutting down Arrow.