It's time for another season of League Champions Korea, the premier domestic League of Legends tournament in the world. The season opens Wednesday with Afreeca Freecs vs. Longzhu Gaming, with two best-of-three series on the first day of action.
SK Telecom T1 is the likely favorite once again, as the three-time repeat champions are fresh off a convincing 3-0 win against North America's Counter Logic Gaming in the Mid-Season Invitational finals. But there should be tough competition in the form of perennial challengers ROX Tigers and KT Rolster, the former of which nearly took the LCK crown from SKT last split.
The LCK will have a new broadcast format, as SPOTV joins OnGameNet in broadcasting games. It was a controversial decision, as OGN has garnered significant fan loyalty over the past few years while helping to build Korea's dominant League scene.
Korean League will now be on a staggering six days a week, but only half of the games will take place in the new $25 million OGN studio. The other half will take place in the NEXON Arena, produced by SPOTV, although OGN will still be able to broadcast all of the games (and all playoff games will be produced by OGN).
The new schedule will look like this (each series will be a best-of-three):
|Day||Time (EDT)||Time (KST)||Produced by|
|Monday||7 a.m.||8 p.m.||SPOTV|
|Tuesday||7 a.m.||8 p.m.||SPOTV|
|Wednesday||4 a.m.||5 p.m.||OGN|
|Wednesday||7 a.m.||8 p.m.||SPOTV|
|Thursday||7 a.m.||8 p.m.||OGN|
|Friday||4 a.m.||5 p.m.||OGN|
|Friday||7 a.m.||8 p.m.||OGN|
|Saturday||1 a.m.||2 p.m.||OGN|
|Saturday||4 a.m.||5 p.m.||OGN|
There aren't many high-profile matchups in the first week (the opening game of Afreeca Freecs vs. Longzhu Gaming is probably the biggest), but there's still plenty going on. Head on over here for the full competitive schedule for the week, plus the five games across all leagues you should watch.
The teams, and players to watch
SK Telecom T1
|Top||Lee "Duke" Ho-seong|
|Jungle||Kang "Blank" Sung-gu|
|Mid||Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok|
|ADC||Bae "Bang" Jun-sik|
|Support||Lee "Wolf" Jae-wan|
|Sub (Jungle)||Bae "Bengi" Seong-woong|
Player to watch: Blank
Looking for a fourth straight LCK title, SKT has built the first legitimate dynasty in international League of Legends. The team holds essentially every single current title: LCK champions, World champions, IEM champions and MSI champions. In fact, the only competition SKT didn't win was the KeSPA Cup, but they'll get a chance to fix that this November.
Everyone knows Faker, SKT's star mid laner and the greatest League player of all-time. But SKT's struggles early in MSI came in part because of Blank's poor play in the jungle (to be fair, SKT's other starters made their fair share of mistakes too). The LCK will serve up even tougher jungle competition than MSI did, and if SKT wants to improve on last split's third-place regular season finish, they'll need improvement there. It might not matter, though: as good as SKT is in best-of-five series, as long as they make it to the playoffs there's a good chance they'll win it all.
|Top||Song "Smeb" Kyung-ho|
|Jungle||Yoon "Peanut" Wang-ho|
|Mid||Lee "KurO" Seo-haeng|
|ADC||Kim "PraY" Jong-in|
|Support||Kang "GorillA" Beom-hyeon|
|Sub (Mid)||Hae "Cry" Sung-min|
Player to watch: Peanut
After finishing as runners-up to SKT at 2015 Worlds as the KOO Tigers, the team rebranded as the ROX Tigers before the Spring Split and dominated the domestic regular season. The team finished in first place in the regular season with a 16-2 series record and a 34-7 games record, holding a winning record over every single team except KT Rolster (tied 3-3), including a dominating 4-1 mark against SKT. Then, playoffs happened, and ROX lost to SKT in four games.
Peanut was a breakout star in his first split with the team despite a poor performance in the LCK Finals, with a hyper-aggressive jungling style and win rates above 80% on Kindred (10-2), Elise (11-1) and Nidalee (7-0). He wasn't the only standout performer last split: nearly every member of ROX's starting lineup could be found near the top of the LCK statistical leaderboards, and Smeb took home the Spring MVP award.
|Top||Kim "Ssumday" Chan-ho|
|Jungle||Go "Score" Dong-bin|
|Mid||Song "Fly" Yong-jun|
|ADC||No "Arrow" Dong-hyeon|
|Support||Ha "Hachani" Seung-chan|
Player to watch: Ssumday
What KT Rolster lacks in consistency it makes up for in fun. The runners-up to ROX in the Spring regular season, KT lost to SKT 3-0 in the semifinals. Known for unconventional drafts and quickly adjusting to new patches, there's one other fun thing to know: Rolster is a portmanteau of roller coaster.
The team is led by Ssumday, one of the best top laners in the Korea, and thus, the world. KT has seen some good performances from Score, Fly and Arrow, but needs more consistency in the LCK this split, especially from the bottom lane duo.
Jin Air Green Wings
|Top||Yeo "TrAce" Chang-dong|
|Jungle||Park "Winged" Tae-jin|
|Mid||Lee "Kuzan" Seong-hyeok|
|ADC||Na "Pilot" Woo-hyung|
|Support||Choi "Chei" Sun-ho|
|Sub (Top)||Kim "SoHwan" Jun-yeong|
|Sub (Mid)||Jin "Blanc" Seong-min|
|Sub (Support)||Lee "Sweet" Eun-teak|
Player to watch: Pilot
Jin Air finished in fourth place both the Spring regular season and Spring playoffs, with a 10-8 group stage record and a 3-1 defeat to SK Telecom T1 in the quarterfinal round. That was the team's highest LCK finish since the 2015 Spring split (also fourth), and the team just barely missed out on qualifying for Worlds last year.
If Jin Air is to take the next step in Korean League, the bottom lane has to step up. From Emily Rand's excellent LCK preview at The Score:
Pilot has known stage fright, and presumably places a lot of pressure on himself when called upon to carry. His overly safe playstyle both in lane and during teamfights doesn't allow for maximum damage output as he is usually unwilling to take risks. His caution does not match up well with his support, Choi "Chei" Sun-ho, who is naturally more of an aggressive playmaker, which makes their partnership seem uncoordinated at times.
|Top||Jeon "ikssu" Ik-soo|
|Jungle||Nam "LirA" Tae-yoo|
|Mid||Son "Mickey" Young-min|
|ADC||Gwon "Sangyoon" Sang-yun|
|Support||No "SnowFlower" Hoi-jong|
|Sub (Top)||Heo "Lindarang" Man-heung|
|Sub (Jungle)||Yoon "Seonghwan" Seong-hwan|
Player to watch: Mickey
A surprise success in the Spring Split, Afreeca qualified for the playoffs with a fifth-place regular season finish, following up an eighth-place outing during it first LCK split (Summer 2015) after winning promotion from Challengers Korea. Afreeca lost its opening playoff series to Jin Air, 2-0, but it was still an impressive split for the team.
Mickey is a highly talented and highly confident player who says he "wants to be remembered as someone who put the title of 'best mid laner in the world' on the line." There's a certain mid laner on SKT that might have something to say about that. Mickey also received strong performances from LirA and Sangyoon during the split, but there's no doubt who's the star of the team.
|Top||Lee "CuVee" Seong-jin|
|Top||Kwon "Helper" Yeong-jae|
|Jungle||Kang "Ambition" Chan-yong|
|Mid||Lee "Crown" Min-ho|
|ADC||Park "Ruler" Jae-hyuk|
|ADC||Lee "Stitch" Seung-ju|
|Support||Jo "CoreJJ" Yong-in|
|Support||Kwon "Wraith" Ji-min|
Player to watch: Ambition
Samsung Galaxy may have more competition on its roster for playing time than any other team in the LCK. After narrowly missing the Spring Playoffs with a sixth-place regular season finish, Samsung signed former Challenger AD Carry Ruler and moved former starting AD Carry CoreJJ to support. That means competition in the bottom lane, with the possibility of a rotation between the available players.
Ambition played very well last split as the meta favored farm-heavy junglers like Nidalee and Graves, but he'll have at least one new player in his bottom lane. The LCK has some of the most talented junglers in the world, but Ambition's one of the league's brightest stars (or at least he was in Spring).
|Top||Koo "Expession" Bon-taek|
|Jungle||Lee "Chaser" Sang-hyun|
|Jungle||Lee "Crash" Dong-woo|
|Mid||Shin "CoCo" Jin-yeong|
|ADC||Kim "Emperor" Jin-hyun|
|ADC||Lee "Fury" Jin-yong|
|Support||Kim "Pure" Jin-sun|
Player to watch: CoCo
Longzhu is another team that made roster changes in between splits, changing from a 10-man roster to a 7-man outfit after a disappointing seventh-place finish in LCK Spring. One of the most talented rosters in the world, Longzhu dropped legendary top laner Lee "Flame" Ho-Jong in favor of Expession, bumped CoCo up to the starting lineup and signed former G2 AD Carry Emperor.
With a revamped starting lineup, Longzhu will hope to at least crack the playoff field this year -- finishing behind Afreeca Freecs again would be a sore disappointment.
|Top||Park "Untara" Ui-jin|
|Jungle||Park "Bubbling" Jun-hyeong|
|Jungle||Kang "Haru" Min-seung|
|Mid||Gwak "Bdd" Bo-seong|
|ADC||Ha "Kramer" Jong-hun|
|Support||Hong "MadLife" Min-gi|
Player to watch: MadLife
A mainstay in Korean League since 2012, CJ Entus had its worst LCK split yet, finishing in eight place this Spring. Previous LCK seasons had seen CJ Entus near the top, finishing third or fourth just about every split, but struggled in Spring, especially while waiting for mid lane prospect Bdd to turn 17.
One of the most highly respected supports in League history, MadLife had one of his best splits ever this Spring with CJ Entus. With mid laner Bdd now fully of eligible age and ready to compete, the team's combination of youth and experience could spell good things for this split.
|Top||Kang "ADD" Geon-mo|
|Jungle||Kim "Beyond" Kyu-seok|
|Mid||An "Ian" Jun-hyeong|
|ADC||Oh "MaHa" Hyun-sik|
|Support||Jeong "Max" Jong-bin|
Player to watch: Beyond
MVP is one of two teams promoted from Challengers Korea to the LCK, and was the best team in Challengers all Spring long. MVP went 10-4-0 in the group stage before falling in the Playoffs finals, but beat Kongdoo Monster 3-1 in the Summer Promotion tournament to qualify for the LCK.
|Top||Kim "Crazy" Jae-hee|
|Jungle||Choi "Bless" Hyeon-woong|
|Mid||Kang "Tempt" Myung-gu|
|AD||Lee "LokeN" Dong-wook|
|Support||Kim "KeY" Han-gi|
|Sub (Jungle)||Kim "Ares" Min-kwon|
|Sub (Support)||Eun "Totoro" Jong-seop|
Player to watch: LokeN
MVP may have been the best team in Challengers Korea, but they're not the only ones who won promotion to the LCK ... or even the Challengers team that gained the most Spring acclaim. ESC Ever notched surprising victories in the KeSPA Cup and at IEM Cologne, putting together one of the most accomplished splits by a second-tier League team ever before surprisingly sweeping SBENU Sonicboom in the Summer Promotion.
Who we're rooting for
Pete Volk: I know this is basically a fruitless exercise, but I can't help but root for ESC Ever. The team caught my attention along with everyone else's when it was racking up international accomplishments as a Challenger team, but the reason for my allegiance is much simpler than that: a bottom lane duo essentially named "Lock-and-key" (not to mention a substitute bottom laner named "Totoro."
Among teams with a reasonable chance of making the playoffs, I'll be pulling for the Afreeca Freecs to surprise some folks once again.
James Dator: I love a great many things in life, but a good portmanteau and schadenfreude are two of them. This is why I'm absolutely, unequivocally rooting for KT Rolster. First thing's first: That name. It's a portmanteau for rollercoaster mixed with "Korean Telecom." I really enjoy rollercoasters -- I cannot comment on the quality of telecommunications in Korea -- but I like rollercoasters. KT Rolster does too, because their logo is a freaking rollercoaster. They're also really good and Arrow scored two Pentakills in the Spring Split. What's not to like?
The second part of this equation is my schadenfreude. I've become a bonafide, dyed-in-the-wool SKT hater. Perhaps it's a product of getting more ornery with age, but damn I'm tired of them winning everything. I know this is illogical. I should be celebrating how they play the game and the lengths they've gone to hone their craft -- and I would, if every time I turned around Faker wasn't hoisting another trophy. I can't stand predictability in sports and love the underdog, but I'm also realistic that rooting for the underdog is rarely fun. To this end KT Rolster split the middle and become a team I can support knowing they'll win some games AND have a reasonable shot to unseat SKT.
Philip Kollar: I'm going to give my proper vote to ROX Tigers, but you may as well read that as "anyone who's not SK Telecom T1." I respect the impressive abilities demonstrated by Faker and company as much as anyone, but for as long as I've been watching League (and quite a long time before that), SKT has just dominated both the Korean scene and the game in general. I have more fun rooting for the underdog in general, and after what's arguably been their most successful year yet, it's time for someone else to take the top spot.
Why not the team that was a runner-up at Worlds and at least ensured SKT would not have a perfect record? Go get 'em, Tigers.