The League of Legends offseason is coming to an end, and the dust has settled across the four major regions.
South Korea, once the center of the League of Legends world, got a wakeup call in 2018. No team from what was considered the world's most dominant region made it past the quarterfinals of the League of Legends World Championship, which was hosted in South Korea to boot. Since that time, teams have been shuffling players around in an effort to rebuild and recreate the success that League Champions Korea was known for before the LCK teams bottomed out at worlds.
Here's a look at how well the offseason roster retooling went in the LCK. Promoted teams DAMWON Gaming and SANDBOX Gaming were not included.
Afreeca Freecs: C+
This past year, the Afreeca Freecs evolved from a team with one or two creative strategies before its opponents inevitably overwhelmed it, to the upstart spring darling of the LCK, to the slumping team that was ultimately defeated by Cloud9 in the worlds quarterfinals. What at first appeared to be progress from Afreeca's 10-man roster and spartan training system mentally deflated the Freecs by the end of the year. With Lee "Kuro" Seo-haeng, Lee "Mowgli" Jae-ha, Ha "Kramer" Jong-hun and Park "TusiN" Jong-ik all leaving the team, this is a new Freecs lineup after some significant house cleaning.
Unlike last year's addition of Kim "Kiin" Gi-in in lieu of veteran Jang "MaRin" Gyeong-hwan, it's difficult to see how this lineup will fit together. Mid laner Son "Ucal" Woo-hyeon probably will be a mechanical upgrade from Kuro, and he certainly has an unexplored ceiling where Kuro was a more known quantity. However, it's hard to see where the rest of this team is headed or how they fit together outside of the strong top side in Kiin and jungler Lee "Spirit" Da-yoon.
The good news is that players like bot laner Kim "Aiming" Ha-ram, who started for Afreeca last year in the LCK, and support Son "Jelly" Ho-gyeong received no small amount of scrim time due to the team's internal scrim schedule. For now, the Freecs are a middling LCK team on paper, with the potential to rise or fall slightly depending on how other lineups come together as well. A wild card in all of this is former ROX Tigers and EDward Gaming coach Jeong "NoFe" No-chul, who joins the Afreeca coaching lineup.
Of all teams in South Korea this offseason, Gen.G was the first to start actually making moves. The departures of Lee "Crown" Min-ho, Jo "CoreJJ" Yong-in and Kang "Ambition" Chan-yong signaled that the team was finally ready, after two years, to head in a different direction. More surprising was the departure of Kang "Haru" Min-seung, who had seemingly been groomed to take Ambition's place as a more aggressive jungle option for the team moving forward.
Then Gen.G announced late in the offseason that it had signed former Kingzone jungler Han "Peanut" Wang-ho.
Peanut came under fire during the latter part of his time on Kingzone for lackluster pathing and poor synergy with then-Kingzone mid laner Gwak "Bdd" Bo-seong. But with Gen.G holding onto key players like top laner Lee "CuVee" Seong-jin and bot laner Park "Ruler" Jae-hyuk -- the latter of whom became one of the best in his position in the LCK last year -- Peanut seems to be a good fit for this team and by all accounts is a vocal leader who recently helped the team to the KeSPA Cup finals.
Flying under the radar until the KeSPA Cup was support Kim "Life" Jeong-min, who was previously Gen.G's substitute behind CoreJJ. Life impressed in Gen.G's first matches as a team, and looks to be an aggressive support option who will, alongside Peanut, help push Gen.G out of its former comfort zone.
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After a successful debut in the LCK, Griffin was very savvy -- through high buyouts, desperate pleading, or a combination of both -- to retain the roster that nearly won summer split and almost made it, in lieu of Gen.G, to the 2018 League of Legends World Championship. Only mid laner Shin "Rather" Hyeong-seop left the team this offseason, and Jeong "Chovy" Ji-hoon was already starting over Rather for the majority of summer.
Despite a phenomenal rookie split and tremendous growth throughout 2018 as a unit, there's still a sense that Griffin can only improve from here going into the 2019 season. The only move that Griffin made was to pick up a support substitute for Son "Lehends" Si-woo. Lehends frequently failed to match opposing support roams and did not provide the same bot pressure as others in the LCK but is still a vocal in-game leader. While little is known about 17-year-old Jeong "Kabbie" Sang-hyeon, the fact that Griffin picked him up shows that the team is well aware of their own weaknesses, and Kabbie can learn under Lehends while developing a more diverse champion pool than his mentor.
There's a lot of pressure on Griffin to be the hope of a newer, more aggressive LCK. Look for the team to tackle this head-on, with the same aplomb that almost won it its first LCK split.
Hanwha Life Esports: C
The Kim "Moojin" Moo-jin you know from international competitions is not the same Moojin of the regular season. For whatever reason, while on the Flash Wolves last year, Moojin exercised bursts of early game aggression at the Mid-Season Invitational and worlds that he didn't have during regular-season play. What we can expect from Moojin is a slower-paced steady style -- the one that many attribute to South Korea's downfall this past year.
There's nothing wrong with Hanwha Life's lineup, but it doesn't spark excitement either, especially with its jungle and mid positions. Moojin isn't bad, but he's not proactive. Neither mid laner is particularly exciting, even if Kim "Lava" Tae-hoon turned out to be better than expected last year and Kang "Tempt" Myung-gu excels on a few waveclear mages.
The most exciting part of this lineup continues to be AD carry Gwon "Sangyoon" Sang-yun and support Kim "Key" Han-gi, who are a strong bottom lane but won't be able to do much if the entire team doesn't click. Last year, Hanwha Life were a surprisingly proactive early game team that knew how to play to their strengths, but much of this came from then-jungler Yoon "SeongHwan" Seong-hwan and top laner Heo "Lindarang" Man-heung.
With those two gone, it's difficult to see this lineup repeating that same unexpected success.
Jin Air Green Wings: D+
The Jin Air Green Wings lost their best player this offseason, AD carry Park "Teddy" Jin-seong, and their proactive top side in top laner Kim "SoHwan" Jun-yeong and jungler Eom "UmTi" Seong-hyeon. New additions Lindarang and jungler Kim "Malrang" Geun-seong should perform about as well as their 2018 counterparts, but the loss of Teddy will be palpable.
Lee "Stitch" Seung-ju isn't a bad bot laner and was a key player behind G-Rex's LMS success last year, but he still isn't as strong in that position as Teddy. All in all, this is a lackluster lineup that is likely to be outclassed by the rest of the LCK, save some sort of shocking unforeseen team chemistry.
Kingzone DragonX: C-
Much of Kingzone's disappointing letter grade in this report card is due to the talented lineup that the team had last year.
Although 2018 Kingzone was ultimately an international disappointment, there's no denying the roster's prowess, especially mid laner Bdd who became the best in his position last year. Unfortunately for Kingzone, it was only able to retain two of its players, top laner Kim "Rascal" Kwang-hee and jungler Moon "Cuzz" Woo-chan, neither of whom were regular starters over their 2018 counterparts in Kim "Khan" Dong-ha and Peanut. AD carry Kim "Deft" Hyuk-kyu and support Park "TusiN" Jong-ik should be an interesting bottom lane, especially if TusiN continues the frequent roaming that helped lead to Afreeca's success last spring.
The biggest question for Kingzone is its mid lane. Heo "PawN" Won-seok, who still suffers from back injuries, has presumably been unable to practice mechanically as much as other LCK mid laners. Much like the tail end of his time starting on KT Rolster, those physical limitations might lead to in-game struggles. His backup, Yoo "Naehyun" Nae-hyun, has been middling at best, which means the team will sorely miss the strength of Bdd.
KT Rolster: B
The acquisition of Bdd makes it difficult to rip into KT's offseason moves too badly, even with a weaker bottom side. This lineup is an interesting combination of older veterans (top laner Song "Smeb" Kyung-ho and jungler Go "Score" Dong-bin) slightly younger veterans and/or returning players to the region (Bdd, bot laner Byun "Gango" Se-hoon and support No "Snowflower" Hoi-jong), and a younger wave of backup players in top laner Hwang "Kingen" Seong-hoon, jungler UmTi, bot laner Jeon "Zenit" Tae-gwon and support Choi "Mia" Sang-in.
It's an interesting combination of talent that will rely on the likes of Score and Smeb to aid their younger teammates. In particular, UmTi can learn a lot from Score's pathing and experience while also retaining his own bursts of aggression.
Fortunately for KT, Bdd is an excellent pickup that gives it a lot of options simply because he's so good at holding the mid lane. The loss of Deft and support Cho "Mata" Se-hyeong will be felt, but Snowflower is a proactive roaming support who could give KT a much-needed early game punch provided that Gango plays well.
SK Telecom T1: A
This is the roster that everyone is talking about. It's the "dream team," according to South Korean fans. After poor performances last year, especially in summer, people clamored for SKT to give mid laner Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok a team, and not only did SKT hold onto Faker, but it gave him an excellent lineup on paper.
SKT is full of veteran South Korean players like Mata along with rising stars like former Jin Air Green Wings bot laner Teddy and former JD Gaming jungler Kim "Clid" Tae-min. This roster has the raw mechanical talent to run through about half of the 2019 LCK Spring lineups already, without any semblance of synergy. Provided that SKT improve together as a unit, it's difficult to see them dropping below second place in the LCK standings.
That being said, this team isn't without potential problems. Like a lot of super teams, SKT players have already talked about working to get on the same page after unexpectedly losing to DAMWON in the KeSPA Cup. SKT's top side could be a volatile sticking point, since Khan sometimes struggles with teleport timings and both Haru and Clid have previously had issues when invading without vision.
This lineup probably will be relying on Mata and Faker to guide the team, but there's no two better players in South Korea at taking the lead in that regard. Look forward to a more explosive SKT, especially on the bottom side of the map with Teddy finally set loose from Jin Air with strong lanes elsewhere on the map.