Despite being a pre-season tournament, Kespa Cup has been a pretty good indicator of LCK teams’ power levels heading into the season that follows, especially in the past couple of years. 2019’s edition has ended a few weeks ago and its surprising conclusion just makes the beginning of the next split even more exciting. A lot of the rosters will need much more time to cook, but this first tournament gave us a glimpse of what to expect in LCK Spring 2020. Let’s take a look.
Hype train hit an early stop
Most of the rosters went through considerable changes, but T1 (rebranded SKT) was still the protagonist of the most hyped matchup in Round 2 in the bout against the new LCK super team Gen.g. This was an underwhelming series ripe with mistakes, but was a good preview into what both teams are aiming for. Gen.g’s incredibly talented squad will need more time to get their synergy down, but T1 and their new look with Moon “Cuzz” Woo-chan feels like a return to the safe, slow play around Faker that SKT used to execute years ago.
T1’s fragmented gameplay and shotcalling was punished by SANDBOX, whose most significant change was Kang “Gorilla” Beom-hyun coming in. The team was playing much better as a group and the Park “Summit” Woo-tae- Kim “OnFleek” Jang-gyeom duo consistently outperformed Kim “Canna” Chang-dong and Cuzz. Following the trend of a few other LCK teams, SANDBOX is fielding a decent roster of subs and utilizing them, especially mid and bot.
The Dragon-Griffin fusion is cut down
Dragon X’s new look with Jeong “
Chovy” Ji-hoon, Choi “Doran” Hyeon-joon and coach Kim “CvMax” Dae-ho joining Kim “Deft” Hyuk-kyu was highly anticipated and didn’t disappoint in their first series against DAMWON. Unexpectedly, the player to highlight here was Hong “Pyosik” Chang-hyeon, a rookie who came from DRX’s trainee program who showed no fear in the face of much more accomplished players. He brought the inconsistency that frequently comes with aggressive rookie junglers but didn’t show the same hesitation as Canna, T1’s new Top laner - an exciting addition to an already impressive squad.
Their run through the tournament ended quite early at the hands of the unstoppable Afreeca Freecs. Amongst all the big star signings and Griffin disbanding, the Freecs’ new changes went a bit under the radar. The new ten man roster built around veterans Kim “Kiin” Gi-in and Lee “Spirit” Da-yoon completely dismantled every opponent in their way.
First game form
The Freecs needed to face SANDBOX in the finals to cap off their nearly perfect run, and didn’t disappoint, winning the series in dominant fashion. A quick 3-0 that took less than 90 mins earned them the tournament victory and made them pass the eye-test with flying colors.
Spirit seemed to hold control over almost every single early game and Kiin, who played 10 unique champions in 13 games, was playing at his highest level. Out of these 13 games, Afreeca only lost one and it was in their first series of the tournament.
Song “Fly” Yong-jun and his control mages (especially Orianna) were a major factor in these wins. The veteran mid laner showed a domination with these champions that no other player came close to. The pocket picks that he’s known for were still there, but as a bonus, not a necessity.
The Kespa Cup showed us a lot of new rosters, but also a few old habits. The South Korean region still lacks a lot of flexibility, seeming locked in their ways when it comes to picks, comps or strategies. A lot of teams kept opting for the more scaling comps and making them work, not often due to their efforts, but more due to the opponents not being able to execute the early game ones. This is what made Afreeca’s run look even more impressive. They executed the more aggressive comps extremely well, playing around Spirit’s early game ganks, Kiin’s superiority as an individual top laner and Fly’s impressive usage of control mages.
The more exciting rosters that LCK has to show this year changed too much to be able to perform at their top level this early, but that shouldn’t take away any of the Afreeca Freecs’ merits. This organisation has been close to success so often for the last few years and has never managed to grasp it, but this new iteration has already looked more consistent and impressive than any before. Casters Seth “Achillios” King and Max “Atlus” Anderson kept trying to remind the audience of the infamous Afreeca of old that broke down after an impressive first game, but the new roster just kept that “first game form” through the entire tournament.
Based on what we've seen at Kespa Cup, LCK 2020 Spring can’t come fast enough.
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Images courtesy of Korizon/Ashley Kang.