Smeb has officially returned to KT Rolster after taking a break during Spring Split. A lot of rumors surrounded his return, but he ended up going back to his post-Tigers home. After the most disappointing Split in recent history— being only able to dodge relegation by a single game— and insecurities about his professional career, does the legend of the top lane have what it takes to keep going?
“I had quite a long pro gaming career and I had always been winning except for the first two years. The year 2019 was the biggest crisis in my career. I tried to overcome it in various ways, but I wasn’t able to. It was a very regretful year personally and for the team as well. Because of that, I was really shaken up.”
In a recent interview with InvenGlobal, Smeb described Summer 2019 as the biggest crisis in his career and questioned the possibility of retirement. The Split was so disastrous for KT Rolster that the organization let go of the 10 men roster and head-coach, opting to rebuild the team from scratch. But this isn’t the first time Smeb faces some bumps in the road.
He is now known as a godlike player that showed up in the biggest stages, widely considered the second best player on the planet heading into Worlds 2016— behind none other than Faker— but he began his career with nearly two years of losses and disappointments. His development from one of the worst top laners in the region to the best in less than 12 months is nothing short of incredible and was documented at the time with features going over his history.
Smeb started his astronomical rise after leaving Incredible Miracle and joining the Huya (later GE, KOO and then ROX) Tigers and achieved immediate success. Alongside talents like Pray, Gorilla, Peanut and Kuro he reached heights only surpassed by the untouchable SKT at their peak. Six years later, the legendary top laner is ready to rise again, in a familiar environment that couldn’t be more different from the one he was in back in 2014.
KT Rolster had an unexpectedly positive Spring Split this year. After a complete rebuild, the team managed to finish top 4, a result heavily influenced by ADC Aiming having one of the best splits in his entire career. A lot has changed since Smeb left the organization, but he’s returning to meet some familiar faces that he hasn’t seen in a long time.
LCK 2020 Summer Split - What has changed?
Supporting Aiming in the bot lane is TuSin, who was part of the Incredible Miracle organization at the same time as Smeb. Hirai, IM’s head-coach when the top laner played for the organization, is now coaching KT. The mid-lane is being shared by two former teammates of Smeb. Kuro was part of the legendary Tigers line-up and has been KT’s captain for the last split. Sharing his position is Ucal who, after spending a few months with Griffin, has returned to the team in which he has previously played with the veteran top laner.
Sohwan is the current KT top laner and will probably be sharing the position but spend more time as a sub. Despite the disappointing performance displayed during 2019, Smeb is undoubtedly an upgrade. Outside of some Flashes of skill shown on Jayce, in 2020 Spring Sohwan has been the constant low point in KT’s games, relying a lot on Aatrox or Kennen and being ineffective when playing more aggressive picks like Lucian and Camille. Although he often is the weak-side laner, the leads the enemy develops against him make Sohwan’s impact in some games negligible, even when KT wins.
Smeb, on the other hand, is one of the most experienced and talented top laners to ever play the game. Yes, he just came out of a slump, but that performance happened in a team which wasn’t working as a whole. BDD was part of the same line-up, and his individual form since he’s joined Gen.g has been nothing short of impressive. Watching Smeb perform in the Rox Tigers during Worlds 2016 or, more recently, in KT’s Worlds 2018 run reminded me of how good he really is. The way he handled TheShy at his peak in the Quarterfinals against IG with the poise of a veteran, the decisiveness with Urgot and the sheer mechanical outplays he managed to pull off on Irelia were a sight to behold. Alongside great Teleport usage and the awareness he shows around teamfights it’s easy to understand why he has been considered one of the best in the World.
Deep into his professional career, Smeb hasn’t lost his will. During his Split “off”, he’s currently played nearly 800 Solo Queue games and is currently Challenger in the Korean Ladder. He’s played some of his classic choices like Rumble, Aatrox and Jayce, but he’s also been adapting to the meta and boasting positive winratios in champions like Sett, Lucian and Wukong. This time away seems to have been the new perspective he needed to get back into his A game and return to peak-form. Heading into his 7th year of professional play, this might be Smeb’s last chance to reclaim his spot as one of Korea’s greatest (current) top laners and, as the LCK changes into the franchising model, this seems like a golden opportunity to become the face of KT Rolster, as he’s mentioned in a recent interview.
This new roster that KT is fielding has the potential to shake the entire League. If Aiming maintains his impressive form and Ucal shows what he’s capable of, Smeb will be the final piece in the puzzle.
Not only does he have what it takes to keep going, he has what’s needed to rise to the top again. This will be Smeb’s renaissance.
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Images courtesy of Lol Esports' Flickrs.
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