The group stages in Champions Spring 2014 featured a number of exciting games and upsets, leading to a very interesting bracket draw this past week. KT Rolster Arrows escaped a highly turbulent Group A that forced a tiebreaker between the two SK Telecom T1 teams, with K pulling out a decisive victory. Samsung Galaxy Ozone continued their solid, consistent dominance over group B with CJ Entus Frost predictably taking second place. Ozone’s sister team, Samsung Galaxy Blue, eliminated NaJin Black Sword from the group of death, earning top spot in Group C with the KT Rolster Bullets narrowly following. Group D was the only group that required a tiebreaker to determine first and second place; NaJin White Shield claimed victory over CJ Entus Blaze.
The quarterfinals already look promising, with a number of high-profile matches across the board. Samsung Ozone looks to cement their status as the best team in Korea by knocking out SKT T1 K in the upper bracket, with sister team Samsung Blue going up against the revamped CJ Frost. KT Arrows, riding the momentum of their strong group stage, has their sights on knocking off a top-tier team in CJ Blaze, whose loss in the Group D tiebreaker left them reeling. The final match of the lower bracket features an interesting clash of playstyles between the slow, methodical NaJin White Shield and the aggressively frantic KT Bullets.
Despite the bracket stage featuring six teams in common with the bracket stage of last year’s Champions Spring, the landscape of the Korean pro scene is considerably changed. Ozone, last year’s winners, were underdog champions who came out of nowhere, but are now the team to beat. Blaze and Frost, the CJ powerhouses from seasons two and three, field radically different lineups and are struggling to stay relevant. The possibilities are endless, and in a collaborative effort, AJtheFourth and I take a close look at each of the quarterfinal matches of Champions Spring 2014, starting with Samsung Ozone vs SKT T1 K and Samsung Blue vs CJ Frost.
(Note: numbers indicated in parentheses in the headers represent the team’s record during OGN Spring group stages)
Samsung Galaxy Ozone (6-0) vs SK Telecom T1 K (3-3)
Krizzlybear: Samsung Galaxy Ozone and SK Telecom T1 K have a long, competitive history with each other dating back to last year’s Champions Spring, where an underdog MVP Ozone squad upset a breakout team in SK Telecom T1 2 in the semifinals. This is also a rematch of the grand finals from Champions Winter 2013-2014, which resulted in an anticlimactic stomp at the hands of the Season 3 World Champions.
The pecking order appears to be reversed this time around, with Samsung Ozone as the only team in this year’s Spring tournament to win all of their group stage games, while SKT T1 K is currently in a bit of a slump, being forced to qualify for the bracket stages via tiebreaker and going only 3-3.
Despite all of the question marks that have been raised as a result of SKT T1 K’s lacklustre play, it still remains incredibly difficult to count them out. All of their losses are against an Arrows team that matches up well against them, and Lee “PoohManDu” Jeong-hyeon is starting to gel again with the regular roster, having strong games on Leona and Thresh in his return.
This series could go either way. For all of Ozone’s success, they’re still facing the World Champions. They’ll either win decisively with a cohesive unit against T1 K’s still-readjusting squad, or they’ll be dragged out to five games, with the blind pick match going in K’s favour because Faker is still pretty good.
AJtheFourth: Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok is always a force to be reckoned with. Comparatively, his opponent for this match is flying under the radar. Heo “PawN” Won-seok has met Faker in the mid-lane several times, not as a member of Ozone, but their sister team, Samsung Galaxy Blue. PawN had a very strong showing in Blue’s victory over T1 K in the World Cyber Games 2013 final, beating the god-like mid-laner with Nidalee in Game 1 and Fizz in Game 2.
SK Telecom T1 K’s loss to Samsung Blue at WCG was quickly written off as a post-World Championship hangover when T1 K dominated PANDORA.TV Champions Winter 2014, including a best-of-five matchup with Blue in the quarterfinals. They made quick work of the Samsung team, including PawN, beating them 3-0. PawN did not have particularly poor performances, but Faker shone on Kassadin, Nidalee, and Orianna. Going into Hot6ix Champions Spring 2014, Samsung chose to move PawN over to Samsung Galaxy Ozone in exchange for the more volatile Dade.
PawN isn’t the only reason for Ozone’s success in Champions Spring; he is more like the final piece of the puzzle for Ozone. His consistency is a much-appreciated addition to the team so well-known for their careful pre-game preparation. Then again, regardless of how much time they’ve had to prepare, Ozone has failed to overcome T1 K in recent history, most notably in the aforementioned stomp of Champions Winter. If Ozone is to beat K, the time is now, before K regains their championship form.
Players to look out for:
Krizzlybear: Interesting fact – in every Champions tournament since last year’s Spring, only one player has appeared in the top 5 KDA amongst supports: Mata. Cho “Mata” Se-hyeong quietly rests in the top spot amongst his support peers, and is quietly having an incredible tournament. In the Korean bottom-lane scene, lane synergy almost always trumps individual talent, and while Pooh is still yearning for more games in order to readjust to life with Chae “Piglet” Gwang-jin, Ozone’s duo has been left untouched this entire tournament.
A number of T1 K’s games were decided at level 2, in which the hundred-acre lane appeared a bit out of sync in their attempts to all-in their opponents. It will thus fall onto Pooh to put himself back onto the same page as Piglet. He’s shown bright spots in teamfights in recent matches, namely the tiebreaker against T1 S, but he’ll be up against one of the best bottom lane duos in Korea right now.
AJtheFourth: For as much time as I spent on PawN, one would expect him to be the name appearing in this paragraph. However, I expect a steady, not flashy, game from PawN. The flash, if it comes, will come from Jungler Choi “DanDy” In-kyu. With Bae “bengi” Seong-ung’s recent sluggishness, the possibilities for DanDy to control the game tempo and snowball his lanes are even more wide-open. If Ozone takes this set, you can bet that DanDy will have had a large part in their success.
As previously mentioned, bengi has recently been the weakest link for T1 K, frequently getting caught out of position, leading to easy objective control by K’s opponents. Bengi’s ineffectiveness has put K in precarious situations recently, specifically in the group stages of Champions Spring. If bengi continues to play the way he has recently, Ozone will easily be able to swing that advantage in their favor.
Krizzlybear: As I mentioned before, either Ozone will stomp, or T1 K will drag it all the way to win the series. Ozone is way too good right now to make mistakes and lose twice to T1 K, forcing the blind pick. I’ve got Ozone in four.
AJtheFourth: Ozone is the strongest-looking team in Champions right now, and yet, I can’t quite bring myself to count out T1 K, especially in a playoff situation. Unlike my colleague, I can see this matchup going to blind pick, and then I’d have to take SKT T1 K in five.
Samsung Galaxy Blue (5-1) vs CJ Entus Frost (4-2)
Krizzlybear: Where Samsung Galaxy Ozone gained a steady rock in PawN, their sister team Samsung Galaxy Blue gained a dynamic playmaker in Bae “dade” Eo-jin. With Choi “Acorn” Cheon-ju and Lee “Heart” Gwan-hyung as fixtures in the lineup, the addition of dade alone makes this team look completely different than the one that beat SKT T1 K in the WCG qualifiers. CJ Entus Frost, on the other hand, has gone through a transformation of their own as well, adding a pair of former Xenics Storm players in Shin “CoCo” Jin-young and Baek “Swift” Da-hoon in mid and jungle, respectively.
Both teams have played solidly in the round of 16, with Blue winning a hotly-contested group C, and Frost securing second place in group B, only losing to the dominant Ozone. This is a match primed for a lot of fighting from both sides, as the Xenics Storm influence on Frost’s new-look roster has made them very skirmish-oriented in the mid-game, which lines up interestingly against the array of Blue’s Yasuo-centric wombo combos.
The potential is here for an entertaining match, but it’s a given that the winner of this series will have the displeasure of becoming fodder to the winners of Ozone vs T1 K. Neither team has made enough of an improvement to break into the upper tier of teams. For all their added strengths, both teams are still inconsistent and don’t mesh particularly well with their respective additions. The winner will probably earn their semifinals berth by virtue of making less mistakes.
AJtheFourth: In front of an adoring crowd at this year’s OGN LoL Masters All-Star matches, Hong “MadLife” Min-gi, admitted that he was a bit overwhelmed at his having placed second overall in the All-Star voting. He went on to say that he had thought that he had been in a bit of a slump lately, and vowed to take the momentum from All-Stars back to his play and his team, CJ Entus Frost. For a player known as “God” there is obviously a large amount of pressure on MadLife to perform, and with Frost’s ousting by Ozone in the quarterfinals of Champions Winter, that pressure has only grown. It may be unfair to put all of this on MadLife, but as the most well-known player on Frost – and one of the most popular players in the world – he has easily become the face of his team, a team that is now known for their inconsistency.
In group stages, Frost won the matches they “should have” won and lost the matches that they were expected to lose, including a telling 0-2 to Ozone where gaps in communication on Frost were evident from a gross lack of ward coverage.
While Frost appears mired in inconsistency, Blue is equally hit-or-miss, with more hits coming lately than misses. This allowed them to top the dynamic group C against similarly unpredictable opponents, such as NaJin Black Sword and the KT Rolster Bullets. Where audiences appear to eagerly await the gelling of the new Frost, Blue has quietly shaped into a very formidable team.
Players to look out for:
Krizzlybear: In a series featuring two teams that are difficult to judge in terms of consistency, one should look for the player from both teams who have not played steadily in the round of 16. Interestingly enough, both teams field four of their five players in the top five KDA standings at every position, so it’s worth pointing out who is missing from their respective rosters.
For Samsung Blue, that player is Heart, who is yet to adapt to the addition of dade. He’s been put in a number of situations where he’s played champions out of his comfort zone, such as Sona against the KT Bullets. He was caught out of position numerous times in Blue’s two-game set, and couldn’t make an impact in either, often making egregious errors with Crescendo. While he’s seen more success with Thresh, it’s very likely that the champion won’t make it through picks and bans over the course of a best-of series.
Frost’s only player missing from the top five KDA of his position is Swift, the Xenics Storm import. In games where Frost is successful in aggressive skirmishing, it’s Swift’s daring plays that stand out; however, he’s also made a number of questionable decisions in games where he’s pitted against a superior jungler like DanDy or bengi. He’ll need to coordinate better with the rest of CJ Frost, especially those other than CoCo, in order to set up plays against a Blue team that is also capable of going toe-to-toe in teamfights. He has a stable champion pool featuring Evelynn and Kha’Zix, both of which which he’ll rely on heavily. If he’s on a more mechanically-demanding champion like Lee Sin, his decision-making is prone to falter.
AJtheFourth: Choi “Acorn” Cheon-ju has quietly impressed in this season of Champions, with a 9.0 KDA, best of all top-laners. Although the role of a top-laner is hardly a dynamic one in the present metagame, Acorn has easily become the most reliable player on Blue. With Deft garnering attention in the bot lane, and known playmaker Dade bringing much-needed energy and snowball potential in mid, it’s easy to forget about Acorn completely. However, like PawN on Ozone, Acorn represents an oft-underestimated stability that Blue can possess.
I too have been impressed with how well Swift has meshed with the rest of CJ Entus Frost, specifically on such a short timetable. Unlike my colleague, I have a much more optimistic outlook on Swift’s progress thus far. Much of this can be attributed to Swift’s synergy with former Xenics Storm teammate CoCo, now the mid-laner for Frost. Following their failed experiment with Lira, Swift’s jungle has been a key component in CoCo’s success in mid, which has in turn put Frost on the upswing.
Krizzlybear: I’ve come to learn a very important thing in life and league: never trust dade. He’ll have incredibly high highs, but the low lows are as equally astonishing. Blue has been really good so far, but they’re due for a few dade duds, which they can’t afford in an even series. Frost wins in four.
AJtheFourth: In spite of Swift’s boost to Frost’s overall gameplay, I cannot see Frost winning this matchup, simply due to how well Blue is playing right now. It’s a battle of two teams who are both on the rise, with Blue gelling a bit more, giving them cohesive strategy and team synergy. Blue in four.