Continued from Part 1:
KT Rolster Arrows (4-2) vs CJ Entus Blaze (5-1)
AJtheFourth: No story has captivated the Champions Spring audience quite like the rise of the KT Rolster Arrows. After a third-place finish by the KT Rolster Bullets in PANDORA.TV Champions Winter 2013-2014, the KT Rolster organization decided to make some key roster changes, which included moving dynamic jungler Lee “KaKAO” Byung-kwon from Bullets over to Arrows. While the Bullets’ synergy dropped, the Arrows loudly began to make their case as the new top team of KT Rolster, beginning with KaKAO’s assertion that they would “destroy the SK Telecom organization” at the Champions Spring group stages draw.
To the surprise of everyone, including KaKAO himself, the Arrows not only made it out of Group A – a group that contained the Season 3 world champion SK Telecom T1 K and their sister team, SK Telecom T1 S – but were the first in their group to qualify in a stunning 2-0 upset over T1 K. They have an incredible amount of team synergy, showing themselves to be quick at shaking off losses, a necessary attribute for a team that relies on risky, often overly-aggressive, strategies and team compositions.
If the Arrows are the noisy, obnoxious upstarts, then CJ Entus Blaze are the studious seniors, glaring at the Arrows out of the corner of their eye. Blaze has a history with the Arrows’ sister team, the Bullets, who have routinely defeated them in various competitions. Now Blaze must travel a different path in their attempt to make it to the finals, with their first test against yet another KT Rolster team: the Arrows. Blaze rests at a quiet 5-1 record from group stages, thanks to both their steady play and reliance on their solo lane players, Lee “Flame” Ho-Jong in top lane and Kang “Ambition” Chang-yong in mid. Success in their matchup against the Arrows will rest heavily in the hands of these two players and how well the team is able to give them early advantages.
Krizzlybear: KT Rolster’s decision to move KaKAO over to their Arrows team, even with their recent success in the group stages, still feels like a huge gamble to me. While the Arrows have seen their risks pay off well, the high-pressure environment that a best-of series entails may not be too favourable for such an approach. The nature of elimination brackets requires that teams be at their most consistent, since they are not allowed the opportunity to drop games without running the risk of getting knocked out. Arrows took advantage of a number of lucky breaks to advance into the quarterfinals, and the prospect of playing against Blaze, their most steady opponent yet, is daunting for the type of game that the Arrows play.
Luckily for Arrows, they have the benefit of forcing mandatory bans for their AD Carry, No “Arrow” Dong-hyeo, whose Draven has been banned out in 7 out of 10 games that they’ve played in both Champions Spring and LoL Masters. As I don’t expect Blaze to go against the trend in this series, Arrows’ unique ban phase opens up a myriad of strategic opportunities, like the Kha’Zix composition that they ran against Prime Optimus. They’ll likely play a more typical high-risk early-game composition against Blaze, and it will fall onto KaKAO to set the pace for the series without needlessly putting himself in danger.
Blaze has always been a slow and steady team, incredibly resilient to the early aggression that a team like Arrows provides. While they haven’t strayed too far away from their one-trick-warhorse identity, they’ve opened up their early game quite a bit thanks to their recently-acquired jungler, Kang “Daydream” Kyung-min. Daydream is dynamic early and transitions very well towards the mid and late-game when the core of Blaze’s roster truly shines. Perhaps in a previous season, Blaze may have been susceptible to a team like Arrows, but this time around, they’re much better-equipped for such early-game shenanigans.
Players to look out for:
AJtheFourth: Who could I choose but the king himself, KaKAO? KaKAO is the emotional heart of this team, with his easygoing yet highly-competitive nature allowing the Arrows to overcome gross missteps (i.e., their pick/ban phase in both SK Telecom T1 S matches, over-aggression against Samsung Galaxy Ozone in LoL Masters) and move forward to their next match. Yes, they lost both of those matches mentioned; however, even with awful losses, the Arrows seem to simply grit their teeth and push forward, continuing to develop strong team chemistry.
In their worst performances – usually due to the pick/ban phase or miscalculated dives – KaKAO has still somehow managed to make an impact from the jungle. He has exceptional jungle pathing, and a quick, intuitive nature that allows for a large amount of map presence, regardless of whether his team is behind or ahead. KaKAO’s gank-heavy, aggressive style works especially well with standout mid-laner Song “RooKie” Eui-jin, and roaming support play from Ha “Hachani” Seung-chan.
As I mentioned previously, one of the words that currently describes CJ Entus Blaze is “quiet.” Blaze have not been as inconsistent as their sister team, CJ Entus Frost; however, they have not exceeded expectations, nor made any significant waves. If Blaze is to win this series, they will have to lean on solid, somewhat louder, jungle play from Kang “DayDream” Kyung-min to match KaKAO’s early/mid-game aggression. It will rest in the hands of DayDream to keep his solo lane players Ambition and Flame ahead of their counterparts in RooKie and Kim “Ssumday” Chan-ho. If DayDream and Blaze are successful in this endeavor, they will have a significant edge in the late game, due to their consistently superior mechanics and safer decision making.
Krizzlybear: With all of the Draven bans levied against the KT Arrows, it’s easy to think of their AD carry Arrow as the standout threat in the bottom lane; however, behind every great marksman is a great support, and Hachani always makes the plays to set up kills for Arrow. Hachani has a fantastic game sense and has a great feel of the flow of the laning phase, following up on ganks with his roam or picking perfect spots for all-ins. He is third on the KDA Leader standings at the support position, only behind Mata and MadLife, putting him in notable company.
Much like the Arrows as a whole, however, Hachani does have his questionable games; his Annie game against Samsung Ozone was particularly concerning, but it’s also an indicator of how much of a threat he is against more experienced teams. While Mata is a transcendent talent for Ozone, Blaze’s support, Ham “Lustboy” Jang-sik is a solid mainstay in the roster at best. It will be up to Hachani to impose his presence on the map, and be more wary of the potential bulls-eye on his head in this series.
For Blaze, all eyes will be on Flame, whose KDA belies his dominance in the top lane in Champions and Masters this season. A try-hard in the fullest sense of the word, he plays to win, and will only play the champions that will give him the best opportunity to do so. As opposed to Ssumday, whose champion pool in group stages so far has branched out from Shyvana/Renekton into a considerable amount of Shen play, Flame has stuck to what works. He’s only played a non-Shyvnekton champion once, and that was on Ryze versus Incredible Miracle. With the recent buffs to Ryze’s base health and range on Overload in patch 4.3, Flame is looking to add yet another overpowered champion to his self-imposed, yet highly effective champion pool this Spring.
I would not be surprised if a Ryze and/or Renekton ban will be made against Flame; he’s the biggest snowball threat on the team, and will also probably draw a number of 2v1 swaps against him. Flame plays so well against early-game pressure, however, which makes me wonder if Ssumday can keep up in his own 2v1 swap. Either way, the attention that Flame gets in this series will alleviate some of the pressure placed on other key contributors like Ambition and Emperor, which will be key to their success over the course of a long series.
AJtheFourth: The Arrows showed their hand heavily in their group matches against SK Telecom T1 K, but I still can’t bring myself to pick against them. They’re one of the few teams who will take significant, early risks to get ahead, and while it hasn’t always panned out for them, I can see them overwhelming and exhausting Blaze in the early/mid-game. Arrows in five.
Krizzlybear: Despite the lucky breaks that they’ve been given, Arrows seized every opportunity and rode them to improbable victories with excellent execution. They need to throw everything they have at Flame in order to shut him down if they want to put away each game early. However, I don’t like the odds of seeing that happen thrice in five games. I’ve got Blaze in four.
NaJin White Shield (5-1) vs KT Rolster Bullets (4-2)
AJtheFourth: The KT Rolster Bullets have been painful to watch in these past few months, both in Champions and Masters. Where the Arrows have overwhelmed by gelling together almost immediately, the Bullets have struggled mightily to come together as a team.
Following a much-needed boost from their undefeated victory at IEM Katowice, the Bullets hold a respectable 4-2 record in Champions. At times they show signs of incredible communication, while at others they make very poor decisions that lead immediately to advantages for their opponents (i.e., most recently in LoL Masters, an ill-advised tower dive against SK Telecom T1 S when both Lee “Leopard” Ho-Seong and Choi “inSec” In-seok had significant amounts of money to spend in their pockets). When the Bullets pull together, they are still one of the best teams in Korea. Unfortunately, for them, this has only happened about three-quarters of the time since the roster moves, resulting in an abysmal Masters record and a shaky playoff berth thanks to Samsung Galaxy Blue’s sweep of NaJin Black Sword in group stages.
Where the Bullets are shaky and inconsistent, NaJin White Shield has only looked stronger and more cohesive with each game. Their team communication and in-game strategy has been near-perfect in this Champions season. Samsung Galaxy Ozone have shown themselves to be the strongest team currently in Champions, and Shield makes a compelling case to occupy the slot of second-best. They exert dominanting map pressure due to their manipulation and understanding of minion waves, along with consistent objective control through solid vision. Their greatest weakness is their pick/ban phase, which largely ranges from competent to very poor, and they often find themselves playing from behind. If they can figure out this specific component of their game, the Bullets will not stand a chance.
Krizzlybear: NAJIN SHIEEEEEELLLDDDDD! In the entire time that I’ve spent as an enthusiast of professional League of Legends, I’ve never considered myself to be a fan of a given team or organization. While AJtheFourth clearly wears the KT red and white with every post written on this site, I don’t feel like I’ve ever had the same opportunity until NaJin White Shield came along. I first took notice of this team with their precise decision-making in Champions Winter, where they took a game off of a powerhouse Samsung Ozone team in the round of sixteen, and tied for first in their group. They’d eventually lose to Ozone again in the semifinals, as well as the KT Bullets in the 3rd place match, but not without making a name for themselves in the process.
It wasn’t until their marathon game versus Xenics Storm, in which Shield won through unrivaled minion control and precise team movement in the late-game, that I was made a fan. Their close matches against SKT T1 K in Masters also made me a believer in their potential, and while they have plenty of room to grow in the future, they are playing as if they want to be the best team in Korea right now, and they have my utmost support in doing so.
Their match against Bullets in the round of eight is a rematch of that 3rd place consolation match from Champions Winter. A highly dejected and incredibly ornery Bullets squad gave no quarter to an up-and-coming Shield, and promptly won the series as if Bullets deserved better than their finish. In honesty, they did, but in the period of time between the end of that tournament and this upcoming match, the roles have swapped; Shield is the dominant team with legitimate aspirations to win the entire tournament, while the Bullets are trying to right the ship and move their way back up, baby steps at a time.
Players to look out for:
AJtheFourth: The Bullets began this season of Champions with inSec in the top lane and now-sub Yoon “Zero” Kyung-sub in the jungle. The swap was disastrous for the Bullets, who now field inSec in the jungle with the far steadier Lee “Leopard” Ho-Seong in top. This allows for inSec to do what he does best, roam, kill things, and be a highly-obnoxious distraction for the opposing team. Recently, inSec has not only shown good synergy with Leopard in top – coordinating risky, mostly-successful, dives – but has played a hand in Ryu “Ryu” Sang-wook’s resurgence as a dominant mid-laner.
If the Bullets are to win this set, inSec’s roaming and objective pressure are going to have to be on point. Placing him on an aggressive champion, like Pantheon or Kha’Zix, in the pick/ban phase has to be of the utmost importance for the Bullets, along with counterbalancing inSec with a tanky top-lane champion for Leopard.
Shield is such a strategy-focused team that it’s already difficult to target or ban out one particular player. That being said, no player has impressed me more lately than Baek “Save” Young-jin on Shyvana. He exerts an incredible amount of map pressure, allowing for Shield to play the controlled, objective-focused game that they love to play. Save seems to be everywhere at once, be it split-pushing towers, or diving across an entire enemy team with Dragon’s Descent. His Shyvana throws an interesting wrench into the Bullets’ pick/ban phase, as he has so dominated with that champion that it becomes a must-ban, or Bullets’ first pick.
Krizzlybear: As AJtheFourth already mentioned, it’s hard to point out a given player on NaJin White Shield, since their success thus far has been mostly team-driven. If I could, I’d even go as far to say that we should be watching out for the bottom lane super minions, but by logical extension, we should be paying attention to the person driving that dangerous split-push to begin with. Save is the most talked-about top-laner in Korea not named Flame, and while both Samsung teams have a stranglehold on the top two spots in KDA for that position, Save’s play stands out the most because of the timeliness of his contributions, reflected by his three MVP awards in the six games he played in group stages.
Save plays an aggressive laning phase, often looking for the early advantage, but will gladly settle for breaking even and making a larger impact in the later stages of the game. His Shyvana play has been immaculate, often saving his team in late-game situations thanks to how well the half-dragon scales into the late game. Bullets will surely look to ban out Shyvana, but wave management and map movement is not champion-specific. That hour-long winion-driven victory against Storm came at the hands of Save on Lee Sin, of all champions.
For Bullets, a lot of their chemistry and coordination issues stem from the uncertain state of their top lane and jungle positions. In their wins during this period of roster transition, the standout players that have kept the team afloat have been Go “Score” Dong-bin and Won “Mafa” Sang-yeon. The two seem to have been around together forever, and while Score himself has come such a long way to become “The Immortal,” his lane synergy with Mafa is still incredibly strong today. Along with CJ Frost’s Spacelife and Samsung Ozone’s imMata, the KT Bullets’ Score/Mafa duo is the third of only three bottom-lane pairs in Champions to feature both players in the KDA leader standings for their respective positions. While Gorilla and Zefa’s strengths are more team-oriented, it will be the bottom-lane matchup that the Bullets will need to exploit if they want to stand a chance in this series.
AJtheFourth: Confession time: I’m one of the largest Bullets homers in North America. They are my team. Watching them play was what made me fall in love with competitive League of Legends. While I would personally love for this to be the “new” Bullets coming out party, I don’t see them being able to stop Shield quite yet. Farewell, my Bullets, I’ll see you soon in Champions Summer. Shield in four.
Krizzlybear: Confession time, part II: I don’t want Bullets to win. They’re great and all, but I can’t in good conscience root against my own team. No way, man. I can see why AJtheFourth would bet against her Bullets though; her heart says the Bullets will win, but her brain clearly favours Shield. While the Bullets are still a reasonable threat to end my dear Shield’s run, I have the privilege of having both my heart and brain tell me that the same team will win this series. I predict Shield to win in four, creating plenty of room on the NaJin Hype Train to take them even further into the tournament. WHITE SHIELD FIIIGHTINGGGGGG!!