LCK Spring Playoffs 2018 – Heading into the Finals
After more than two months into the League of Legends Champions Korea Spring Split 2018, we are finally getting a chance to see two of the best and most consistent teams this season, competing for the number one rank in Korea, and unofficially, claiming the title “best LoL team in the world”. It is another showdown between King-Zone DragonX and Afreeca Freecs, the two teams that, after the regular season, held rank number one and number two. While King-Zone might go into this match-up as the big favourite, Afreeca Freecs have shown that they are more than a worthy opponent to everyone. Let’s take a deeper look at the teams themselves and their line-ups in particular.
King-Zone DragonX – the big favorite
Looking at their results during the Regular Season as well as their individual players, one cannot deny that King-Zone will most likely take their first title in the young team’s history. Furthermore, not only the fans are predicting the team to win. Every head-coach of the other 8 teams of this season’s LCK was asked about their opinion on which team is going to be victorious in the end. Surprisingly, eight out of eight coaches named King-Zone DragonX to be the Spring Split Champion. Every one of them predicts a rather one-sided series ending in a decisive 3-0 or 3-1. Some of the reasons given were the immaculate and aggressive playstyle by the team, strong individual players as well as their huge confidence resulting from an impressive record of 16-2 in the Group Stages.
‘I predict that KZ will win. In retrospect, what they've shown us so far during this Split was truly outstanding.’
- Kim Ga-ram (bbq Olivers head coach)
Another big advantage is the time they’ve had to prepare for this match-up. The team and their tactical brains have had more than enough to analyze their opponents’ playoff matches and work out a master plan for the upcoming series. Although no one was entirely sure whether they’d be facing Afreeca Freecs, it came to no one’s surprise that the latter won their semi-finals against KT Rolster.
‘Not only have they had a lot of time to prepare for the Finals, but they were able to check and keep track of their opponent's tactics throughout their games in the playoffs.’
- Oh ‘ZanDarc’ Chang-Jong (KT Rolster coach)
Afreeca Freecs – rise of the tactical masterminds?
The biggest advantage of Afreeca Freecs might be the fact that everyone seems to underestimate them. The stars seem to have aligned for King-Zone DragonX with most of the statistics, results and recent performance clearly favour the team. During the Group Stages the results were 2-0 and 2-1 for KZ.
However, in their recent Playoff Series against KT Rolster, Afreeca Freecs have shown what they are capable of, not only did their players pull off a great performance ,but it seemed like the coaching staff put everything together to work around their opponent. Picks like Malphite, Kai’So or Yasuo caught their enemies completely off-guard, a “Banner of Command” as first item on mid-lane Karma is just one of the many examples showcasing their creativity and huge effort they put into the season. Where some people think that AF won’t have enough time to prepare for the Grand Finals as they did against KT Rolster, head coach Choi “iloveoov” Yeon-sung stays optimistic:
‘Picks like Malphite and Yasuo are just a small piece of what we’ve been preparing […] This time, we’re aiming a bit higher than 2nd place.’
One thing remains clear: AF will have to give their best in order to beat KZ. If they can, we might be looking at some very close series and, who knows, perhaps an unexpected LCK Spring Split Champion.
Individual Roles – who comes out as the favorite?
Top Lane – Many fans as well as some Korean coaches think that this is where the games will be decided. KZ’s Kim ‘Khan’ Dong-ha should have a big edge over his lane-opponent Kim ‘Kiin’ Gi-in. Khan, at the moment, is often considered to be one of the best players worldwide. Although the current meta does not allow top laners to win games single-handedly, Khan has always played a huge role in the success of his squad. Afreeca Freecs might want to target him, especially, in the pick-and-ban phase, which is going to be hard considering his large champion pool.
‘KZ has another weapon... Khan -- I'm very curious how he'll play. Although the toplaner's impact on a game has been reduced dramatically in the current meta, Khan is just a very skilled player...’
- Choi ‘Edgar’ Woo-beom (KSV head coach)
Mid Lane & Jungle – There is one thing the new meta has taught us: The Mid Lane and Jungle roles will play a huge factor in League of Legends for the next weeks or maybe even months to come. This is why we want to give special attention to these two roles as an important bundle going into the Finals. Also, most of the experts say that these positions will be the key in the outcome of the upcoming games. At the same time, people are, yet again, favoring King-Zone DragonX over Afreeca Freecs in these roles.
KZ’s Han ‘Peanut’ Wang-ho is probably the best jungler worldwide, if not the best player overall. Most of the coaches predict him carrying these series alongside Gwak ‘Bdd’ Bo-seong, the midlaner who has proven himself as one of the best roster picks in League of Legends history.
‘Personally speaking, I find the jungle matchup to be very important. Even during the earlier stage of this split, I highly regarded Peanut - I considered him the best player. How Spirit and Mowgli handle Peanut will decide the outcome of the series. In addition to that, Bdd is the best midlaner currently.’
- Han ‘H-Dragon’ Sang-yong (Jin Air Green Wings head coach)
Bottom Lane – With the new champion Kai’Sa being added to the champion pool, it seems like the bottom lane has gained some more excitement overall. Whereas KZ’s PraY-GorillA combo might still have a slight edge over Afreeca Freecs’ Kramer-TusiN bottom lane, this might be a match-up that could turn the tides. If AF get favourable fights on the bottom lane with the help of mid and jungle, they might be able to snowball from there – something they’ve done in the past.
While most people predict a rather one-sided match-up for the upcoming Grand Finals on April 14, I still think that Afreeca Freecs could take this match-up in a huge upset. King-Zone have shown some weaknesses from time to time throughout the season and if AF can capitalize on their opponent’s mistakes, we might be looking at some very close matches. Even then, everything will have to go their way if they’re to beat most dominant team of 2018.