One will be hard pressed to find a more tangled LCK season than the current 2019 Summer one. Its Spring predecessor had clearly outlined stories of winners and losers. In seven weeks, Griffin didn’t drop a single game, and SKT and SANDBOX chased them as close second and third for the majority of the season. By week 9, we already knew every single playoffs team. 2018 Summer and Spring also had clear-cut triad of leaders: Summer once again passed under the sign of the Griffin, until the tie-breaker at the very end decided the season into KT’s favor; and Spring was all Kingzone’s season, with Afreeca and KT’s super team on their trail.
The Summer of volatility
But 2019 Summer has been a roller-coaster for everyone, exception, ironically, for KT Rolster, who continue to fester on the bottom of the rankings. No team has stayed on the top for more than three weeks, as Griffin’s promising run crashed and burn with week 6, as the promising youngsters dropped to 5th place. SANDBOX have been among the more stable teams this season, but even they couldn’t stay on top for long, despite oscillating between the top 3 positions since week 3.
At present time, there are three teams tied at 10 wins, and another three tied at 9 wins. The current leaders are DAMWON Gaming, who, like SANDBOX, have been a top 3 team since week 4, but never really considered a true favorite for the title. And they might still lose their #1 spot with two weeks to go before the end of the season.
The main storyline of this Summer Season, however, is SK Telecom’s revival in the second half. At one point, the greatest LoL team of all time was among the worst in the season. Week 3 was a low point for Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok and co, as they sat at 1-5 and ranked 9th — just one win more than the empty Jin Air Green Wings, LCK’s worst team this entire year.
It was a harrowing time for SKT, especially in the wake of failed MSI campaign, which ended in a semifinal ousting. In the Spring Season, SKT’s rival KT Rolster ended up 9th and faced relegation for the first time in franchise history and fans worried that if the slump continues, it could be the same fate for their favorite team.
“We suffered a lot during Round 1, and our fans struggled with us,” Kim “Khan” Dong-ha told InvenGlobal last week, adding there’s now one clear goal ahead of him: be flawless in the second half of the split.
“My personal goal is to win all the games in Round 2. […] I’m thankful to them for cheering for us to the end, and I’ll do my best to reach our goal.”
Whatever magic happened between weeks 3 and 8 is certainly keeping Khan’s goal alive. From 1-5, SKT went on a nine-game win streak are now now 2nd in the league at 10-5. If they beat Hanwha Life on Saturday — a likely outcome given HLE’s poor performance in the summer — they will regain the lead they briefly held after week 8.
SKT owe much of their newfound success to jungler Kim “Clid” Tae-min. Brought over from JD Gaming in the 2018 off-season, Clid was meant to speed up SKT’s otherwise slow, macro-oriented playstyle with some LPL aggression. In many of the games Clid played like an LCK jungler, SKT struggled, but in the moments they let him play his way, SKT were a completely different team.
A bloodthirsty Clid became arguably the best player at MSI 2019, even despite SKT’s semifinal exit. And now in the LCK, since SKT’s win streak began, he’s put on an impressive 42/18/127 over the nine best-of-3’s — a 9.3 KDA overall. Clid has been instrumental in securing SKT’s early game dominance, bringing Faker back to form, and enabling the other carry of the team — ADC Park “Teddy” Jin-seong — to destroy everyone in sight. Since SKT’s win streak, Teddy is at 10.1 KDA with 77/15/75 over the nine best-of-3, is by far the highest damage dealer on the team and is only rivaled by Griffin’s Park “Viper” Do-hyeon, a player who’s been redefining the bot lane since his break-out.
SKT are now looking forward to their series against HLE on Saturday, a match highly in their favor which could give them a much needed push-up ahead of the grueling final week 10. On the last mile, SKT will play both DAMWON Gaming and SANDBOX — two of the major contenders for the regular season 1st place.
“We do only have three matches left, but the matches during the postseason are also very important,” Faker said. “It’ll be important to keep our momentum with the winning streak. We’ll deliver even better performance in the future.”
But the best part is that there will be no boring days from now until the end of the LCK Summer Season. The first seven teams differ by two wins at the most and even at the bottom a lot is at stake. Tied at 4-11, KT and HLE will have to determine who goes down to relegations. If that’s KT, that will be the second time in a row for the storied organization. And when newcomers like are DAMWON and SANDBOX are contesting the peak, and even Hanwha Life are outperforming them, KT Rolster will have to face the grim reality of the off-season and, very likely, the dire need to completely rebuild or be perennial partner to Jin Air Green Wings as bottom-table gatekeepers to the LCK.