Last offseason, a myriad of concerns surrounded the perception of Korea's League of Legends regional strength. The undisputed best region in the world had been fractured by a monumental exodus of talent, the abolishment of their sister team system and the adoption of an entirely new competitive format.
In spite of those obstacles, what followed was another year of international success and a far more stable offseason. The only question of Korea going into 2016 is how much they can possibly widen the gap between themselves and the rest of the regions in the world. With many teams shoring up their weaknesses, young talent finding homes on the rosters of larger organizations, and a few returning superstars, Korea's future looks far brighter than it did at this time last year.
SK Telecom T1
Top Lane: Jang "MaRin" Gyeong-hwan (LGD Gaming)
Jungle: Im "T0M" Jae-hyeon (No Current Team)
Mid Lane: Lee "Easyhoon" Ji-hoon (Vici Gaming)
Top Lane: Lee "Duke" Ho-seong
Jungle: Bae "bengi" Seong-woong
Jungle: Kang "Blank" Sun-gu
Mid Lane: Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok
Mid Lane: Lee "Scout" Ye-chan
AD Carry: Bae "Bang" Jun-sik
Support: Lee "Wolf" Jae-wan
Coach: Kim "KkOma" Jeong-gyun
Two-time world champion SK Telecom T1 remains a title contender, with only two significant departures from their 2015 World Championship roster.
While Easyhoon was a more-than-serviceable substitute for Faker, his departure affects little of SKT's overall team dynamic. They still have Faker, who did more with less in 2015. Backup mid laner Scout takes Easyhoon's place and is touted as one of Korea's rising stars. Lacking the lane presence that Easyhoon exuded will hurt; however, guidance from the much-lauded SK Telecom T1 support staff should steer Scout in the right direction if needed.
More important is the vacuum created by Top Laner MaRin, who left the team for LGD Gaming. Two years ago, MaRin was seen as somewhat of a bust on an unexciting SK Telecom T1 S team. Spending the better part of 2015 proving his critics wrong, MaRin became widely regarded as one of Korea's best top laners, and was additionally credited for his in-game presence and shotcalling.
Replacing MaRin for the upcoming season is Duke, crown jewel of a frustratingly disorganized 2015 NaJin e-mFire roster. A quick look at how both SKT and e-mFire played last year hints that Duke has the capability to do more with fewer resources than MaRin was provided in 2015. However, losing a key voice in communications and decision-making cannot be underestimated. By most accounts, Duke is affable but quiet, and not the type to take the lead. The signing is a good one; it will ultimately fall on kkOma and his coaching staff to make it a success.
Grade: A-. Retained the best player in the world along with most of their World Championship team. Largest question mark is Duke replacing MaRin.
Mid Lane: Lee "Edge" Ho-sung (e-mFire)
Mid Lane: Kim "Nagne" Sang-moon (No Current Team)
AD Carry: Oh "Mach" Hyun-sik (MVP)
Support: Jung " Fixer" Jae-woo (No Current Team)
Support: Lee "Piccaboo" Jong-beom (No Current Team)
Top Lane: Kim "Ssumday" Chan-ho
Jungle: Go "Score" Dong-bin
Mid: Song "Fly" Yong-jun
AD Carry: No "Arrow" Dong-hyeon
Support: Lee "IgNar" Dong-geun
Support: Ha "Hachani" Seung-chan
Head Coach: Lee Ji-hoon
In his AD carry heyday, imagining Score as a jungler would have resulted in questions of one's sanity. KT has thrived on a tradition of strong jungle talent -- Choi "inSec" In-seok, Lee "KaKAO" Byung-kwon -- and Score's transition into the jungle position was initially unsuccessful. Stuck with losing lanes and pathing inexperience, Score was unable to create opportunities for KT.
This changed with the departure of Hachani, who had a penchant for dying frequently, and the addition of Fixer in late 2015. Score's movements were further bolstered by the acquisition of premier support Piccaboo for the summer of 2015. Piccaboo's ubiquitous map presence allowed Score breathing room, and his early pathing progressed significantly. Unfortunately for Score, Piccaboo is gone and it's now up to Ignar to fill the void. Ignar is a talented support, and this is the best cast he has had to work with in his career, but he hasn't shown the same flash or stifling map presence that embodied Piccaboo's signature style. How well he coordinates with Score will likely make or break this new KT team.
In spite of a downgrade at the support position, KT received a significant upgrade in their mid lane by acquiring former CTU and Jin Air Green Wings prospect Fly. With a wider champion pool than Nagne, Fly should be less of a liability, which will open up KT's options early if he holds his own and controls the center of the map.
Grade: B+. Losing Piccaboo is a huge blow to the team, and Score in particular, although Ignar isn't a bad replacement. Fly should be an upgrade to Nagne.
Jungle: Lee "Hojin" Ho-jin (Retired)
Jungle: Kim "Wisdom" Tae-wan (No Current Team)
Top Lane: Song "Smeb" Kyung-ho
Jungle: Yoon "Peanut" Wang-ho
Mid Lane: Lee "KurO" Seo-haeng
Mid Lane: Lee "Sylph" Jae-ha
AD Carry: Kim "PraY"Jong-in
Support: Kang "GorillA" Beom-hyeon
Head Coach: Jeong "NoFe" No-chul
Another season, another name for the Tigers, World Finalist and runner-up to SK Telecom T1.
One of the more surprising things about the Tigers' success last year was what they managed to accomplish with Hojin as their jungler. Former Incredible Miracle jungler Wisdom was brought on to address Hojin's lack of early presence, but had similar problems in play style and disrupted the team's delicately balanced communication.
The Tigers have attacked this glaring weakness by signing top jungle prospect Peanut, formerly of NaJin e-mFire. Peanut's absence from the NaJin starting spot throughout 2015 was a sore subject for NaJin fans. This may be an issue for the Tigers, who have repeatedly stated that one of their team's greatest strengths is their unity, which was previously disrupted by the mere substitution of Wisdom for Hojin.
Nonetheless, there's no denying Peanut's talent, and Tiger's coach NoFe, along with many other veteran presences on the team, will be relied upon to use Peanut effectively. If it works, they not only remain one of the best teams in the world, but will significantly surpass their 2015 performance.
The rest of the Tigers' roster remains the same. Kur0 is never going to light the world on fire, but he generally does well against any mid laner not named Faker. PraY spent the better part of 2015 proving that he could still stand up to up-and-coming AD carry talent, and GorillA is arguably one of the best supports in the world, if not the best. Lastly, the whole of 2015 served as Smeb's coming-out party as one of League of Legends' premier top laners. This Tigers roster is worth the excitement.
Grade: A+. Shored up their major weakness in the jungle position while retaining the rest of their team. The only question is in how Peanut integrates.
Top Lane: Kwon "Helper" Yeong-jae (Samsung Galaxy)
Jungle: Kang "Ambition" Chan-yong (Samsung Galaxy)
Jungle: Kim "Trick" Gang-yun (G2 Esports)
Mid Lane: Shin "CoCo" Jin-young (Longzhu)
AD Carry: Seon "Space" Ho-san (Retired)
Support: Jeong "Max" Jong-bin (Gash Bears)
Head Coach: Kang "Onair" Hyun-jong (Afreeca Freecs)
Coach Son: "Kezman" Dae-young (No Current Team)
Coach: Jung Je-seung (Afreeca Freecs)
Top Lane: Park "Shy" Sang-myeon
Top Lane: Park "Untara" Ui-jin
Jungle: Park "Bubbling" Jun-hyeong
Mid Lane: Kim "Sky" Ha-neul
Mid Lane: Kwak "BDD" Bo-seong
AD Carry: Ha "Kramer" Jong-hun
AD Carry: Jang "Ghost" Yong-jun
Support: Hong "MadLife" Min-gi
Many CJ Entus fans spent this offseason praying to their deity of choice that CJ would finally make roster changes and replace their Jurassic-era talent with new, up-and-coming players. Their prayers and wishes have finally been answered, and CJ's 2016 spring roster sports new talent along with two CJ stalwarts: top laner Shy and legacy support Madlife.
The most significant departure from CJ is that of their former star mid laner, CoCo. CoCo was always a bright spot for the team, and all too often a CJ win would come off of a CoCo hard carry. Sky will shore up the mid lane for now, but the real enthusiasm for this new CJ Entus team is centered on the upcoming debut of their young mid lane prospect, BDD. BDD will not be eligible to play until March 1, 2016, so CJ will rely on Sky holding his own until then.
Another interesting addition is jungler Bubbling, who had previous stints on Anarchy and Winners in Challengers Korea. Earmarked by many as a rising Korean jungle talent, he should make for a fun watch and can hopefully grow past his reckless aggression. Serviceable at best, AD carry Kramer returns to Korea from Taiwan's Flash Wolves, while the aforementioned Shy and Madlife reprise their roles for another season. Based on his underwhelming appearances overall in 2015, Shy remains a bit of a question mark, although he's still capable of the occasionally show-stopping performance.
Grade: C. It's going to be tough without BDD for the initial start of 2016. Additionally, Kramer is a tough sell, and Shy has previously been inconsistent.
Top Lane: Lee "Duke"Ho-seong (SK Telecom T1)
Jungle: Yoon "Peanut" Wang-ho (No Current Team)
Jungle: Cho "watch" Jae-geol (ZTR Gaming)
Mid Lane: Yu "Ggoong" Byeong-jun (ZTR Gaming)
Mid Lane: Park "TANK" Dan-won (Snake eSports)
AD Carry: Oh "Ohq" Gyu-min (Team Dragon Knights)
AD Carry: Lee "Zefa" Jae-min (No Current Team)
Support: Kim "Pure" Jin-sun (Longzhu)
Support: Jang "Cain" Nu-ri (CJ Entus)
Sub/Top Lane: Seong "FIFA" Je-gyeong (No Current Team)
Coach: Kim "MOKUZA" Dae-woong (No Current Team)
Head Coach: Park "Reach" Jung-suk (CJ Entus)
Top Lane: Suk "Hipo" Hyun-jun
Jungle: Kim "Crush" Jun-seo
Mid Lane: Lee "Edge" Ho-seong
AD Carry: Seo "SSol" Jin-sol
Support: Kim "GuGer" Do-yeop
Sub/Mid Lane: Kim "Roach" Sang-hui
Head Coach: Chae "ViNylCat" Woo-cheol
Much-maligned for their inexplicable roster decisions -- namely continuing to start Ggoong and watch over their younger counterparts -- NaJin e-mFire has dropped the NaJin from their name. The title sponsor continues to run the team, but they're in search of a new partnership. It's sad to see one of Korea's first League of Legends organizations seemingly pull out of the scene, and the talent they've assembled for their 2016 roster gives the e-mFire fan, if there are any left, little to be enthused about.
Even at their worst in 2015, Duke was always a pleasure to watch, and Ohq dazzled with flashy plays and flashier, oft-regrettable, decisions. Their main issues came from a steadfast loyalty to aging players, particularly Ggoong, who gobbled up team resources only to turn out mediocre-at-best performances. This new roster has no well-known talent and no young, rising stars.
Their new AD carry, Ssol, more recently played top lane for NaJin in Challengers Korea, and their new support GuGer is better known as Lupin, the 2015 AD carry of Taiwan's Taipei Assassins. Mid laner Edge, formerly of KT, was seen a few times in Champions Summer and was decent, but hardly spectacular.
Grade: F. There's little to say about this roster, and with other teams ramping up this offseason, it's doubtful that e-mFire will finish anywhere but last in Champions Spring.
Jin Air Green Wings
Top Lane: Lee "Sky" Kyung-min (2144 Danmu Gaming)
Top Lane: Kang "May" Han-wool (Hong Kong Esports)
Jungle: Lee "Chaser" Sang-hyun (Longzhu Gaming)
Mid Lane: Lee "GBM" Chang-seok (NRG eSports)
AD Carry: Kang "Cpt Jack" Hyung-woo (Longzhu Gaming)
Top Lane: Yeo "TrAce" Chang-dong
Top Lane: Kim "SoHwan" Jun-yeong
Jungle: Park "Winged" Tae-jin
Mid Lane: Lee "Kuzan" Seong-hyeok
Mid Lane: Jin "Blanc" Seong-min
AD Carry: Na "Pilot" Woo-hyung
Support: Choi "Chei" Sun-ho
Support: Lee "Sweet" Eun-teak
Head Coach: Han Sang-yong
Regardless of retaining the majority of their talent, the loss of jungler Chaser notably hurts the Jin Air Green Wings. Crucial in any and all success that the team had in 2015, Chaser had an impressive 77.9 percent kill participation throughout the regular season, orchestrating oft-impressive early-game strategies. Much of Jin Air's creativity can also be attributed to Chaser; the backup-turned-starting jungler Winged hardly looks capable of filling Chaser's figurative shoes.
In both the KeSPA Cup and IEM San Jose, Jin Air looked disjointed under Winged. They were more aggressive early, but lacked coordination in team fighting and objective trading. New top laner SoHwan's champion pool remains questionable, and Kuzan, while talented, is a downgrade from GBM. Both of these players have potential, but will require guidance, and may be unable to stand up to their Champions counterparts. Pilot remains in the bot lane along with his two supports, Chei and Sweet.
Grade: C-. They have some young talent, but the loss of Chaser hurts this team significantly.
Jungle: Seo "Eve" Jun-cheol (No Current Team)
Mid Lane: Park "BlisS" Jong-won (No Current Team)
Mid Lane: Kim "Ace" Ji-hoon (No Current Team)
AD Carry: Lee "Fury" Jin-yong (Longzhu Gaming)
AD Carry: Kim "Raven" Ae-jun (No Current Team)
Support: Jang "Luna" Kyung-ho (No Current Team)
Coach: Lee "Horang2" Kyeong-min
Top Lane: Lee "CuVee" Seong-jin
Top Lane: Kwon "Helper" Yeong-jae
Jungle: Kang "Ambition" Chan-young
Mid Lane: Lee "Crown" Min-ho
AD Carry: Jo "CoreJJ" Yong-in
AD Carry: Lee "Stitch" Seung-ju
Support: Kwon "Wraith" Ji-min
Head Coach: Choi "DoGGi" Woo-beom
In spite of the fact that they weren't a particularly good team, Samsung was interesting to watch last year. They often drafted creative compositions and continuously pushed even their toughest opponents to all three games in many of their series.
Crown, following his stint in Brazil, became a surprisingly effective mid laner for the team after their failed experiment with solo queue Fizz main BlisS. This took some of the pressure off AD carry Fury, who was already considered a top-tier talent.
Losing Fury to Longzhu is a notable step back for Samsung. Even at their worst, Fury held his own against the best in the region, and the team counted on his strong bot lane performances. His replacement, former BigFile Miracle and Dignitas AD carry, CoreJJ, is a downgrade. Samsung has also picked up the equally lackluster Stitch, who spent the past year in Taiwan playing for Midnight Sun Esports.
Making matters worse for Samsung is their jungle acquisition, Ambition. Previously cited as a veteran presence for CJ as a mid laner, Ambition was lackluster at best in the jungle. He reprised his role of giving up First Blood to his opponents, as he so often did as a top-tier mid.
Grade: D+. The loss of Fury is disastrous, and neither CoreJJ nor Stitch have proven that they can play anywhere near Fury's level. Ambition may be a veteran presence, but he is not a jungler.
Top Lane: Jeon "Lilac" Ho-jin (Free Agent)
Top Lane: Jeong "Apple" Cheol-woo (Free Agent)
Jungle: Bak "TusiN" Jong-ik (Free Agent)
AD Carry: Choi "Paragon" Hyun-il (Free Agent)
AD Carry: Oh "Roar" Jang-won (Free Agent)
AD Carry: Son "S0NSTAR" Seung-ik (Free Agent)
Support: Lee "IgNar" Dong-geun (KT Rolster)
AD Carry: Lee "Fury" Jin-yong
Top Lane: Lee "Flame" Ho-jong
Top Lane: Koo "Expession" Bon-taek
Jungle: Lee "Chaser" Sang-hyun
Jungle: Lee "Crash" Dong-woo
Mid Lane: Shin "CoCo" Jin-yeong
Mid Lane: Kim "Frozen" Tae-il
AD Carry: Kang "Cpt Jack" Hyung-woo
Support: Kim "Pure" Jin-sun
Support: Jang "Zzus" Joon-soo
Head Coach: Kang "Hirai" Dong-hoon
Formerly Longzhu-Incredible Miracle, Longzhu entered this past offseason with money and a plan to finally elevate the IM organization beyond their perennial punching-bag status. Always the standard for making it into a Champions season, IM rarely saw success.
With deeper pockets and the desire to create a championship team, Longzhu snatched up three of Korea's top prospects in the temporarily suspended AD carry Fury, mid laner CoCo and jungler Chaser.
CoCo and Fury have a lot in common, as both of their teams had overly relied on them to be consistently good while the rest of the team lagged behind. Look for both to appear much improved, simply due to upgrades in their supporting cast. With reliable laners, Chaser should be able to creatively steer the team early.
The crown jewel of this roster is top laner Flame, previously of CJ Entus Blaze and LGD Gaming. Flame somewhat dropped off of the radar while in China, primarily a backup to LGD's starting top laner, Acorn. In spite of this, he became one of the best top laners in the region and showcased a newfound ability to play a wide array of champions, depending on what the team asked of him. Make no mistake, he's still a carry top at heart, but his versatility should serve Longzhu well.
Resource distribution is Longzhu's only question mark. Fury and CoCo both received close to a third of their former teams' gold, while Chaser received 18.9 percent -- the highest of all junglers in Korea excluding Peanut and BliSs, who played just a game each.
Grade: A. This is a team that fans should look forward to watching. The only question is that of resource distribution.
Top Lane: Jeon "ikssu" Ik-soo
Jungle: Nam "LirA" Tae-yoo
Jungle: Yoon "Seonghwan" Seong-hwan
Mid Lane: Son "Mickey" Young-min
Mid Lane: Heo "Lindarang" Man-heung
AD Carry: Gwon "Sangyoon" Sang-yun
Support: No "SnowFlower" Hoi-jong
Head Coach: Kang Hyun-jong
The Freecs had one of the more nerve-wracking offseasons of any Korean team, not because of their roster, but due to sponsorship uncertainties and KeSPA withdrawing their support from the team. Their one offseason appearance in the KeSPA Cup showed a surprisingly coordinated effort, and a slight departure from their previous strategy of placing all of their eggs in the Mickey basket, hoping that he'd carry from the mid lane.
Not much has changed about this team, aside from new substitutes Seonghwan and Lindarang for jungle and mid, respectively. As Anarchy, this team showed promise in Champions Summer, but lacked the talent and infrastructure to improve much over the course of the season. Hopefully their new sponsor will serve them well.
Grade: C. They didn't really change anything about their team; however, the Freecs should be an interesting team to watch come the 2016 season.
Jungle: Yun "Catch" Sang-ho (DetonatioN Gaming)
Mid Lane: Lee "do it" Chan-ho (Team Dragon Knights)
Han "viviD" Gi-hun (DetonatioN Gaming)
Kim "dan" Seung-hoo (Free Agent)
Top Lane: Lee "SoaR" Gang-pyo
Top Lane: Seo "Soul" Hyeon-seok
Jungle: Sung "Flawless" Yeon-jun
Mid Lane: Oh "SaSin" Seung-ju
AD Carry: Sin "Nuclear" Jeong-hyeon
Support: Park "Secret" Ki-sun
If adversity begets strength, then SBENU Sonicboom is one of the strongest teams entering spring 2016. With an atrocious win rate of 19%, and laughably horrific individual statistics across the board, SBENU were the type of team that had viewers searching for something else to watch whenever they played.
All it seemingly took was one crucial roster change: the addition of jungler Flawless (formerly named Flaw) and the departure of Catch. An exciting and aggressive prospect, Flawless is the type of jungler that makes one yearn for the days of carry junglers gone by. He's smart and proactive, the exact type of jungler that SBENU seemingly needed, based on their KeSPA Cup performances. Nuclear also appeared much-improved in the offseason tournament, and SaSin showcased why he's still considered a potentially top-tier mid laner.
Unfortunately, both Soul and SoaR are iffy at best, making the top lane a glaring weakness for SBENU. However, the jungle upgrade still transforms the team, and it's highly unlikely that they'll wallow in last place again.
Grade: B+. Flawless makes this SBENU team interesting. They still have issues in the top lane.