It seems like just yesterday the sun had set on the 2016 Mid-Season Invitational. Yet, the summer season has already started to dawn. With every new season comes a new set of expectations. Here are the three things you need to know before the split kicks off.
South Korea is not just SK Telecom T1
SK Telecom T1 has finally claimed the MSI title to add to its already impressive collection of trophies. Despite a surprising start in the group stages, where the world was reminded South Korean teams are not always infallible, the team rallied to cinch six wins and one loss in the bracket stage with a 3-0 sweep over North America's Counter Logic Gaming in the finals. As South Korea's representative, the kings were able to reign once more.
A reiterative point, maybe, but it certainly seems SK Telecom T1 has been the dominant force, taking not only this most recent MSI title, but also the IEM World Championship and 2015 World Championship in the span of seven months. With this display of excellence, it is easy for any other team from the South Korean region to get overshadowed. However, the last few international tournaments showed that South Korea still has a plethora of teams vying for dominance that aren't named SKT.
Take, for example, the teams that participated in the spring playoffs run: the ROX Tigers, KT Rolster, Jin Air Green Wings, and the Afreeca Freecs. Pepper in the names of old vanguard teams like Longzhu Gaming and CJ Entus, and it's clear that there is no shortage of star power in the LCK. Through hard work by the players and staff, SKT T1 has just monopolized the attention of international viewers. Well-deserved? Yes. Unlucky for other teams involved? Also yes.
The ROX Tigers are a classic case. It's been bested by SK Telecom T1 three times: during 2015 spring season, the 2015 World Championship, and 2016 spring season.
The summer season is a new start and if fate and hard work favors it, a new team could finally step out of the shadows and into the spotlight.
Roster changes - that's just the way it is
Let it be known that roster changes aren't new. Preseason changes happen all the time, but they do affect how the new season plays out. Some teams have shifted their rosters around quite a bit, with Longzhu Gaming being a prime example. With AD Carry Kang "Cpt. Jack" Hyung-woo exploring new territory as a match commentator, Longzhu's supplemented former G2 Esports AD Carry, Kim "Emperor" Jin-hyun, to fill out the available space.
Some other notable names missing from its current starting roster? Top laner Lee "Flame" Ho-jong and longtime mid laner Kim "Frozen" Tae-il, alongside support Jang "Zzus" Jun-su.
Another roster change to note is the position swap of Jo "CoreJJ" Yong-in of Samsung Galaxy. Previously an AD Carry for the team, he'll be vying for the starting support position with teammate Kwon "Wraith" Ji-min.
Despite the majority of the South Korean teams having five or more players, two of the summer season teams rosters have no substitute in sight. Back in March 23, 2015, Riot Korea announced KT Rolster's Lee "IgNar" Dong-geun's departure from the team due to personal issues. With that announcement, KT Rolster had been granted a temporary reprieve of the LCK rule subset that required a six-man roster. According to sources, the rule has since been changed, allowing teams to field five players during the regular season. However, it should be noted that if said team should participate in the League of Legends World Championship or any Riot-supervised international event, the team must then field a substitute player.
"Pepper in the names of old vanguard teams like Longzhu Gaming and CJ Entus, and it's clear that there is no shortage of star power in the LCK."
During the spring split, many variations were visible: substitutes either played no role at all (à la ROX Tigers), ended up meshing well with the team, gradually took over the starting role (SK Telecom T1), or were used to varying degrees of success. It's safe to assume that the same can be expected of summer.
Hello MVP and Ever, goodbye Kongdoo Monster and SBENU
Alas, two teams bid their adieus to the LCK with the decrescendo of the spring split. Kongdoo Monster -- the team reborn from the last remnants of the storied NaJin esports teams -- and SBENU SonicBoom. Both were unsuccessful in requalifying for the main league during the 2016 Summer Promotions tournament.
However, the end of something heralds a new beginning, which means that two teams will take their place. One is Ever, the South Korean challenger team that provided quite the upset story. By knocking out then-reigning World Champions SK Telecom T1 in the semifinals for the 2015 LoL KeSPA Cup, Ever qualified as a contender for IEM Season X at Cologne.
Winning Cologne with a 3-2 match score against China's Qiao Gu, Ever rode the highs of its success story to the IEM Season X World Championship. Unfortunately, the string of victories came to an end with a 0-2 loss to Team SoloMid. Though it seemed like a sudden fall from the international spotlight, its debut season in the LCK will be one to watch indeed.
The second new addition to the LCK this summer split is MVP, a rather familiar name in the sphere of South Korean esports. MVP relinquished its two teams, Ozone and Blue, to Samsung in 2013. But in late 2015, the organization returned to League of Legends, sponsoring a team in the Challengers South Korea league. The cycle is now complete, and MVP is back, albeit with a team composed mostly of rookies. There are two returning faces: MaHa (formerly Mach) and Max. But as these players saw little playtime during their stints on KT Rolster and CJ Entus, it certainly leaves room to wonder if their experience will have any impact on how the team will fare during the season.
The Coca-Cola Zero League of Legends Champions Korea Summer 2016 season kicks off May 23, with an opening match between the Afreeca Freecs and Longzhu Gaming.