SK Telecom T1
The personality of SK Telecom T1 over the past two years, winning the world championship twice, has been one of a crafty, intelligent counter-puncher; one mistake against Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok and crew and your odds of winning almost felt insurmountable, regardless of how well you did in the early-game. This year, however, SKT T1 is going against the motto "Don't change what isn't broken" by shedding its ever-looming and quiet presence to become a loud, abrasive squad built around an all-out attack.
The additions of Heo "Huni" Seung-hoon and Han "Peanut" Wang-ho have changed the entire dynamic of SKT T1 as we know it. Both attack-first minded, the pair could be a deadly weapon for coach Kim "kkOma" Jeong-gyun if directed in the right direction; if not, the firepower could explode right in SKT's face in its attempt to change a time-tested structure. Fortunately for SKT, the team's two star players from last year, Faker and marksmen Bae "Bang" Jun-sik, are two of the best players in the world when it comes to producing a lot from a little gold intake.
Super teams, dream teams, whatever you want to call them, are almost never as pretty as they look from the outside. Back in 2012 and 2013, when superstars could snowball easier, having a team of four to five personalities, like the original SK Telecom T1 that won the 2013 World Championship, could work. We're in 2017, however, and teamplay is the most important thing, and putting together so many new elements could cause a nasty end, as seen by Longzhu's "super team" last year.
But if you're going to build a super team, you better go make the superest of super teams, and that's exactly what KT Rolster did. It spared no expense in the offseason to make a lineup that has as much, if not more star power than the back-to-back defending champions and KT's decade-plus rival SKT T1. Song "Smeb" Kyung-ho, the two-time South Korean MVP, in the top lane; the only returning member of KT and captain, Go "Score" Dong-bin, anchoring the team in the jungle; Heo "PawN" Won-seok, former world champion, in the mid lane; and, to top it all off, the bottom lane of arguably the best AD carry in the world, Kim "Deft" Hyuk-kyu, and 2014 Worlds MVP and support mastermind Cho "Mata" Se-hyeong.
KT Rolster is all-in. This is a lineup that you would make in LoL2k17 (not an actual real game) if you wanted to style and embarrass your opponent. While there is a chance, maybe even a big one, that this team fails to connect at all, I can't give KT Rolster anything but an A for ambition and the gumption to attempt a team skilled enough to topple the SKT T1 dynasty.
Speaking of ambition, Kang "Ambition" Chan-yong is back for another year on Samsung Galaxy, and he'll look to make it back to the World Championships where he was one game away from becoming the owner of the Summoner's Cup. Actually, everyone is back for Samsung Galaxy, the organization, once known for heavy turnover in the offseason after a successful year, being one of the only teams in the world to have the same starting five going into 2017. For that alone, that gets an A, as the runners-up of last year's Worlds still have room for improvement, especially in the AD carry position with Park "Ruler" Jae-hyuk coming off a dazzling rookie season.
Everyone will be talking about SKT and KT, and rightly so, but don't sleep on Samsung. As mentioned before, teamplay is everything in this era of League of Legends, and a team having already gone through the World Championships together and having a year of being together will not be easy to dispatch.
Oh look, another A. Most of the South Korean teams did well in the offseason, and Longzhu Gaming is no exception. The Dragons were the biggest disappointment in 2016 by not even making the playoffs in either split after forming a "super team," and it appears the organization has learned from its mistakes. The team brought in a seasoned coach from the ROX Tigers in Kim "SSONG" Sang-soo, and it secured the rights to the Tigers' bottom lane of Kim "PraY" Jong-in and Kang "GorillA" Beom-hyeon.
This team doesn't necessarily have the "wow" factor of last year's team of proven stars, but the team, as a whole, makes a lot more sense. The team actually brought in pieces to compliment others in the lineup instead of going in blind hoping raw skill would prevail in the end. The key for Longzhu will come in the mid lane, either in the form of utility mid laner Song "Fly" Young-jun or possible ace mid laner Gwak "Bdd" Bo-seong. Longzhu will hope Bdd can fulfill the expectations experts had for him when he entered the scene as the best mid lane prospect since Faker, but the signing of Fly gives them an out if he fails to settle in. Fly, proven as a starter on KT last year, is good enough to be a championship mid laner on an elite team, and Longzhu, if things work out, could have created just that.
In a similar vein to KT's Rolster super team, Afreeca attempted something similar, actually gutting its entire roster to put together a team with a few big name players and potential stars. Also like KT, Afreeca was able to wrangle back a former Worlds MVP that had been in China last year in top laner Jang "MaRin" Gyeong-Hwan. On paper, the Freecs are a likable punch, putting together memorable faces like Lee "Spirit" Da-yoon and Lee "Kuro" Seo-haeng to create a possible Worlds contender.
Issue is, Afreeca come into 2017 looking a lot more like Longzhu of last year with a lot of expensive pieces that might not go well together when put into action. The biggest issue could be in the bottom lane with former CJ Entus AD carry Ha "Kramer" Jong-hu and Park "TusiN" Jong-ik, a support player returning to the shark infested waters of the LCK after taking a year off from professional play. At least with the top side of the map there is talent that have results and accolades tied to their names; the bottom lane will need to assert itself early to prohibit clubs from camping Afreeca's seemingly blatant weak spot.
Kongdoo Monster / MVP
I'm doing these two teams together because of their similar positions heading into 2017; both kept the same rosters it ended 2016 with, and both are arguably ready to make the jump into the playoffs with a few players leveling up.
As they are similar on the outside looking in, in the lineups themselves, the teams hold different strengths on the map; for MVP, the team is gifted with a strong topside of the map, with Kang "ADD" Geon-mo and MVP of MVP, Kim "Beyond" Kyu-seok at jungle. MVP falters when it comes to its AD carry of Oh "MaHa" Hyun-sik, a player that plagued his team with his inconsistency for everything but getting caught out of position. The team could have upgraded itself to a B+ or A with a better AD carry signed, but MVP decided to keep the same starting five as last year, believing in MaHa to make the jump up in level with the rest of his teammates.
On the side of Kongdoo, the power rests in the bottom lane and the team's ace Seo "Ssol" Jin-sol. Ssol was one of the stars for Kongdoo's spirited runs in both the KeSPA Cup and IEM Gyeonggi, where the team finished in second place twice. Ssol has the tools and track record on South Korea's ladder to be one of the breakout stars of 2017, but we'll need to see him ripping apart players that don't come from the LCK first to make that call. As with MVP, Kongdoo could have bumped up a letter grade if it upgraded its topside of the map, but consistency seems to be key for a lot of teams, and once maligned top laner Kim "Roach" Kang-hui has improved leaps and bounds from where he once was.
If either Roach or MaHa can become productive members of their teams and ascend to a higher plane at their respective positions, don't be surprised if either MVP or Kongdoo make the top five in the upcoming spring split.
Jin Air Green Wings
What a weird lineup Jin Air is rolling out for 2017. While I like the signings of former Freec players Jeon "Ikssu" Ik-soo and No "SnowFlower" Hoei-jong, the team arguably lost its best and most consistent player, Park "Winged" Tae-jin, to CJ Entus of all teams, a club not even in the major South Korean league anymore. Lee "Kuzan" Seong-hyeok can be a top three mid laner in the league, but like the rest of Jin Air, it's a lot of what-ifs and not a lot of straight answers. The team will need to rely on rookies Um "Umti" Sung-hyeon and Park "Teddy" Jin-seong to shine if Jin Air wants any chance of making the postseason in the spring.
Bbq OLIVERS (ESC EVER)
The team lost two if its core players in Lee "LokeN" Dong-wook (off to the QG Reapers in China) and Kim "KeY" Han-gi (more on him later) and replaced them with unproven talents Jang "Ghost" Yong-jun, formerly of CJ Entus, and promoted substitute Eun "Totoro" Jong-seop. Ghost, like Bdd, had a lot of talk around him as an amateur, but none of that came to fruition on CJ Entus. Hopefully a new start could be the right environment to get him going, but as it looks like now, EVER will be one of the favorites for relegation.
This isn't fair, I'm sorry. This isn't an F on the ROX Tigers as an organization. It's just the truth of the matter. The team had one of the best teams to ever play the game of League of Legends last year, lost everyone (including the coaching staff) and replaced them with a lot of leftover pieces in the South Korean shuffle. Park "Shy" Sang-myeon, one of the greatest top laners of all-time, is hoping to have one last gasp of success on a rebuilding Tigers squad. Mickey, the former Afreeca Freecs mid laner, hopes that his success against Faker on Afreeca can transfer over to the Tigers so it can finally upend SKT T1. All in all, this team isn't awful, and it might just be like the original Tigers squad that was projected to be a mid-table team but took the world by storm right from the beginning.
Yet, if we're grading from last year to now, you can't give the Tigers anything but one of the lowest grades possible. If this was the NBA or the NFL, this would be the equivalent of losing all your top players to free agency and then going into a full rebuild, hoping to land the top pick in the draft. Sadly, there are no drafts in the LCK, and the ROX Tigers are significantly worse at every position, besides maybe the mid position. It's similar to Samsung in 2015 when it rebuilt with rookies and leftover players after winning the Summoner's Cup in 2014, and it took them two years to return to the top. For ROX, it might need to have the same mindset: know that spring is probably going to hurt, but hope the summer weather brings a better result.