On top of the North American League Championship Series ladder sits one club, Cloud9, the only undefeated team left in the competition following two weeks of play. The top laner of the team that tops the ladder, Jung "Impact" Eon-yeong, is one of the main reasons why. The 2013 World Champion starter has been carrying over his dominant play from last split and the World Championships to the start of the 2017 campaign, leading all players at his position in DPM (damage per minute). Other top laners have been allocated more resources, but Impact has excelled without being the first or second priority, and is only receiving a fragment more percentage of his team's acquired gold than rookie jungler Juan "Contractz" Garcia.
"He's really good [in terms of] aggression," Impact said about his new starting jungler. "Early on, he used to throw a game once in awhile, but recently I think he's been improving a lot. I think he'll be pretty good this season, but next season he'll be pretty amazing."
Over his almost five-year career, Impact has played both in North America and his home country of South Korea. Back in 2013, after starting his career as a support, he joined SK Telecom T1's second roster as starting top laner, and by the end of the year, he would be known as a world champion.
Since coming to North America, he qualified for the World Championships in 2016 with Cloud9; the club made the quarterfinals before running out of gas and getting swept by South Korea's Samsung Galaxy. "This roster will be stronger," Impact said. The addition of Contractz - a playmaking lump of dough that coach Bok "Reapered" Han-gyu can mold to his liking - is a move to surpass that quarterfinal benchmark this season, a position C9 has finished three times in the past four years at Worlds.
"As long as we can beat TSM, we should be fine," he said, gauging the field of teams. A number of them made similar investments into their future this offseason to contend for one of the three Worlds spots from the region. "But we beat them already, so if we do meet them again in the finals, it'll be more important to beat them there. I think at the rate we're going, we're going to be pretty good."
After surmounting himself as the league's best top laner at the end of last season, a number of his peers from South Korea have joined the North American fray. Former rivals from Korea's Champions league in Lee "Flame" Ho-Jong (Immortals), Kim "Ssumday" Chan-ho (Dignitas) and Jang "Looper" Hyeong-seok (Echo Fox) have all entered the competition with the opening of the spring season. While there was discussion if any of them could budge Impact from his peak, Impact isn't ready to bend an inch.
"If you look at the matches between me and Ssumday and me and Flame, I don't think you can say they are better than me," he said. "I personally rate Looper very high. I think he's a very good laner. For me, personally, Looper definitely is who I'm looking at the most, but I don't think Echo Fox is a strong team overall, so I don't think we'll have the opportunity to meet them in the playoffs or finals. So I don't think it matters that much."
After living an entire year in the United States, Impact still doesn't see much difference between his current home and the one he left, outside of players in North America receiving a bit more freedom. Impact mentioned how players in the NA LCS were allowed to be themselves more, in terms of working out and being able to be an individual over playing within the structure of a South Korean pro team.
"Reapered is good overall. He tells us how to [control the] map, etc. KkOma is better at cultivating certain players," Impact said. "For example, if I were to rate myself 70 percent before I joined SKT, after I joined SKT I became 120 percent. He amplified me a lot."
SKT T1, three-time world champion, has won the Summoner's Cup with three different top laners. Now on their fourth journey with Impact's main rival last year, Heo "Huni" Seung-hoon, the amplification process is beginning again, the full potential of Huni brought out with the help of League's successful tactician.
For himself, Impact is looking further than individual accolades this season. Armed with a roster that has the potential to be even better than last year's, another run at the Worlds semifinals or even higher might not be out of the question for SKT T1's original world champion top laner.
"Rather than anything else, I just want to win," he said. "I don't think I'm going to care about [individual adoration] too much."