LoL Week in Review: DAMWON KIA Still Own the LCK
The LoL Championship Series (LCS) and LoL Champions Korea (LCK) kicked off this week, joining the LoL Pro League (LPL) as the second and third major regions to begin the 2021 season. DAMWON KIA might have a new name and a new top laner, but they still proved they own the LCK against T1. Meanwhile, we saw some big import debuts in the LCS and some surprising upsets in the LPL. We take a look at the top news and storylines so far across the world.
DAMWON KIA STILL OWN THE LCK
T1 put together a strong roster in the offseason and looked the part of the top DAMWON KIA challenger in their opening win over Hanwha Life Esports. But after T1 comfortably won the first game, DAMWON won the next two to prove they still own the LCK — for now.
There were questions about whether DAMWON could maintain their place at the top without Jang “Nuguri” Ha-gwon. While it’s obviously too early to answer those, Kim “Khan” Dong-ha has seemed to fit right in. After Kim “Canna” Chang-dong’s strong performance on Renekton in game one, DK didn’t hesitate to give Khan Gangplank in game two. Khan repaid that faith by dominating, going 7/1/6 to carry DK through the early-mid game. Nuguri wasn’t a shotcaller for DAMWON, so as long as Khan can continue laning well, DK’s new lineup looks to be fine. T1’s bot lane took advantage of DK’s throughout, but DK won’t be the last to struggle with them.
Speaking of bot lane, the greatest intrigue of the match may have been what lineup T1 would use. Other than support with Ryu “Keria” Min-seok, it seems like T1 have two LCK-worthy starters in every role.
ADC Lee “Gumayusi” Min-hyeong got a second straight start for T1, perhaps indicating that he has beaten out previous building block Park “Teddy” Jin-seong. Gumayusi picked up a penta kill in game one and, along with Keria, was T1’s strongest lane throughout the series. Gumayusi’s star only seems to be rising.
In mid lane, Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok made his first appearance of the year. Lee “Clozer” Ju-hyeon got the call in the opening series against HLE, leading to early speculation that he had taken over the lead in the mid battle. However, Faker’s appearance in all three games of this tougher matchup indicates that T1 still trust Faker in the big matches. Faker was solid on his Azir in all three games, but it’s fair to say that Heo “ShowMaker” Su’s Zoe was a bigger difference maker.
T1 will get better when they settle on their go-to lineup and get more reps together. Unfortunately, that may still be awhile. Superstar top lane prospect Choi “Zeus” Woo-je turns 17 on January 31st to further complicate lineup decisions. T1 have to be ecstatic about the depth they’ve built in the organization, but they still have to prove they can use it to put out a starting lineup to beat DAMWON KIA in a full series. Until then, it’s still DK’s LCK.
LCS IMPORTS MAKE DEBUTS
While there were more than a few in total, the LCS had three major imports this offseason: support Hu “SwordArt” Shuo-Chieh to TSM, top laner Barney “Alphari” Morris to Team Liquid, and mid laner Luka “Perkz” Perković to Cloud9. None of their teams got off to a perfect start in the Lock In tournament, but each team can be happy with their investment so far.
TSM got off to the weakest start of the three, losing to 100 Thieves before barely scraping wins over bottom teams Golden Guardians and CLG. TSM looked disjointed in the opening weekend, but that can’t be a surprise for a team combining five players who have never played together.
SwordArt, though, was a bright spot. We got to see some of his roams, as well as the engages that made him such a highly sought after player. His Phase Rush Alistar was especially impressive, as he always seemed to live with a sliver of health.
Alphari probably looked the best of the three this weekend. Despite playing with a substitute jungler in Jonathan “Armao” Armao (formerly known as Grig), Alphari absolutely dominated his top lane matchups, even against 100T’s Kim “Ssumday” Chan-ho. That’s important to see, because even if the LEC is generally a more talented region, their top lane talent was lacking last year. Alphari’s 12/3/6 start to the season showed he can dominate LCS top laners as well, showing his skill on three different carries: Camille, Renekton, and Gangplank.
Perkz was the most hyped of all three imports coming in, but his early performance left the most to be desired. As exciting as it was to see him pull out Yone in his first game in NA, the execution wasn’t right. Perkz was often caught out and went 4/7/2 in C9’s first loss.
C9 bounced back to beat FlyQuest and Immortals to end the week, but there were no signature performances from Perkz. FlyQuest basically rolled over without jungler Brandon Joel “Josedeodo” Villegas available, while Perkz was hardly involved (0/1/4) in C9’s 19 kill win over IMT. Perkz didn’t really get a chance to popoff in those final two games, but C9 did pick up two wins in dominating fashion. Hopefully Perkz will get more opportunities to show his individual skill against better competition in week two.
LPL FAVORITES START SLOW
For as deep as the LPL has been in recent years, they’ve had a pretty clear top class. Last year, Top Esports and JD Gaming were the two dominant teams, both reaching the LPL Finals twice and splitting the series. Invictus Gaming and FunPlus Phoenix have been great the past three years as well, winning the 2018 and 2019 World Championships. All four teams made upgrades in the offseason, so they seemed poised to stay at the top of the league in 2021.
However, all four teams have already suffered at least one loss on the season. JDG’s loss was an 0-2 defeat to iG, while FPX lost to EDward Gaming. iG and Top Esports have both already lost two matches, putting them at only 1-2 to start the season.
JDG’s start is the least troubling of the four. They’ve been known as slow starters in the past, showing the capability to recover and thrive later in the season. Additionally, they are still trying to integrate two new pieces in Su “Xiye” Han-Wei and Jin “Mystic” Seong-jun while trying to figure out their best five starters.
FPX shouldn’t be panicking either, as their only series loss was to the undefeated EDG. Their biggest question mark is their integration of Jang “Nuguri” Ha-gwon, but he showed a 3/3/9 carry Jayce performance in their game two win that should be somewhat reassuring.
The performance of TES and iG should be more worrying. TES looked much weaker at Worlds than they did in the LPL, leading them to replace their support in the offseason. New addition Wang “Zhuo” Xu-Zhuo looks the part of a willing engager, but the followup has been far too disjointed to start the season. TES are trending the wrong direction after falling short at Worlds.
iG got off to an impressive start by beating JDG, but consecutive losses to LNG Esports and Team WE bring them to 1-2. Song “Rookie” Eui-jin was supposed to have gotten more help in the offseason, but the team looks more reliant on Rookie to carry than ever. Kang “TheShy” Seung-lok’s inconsistency is starting to look more like a trend than just a down year. His Jayce went 0/5/0 in the game three loss to Team WE.
The LoL European Championship (LEC) kicks off next week, becoming the fourth and final major region to start their year. The first game of the season will be on Friday, January 22nd between G2 Esports and MAD Lions. The most exciting game on the schedule should be Fnatic taking on Rogue for the finale on the 23rd.
North America will continue on with the Lock In tournament, finishing the group stage on Friday, January 22nd before playing the four quarterfinals matches on the 23rd and 24th. Evil Geniuses are the only undefeated team (3-0) left, while CLG (1-3) are the only team to have been eliminated.
Week two of the LCK will feature a 2020 Spring Finals rematch between T1 and Gen.G on Thursday, January 21st. Will T1 start Faker or Closer in mid lane? Meanwhile, two of the final four undefeated teams in the LPL — Team WE and LNG Esports — will close week three on the 24th.