What Happened to DWG Kia?
T1 are the champions of Korea, putting in another dominant display in the postseason to cruise to the title. T1 put in a masterclass right through the season, losing only one map in all (in the final against Gen.G) en route to the LCK’s spring crown. This level of dominance was previously displayed frequently by another LCK team and reigning Worlds runners-up, DWG Kia. What exactly happened to DWG Kia in spring?
DWG Kia have been one of the best teams in the world for a while now, as evidenced by their spectacular periods of form in the World Championships. They won the 2020 Worlds title, held in Shanghai. Next year, it looked like they were set for a repeat to that title before Edward Gaming put in an offensive show to sneak to the title. If you’re new to League of Legends, the Worlds is the most prestigious tournament in the world because it pits the best teams from all regions and leagues across the world together.
In Korea this season, DWG Kia looked a bit short of confidence and momentum. They finished third after they were beaten 3-2 by Gen.G in the qualifier to the final. DWG Kia are a team that have continuously relied on the might of their defense as their preferred modus operandi. But that didn’t work this season, at least not to their usual lofty standards of excellence. Let’s take a look at the expectations that were set ahead of the season according to coach Yang “Daeny” Dae-in and the factors that didn’t work during this split for DWG Kia.
There were significant personnel changes for DWG Kia ahead of spring. While Heo “ShowMaker” Su, currently aged 21, stayed on with the team, the franchise lost their star bot laner from last season in Jang “Ghost” Yong-jun. The change saw DWG Kia bring in Seo “deokdam” Dae-gil into the team.
New Bot Laner, Three New Players
deokdam spent the majority of his early career with Team Dynamics in Korea before getting some high-profile action for Nongshim RedForce in the LCK, where he spent just under a year. Apart from deokdam in the bot lane and ShowMaker in the mid lane, DWG Kia had jungler Kim “Canyon” Geon-bu, who chose to continue with the team after the 2021 season. These three would, therefore, form the crux of DWG Kia’s team.
“Canyon and ShowMaker are world class. I’m very thankful that they stayed in DWG KIA,” Daeny had said ahead of the 2022 season. “This means that they also thought they have a good chance with DWG Kia and me. We have the same goal: reach Worlds and win it again. That’s why we’re able to be together again. I’m thankful for that, and I’ll be working really hard as well. The difficulty level of the bot duo’s role that I require is quite high. From early game pressure to timely objective attempts. It’s positive that deokdam and Kellin are learning faster than I thought. They’re great players.”
How did these players fare in spring? DWG Kia were led in kills by deokdam, who managed returns of 4.21 kills, 1.52 deaths and 4.07 assists at a KDA of 5.44 and a creep score of 332.36. In comparison to Ghost from the summer last year, deokdam averaged close to one kill more per game, exceptional considering how little time he actually had to make an impact and learn DWG Kia’s chemistry in Summoner’s Rift.
ShowMaker, however, was not as effective as he was in the summer of 2021, which proved to be a differentiating factor for the team. In the summer split in 2021, ShowMaker actually led DWG Kia in kills with overall numbers of 3.67 kills, 1.6 deaths and 5.74 assists at a KDA of 5.87.
In spring this year, ShowMaker had a kill rate of 2.71 (almost one death lower than last year), with 1.67 deaths and 5.02 assists at a KDA of 4.64. Considering deokdam was the team’s most efficient player, DWG Kia were just not able to find compactness in the other lanes in order to sustain their most important weapon: defense.
“I want to shape the team that has the power to flip the tides of the game,” Daeny said of the style of DWG Kia’s play. “Players have different ways of winning the game; some players learn to create new patterns of winning through various steps, while others just memorize every single pattern out there. Ultimately, the team needs to become flexible in the plays they make on the spot, and win the small flips they make in a game.
“Right now, we’re confident in closing out a game when we’re ahead, so through the playoffs, I hope that the team grows to be able to win from behind. We need to become a team that needs to know how to take calculated risks and pull them off successfully before Worlds, and in order to do so, the players need to learn more about each other and hone their synergy. With three new players on our roster this year, it’s my job to accelerate that process.”
No Quick Answers In The Top Lane
Kim “Khan” Dong-ha was DWG Kia’s designated top laner in 2021, bringing with him plenty of experience after playing in both the LCK and the LPL (with FunPlus Phoenix in December of 2019). The franchise replaced Khan with 18-year-old Noh “Burdol” Tae-yoon for this LCK split. Burdol spent seven months with SK Telecom T1 in 2019 before another 11 months with the T1 Academy.
He was eventually moved to first team action with Gen.G in 2021 as a substitute before making the high-profile move to DWG Kia for this season. As Daeny expected, this move is going to take time before the franchise sees a return on their investment. A rule of thumb in this sport for a top laner is to have a K/D ratio of over 1. Burdol, over the course of 36 maps, had 2.03 kills and 2.08 deaths, equating to a K/D ratio of just under 1. Still, he had a KDA of 3.01, not too bad for a player that will need a few more splits to find his rhythm.
“I emphasized the importance of best-of series,” Daeny said. “As a pro gamer, having that experience of feeling the pressure of best-ofs is important. For those that don’t have that experience, they need more time. I need to coach them well.
“If other lanes’ tiers are about the same, the last variable is in the top lane. I made a lot of those games as well, so I need to spend a lot of time on the top lane. I think we will need some time. I evaluated Burdol’s guts highly, that he picked Irelia in one of the official games he played. And he’s a very hard worker. Another advantage is that he’s still very young.”
The Worlds Pecking Order
DWG Kia are still clearly focused on taking the fight to Worlds, and then winning that title. Based on the evidence from spring of 2022, it seems unlikely that this young DWG Kia team will be able to stay afloat with some others at Worlds this year, but these investments are almost certain to provide a steady return over time.
“Both kkOma and I agreed that we need to work to win the world championship,” Daeny said. “Reaching Worlds is first, and winning LCK is also important, but the goal I want to reach before going to Worlds next year is to make a team that’s clearly one of the best. So, I’m going to focus on helping the players improve while making a good atmosphere.
“The players are going to need some time getting used to the roles I require, and it’s my responsibility to make them learn as fast as possible. In 2020, mid and jungle had the ability to speed up the game. Especially, the jungler was able to optimize everything to do so. Now, it’s different. The jungler has to support rather than carry. Obviously, he has to be good, and to become a really good team, the side lanes have to do well.”
It would be erroneous to count out the might of this DWG Kia team, irrespective of their current roster. There is enough depth and ability in this team to make a deep run in summer as well as Worlds later. For now, though, it’s vital DWG Kia bide their time and wait for their members to make higher quality decisions under pressure, a trait that comes to players only with time and experience.