The League of Legends offseason is upon us. In the flurry of scouting and preparation, big names tend to rise to the top. This is doubly true for All-Stars and end-of-year awards, which act as lead-ins to offseason mania. While fans, analysts, players and coaches are busy dissecting the results and talent of last year, certain names slip through the cracks.
These are four players to look out for from League Champions Korea.
Gwon "Sangyoon" Sang-yun (AD carry, 2017 ROX Tigers)
A staple of the original Afreeca Freecs (formerly Anarchy) roster was AD carry Gwon "Sangyoon" Sang-yun, whose antics with laning partner No "SnowFlower" Hoi-jong helped set a playful tone for the 2016 Freecs. When it was announced that this popular duo would be split up in the 2016-17 offseason, neither Sangyoon nor SnowFlower were expected to perform well. They had a difficult enough time making the transition from streamers to professionals; and they covered for each other's laning weaknesses in 2015 and 2016. Sangyoon and SnowFlower were a duo that should never have been separated.
Sangyoon proved everyone wrong and quietly had the best performances of his career on the new Tigers lineup. In fact, it was more often Sangyoon -- not fellow former Freecs teammate Son "Mickey" Young-min -- carrying them to the occasional win. Come 2017 LCK Summer, Sangyoon was one of the strongest AD carries in the league. Even in the Tigers' losses, Sangyoon frequently had standout solo performances on Twitch, Xayah, Caitlyn and his signature Kog'Maw. His laning and teamfighting improved throughout the year and -- although KDA isn't always an accurate representation of strength -- had the fifth-highest KDA of all AD carries (4.2). Of the top five AD carry KDAs, Sangyoon was the only player not on a playoff-bound team.
He also had the highest kill participation of any AD carry, and the fifth-highest of any player, in the summer regular season (75.2 percent). If something was happening on the Tigers, it was happening around Sangyoon, not because he needed the resources, but because if he was given resources, the Tigers had a higher chance at winning. Sangyoon is hardly a new or undiscovered talent, but his growth over the past year now would make him a great addition to many LCK rosters.
Park "Teddy" Jin-seong (AD carry, 2017 Jin Air Green Wings)
For anyone who watched the 2017 Jin Air Green Wings, rookie AD carry Teddy immediately stood out as one of the most promising new players to grace the stage. Jin Air had an abysmal spring with only four series wins, yet Teddy still managed to impress viewers with the occasional outstanding performance. His laning was surprisingly strong, especially given the fact that he and SnowFlower were still adjusting to playing with each other. Of all the AD carries that spring, Teddy found himself first in experience difference at 10 minutes (105) and fourth in CS difference at 10 minutes (3.6), placing him in the company of Kim "PraY" Jong-in, Bae "Bang" Jun-sik and Kim "Deft" Hyuk-kyu. Despite Jin Air's ninth-place finish, the team fought back from relegations to a near-playoff finish in summer, with Teddy and mid laner Lee "Kuzan" Seong-hyeok taking center stage.
Although his laning statistics are fairly strong, Teddy's natural strengths lie in his exemplary teamfight positioning. Whether Jin Air was ahead or behind, Teddy weaved in and out of teamfights deftly with an innate understanding of spacing that belied his short professional career. This only improved when the team clicked, giving him a stronger frontline and more targeted crowd control as protection. With new coach Lim "Ccomet" Hye-sung and improved team coordination, Teddy became one of LCK's most promising stars.
AD carry talent is fairly strong across the board in South Korea with a few notable exceptions. Teddy could fill in this gap on a team like MVP -- who have hit their skill ceiling with their original starting five -- or another team looking to strengthen their bottom lane. Alternatively, Jin Air could keep Teddy and focus on developing their team around him and Kuzan.
Kim "Malrang" Geun-seong (Jungler, 2017 Ever8 Winners)
It's tough to be a talented jungler on a struggling team. Just ask MVP's Kim "Beyond" Kyu-seok or Ever8 Winners' Malrang. Despite a first-place finish over CJ Entus in the 2017 Challengers Korea finals, Ever8 was not a favored team to make the LCK summer split. One of the reasons it won the finals and qualified through the promotion tournament's lower bracket was Malrang.
In Ever8's first few LCK games, it was mid laner Park "Cepted" Wi-rim that stole the show as the team's up-and-coming prodigy. He momentarily picked up the "next Faker" title, but it was Malrang who formed the team's backbone with flashes of smart early pathing and mid-game playmaking.
Throughout the split, Malrang died a surprisingly few amount of times (the second-lowest percentage of his team's deaths behind KT's Go "Score" Dong-bin) and had the sixth-best KDA of any starting jungler. This was no small feat on a team that had the second-worst kill-to-death ratio (0.75) and the lowest gold deficit at 15 minutes (-1,482) in the league. More shocking is that he managed to have a middling 49.3 percent jungle control rate on a team that typically lost in about 35 minutes (with all players having negative gold differences at 10 minutes).
What Malrang lacked this year was a veteran player on the team to teach him larger macro knowledge and map awareness. It's likely that Ever8 had hoped Ha "Comeback" Seung-chan (formerly "Hachani") would help with this, but the team never looked coordinated, and certain parts of the map were simply outclassed by their LCK counterparts.
There's only so much a jungler can do with a sinking ship. Ever8 won only three series all split and were eventually relegated to the 2018 Spring Promotion Tournament. Yet, there are glimmers of hope in Malrang's play on the Rift and post-game statistics. Jungle is a tricky position, and often requires time to learn. If another LCK team is willing to give Malrang a shot, he could develop into a formidable threat.
Jeong "Max" Jeong-bin (Support, 2017 MVP)
Across three LCK splits, Max has made a name for himself as a wacky, off-beat support on a team willing to take a chance on oddball champion picks. During his tenure on MVP, he has played standard meta champions, then-off-meta picks like Blitzcrank or Zilean, and the likes of Elise, Sion and Syndra all in the support position. His flexibility and large champion pool allow MVP to try out different things on the Rift, knowing that they aren't as likely to beat top teams playing standard.
Yet Max is also intelligent and a playmaker. For three splits, he's been saddled with AD carry Oh "Maha" Hyun-sik, who frequently mispositions, loses ground in lane due to poor trades, or doesn't recognize when he can push an advantage. Despite Maha's improvement over the past year, it wasn't enough to erase the gap in performance between these two laning partners. This affected his ability to match opposing supports' roams at times, even though Max was strong both in and out of lane and able to push advantages accordingly.
MVP is a team to watch this offseason. It has had three splits with the same roster, and it's difficult to see all of the team's talent sticking with the MVP organization after plateauing this past year. As a rumored option for SKT after the 2016 summer split, it's time for Max to start over with a new laning partner, and perhaps a new team.