Peanut enhances Longzhu's strengths, but weaknesses remain

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The things Longzhu Gaming jungler Han "Peanut" Wang-ho needs from his teammates were clear long before he signed with the League of Legends Champions Korea squad this offseason.

And like his new team, his weaknesses have been exposed for a while, too.

When Peanut was with ROX Tigers in 2016, its winning formula came from a consistent top lane threat. Pushed minion waves gave passive vision control to allow for invades from Peanut. Any trade that happened between junglers on the top side would come out ahead because top lane control always gave Song "Smeb" Kyung-ho the ability to come to Peanut's aid in a jungle skirmish before the opposing top.

When assessing whether Peanut will succeed on his new team, looking back to when he had the most success gives the best insight. Based on how Peanut functioned on ROX and SK Telecom T1, as well as Longzhu's own weaknesses, the outlook is clear: Peanut can bolster Longzhu's strengths, but he won't fix any of the flaws that cost the team a World Championship title.

On SKT, Peanut didn't have a frequent isolated winning top lane dynamic to play off. Rather, he had to more often set up for his lanes to succeed, and a communication breakdown between him and Heo "Huni" Seung-hoon often raised its head.

"The meta has changed from jungle to more lane-focused meta," Peanut told ESPN at the 2017 World Championship, "so that's the biggest difference in my playing style."

In part because of the rubber-banding impact of catchup experience, ganks had more lasting power relative to counter-jungling near the end of 2017. That made Peanut's preferred playstyle of invading and playing around the opponent jungler using pressure from his lanes less effective. His team relied upon him more to get lanes ahead and snowball, especially in the case of Huni, whose history playing with Kim "Reignover" Yeu-jin made him slightly more reliant on a jungler's presence around his lane.

Out of his element, Peanut looked for any small sign of improvement.

"Throughout the entire game," Peanut said after SKT's first game against Cloud9 at Worlds, "C9 focused on top and jungle. The fact that we didn't give out any kills to C9 shows that we and the rest of SKT have strengthened communication within the team."

However, those improvements rarely had much traction. And SKT, after making major moves to bring in both Huni and Peanut, fell to Samsung Galaxy in the World Championship final.

It's hard to fault Peanut completely for never finding his feet. SKT long functioned as a team more used to junglers providing vision around lanes and waiting to scale, not junglers who demand pressure from them to be the star.

Based on Longzhu's recent victories over Jin Air and SKT in the KeSPA Cup as well as changes to jungle experience in the new season patches, Longzhu's new jungler has reason to be optimistic. He replaces Moon "Cuzz" Woo-chan, who seemed to frequently rely on Longzhu picking strong laning matchups to keep him from getting caught with predictable or questionable pathing.

Longzhu's standard formula was to draft winning lanes for Kim "Khan" Dong-ha and Gwak "Bdd" Bo-seong, who often played champions like Galio or Taliyah with global pressure. That way, Cuzz didn't even have to handle most of the support to top side to get Khan ahead. Bdd coordinated many ganks with Cuzz. Then, Khan would snowball and side lane later in the game.

Longzhu's flaws, however, emerged when the enemy team targeted the bottom lane. As Samsung and KT Rolster (and to an extent, Immortals and GIGABYTE Marines) demonstrated at Worlds and domestically, focusing on Longzhu's bottom lane prevented the team from keeping control of mid as the game progressed. Part of the problem also arose when the team couldn't keep vision around mid lane and by Baron. Bdd candidly told ESPN the team struggled to play its same style on the World stage.

Peanut's aggressive and more efficient approach to pathing will certainly be able to help snowball the game early on with Longzhu's winning lane philosophy, but Longzhu's weaknesses remain. Peanut found openings in the first game of the KeSPA Cup final, but when KT began rotating its bottom lane more proactively, Longzhu's old flaws re-emerged.

In addition, vision control has never been a strength of Peanut's. Early in his career for ROX, casters coined the term "living ward" to characterize how Peanut relied on pushing lanes to give himself the opportunity to invade but wouldn't place vision for further opportunities later or to keep tabs on the enemy jungler. That trend stuck in 2017, when SKT didn't have the same ability to rely upon mid-game vision to come back from deficits as it has had in the past.

Longzhu's bottom lane is certainly used to the way Peanut plays. Kim "PraY" Jong-in and Kang "GorillA" Beon-hyeon probably already know that Peanut will enhance the team's existing strengths.

But don't expect Longzhu to lift the Summoner's Cup unless something else changes.