Along with questions of which player is going where and sweeping preseason changes, the offseason is a time of oddball tournaments with oft-surprising results.
How much stock should be put into offseason tournaments? Not much, according to KeSPA Cup history. ESC Ever (now bbq Olivers) won the 2015 KeSPA Cup when it was still a challenger team that had failed to qualify for League of Legends Champions Korea. The team made a miraculous run at IEM Cologne in 2016 but was eliminated from the IEM World Championship by Team SoloMid. When Ever did manage to make it into LCK that summer, it finished ninth with a 5-13 series record. The ROX Tigers won last year's KeSPA Cup, giving the title a bit more prestige, but its fellow finalist was Kongdoo Monster, a team that later finished last in 2017 LCK Spring and be relegated to the challenger series for a split. The members of that Tigers team went their separate ways shortly after.
This isn't to take anything away from KT Rolster's recent victory over Longzhu Gaming, but crowning KT as favorites to win the 2018 Spring split based on a KeSPA Cup title seems a bit silly at best. Still, it does offer a platform for rising South Korean talents who may have only been previously seen as names on the solo queue ladder or overshadowed by teammates while in the LCK.
Kim "Kiin" Gi-in (top lane, Ever8 Winners)
While watching Ever8 Winners throughout the 2017 LCK Summer split, eyes were immediately drawn to mid laner Park "Cepted" Wi-rim and jungler Kim "Malrang" Guen-song. Both players were highlighted as up-and-coming, as well as Ever8's best chance to win a game. Aside from a few upsets wins in Week 1 -- the team took a game off of the Afreeca Freecs and swept MVP -- Ever8's highlights were few and far between. They finished with a 3-15 series record and were the first team eliminated in the 2018 LCK Spring Promotion series.
Although those two certainly drew attention again in this KeSPA Cup, Ever8's standout performer was top laner Kiin. Flying under the radar due to his flashier teammates, Kiin also split time with Ever8's other top laner Kwon "Helper" Yeong-jae. Kiin made his LCK debut mid-split, when Ever8 was already looking well out of playoff contention, with surprisingly few deaths and middling statistics.
Throughout this KeSPA Cup, Kiin had strong performances on Gnar and Shen. Both champions allowed Kiin to showcase his teamfight prowess through targeting and positioning, enabling Cepted or AD carry Kim "Deul" Deul to clean up.
Lee "Tarzan" Seung-yong (jungle, Griffin)
Few amateur players going into this KeSPA Cup had as much interest around them as Tarzan. During his time in the KeSPA Cup, Tarzan had two solo queue accounts in the top 10 on the South Korean ladder, a feat that automatically makes teams domestic and abroad take notice. On the KeSPA Cup stage, Tarzan made a strong case for himself and was one of the main reasons why Griffin was cited as a dark horse in the tournament, a challenger team to carry on the KeSPA Cup legacy of 2015 ESC Ever.
Although Griffin lost to SK Telecom T1 2-1 in the quarterfinals, Tarzan impressed on Elise and Jarvan IV. In previous games against APK Prince and the Afreeca Freecs, Tarzan's Sejuani showed a strong understanding of zone control, crowd control, and teamfight targeting.
It's difficult to judge a jungler by solo queue and a limited amount of stage performances. Jungle is the position that changes the most from the ladder to team. Based on his KeSPA Cup games, Tarzan appears to be a player whose talents could easily transcend a high ladder rank and flourish in competitive play with guidance.
Park "Viper" Do-hyeon (AD carry, Griffin)
Like junglers, amateur AD carries and supports can be difficult to evaluate. With supports generally responsible for dictating the pace of the lane and, later in the game, providing valuable crowd control and peel during teamfights, AD carries can have certain successes attributed to them that may, on a second or third look, actually belong to the support. Viper and support Son "Lehends" Si-woo are both recent arrivals to Griffin, joining the team just in time to participate in the KeSPA Cup. As a staple in high South Korean solo queue over the past few years -- known for his Singed play and off-meta supports -- Lehends was the more known quantity of the two. Yet, it was Viper who impressed.
Griffin relied on Viper's skills to run obnoxious poke compositions around his Jhin and Viper did not disappoint. His willingness to go for early trades in lane and contest creeps set opponents off-guard. Viper's aggressive trading in lane and teamfight positioning outside of it make him one of the challenger AD carries to watch this upcoming split.
Lee "Yaharong" Chan-ju (mid lane, Jin Air Green Wings)
The absence of mid laner Lee "Kuzan" Seong-hyeok will be felt this upcoming split. Against DAMWON's Heo "ShowMaker" Su, Yaharong performed well but when faced with the unenviable task of standing up to Longzhu Gaming's Gwak "Bdd" Bo-seong, he faltered. The one game that Jin Air did take off of Longzhu was the game where Yaharong played the best, able to affect the map more on Taliyah without having to deal with Bdd's Azir. Although Yaharong may be known for his top 25 solo queue standing, his understanding of the mid lane needs a lot of work and his mechanics weren't as impressive as other standout challenger performers in the KeSPA Cup like Viper and Tarzan.
Since he is fresh off of the solo queue ladder, Yaharong will be heavily reliant on the one veteran Jin Air player, former Samsung Galaxy support Kwon "Wraith" Ji-min, who was announced after Jin Air's KeSPA Cup performances to teach him better map awareness and positioning. This makes Yaharong a player to watch in the upcoming season, although it isn't due to his inconsistent KeSPA Cup showings as much as his role as Jin Air's new mid laner.