The first three weeks of the LEC have flown by and title race is already beginning to take shape. G2 are currently dominating proceedings with a perfect 6-0 record but there are a few teams in hot pursuit of their top spot.
Two of those are FC Schalke 04 and Misfits who will kick off Week 4 with a blockbuster match-up which could very well decide who will be G2’s biggest challenger this split.
Misfits were tipped for the title before the season even started thanks to a busy off-season from the organisation which saw Fabian “Febiven” Diepstraten as well as legendary players Paul “sOAZ” Boyer and Kang “GorillA” Byeom-hyeon all join – forming an incredible roster already touted as a ‘superteam.’
The roster lived up to that moniker in their opening games but stumbled recently, falling to defeats at the hands of Team Vitality and Excel Esports. Schalke on the other hand, are in immense form with their only loss coming from league leaders G2. Worlds finalist coach Dylan Falco has been able to quickly turn the rebuilt Royal Blues roster into serious title contenders.
When these two clash clash it was almost undoubtedly come down to the bottom-lane. All eyes will be on carries Elias “Upset” Lipp and Steven “Hans Sama” Liv but the deciding factor will be the battle between the two Korean supports: GorillA and Lee “IgNar” Dong-geun.
While now on the same path, the two of them have had very different journeys. One is a world-renowned veteran who has come to Europe to cement his legend status while the other has returned to the region in hopes of building his own legacy.
Most imports who have made the jump to Europe have done so in order to make a name for themselves just as Heo “Huni” Seung-hoon and Kim “Trick” Gang-yun did.
That’s what makes GorillA’s situation unique. After five years of competing in South Korea and four Worlds appearances, the support has had a more lucrative career than most but like any great competitor, he wants more.
He formed one of the greatest bot-lanes to ever play the game with Kim “PraY” Jong-in – winning three LCK titles during their four years together. The duo came together during the “Korean exodus” as many of the LCK’s stars jumped ship to China. GorillA rounded up the best of the remaining talent, including PraY who had been on a break from competing, to create KOO Tigers.
The Tigers would go on to be one of the most feared teams in the world, reaching the 2015 World Championship final. However, as has been the fate of many teams, they were bested in the final by the unstoppable force that is SK Telecom T1.
Nearly a year later, GorillA was able to finally one-up SKT and earn his first LCK title along with, PraY, Song "Smeb" Kyung-ho, Lee "Kuro" Seo-haeng and Han "Peanut" Wang-ho. They had won the battle, but the war had just begun and it felt like fate when the two teams clashed in the semifinals of Worlds later that year.
That best-of-five would go down as one of the greatest series in League of Legends history as the discipline and killer instinct of SKT clashed with the explosive and creative flair of ROX. GorillA and his team pulled out all the stops, including an innovative Miss Fortune support pick, but it wasn’t enough. Faker prevailed once more and SKT would go on to become three-time World Champions.
That World Championship trophy is the missing piece Of GorillA’s illustrious career. The support came closest to lifting the Summoner’s Cup in 2015 during the Worlds final in Berlin and has returned to the German capital with the goal of finally being crowned a World Champion. Last year, Song "Rookie" Eui-jin showed that an import can turn a team into world beaters as he did with China’s Invictus Gaming and GorillA will be desperate to replicate Rookie’s success.
Years in the making
Standing in his way is fellow Korean support IgNar who has bittersweet memories of Worlds himself. After making just three appearances for KT Rolster in the LCK, IgNar took a leap of faith and moved to Europe – helping Misfits gain promotion to the EU LCS.
IgNar starred in the team’s sensational debut season, qualifying for Worlds at the first time of asking. Against all the odds, Misfits escaped a supposed group of death, finishing above TSM and Flash Wolve to set up a gigantic quarterfinal bout with SKT.
The Korean support had the performance of his life, shocking the three-time World Champions with Blitzcrank and Leona. Misfits were one game away from making history but just fell short, crashing out of the tournament. On the one hand, they had done themselves and Europe proud but all five players will always have thoughts of “What if we had won?” in the back of their minds.
While their heroics spurred on Europe, IgNar ended up returning to Korea with a chance to finally compete in the LCK in a starting position. Unfortunately, the support wasn’t able to return to his best as he and his teammates at bbq Olivers struggled throughout the year and were eventually relegated in the Summer Split.
IgNar has been very open about his love for Europe and his reluctance to leave in the first place. After a difficult year in South Korea, he has returned with a chip on his shoulder. It’s time for him to prove that he is more than a one-season wonder, that he can compete with the world’s best, that he can lead another team to Worlds.
Facing his former team in Misfits and former lane partner Hans Sama, IgNar wouldn’t have needed any extra motivation going into this week but the fact that he also has a chance to prove himself against one of the world’s best in GorillA will undoubtedly light a fire under the Schalke man.
The support has been an integral part of Schalke’s success so far this season, if the team finds an early advantage it tends to be facilitated through him – as shown by his 50 percent first blood participation and his 72.2 percent kill participation at 15 minutes – the latter being the highest of any support in the league.
GorillA has also been performing extremely well for Misfits too, sporting the highest KDA at 15 minutes (3.0), jungle proximity (21.1 percent) and first blood participation (66.7 percent) of all supports in the league, though his could be due to Misfits’ heavy focus on the early game.
With both players having so much to prove, the bot-lane fight between Misfits and Schalke promises to be explosive. IgNar and GorillA will both be dreaming of Worlds but that’s still far away. For now, this is simply the first step of a long journey in what could be a career-defining year for both of them.