The LoL Championship Korea playoffs began last night with the Afreeca Freecs winning in a surprising 2-1 over T1.
The Freecs winning is somewhat of an upset, given that they’ve struggled throughout the summer regular season to beat teams above them in the standings, despite handily beating weaker teams. In Game 3, the Freecs subbed in veteran jungler Lee “Spirit” Da-yoon, who helped Afreeca mid laner Song “Fly” Yong-jun grab First Blood against legacy T1 mid laner Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok.
Mid lane has been the center of discussion for T1 going into this playoff series. The team has spent most of summer starting 17 year-old rookie Lee “Clozer” Ju-hyeon since his July 27 birthday. In his first series against KT Rolster, Clozer established himself as an up-and-coming LCK mid lane talent with strong performances on Akali and Zoe.
For most of the season, T1 has focused on giving Clozer strong carries like the aforementioned Zoe and Akali along with Syndra and Sylas. Clozer started all series for T1 outside of being swapped out for Faker in Game 2 against DragonX. The draft differences between what T1 have drafted for Faker and Clozer respectively is both striking and points to giving a lot more leeway to Clozer presumably due to his comparative lack of experience.
In their series against the Freecs, T1 initially started with Clozer, who lost on Zoe before Faker came in for Game 2, wowing audiences and the Freecs themselves with a fantastic Twisted Fate performance. The Game 3 draft for T1 is an interesting choice, not only in a vacuum but for T1 specifically. T1 was presumably relying on top laner Kim “Canna” Chang-dong and his Renekton to help carry T1 over the early game into a mid and late game where Faker could control teamfight initiation on Sett and Moon “Cuzz” Woo-chan could do damage on Karthus – their last pick in the draft and one that Cuzz has previously been successful on. The Karthus pick also made itemization difficult for Afreeca and provided that T1 could get Cuzz farmed up, was a strong choice for T1.
Unlike Clozer, Faker has been relied upon to control the game in a different way on picks like Galio and Sett rather than being given more standard damage carries. He’s also soaked up a lot of mid lane bans – in Game 3 against Afreeca, Azir, Twisted Fate, Orianna, and Akali were all banned. This isn’t a bad strategy due to Faker’s vast experience, but also puts a significantly larger burden on Faker than Clozer that should be recognized when considering T1’s games. This Game 3 draft fell in line with what T1 have been doing with Faker recently.
Afreeca countered this well, relying on their star top laner Kim “Kiin” Gi-in to play Kalista and flexing it to the top lane to stop Canna’s Renekton – one of T1’s important early focal points. Cuzz’s inefficient initial pathing and Faker moving up towards top side river pointed towards a possible early top side gank to help Canna, but this never came to fruition and Cuzz ended up wasting a lot of time in his early pathing that he needed to farm up as the team’s primary damage-dealer. This also led to Spirit getting ahead on Volibear and contributing to the First Blood kill onto Faker with T1’s top lane shoved in and Faker recalling.
These odd early moves, a strong Zoe game for Fly, and a few lucky moments for Afreeca – Jin “Mystic” Seong-jun’s Ezreal ultimate onto Cuzz comes to mind – led to the Freecs’ victory. Now Faker and T1 will have to go through the LCK Regional Gauntlet to qualify for this year’s world championship. Should they qualify, they will have to go through the Play-In stage as South Korea’s third seed.