Judging rosters on paper is a fun, difficult and oft-hilarious exercise. Fortunately, League of Legends Champions Korea took it a bit easy this past offseason. The majority of teams retained most, if not all, of their players from the previous split, with a few notable exceptions here and there.
My criteria for the letter grades themselves are based more on comparing the current roster to the team's previous one rather than a reflection of where it is likely to fall in the standings.
Top: Kim "Kiin" Gi-in, Park "Summit" Woo-tae
Jungle: Lee "Spirit" Da-yoon, Lee "Mowgli" Jae-ha
Mid: Lee "KurO" Seo-haeng, Lee "Ruby" Sol-min
AD Carry: Ha "Kramer" Jong-hun, Kim "Aiming" Ha-ram
Support: Park "TusiN" Jong-ik, Son "Jelly" Ho-gyeong
Losing star top laner Jang "MaRin" Gyeong-hwan is an obvious knock against this new Freecs lineup. Summit had an inauspicious debut at the 2017 KeSPA Cup, casting a further shadow of doubt over the Freecs until it picked up former Ever8 Winners top Kiin.
Kiin is still raw, but he improved significantly in 2017 summer. There's no replacement for the pressure that MaRin creates on a map, but LCK audiences should watch for Kiin's development now that he's surrounded by veterans like KurO, Spirit and TusiN. Another interesting pickup for the Freecs is former JAG coach Lim "Ccomet" Hye-sung, who was credited by JAG's players for their own small turnaround last summer.
Last year's Freecs were creative but all too often ran out of steam after one strong game. The task for this roster is to somehow find the stability it lacked in 2017.
This grade is lower than most might expect because losing MaRin hurts badly. However, the Freecs did make smart moves in picking up Kiin and another line of rookies.
Top: Kim "Crazy" Jae-hee
Jungle: Kim "Trick" Gang-yun, Kim "bono" Gi-beom
Mid: Kang "Tempt" Myung-gu
AD Carry: Jang "Ghost" Yong-jun
Support: Lee "IgNar" Dong-geun
Both IgNar and Trick found their stride in the EU LCS and now return to South Korea to a bbq Olivers team that has flirted off and on with relegation since it was called ESC Ever. The result is a gigantic question mark of a team. What I'm most curious about is how bbq will balance its side lanes. Crazy has remained true to his nickname since he was a rookie but sometimes draws pressure, and IgNar paired with Ghost should make for an exciting bottom lane regardless of results.
Trick's steadiness in the jungle should be a boon for bbq provided that he doesn't leave his lanes in the lurch while power-farming. Trick's preferred jungle style could mean that bbq's lanes will be on their own for the first few minutes of each game, but he's definitely an upgrade from Choi "Bless" Hyeon-woong.
IgNar should bring attention and pressure to the bottom lane that Totoro didn't provide last year. Even if Trick farms in lieu of helping his lanes, he's still a step up from Bless.
Jin Air Green Wings
Top: Kim "SoHwan" Jun-yeong
Jungle: Eom "UmTi" Seong-hyeon
Mid: Yoon "Justice" Seok-joon, Lee "Grace" Chan-ju
AD Carry: Park "Teddy" Jin-seong
Support: Kwon "Wraith" Ji-min
Before the announcement of Wraith, this roster would have wallowed at the bottom of my list. Grace is a high-ranking solo queue player who alternated between good and terrible during his KeSPA Cup debut, and Justice, despite being a Longzhu Gaming substitute for a year, has yet to play in a professional match. Perhaps this isn't completely fair to Justice, given that he was on the bench behind Fly and Bdd, but his talent is unproven. On paper, neither mid seems ready to fill Kuzan's role of keeping mid lane pushed, which means that JAG's side lanes and jungle will be under more pressure this split.
UmTi isn't known for having the best decision-making in the jungle to begin with, and SoHwan doesn't usually draw enough pressure top for him to relieve other lanes. I give Wraith a lot of credit for helping Ambition learn to jungle in 2016 -- through roaming and vision placement -- so his late addition to this team is a welcome one. Paired with the talented Teddy in the bottom lane, Wraith should have his choice of roaming to help mid and jungle or staying with Teddy for a strong 2-on-2.
It's going to fall to Wraith to lead this team of young players and two rookie mid laners to hold the map together.
Top: Kim "Khan" Dong-ha, Kim "Rascal" Kwang-hee
Jungle: Han "Peanut" Wang-ho, Moon "Cuzz" Woo-chan
Mid: Gwak "Bdd" Bo-seong
AD Carry: Kim "PraY" Jong-in
Support: Kang "GorillA" Beom-hyeon
The team formerly known as Longzhu Gaming not only managed to hold on to its LCK-winning roster but added Peanut in the jungle. Acquiring Peanut shows Kingzone's awareness that Cuzz was a glaring weakness in its play last year and is also a smart pickup because of Peanut's history with bot lane stalwarts PraY and GorillA.
GorillA and PraY both said at All-Stars that they were both optimistic about the team's chances this split, especially given the group's meteoric rise through 2017 summer with its new top side of the map. Unfortunately, the team's over-reliance on playing around Khan made it an easy target for Samsung, who dismantled the team at the 2017 World Championship.
The key for Kingzone will be in either diversifying its playstyle or doubling down on it. Peanut's strengths lean more toward the latter: Bdd will continue to control mid, allowing Peanut to invade aggressively or pay attention to Khan in top while PraY and GorillA hold the bot side. It's a good look for what was already a fun team to watch and an LCK champion.
Longzhu upgraded the one position that was weak. Peanut's history with GorillA and PraY will likely allow for a seamless transition.
Top: Kim "Roach" Kang-hui
Jungle: Oh "Raise" Ji-hwan, Na "U Jun" Yoo-joon
Mid: Lee "Edge" Ho-seong
AD Carry: Seo "Ssol" Jin-sol
Support: Park "Secret" Ki-sun
In Overwatch, Kongdoo has become a bit of a household name, creating two strong APEX lineups, one of which was picked up by Cloud9 for its London Spitfire team. Unfortunately, Kongdoo has not had the same success in League of Legends. Although the organization has done more promotion and outreach with the Monster team, it hasn't had any success in the LCK and didn't make roster moves for the 2018 season. The only notable pickups are the team's two junglers, Raise and U Jun, neither of whom seem poised to turn around Kongdoo's fate. Even with talented individuals like Edge and Ssol, I don't see this Kongdoo team going far.
The plus is an admission that there's a small chance either Raise or U Jun breathe new life into a roster we've already seen before.
Top: Lee "CuVee" Seong-jin
Jungle: Kang "Ambition" Chan-yong, Kang "Haru" Min-seung
Mid: Lee "Crown" Min-ho
AD Carry: Park "Ruler" Jae-hyuk
Support: Jo "CoreJJ" Yong-in
It's difficult to say that our reigning world champions aren't in the running for the spring LCK title, but they're not shoo-ins by any means. In fact, the former Samsung Galaxy lineup joins its historic brethren Samsung White in being a South Korean team to win a World Championship without an LCK title in the same year.
KSV's roster has always been one on which the players' accomplishments and in-game performances exceed expectations and the list of names on paper. Last year, we saw CuVee blossom into one of the best top laners in the world. Ambition took a backseat to Haru in spring before leading the team to a Worlds title. Ruler went from an ADC that could be completely banned out to a standout carry. Evaluating this roster on paper now is completely different than it would have been at the start of 2017.
The only knock against KSV is the lack of a substitute mid laner. When Crown is on, he's one of the best. Yet he struggled for most of summer and even at Worlds, necessitating extra help and attention from Ambition.
It's good to see that KSV held onto the entire championship-winning lineup, but I would have liked to see a substitute mid laner to shore up Crown's inconsistency.
Top: Song "Smeb" Kyung-ho
Jungle: Go "Score" Dong-bin, Lee "Rush" Yoon-jae
Mid: Heo "PawN" Won-seok, Son "UcaL" Woo-hyeon
AD Carry: Kim "Deft" Hyuk-kyu
Support: Cho "Mata" Se-hyeong
The collapse of the KT superteam dominated headlines last year, eventually leading to Coach Lee Ji-hoon's departure. Although it might seem odd that KT didn't simply blow up this roster and call it a failed experiment, it's not necessarily a bad thing that the organization decided to stick it out for at least another split. This is still a top-two/top-three roster.
Most will focus on KT's acquisition of Rush, who has a strong international fan base thanks to his Cloud9 days. Score's performance was a bit more inconsistent toward the end of last year, but the primary worry of this team will be PawN and his inability to hold mid lane. At times last year, PawN drew pressure as expected, allowing his teammates leeway elsewhere on the map; at other times he looked lost, even out of lane. KT trainee UcaL will be eligible to play at the end of January, and his inclusion says that KT are at least aware of their mid lane problems.
This roster is the same one that faltered last year, although they do not lack for talent and were always interesting to watch. There's a bit of uncertainty regarding where Rush will fit in and PawN's mid lane performance.
Top: Kang "ADD" Geon-mo
Jungle: Kim "Beyond" Kyu-seok
Mid: An "Ian" Jun-hyeong
AD Carry: Oh "Maha" Hyun-sik, Na "Pilot" Woo-hyung
Support: Jeong "Max" Jong-bin
At the beginning of last year, I would have given this roster a higher grade, but MVP's raw talent had yet to show its collective ceiling. This year is a completely different story. At best, MVP is just barely a playoff team, bolstered by Beyond and Max with occasionally strong performances from ADD. Maha and Ian aren't the black holes on the team that many would claim, but they're not to the level of their LCK opponents.
MVP's one offseason pickup in Pilot was an odd lateral move. Pilot has issues outputting damage in teamfights due to his overly safe positioning. Maha has issues outputting damage in teamfights due to his overly aggressive or ill-timed mis-positioning. The two have different processes, but the outcome will likely be the same.
There's a slim chance that Pilot's safer positioning allows Max to roam a bit more, but that's the only hope for MVP, which appears to be a team that hit its skill cap last year.
Top: Heo "Lindarang" Man-heung
Jungle: Kim "Mightybear" Min-su, Yoon "Seonghwan" Seong-hwan
Mid: Lee "Kuzan" Seong-hyeok, Kim "Lava" Tae-hoon
AD Carry: Gwon "Sangyoon" Sang-yoon
Support: Kim "Key" Han-gi
Last year, ROX appeared a conflicted team, unable to settle on whether it should play around then-mid laner Son "Mickey" Young-min or Sangyoon. Sangyoon quietly had a career split for himself, becoming one of LCK's stronger AD carries on an indecisive squad. In this context, Kuzan is a welcome addition. A steady, controlled player, Kuzan should help out his jungler, regardless of who ROX decides to start. Unfortunately, ROX still has a fairly weak top side of the map. Unless Kuzan, Sangyoon and Key create unstoppable pressure in mid and bot, it's difficult to see Mightybear, Seonghwan or Lindarang performing much better than last year.
The Kuzan pickup was a nice surprise that could help fix some of the team's indecisiveness, although ROX still has issues topside.
SK Telecom T1
Top: Park "Untara" Ui-jin, Park "Thal" Kwon-hyuk
Jungle: Kang "Blank" Sun-gu, Park "Blossom" Beom-chan
Mid: Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok
AD Carry: Bae "Bang" Jun-sik
Support: Lee "Wolf" Jae-wan, Lee "Effort" Sang-ho
Ignoring the "Faker is angry" narrative that's sure to come up once this team starts doing well, it's difficult to give any roster with Faker on it a poor grade. That being said, SKT has made its name surrounding Faker with pieces of varying talent, including Peanut, who never really fit on the team. Jungle duties will fall to Blank until SKT can catch Blossom up to speed.
Top lane is a bit of a sore spot for SKT fans who anticipated the return of MaRin. The team's acquisition of Thal points to a similar setup with one safer player (Untara) and a more carry-oriented player (Thal) although Thal has not shown the same prowess as Heo "Huni" Seong-hoon, who is now with North American squad Echo Fox.
Another question for SKT is the bot duo of Bang and Wolf, who struggled throughout the Summer Split and the World Championship. I'm not knocking SKT for hanging on to most of its roster, much like I didn't knock KT for doing the same. Again, this is still a top- two/top-three roster from last year.
SKT's faith in its core and plug-and-play method with top and jungle of the past few years is warranted given their success.