Fans of dominating and aggressive top laners were treated to an incredible showing this weekend. Longzhu Gaming’s Kim “Khan” Dong-ha produced an exceptional performance against SK Telecom T1 in the 2017 LCK Summer Split Final, earning himself the title of playoff MVP and carrying his team to a 3-1 victory.
A relative newcomer to the LCK, many viewers and analysts were taken by surprise over the last split, watching on in awe as Khan abused and bullied some of the best top laners in the world.
Khan’s stats simply do not reflect his relatively inexperienced status as, at the end of the 2017 Summer Split he was posting KDA, CS per minute and Kill participation numbers which were on par or above those of veteran players like Lee “CuVee” Seong-jin of Samsung Galaxy and Song “Smeb” Kyung-ho of KT Rolster.
Where did this budding superstar come from and how he is able to succeed so consistently?
— lolesports (@lolesports) August 26, 2017
Finding a Team
Khan struggled in his early career to find himself a team that could utilize his considerable talents, reflecting the contemporary state of eSports; many try, but few can actually make it to the top.
In 2013, Khan – under the IGN Hanlabong – played on Prime Optimus in the HOT6iX Champions Spring 2014. Like so many other Korean players, he left his team later that year in order to compete in the 2014 LPL Summer Summer Split on Team WE Academy. He would ride the bench for WE for most of the 2015 season.
It would be easy to say that Khan was biding his time and learning from the infamously aggressive, bloody and skirmish-oriented Chinese League of Legends scene, but it is also worth reflecting that for many players, things simply do not work out.
In Khan’s case, however, he found himself recruited by the rebranded Incredible Miracle team, Longzhu Gaming after their top laner Gu “Expession” Bon-taek, left the team in March 2017.
When this team was announced, many expected them to be relegated, placing very little faith in the ability of the team to come together with unproven rookies, like Lee “Cuzz” Woo-jin in the jungle.
Speaking to Inven Global in July, Khan said that while he was disappointed by these comments and he would continue to try to demonstrate their inaccuracy, asking fans to place faith in the team’s strong botlane, comprised of former KOO Tigers and World Championship hopefuls, Kim “PraY” Jong-in and Kang “GorillA” Beom-hyeon.
“Many fans expected LZ to be relegated when the team roster was announced.
“I was very disappointed upon seeing those reactions, especially because we have such a strong botlane.
“Before starting my career, I always thought, “A team that consists of PraY, GorillA, and I, will never have bad results.”
“I was the last one to join the team, and when I did, I couldn’t help but notice how talented all the players of LZ were.
“I knew LZ would end up being a top tier team.”
Kim “Khan” Dong-ha
— ? 허쉬 (@me__hershey) August 29, 2017
A Team Effort
Khan’s comments reveal an interesting insight into how the game is currently played. For many teams, the current meta-game demands that they remain mid-botlane centric, controlling the dragon area and using the power of well-farmed carries to close out the game.
LZ’s play throughout the last LCK Split, however, has favoured the topside of the map, with their jungler Cuzz often ganking for Khan’s lane or simply pressuring around that side of the map and leaving the experienced duo of Pray and Gorilla to win the 2v2 matchup.
Their series versus SK Telecom T1 demonstrated this well, particularly in Game 4 where LZ’s top/jungle duo was able to completely shut-down SKT’s top laner, Seung “Huni” Hoon Heo.
This is not a playstyle altogether unique to LZ but it is one that is unpopular in the current meta because of the risk. A team has to place incredible faith in their top laner and to win out in his lane matchup.
It takes a team to empower a player like Khan to shine. As Game 3 of their series against SKT showed, relentless and dominating aggression is a collective effort that requires care and attention from a jungler, safe and careful performances from the midlaner and a powerful and experienced botlane.
That game, Kang “Blank” Sun-gu of SKT showed the world how to stop Khan by pressuring out Cuzz and leaving him unable to support his toplaner’s play, leading to LZ’s only game loss of the series.
In order to facilitate Khan’s hard-carrying playstyle, LZ devote a tremendous amount of resources to Khan’s success, both on and off the rift; this includes ignoring the meta game.
LZ coach says their approach to the draft today was enabling Khan to carry games on carry tops
— Young Jae Jeon (@RallyJaffa) August 26, 2017
In a meta where teams are prioritizing putting “super tanks” like Cho’gath and Maokai in the top lane to function as beefy front-lines for increasingly powerful carries, Khan and Longzhu are comfortable picking high-damage split-pushing threats.
In their games against SKT this weekend, Khan picked Jayce, Jax and Camille; all champions that no other team would dare to draft in the current meta, for fear of having your damage-dealing top laner eclipsed in team fights by an enormous enemy tank with far more utility.
Again the team has to trust that their top laner can effectively use the lead that he gains from his team’s sacrifices and strategic choices. A split-pusher has to be able to get – or threaten – solo-kills on the enemy, in order to draw multiple people towards him so that his team can take objectives and advantages elsewhere. This will enable the team as a whole to be ahead and win out when team fights come along.
Game 1 of the series versus SK Telecom T1 saw Khan doing just this, forcing multiple enemies to have to try to stop him while his team was able to play the rest of the map.
— lolesports (@lolesports) August 26, 2017
Speaking to Inven Global after winning the finals, Khan said that, despite the fact that regions around the world are entangled in metagame that favours tanky champions:
“I’ve played well enough with Jayce so that you can even call him my signature pick.
“Since I tend to do well with aggressive champions, I thought I just needed ban out good tanky champions.”
Road to Worlds
The big question on the minds of many analysts is simply whether or not Khan will crumble on the World Championship stage?
Every eSports commentator has seen even the world’s best players fall apart because they couldn’t adapt to the changes of a given patch or because a particular meta didn’t fit their playstyle.
Teams at the forthcoming World Championship are very likely to either pick away or ban Khan’s now-signature Jayce and undefeated Jax, or else follow Blank’s example and focus their own pressure on shutting down Cuzz.
Going forward, Longzhu Gaming will be forced to either stick to their guns and look for new ways to keep Khan going or evolve into something more. Either way the team and Khan seem like genuine contenders for the 2017 World Championship.