Kingzone DragonX vs Afreeca Freecs: the ROX Tigers LCK Final

This Saturday’s LCK final between Kingzone DragonX and Afreeca Freecs will see 4 out of 5 of the 2016 ROX Tigers roster take to the Rift to determine who will be crowned Korea’s 2018 Spring Champion. Let’s take a look at how their fortunes have fared since the lovable roster disbanded at the conclusion of the 2016 season. 

Smeb (Top) – KT Rolster

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After leaving ROX at the end of 2016, Smeb replaced Ssumday (now of NA’s 100 Thieves) in a new KT Rolster line-up that looked ready to take over the Korean league. This new roster saw former 2014 Samsung White World Champions Pawn (Mid) and Mata (Support) join from China’s Edward Gaming and Royal Never Give Up, while veteran ADC Deft also joined having been playing alongside Pawn on EDG.

Despite high expectations, their performance in the first split of 2017 brought mixed results. While many expected them to take the league by storm, KT only placed 3rd in the Spring 2017 regular season with a 12-6 record. This saw them enter the playoffs in round 2, however decisive 3-0 series against MVP and Samsung Galaxy earned them a place in the final against SK Telecom. A dominant SKT performance meant that KT slumped to a 3-0 defeat and failed to represent Korea at that season’s Mid-Season Invitational.

The Summer split saw an improvement in the team’s regular season performance with 14 wins to 2 losses, finding them a 2nd place finish. This gave them a shot at the LCK playoff final with a Round 3 series against SKT. They started the BO5 strongly with 2 commanding wins, in which they only gave SKT 3 kills across both games. However, after subbing Peanut for Blank ahead of game 3, SK Telecom’s fortunes changed and they went on to reverse-sweep the series.

KT Rolster still had a shot at making it to Worlds that year through the Korea Regional Finals, in which Korea’s 3rd Worlds spot is determined. However, a dismal 3-0 defeat at the hands of SSG meant that KT did not qualify for Worlds for the second consecutive year.

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KT did find success in the 2017 KeSPA Cup, beating SSG and LZ on their way to winning the tournament, however this was little consolation after failing to qualify for Worlds.

Despite an overall disappointing season, KT Rolster did not make any drastic changes ahead of Season 8, instead opting to keep their starting roster in tact. A 13-5 record found them a 3rd place regular season finish and a spot in Round 2 of the playoffs. After a promising 3-1 Telecom Wars victory over SKT, only Afreeca Freecs stood in their way ahead of a Final matchup against Kingzone. Nonetheless, KT succumbed to a 3-1 defeat at the hands of Kuro’s Yasuo and again failed to qualify for MSI, a tournament that they are yet to compete in in their history.

This ended another uninspired split for KT Rolster and means they have still not fulfilled their potential as an LCK super-team as was expected, and has meant that Smeb has been unable to match the heights reached during his ROX Tigers career.

Peanut (Jungle) – SK Telecom / Longzhu Gaming / Kingzone DragonX

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After his departure from ROX, Peanut was lucky enough to find himself a starting place on League of Legend’s biggest organisation; SK Telecom T1. After Bengi’s departure, Peanut joined a team that had just won back-to-back World Championships and nothing other than a 3rd consecutive Worlds victory would satisfy the team and their fans.

Things got off to the perfect start in the 2017 Spring Split, with SKT’s impressive form earning a 1st place, 16-2 regular season finish in which each player had the league’s highest KDA in their respective roles. The playoffs proved no different with a 3-0 victory over Telecom rival’s KT Rolster in the final, earning the chance to represent Korea in MSI 2017.

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SKT picked up right where they left off, cruising to a 8-2 group stage finish followed by a 3-0 sweep over Taiwan’s Flash Wolves to make their way to the final. They came up against EU’s G2 Esports, who themselves were in strong form having only lost 3 matches in all of their European regular season and playoff ties. Despite this, Peanut’s aggressive Lee Sin and Olaf picks saw SKT crowned MSI champions for the second season running.

The 2017 Summer Split followed, along with a dip in SK Telecom’s previously outstanding form. A 13-5 record in the regular season granted them a 4th place finish and a spot in Round 1 of the playoff gauntlet. Victories over Afreeca Freecs, Samsung Galaxy and KT Rolster confirmed a final against an impressive Longzhu who had finished 1st in the regular season. Carry performances by Longzhu’s new toplaner Khan earned them a 3-1 victory over SKT in a series that saw Peanut subbed for Blank after only the first game.

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SKT had still qualified for Worlds as a second seed, and swiftly qualified for the knockout stages with a 5-1 record in Group A (only topped by Longzhu’s 6-0 record in Group B). 3-2 victories against EU’s Misfits and China’s Royal Never Give Up set up an all-Korea final between SKT and SSG. A devastating 3-0 loss ended the season in terrible fashion, with yet another series in which Peanut was subbed mid-way after SKT had fallen behind.

The end of Worlds saw Peanut leave SKT to join ex-ROX teammates Pray and GorillA at Longzhu Gaming. This makes Peanut the only member of the 2016 ROX lineup to have moved teams again after the break-up. He competed with the team in the 2017 KeSPA Cup shortly after, where they managed to reach the final with BO3 wins over Jin Air Green Wings and SKT before finishing in 2nd place at the hands of KT Rolster in a 3-2 BO5 loss.

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The off-season saw the organisation bought and re-branded as Kingzone DragonX, however this did not lead to a change in roster as the organisation kept hold of all players. Kingzones’s impressive 16-2 record in the 2018 Spring Split has erned them a spot in the playoff final, where they will look to hoist their 2nd LCK trophy in a row.

Despite huge early success with SKT both in Korea and internationally, Peanut has also felt the heartbreak of a World’s final loss since leaving ROX. However, he looks to bounce back with his former ROX bot-lane in KZ’s upcoming final which they are heavy favourites to win.

Kuro (Mid) – Afreeca Freecs

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After his time on ROX, mid laner Kuro opted to join mid-table Afreeca Freecs, replacing Mickey who moved in the opposite direction.

After consecutive 5th place finishes in the 2016 Spring and Summer splits, Afreeca were looking to improve on this this with a new look roster that also included MaRin in the top lane, Mowgli in the jungle and a bot lane of Kramer (ADC) and TusiN (support). Things were looking up as they finished 4th in the regular season with 10 wins and 8 losses, however a 2-0 loss to MVP saw them eliminated in the first round of the playoff gauntlet.

Another 10-8 record in the Summer split earned Afreeca 5th place in the regular season, after which they were again eliminated in Round 1 of the playoffs after a 2-0 defeat; this time at the hands of SKT.

They did not see any improvement during the 2017 KeSPA cup either, where they were dumped out at the first time of asking in a 2-0 defeat to Korean Challenger’s Griffin.

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The 2018 Spring split, however, has seen a vast change in their fortunes. Following the  departure of MaRin in the top lane, he was replaced by up and comer Kiin after great performances for strugglers Ever8 Winners. Their 13-5 record granted them a place in the third round of the playoffs, which saw Kuro go up against his former teammate Smeb for KT Rolster. Despite losing the first match in the BO5 series, Afreeca found their way back into the tie with Kuro giving away no deaths in their following 2 wins. Afreeca Freecs then sealed the deal with a third victory to finish the 3-1 scoreline, with Kuro’s unexpected Yasuo pick exciting fans as they secured the win.

Kuro’s move to Afreeca Freecs could certainly have been viewed as a step down after his success with ROX, and this was somewhat confirmed with their mid-table finishes in both 2017 splits. However, their recent awakening in the 2018 season comes as a pleasant surprise to most fans, and Kuro and his team will surely hope that this a better sign of things to come.

Pray (ADC) / GorillA (support) – Longzhu Gaming / Kingzone DragonX

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Upon leaving ROX Tigers, Pray was heavily rumoured to join North America’s Team SoloMid, but he instead opted to accompany his previous bot-lane partner GorillA on LCK’s Longzhu Gaming.

The team had failed to qualify for playoffs in both 2016 splits, and their new look team, including recent additions Cuzz in the jungle and Bdd in mid lane, failed to muster a playoff spot in Spring 2017 after finishing the regular season 7th with 8 wins and 10 losses.

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The Summer split saw the addition of Khan to their top lane which brought a breath of fresh air to the squad. Their fortunes quickly changed as the team finished 1st in the regular season with a 14-4 record and gained a spot in the final of the playoff gauntlet. A comprehensive 3-1 victory booked them a place at Worlds as Korea’s number one seed.

The tournament got off to a great start for Longzhu as they steamrolled the group stage undefeated competing against EU’s Fnatic, NA’s Immortals and SEA’s GIGABYTE Marines.

They found themselves against familiar opponenet Samsung Galaxy in the quarter-finals, where their great run of form finally came to and end in a 3-0 loss to the eventual champions.

The 2017 KeSPA cup soon followed, and BO3 series wins against Jin Air Green Wings and SK Telecom saw them matched up against KT Rolster in the final. A fresh KT, who had not competed at Worlds, took the series 3-2 and this ended an overall successful year for Longzhu, one that saw them rise from being a lower tiered LCK team to being the most dominant during the 2nd half of the season. Only their elimination at Worlds could be seen as an underachievement.

After rumours of Pray and GorillA’s free agency at the end of 2017, the pair eventually stayed with the organisation (now rebranded as Kingzone DragonX) and saw ex-ROX teammate Peanut join them in the jungle on the back of his Worlds heartbreak with SKT.

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The team have since recovered their wonderful regular season form, dominating the 2018 Spring split with a 16-2 record. This has granted them a place in the final where Peanut, Pray and GorillA will face former teammate Kuro’s Afreeca Freecs.

All in all, Pray and GorillA have largely found success since leaving ROX. Kingzone’s dominant successive splits, albeit after a dissapointing Spring 2017 run, have proved their new reputation as a top team in Korea and nothing but a victory in this weekend’s final will suffice. However, they will surely look to improve their international representation, as PrayrillA are still yet to reach the heights of the Worlds Championship final as they did in 2015 with their former organisation.

The action can be seen this Saturday 14th April at 03:00 CST / 09:00 CET and will be streamed here.

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