The Birth of the Korean Top Lane Era in NA
Home Grown Talent
Without a doubt, when it comes to fostering homegrown talent in North America (NA), the scarcest position seems to be none other than the Top lane. Aside from Kevin “Hauntzer” Yarnell, not much can be said about the remaining North American Top laners. You have Darshan “Darshan” Upadhyaha, from Counter Logic Gaming, who has been declining in recent splits. Next to him, you have the up and coming Samson “Lourlo” Jackson, of Team Liquid, who has shown the ability to perform at times, but hasn’t done it consistently enough just yet. An “Balls” Le, the former starting top laner for Cloud 9, once considered the best in his role, saw a steady decline before losing his starting role to Korean import Jung “Impact” Eon-yeong.
With the recent roster announcements, teams have imported some terrifying Top laners everyone will have to compete with for next split. To begin, we have Dignitas bringing in KT Rolster’s Kim “Ssumday” Chan-Ho, known to be one of the best Top laners in the world from his performances in these past two LCK seasons. He had a tremendous showing at Worlds 2015 and it appears that the money Dignitas received from the 76ers has helped them bring in their star Top laner. Than you have Echo Fox acquiring former Samsung White World Champion, Jang “Looper” Hyeong-seok. Looper is a seasoned veteran, competing at World’s last season with China’s Royal Never Give Up at an extremely high level. Cloud 9’s infamous “top die” laner we’ve all come to love, Impact, absolutely destroyed during playoffs once the meta shifted off of lane swaps and will look to continue that trend this season. He’s also a former World Champion with SK Telecom T1 in Season 3 Worlds and was a main carry for C9 during their run to Worlds last season. Immortals made sure to keep up with the other top lane imports by bringing in none other than Lee “Flame” Ho-Jong a longtime name in pro League of Legends and known for the “Flame Horizon” (being ahead of your enemy top laner by 100+ cs).
Why Top Lane?
With all these imports coming in, it amplifies the discussion of why top lane seems to be the hardest position to garner any talent within NA. Attempting to think of upcoming challenger Top laners, names like Cris, Solo, and RF Legendary come to mind. Cristian “Cris” Rosales has been a long time top laner “memed” as good enough to dominate in the challenger series but not good enough to find success on a top LCS roster. Oleksii “RF Legendary” Kuziuta had a good run with team Renegades through the Challenger series qualifying for LCS but was simply not up to par with LCS level Top laners and has bounced around multiple challenger teams since. Colin “Solo” Earnest has made appearances in team Ember, and most recently, Team Liquid Academy, but hasn’t been able to reach LCS just yet. Beyond Hauntzer, Darshan and Lourlo, no NA resident Top laners have been given a shot at a starting position on an LCS team, aside from subbing a game or two due to visa issues with imports.
So what is it about Korean Top laners that make them so much better than all other regions? In terms of champion pools, you don’t see a lot of champion picks from Korean Top laners be chosen in other regions. High mechanical Top lane champions such as Riven or Yasuo rarely get touched in some regions as opposed to Korea, where players like Smeb and Huni have shown the ability to solo carry games on them. Even Jeon “Ray” Ji-won former Apex Top laner (now C9 sub), had his signature full Attack Damage split push Jarvan he would pull out that allowed him to carry games. You just don’t see the same carry potential coming out of NA Top laners. Korean’s teleport (TP) usage has always been above par, and that has a lot to do with coaching in Korea. Korean teams have always been heralded as the kings of macro play and it helps tremendously with setting up huge plays using TP. It will be interesting to see how they adapt to playing in North America with the language barrier and possibility of inferior coaching.
We are in store for an intriguing 2017 season of the NA LCS with all these new roster changes making the region look stronger than it’s ever been. It’s safe to say fans are extremely excited to see the competition in Top lane be at an all time high with all these stars coming in. We’ll have to wait and see whether these big names can live up to the hype, or flounder under their new organizations.