June 16, 2021, 2:59 PM

DWG KIA's reign over the LCK is finished

DWG KIA's reign over the LCK is finished
Photo from the MSI Finals courtesy of Riot Games.
By Carver Fisher
Filed Under
It’s no secret DWG KIA had a rough performance at MSI. It’s impossible to say they had a bad performance considering they made it to Grand Finals and lost their last set 2-3, but Damwon’s untouchable status acquired through a near-flawless record in the Spring Split clearly didn’t translate to Iceland.
And then, DWG KIA didn’t come back to the same set of LCK teams they were against before.
Not much changed in the LCK roster-wise over the break after Spring Split, but clearly, these teams didn’t waste any time. T1 finally have a solidified starting roster (Faker’s on there, so they made some good choices), Nongshim Red Force and Afreeca Freecs had a 2-0 record for the first week, a new look for two teams that hovered around the bottom of the standings. Hanwha Life Esports and DRX both had a 0-2 opening, and it didn’t look like any of these sets were flukes. Some of Korea’s bottom-tier teams from Spring Split are anything but going into Summer, and nothing highlighted the difference more than DWG KIA’s sets.
Sure, we’re only in the first week of play. But T1 gave DWG KIA a hell of a time, and their 2-1 victory was hard-fought. Damwon’s set against KT, however, was a decisive 0-2 loss. KT Rolster just looked like the better team, something we almost never saw last split. What changed over the course of MSI, and how did DWG KIA go from an infallible Korean powerhouse to a team that feels very middle-of-the-road?

When all else fails, teamfight your way out

Before getting to DWG KIA’s weaknesses, it’s important to note their key strength throughout the Spring Split and MSI is still present. Teamfighting has always been DWG KIA’s strong suit, and that has held true into the Summer Split. In their set against T1, Damwon consistently found themselves at a disadvantage against T1’s fantastic laning and quick rotations. However, when it came down to crucial teamfights, Damwon’s 5v5 looked as good as ever.
In a game where T1 had a significant advantage over DWG KIA, one teamfight completely turned things around.
Khan started off the fight trying to bomb T1’s backline, but a lightning-fast Showstopper (R) from Canna’s Sett prevented Khan from dismantling T1’s carries. Khan almost died in the short window he was CCed. Almost is a very important word here.
A key Xin Zhao ultimate from Canyon separated Cuzz from the rest of T1, effectively making him useless. He also forced Teddy to flash over the wall, right into the sights of Khan.
Khan’s patient re-engage combined with BeryL’s flash knock up annihilated T1’s backline. BeryL catches a lot of flak (and for good reason), but he really knows how to find an opening in teamfights. By the end of this teamfight, Khan wound up doing over 2000 damage and BeryL managed to do over 1000. Doing that much damage on a support champion meant purely for CC is impressive, and most of it came from landing a 4-man knockup into T1’s backline.
DWG KIA clearly possess the same level of teamfight prowess that earned them a World Championship title. The problem doesn’t lie in Damwon’s teamfighting. At least, not on the surface. The glaring issue with DWG KIA is the same one that has plagued them throughout 2021.

Like fish in a BeryL

DWG KIA’s bot lane definitely have their moments. BeryL will sometimes find some key engage opportunities, and Ghost tends to be pretty consistent as an ADC. He may be put behind early on, but he’s more than capable of getting himself back into the game. The problem, however, is that games can be decided in the early game. Damwon’s bot lane is incredibly vulnerable in comparison to the other 3 team members, and it’s common for Damwon’s opposition to abuse this clear weak spot.
It’s pretty normal for Damwon’s bot lane to look like this. Every single one of these dives from DWG KIA’s opposition result in at least one member dying and no kill getting returned. And these screengrabs are only from this weekend’s games. BeryL usually overextends, takes too much damage, and leaves Ghost out to dry. Ghost then tries to get as much farm as he can despite being pressured only to get dived.
BeryL is the first player analysts blame, and he does deserve the criticism. However, it’s not like Ghost doesn’t make his own fair share of mistakes.
For instance, here’s Ghost overextending with no vision and no teammates close enough to help. In all fairness, KT Rolster’s Harp looked great in his debut set on KT. He made these aggressive bot lane plays happen, but that doesn’t change the fact that Ghost shouldn’t have been in a position to get picked in the first place.

A noticeable shift

Damwon’s other big problem may be the massive meta shifts that have come with Season 11’s wide array of massive patches. We’ve seen a lot of picks come in and out of viability, as well as some sweeping changes to what teams prioritize from role to role. ShowMaker and Khan have adapted well, and both players have shown the ability to adapt and pick whatever DWG KIA needs to win. Canyon seems to closely follow the meta, picking whatever is the “best” pick at any given time. This could be part of DWG KIA’s drafting philosophy, but that may need to change.
A typical DWG KIA team composition in the Spring Split would have been Udyr or Hecarim in the jungle with Khan on either Sion or Gnar, ShowMaker on whatever mid mage he wants, Ghost on either Kai’Sa or Tristana, and BeryL on a tank. Nowadays, most meta junglers besides Udyr and Xin (depending on the build) are pretty squishy. Khan’s been doing fantastic on carry top laners like Jayce, Akali, and Lee Sin. In fact, Khan’s Jayce is strong enough that teams tend to either ban or pick it away from Khan. However, none of these damage-heavy champs have the same sort of initiation as the weak side tanks of old.
In other words, all the pressure of frontlining and initiating fights tends to be put on BeryL. If he gets picked it’s all over. On top of that, backline divers like Akali and Xin are high priority right now, and are much more effective at killing someone like Ghost who consistently picks ADCs that are vulnerable to dives. It feels like the meta has shifted in a way that exacerbates DWG KIA’s existing weaknesses to the point where they feel significantly weaker than they did in Spring.

Rising competition

DWG KIA may have suffered from the meta shift, but other teams seem to be thriving. Whether they go along with the meta or pick to counter it, some of the LCK’s other teams seem to better grasp what they want out of the draft than DWG KIA. Granted, this could be a side effect of DWG KIA’s long and arduous run through MSI playing on an older patch. But, considering that DWG KIA are trying to make the new meta work with their old playstyle, it’s hard not to doubt that Damwon will have a smooth transition into a meta where sidelaning and skirmishing are much more common than they were before.
There are picks that can put a stop to aggression and stall for teamfights, but Damwon haven’t picked many of them. ShowMaker’s Karma was great at stalling aggression the 2 games he’s picked it this Summer, but part of that may be that it’s ShowMaker. The guy’s just that good. In T1’s single victory during their 2-1 set, we saw the first Sejuani pick in almost a year. This Sejuani pick may have won the game for T1, but not in a way that T1’s jungler, Cuzz, had much control over.
T1 at left. DWG KIA at right.
T1 at left. DWG KIA at right.
DWG KIA had an iron grip on early game fights. The rest of T1 had good enough CS and macro play to stay slightly ahead on gold, but Cuzz was behind for most of this game. Cuzz also didn’t land many crucial Glacial Prisons (R) throughout this match. As far as mechanics go, Cuzz had a pretty mediocre game.
But Cuzz was also someone Damwon had to target in order to reliably take objectives. He was a CC slinging meat shield meant to enable a team of carry champions. DWG KIA may have had the advantage early on, but T1 picking a composition with better teamfight and more reliable engage won them the game. Who needs a carry jungler when you’ve got Faker on Lee Sin and Canna on Gwen? Plus, if winning a game against DWG KIA is what a rough Sejuani game looks like for Cuzz, it makes you wonder what he might look like on this champion with a little more practice.
Beyond the T1 set, DWG KIA ran into a similar draft issue against KT Rolster in Game 2 of their set. KT had 2 heavy frontliners in Udyr and Tahm Kench, they managed to pick away both Jayce and Senna, and then drafted Akali. Akali covers backline dive while Jayce and Senna can do damage from long range. Combine that with an oppressive frontline and you get KT’s unstoppable victory in this set.
Dove had one of the best games he’s ever had in pro play. Harp’s debut on KT’s 2021 Roster makes you wonder why he’s been stuck in Academy for so long. Noah also had an incredible performance, and on one of Ghost’s best champions no less.
KT were clearly on fire this game, but it’s hard to ignore how massive the draft difference was here. Notice how DWG KIA had to scramble the moment KT engaged on them. There was no way for their team composition to stop KT’s momentum. Hirai and Acorn (KT Rolster’s coaches) should feel just as proud as these players for not only having a higher level of mechanical skill than DK in this set, but also smoking them in the draft.

Just getting started

At the end of the day, this was only the first week of LCK play. DWG KIA were bound to be a little worn out after MSI, and they have plenty of time to get their act together. But it’s hard not to think that DWG KIA are having a tough time adapting to the meta when their drafts seem so confused. It’s hard to tell whether or not they’re drafting a composition for teamfighting or one for skirmishing and sidelaning. DWG KIA don’t seem clear on who needs to be doing damage and who needs to function as DK’s hard engage, so they just end up drafting a bunch of damage and no engage. BeryL being the sole tank isn’t enough.
Ultimately, it seems like DWG KIA need to figure out how their playstyle fits into the meta. Other teams have learned to take away high-priority champions from Damwon without compromising their own drafts, and it doesn’t seem like DWG KIA know how to fight back. Damwon’s teamfight-oriented draft and play felt very tried and true. Now that the meta has shifted and teams have had time to dissect DWG KIA, they feel more tried and less true. DK need to switch things up if they want to reclaim their top spot in the LCK.

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