The LCK has seen one hell of a shakeup between the Spring and Summer Splits. Gen.G and DWG KIA have found themselves at the top of the standings, but teams like Afreecas Freecs and Liiv Sandbox look revitalized and ready to go for that top spot in the LCK.
However, it’s fair to say that AF and LSB are still making a fairly large amount of mistakes. They do well when it comes to 5v5s and fighting on objectives when they’re there, but both teams have very easily exploitable weaknesses when it comes to decision-making in the very late stages of the game. This is why Gen.G, a team with refined and concise decision-making, is at the top of the standings without dropping a single set so far.
Nongshim RedForce may seem like another team that went from the bottom to the top when comparing the Spring and Summer Splits. Nongshim have always been close to greatness, but there has always been something holding them back. But, after their first 5 sets in Summer, Nongshim look like one of the most resilient teams in the LCK. They now have a clear identity as a scrappy team that isn’t afraid to make risky calls and take advantage of any opportunity they can find.
What changed between Spring and Summer to establish Nongshim RedForce as a force to be reckoned with?
We have to talk about Bay
Bay, Nongshim Red Force’s Spring Split mid laner, had a very strange playstyle. In the LCK, a league all about macro play and efficient farm, Bay seemed not to care about any of that. He would almost always be down on CS in comparison to his opposing laner, and he’d sacrifice that farm and influence in mid to put the rest of his team in a good spot.
Bay’s time would go toward making sure Peanut had more farm than the enemy jungler and almost complete control over the river. If the rest of Nongshim got ahead based on early skirmishes and objectives, then they’d win. However, if Bay’s gamble didn’t pay off, then he’d slowly bleed out due to a farm deficit and end up being a detriment to his team. This was a common occurrence considering that Bay’s KDA by the end of Spring was 2.73, the lowest KDA of any starting mid laner for the entire season.
Bay had a specific playstyle in Spring, but it felt more like an easily exploitable weakness than a strategy Nongshim should hold onto. With Bay getting swapped out for Gori in Summer, it seems like Nongshim got the upgrade they needed. Bay loved fighting, but his macro and overall farm efficiency was low. Gori seems to be a player that retains much of what made Bay a good fit for Nongshim without the downsides. He’s great with aggressive picks like Sett, Sylas, and Akali, while simultaneously being better at backline mages than Bay ever was.
It’s rare roster swaps are so universally positive, but Gori seems like the perfect fit for Nongshim RedForce.
Tooth and nail
Nongshim are a team that love to fight. It shows in their draft philosophy, it shows in their playstyle, and it’s damn fun to watch. Korea has its fair share of teamfight-oriented teams. DWG KIA, one of the best Korean teams, are known for teamfighting well no matter how much of a deficit they’re at. Nongshim look at fights in a very different way, taking as many skirmishes and picks as they can find. If an enemy is even slightly out of position, Nongshim will be there to punish. If someone on their team gets caught out, Nongshim always seem to find a way to stem the bleeding.
In this teamfight in Game 1 against T1, notice how Rich decides to all-in Keria while he’s separated from his team rather than try to turn it into a full 5v5. He knows Nocturne excels in a 1v1 situation, and he’s aware that Keria’s Sett has had a massive influence on T1’s teamfights up to this point. Having the confidence to know he wins a 1v1 and the trust in his team to win the 4v4 shows Nongshim’s strength as a unit.
Nongshim showed similar strength in their win against Gen.G in Game 2 of their set. Rather than resetting and taking things slow, Nongshim forced their way into Gen.G’s fountain and turned a small lead into a big win.
The downside of this playstyle is that Nongshim almost always end up making sacrifices to force an advantage. It also leaves deokdam open to get dived. Despite being in the conversation when it comes to the LCK’s top ADCs, deokdam’s KDA tends to be relatively low. Nongshim rarely draft compositions that are good at peeling for backline. However, deokdam still seems to show up in teamfights, even if he gets focused down early and finds himself at a massive deficit.
It’s so difficult to lock Nongshim out of the game. They have a knack for finding a way back into games, even when all hope seems lost.
The true test
Nongshim RedForce’s first 3 sets were all wins, but they were against some of the LCK’s lower-tier teams. KT Rolster, Liiv Sandbox, and DRX aren’t the sort of teams you win against and look like the best team in the LCK. In order to cement yourself as a top team, winning against Gen.G, DWG KIA, and T1 is a must. Nongshim didn’t win their set against Gen.G, but damn did they make Gen.G work for the win. It’s hard not to be happy with a 2-1 set against a team that hasn’t dropped a single set in the LCK so far.
On the other hand, Nongshim’s set against T1 was a triumphant 2-0 victory. Nongshim drafted to force the issue and be aggressive in both games; playing in a way that requires you to take the initiative is often much harder than drafting team comps that can sit back and farm until teamfights. That said, these two games were anything but short. Game 2 wasn’t too long at 36 minutes, and Nongshim had an iron grip on objectives for most of the game. Game 1, however, is a different story.
I’ve seen entire sets shorter than this game
Out of all the things I was expecting from a T1 vs. Nongshim set, one of the longest games in the history of competitive League of Legends wasn’t one of them. At an eye-watering 70:16, this hour-and-10-minute-long game ranks as the longest LCK game this year, and the 7th longest LCK game of all time. Long games are always hard to play, too. They require good game sense in situations most players don’t find themselves in very often. Every game of League of Legends is going to have teamfights and a lane phase. But when it comes to fighting at full build and making decisions based around respawn timers that are over a minute long, it’s fair to say good experience in those situations is hard to come by.
That makes it all the more impressive that Nongshim were able to grab this win. Rich wound up playing sidelane and being a general nuisance for T1, and his Nocturne looked strong in both games. But, in Game 1, Rich built like a full-on frontliner. In fact, everyone on Nongshim built in a way that made them extremely difficult to kill.
Rich has 4 tank items, Peanut has a Demonic Embrace and Morellonomicon for the HP, Gori had Zhonya’s active along with Abyssal Mask, and deokdam had Edge of Night along with Guardian Angel. These itemization choices paired with pre-rework Tahm Kench’s devour kept Nongshim’s members alive in key moments. Their ability to play around deokdam’s poke and Peanut’s incredible engage with Rumble ultimate played a huge role in this win over T1, but itemization and adaptation is a part of League that can often go underappreciated.
The most interesting thing that came from Game 1, though, is the fact everyone on Nongshim contributed equally. No player on this team got carried, and everyone played their role well. deokdam ended the game with 57k player damage, Peanut had some Rumble ultimates that won fights for the team, Rich played incredibly well as a sidelaner and diver, Gori made life awful for T1’s backline in every fight, and Kellin was there to keep his teammates alive in critical moments. This roster feels well put together, and it seems like their strength as a team can only go up from here.
On top of the world
The Summer Split is just getting started, but it’s hard not to get excited about how things have shifted. Liiv Sandbox, Fredit Brion, and Afreecas Freecs have all had a resurgence when compared to the Spring Split. Teams that were never competitive look so much cleaner than they did, and the entire League has been flipped on its head. However, out of all the teams that have been mixed up in the standings, Nongshim have the most potential to maintain their momentum. Their team just feels so… even. Every player pulls their weight, and Nongshim aren’t afraid to play aggressively against storied teams like Gen.G and T1. They know they’re one of the best teams in Korea, and they play like it.
Most of Nongshim RedForce’s players aren’t well known internationally, but this year’s Worlds may change that. Nongshim are a strong team, but a large part of their appeal is the fact that watching them play is just a great time. Good macro play is great and all, but it’s so much more fun to watch a team like Nongshim pick a whole bunch of melee champions and run headlong into the enemy team.
Gori gave the thumbs-down after consistently outplaying Faker and winning Game 2. It must have felt good to take down one of the world’s most storied players after being on Nongshim’s starting roster for mere weeks. They’re a charming group of guys, and they all seem like they’re having a great time playing together. It’s hard not to root for Nongshim RedForce, and this team has the potential to make it big on the international stage.