Zac Cameron, December 13, 2016

Can the New-Look KT Rolster win Worlds 2017?

What does it take to build a championship team? Ask three different players and you'd likely get three different answers. Great players is a given. Great support staff shouldn't be taken for granted either. But the answer you'll probably hear more than any is simple: Korean players. That might sound like a joke, but for many teams, getting new imports from Korea sure does seem like a quick and easy solution to what is an incredibly difficult problem.

Almost every team that has competed at Worlds since SK Telecom T1 won back in 2013 has dallied with the idea of an import, from the acquisition of Lustboy for TSM, to the great Korean exodus of 2014, which saw the entire winning roster of Samsung White breaking up and joining different teams in the Chinese LPL. But despite throwing money around trying to secure victory, other regions haven't been able to keep up with LCK teams, who have kept producing results that are unmatched by their international competition.

Some of the players who have left Korea to sign onto a rich team in China or the West may be happy with their lot, of course, but as it becomes increasingly clear that a team with a top Korean player is not as good as a team with lots of top Korean players, the exodus has slowed, and some of those famed exports are starting to return home. Heading into the 2017 season, with Korea having claimed four consecutive world championships and SK Telecom T1 dominantly claiming three of them, the return of key players is making the LCK look tougher and more exciting than ever. And perhaps nowhere is this more evident than in the new-look KT Rolster.

PawN, Deft and Mata from KT Rolster

KT Rolster has come out a major winner in the offseason, hanging onto jungler Score and signing top-laner Smeb after the dissolution of former Worlds finalists ROX Tigers' impressive roster. But the most exciting part of the new KT is the host of prodigal sons returning from the LPL, with PawN, Deft, and Mata all joining the team. Mid-laner PawN and support Mata both hail from former world champion team Samsung White, of course, and Deft was starting ADC for their sister team Samsung Blue. With this roster, KT Rolster is looking to make a statement over the course of the next year, and it's such a strong line-up that they can surely only have one thing in mind: victory in the World Championship.

So what will it take for this new KT Rolster squad to claim victory? Well, for starters they'll need to prepare to face incredibly stiff competition from reigning world champs SKT T1, who have also made some roster swaps in the offseason. Will SKT struggle to assimilate their new players? New jungler Peanut, while extremely talented, has a very different playstyle to former SKT jungler Bengi, and Blank, with whom he will compete for a starting position, preferring to meet the enemy jungler in the jungle itself, rather than waiting for his counterpart to make a move and countering. Meanwhile, new top-laner Huni already has a lot of attention from his perceived weakness in certain high-stress situations. (SKT also signed Profit as backup for Huni).

Whether or not SKT can whip their two new recruits into shape remains to be seen, but the real struggle for KT will come from the battle-hardened bot lane of Bang and Wolf, a duo that has made quite the name for themselves as competent team members who are more than capable of carrying the game when the situation calls for it. Deft and Mata will need to spend the rest of the offseason building that kind of otherworldly chemistry that only comes from playing together for countless games, and allows players to get inside the head of their lane partner and instinctively know what move they will make before they make it.

All of this, however, pales in comparison to the battle that mid-laner PawN will face when he goes to bat against Faker. It's no real insult to say that while many regions have excellent players, none can really hold a candle to Faker. When other players openly state that they don't mind losing because they had the opportunity to kill Faker even once in a game, you know you've got something special on your hands. It remains to be seen which PawN joins KT - the newer, more passive mid-laner from the LPL, or the flashier mid-laner of the LCK, who gained the nickname "The God Slayer" because of his ability to kill Faker in their matches.

Elsewhere, don't think for a second that Samsung Galaxy will be willing to let the LCK become a two-horse race. After their incredible showing at the 2016 World Championships and managing to maintain their entire roster, Samsung will be looking to capitalize on their growing synergy, giving them a boost that other teams will be lacking at the start of the year. Samsung may be a sore spot for KT after beating them in the regional qualifier and taking their place at the 2016 World Championship. Samsung like to play a fairly aggressive early game, getting first blood and first towers, so KT will need to work together as a unit to counteract the team movement that enabled Samsung to fight their way to the finals of worlds.

Ultimately, this is a rare moment for Korean League of Legends teamsa chance for the older veterans to come back into the fold and prove they still have what it takes to compete at the highest level. If KT Rolster can fight through an extremely tough LCK, it may provide a fourth answer to that lingering question of what does it take to grow a championship team: strong competition. Can KT Rolster win Worlds 2017? Probably only if they can overcome the other Korean teams.

Zac Cameron

Zac is a university student from Australia who loves nothing more than curling up with a blanket on a cold day and watching League of Legends streams. His second passion is trying to slip LoL characters past his ever patient D&D group.