Afreeca Freecs are the ultimate underdogs. Ever since they joined the LCK at the end of 2015, they’ve been a name mentioned in passing—an above average Korean team that showed some promise, yet never made it to international events. Things took a wild turn when head coach Choi “iloveoov” Yeon-sung entered the picture.
Slowly but surely, the underdogs built themselves up into title contenders, culminating in back-to-back top-3 finishes in the 2018 LCK Spring and Summer Splits. They also made it to Worlds. Finally, Afreeca Freecs had a chance to change public perception and cement themselves as a team worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as kt Rolster, Samsung Galaxy, and SK Telecom T1.
Despite hitting a few bumps in the road in group stage, Afreeca Freecs seized the #1 playoffs seed and entered the Bo5 territory that should’ve been all-too-familiar for them. Then, inexplicably, they faltered.
Their quarterfinals series against Cloud9 is widely recognized as the turning point for North American League of Legends. For Afreeca, it was an unmitigated disaster.
Not only did they break down in the format previously considered their biggest strength, but they became the first Korean team to lose a Bo5 to a North American lineup. And while Cloud9 weren’t exactly pushovers, this isn’t the kind of record you want to be setting.
When the news came out that Afreeca were parting ways with Kuro, Kramer, and TusiN, it was easy to think of this as the beginning of Afreeca’s end. However, Afreeca aren’t going down without a fight. In fact, they went to great lengths to fill the void. Their current set of players might be their strongest roster to date.
Even though Western fans tend to think ill of Kuro for his underwhelming international showings, there’s no denying that he was Afreeca Freecs’ pillar domestically. But if someone could fill his shoes, it would be Ucal. The rookie mid laner joined KT Rolster as a substitute in the middle of 2017. A year later, he took the starter position from PawN and proved he had no problem holding his own against world-class mid laners.
One criticism frequently aimed at Ucal on KT Rolster was that he spent most of his time on scaling and utility-focused champions while his superstar teammates wreaked havoc in the side lanes. Joining Afreeca Freecs is a perfect opportunity for him to step out of KT’s shadow and cement himself as a standalone carry threat. And Ucal isn’t the type of player to let it slip.
The loss of Kramer isn’t as impactful as it could’ve been either. Granted, he played a decent amount of games for Afreeca in 2018 and even became their go-to AD carry towards the end of the year. But that wasn’t always the case.
Aiming was Afreeca’s starting AD carry for the majority of the regular season, and he even played 13 more games than Kramer in the 2018 LCK Summer Split. He’s also established himself as a more flexible and lane-dominant marksman, so even without Kramer’s stability, they’ll definitely be able to put Aiming’s skillset to good use.
The support position leaves more room for debate.
While TusiN did have his fair share of misses, he was still a top-tier playmaker that could set up his allies with one great teamfight after another. His replacements—Proud and Jelly—have their work cut out for them, as both are untested rookies with only a handful of games in secondary leagues under their belts. Still, the bot lane is probably the easiest position for new players to enter, and as long as Aiming knows what he’s doing, he should be able to guide his supports on the Rift.
Perhaps the most important pieces are the ones Afreeca retained.
In the past, Spirit was commonly regarded as a farm-heavy, carry-oriented jungler, but a player like that would never survive in the Worlds meta. The latter half of 2018 saw Spirit tweaking his playstyle to include more aggressive plays and early game skirmishes, which, combined with his wealth of competitive experience, makes him a great asset to Afreeca.
Then there’s Kiin. By all means, 2018 should’ve been his year, and—to a certain degree—it was. Kiin made a solid claim to being the best top laner in Korea, and his versatility and mechanical prowess made him the focal point of Afreeca’s game plans. It was also the year Worlds exposed the holes in Afreeca’s playstyle, and Kiin could do nothing but watch as everything fell apart around him. Now, both parties get a shot at redeeming themselves. And considering Kiin has already been performing at a ridiculously high level, it will be up to the rest of Afreeca to play up to his standard.
The best thing about this roster is how all the moving parts come together. Unlike most mechanically gifted top laners, Kiin isn’t hellbent on being the star of the show, which gives Afreeca a lot of flexibility in drafts. With that, they will be able to devote more resources to their mid lane and marksman positions while still having capable carries in the top lane and jungle positions, and a multi-threat team has always been one of the trickiest foes to face.
Finally, we’ve already hinted at how important head coach iloveoov is to this organization. His ability to push his players to new heights and manage a 10-man roster will be invaluable for this lineup. And the fact that Afreeca Freecs re-signed him means they can stay on the upward trajectory he originally put them on.
Afreeca have already had the taste of what it means to play at an international tournament. Now they have all the tools needed to get there again, and the opportunity to take a better shot with everything on the line.
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