Hey all. I imagine most of you don't watch Challengers Korea (CK), the Korean secondary league. This year has been a rather interesting one, as several familiar names have made a career comeback and last year's relegated teams entirely rebuilt their rosters. Below is a summary of the league format, the top five teams this split and what to expect out of the upcoming promotion tournament.
Before anything, I have to explain the way the league is actually structured and how the teams get relegation. There's eight teams competing in a double round robin, 10 Week split. Every match is a Bo3. The first placed team at the end of the split gets to skip playoffs and automatically qualifies for the promotion tournament. Teams 2-5 get to face off in a single elimination bracket with Bo5 series play, similar to LCS semi-finals. The winner will join the promotion tournament. Now for the teams.
Spring's number one team has been in CK since 2018. After being denied a chance to go to promotions in both Spring and Summer, ES Sharks entirely rebuilt their roster coming into 2019. You may remember this team getting beat by fellow CK team BBQ Olivers in Kespa Cup. However, before the split kicked off, midlane and support were replaced by LCK veterans Kuzan and GuGer. Kuzan has been the best midlaner and arguably the best player of the Spring Split, leading in MVP standings for most of the split and dismantling most of the inexperienced midlaners coming in this split. Toplaner Jisu has also been very dominant in his role and is the front runner for best toplaner. ES Sharks kicked off the season very dominantly, going 4-0, before dropping their match against APK Prince 1-2 and almost losing against middling team Brion Blade 2-1 as well. After this, ES Sharks would go on to win most matches (while dropping some games along the way), until managing to beat rivals APK Prince 2-1 in Week 10. This secured first place overall with an overall record of of 21-10.
APK are the Korean equivalent of that Cloud 9 Challenger team that was four veterans plus Contractz. Except it's five LCK veterans making a comeback and renewing their careers. Errsu (formerly Ikksu), KaKAO, Mickey, Fury and Secret are all seasoned LCK veterans, some of whom have spent time over seas. Unlike ES Sharks, APK started off shaky, going 3-5 in the first two weeks, even dropping their match against the struggling BBQ Olivers. After this, they would go on to beat ES Sharks and start on a 2-0 rampage against most teams in the league before finally dropping a single game to Brion Blade in Week 9. They would conclude the split with a close 1-2 loss to ES Sharks, with an overall record of 24-8. They were overall the most dominant team in the league, but did not clinch first place because their match score was lower than that of the ES Sharks. They will face BBQ Olivers in the first round of playoffs.
This is probably the one team I know the least about, as I missed most of their matches. This is one of the rosters that frequently subs players in and out during matches. Notably, the roster includes two maligned players in SoaR and Mightybear, both LCK Veterans. Midlaners reM and Ruby are rookies, while the botlane of Veritas and Minit have some experience in various teams, with Veritas having spent some time on Unicorns of Love. From what I've seen, Ruby is a pretty decent mid, while Veritas and Minit occasionally pop-off in some games. VSG as a whole started off comfortably at 4-2, losing only to Brion, but beating APK. VSG are overall a shaky team looking at standings. Despite being third, they went 1-1 with all teams, only being able to 2-0 the two worst teams in the league. Notably, they either went 2-0 or 0-2 in all matches until Week 9 where they won both matches 2-1. They end the split with an 18-12 overall game score. They will face Brion in playoffs.
Brion Blade is a team of rookies/challenger players with little in the way of recognizable names. If I had to pick out one standout name, it would be jungler Broccoli, who at one point was leading in several stats. Despite the lack of experience, they have found some form of consistency in going 1-1 with all the middling teams, beating the teams clearly worse than them, but never being able to best the top two. Brion had an uncertain start to the split, winning their first 3 matches with a 6-1 game score, but with one of the 2-0 victories coming from a forfeit match from BBQ. After this, Brion would be handed losses by APK and ES Sharks, but would continue with victories against bottom teams. This changed in the second round, as they would crucially lose rematches against BBQ and VSG, netting them an overall 19-17 game score.
Besides APK Prince, this is probably the most recognized team by Western fans, as BBQ were formerly an LCK team with an uncanny ability to take matches off top teams and having a great logo. This team received some attention in off-season, as they became the first Korean team to import non-Koreans in jungler Malice and coach LS. They would also import an NA mid (yes, really) known as Deus. Despite being listed as a midlaner, Deus would mostly sub in for toplaner HeoKong. BBQ matches were always interesting because of their draft. Lack of Annie mid aside, Malice would frequently draw Evelynn and Karthus bans, enabling some pretty unique picks such as Kled jungle, Pantheon/Taliyah bot, Neeko ADC and even Mordekaiser support. However, BBQ struggled throughout the season. They kicked off the first two weeks with a 2-5 game score, managing to beat APK, but losing to ES Sharks and forfeiting a match to Brion Blade due to health problems for some players. Things continued downward until they manged to 2-0 VSG in Week 4. Seemingly in a reverse of fortune, despite beating top teams, BBQ would lose matches to the worst teams in the league. They would go 1-1 with all teams except ES Sharks, who beat them twice (but not without dropping a game in the rematch). They finish with an overall record of 17-18.
Given the state of the bottom LCK teams, I am almost certain that Jin Air will be relegated and that APK Prince will be in LCK next split. When it comes to KT and ES Sharks, it's a tossup. Despite having BDD and Smeb, KT do not hold a definite advantage in the solo lanes as both players have struggled, especially Smeb who has recently been subbed out for Kingen. BDD has shown moments of brillance and is most often the reason KT win, but he will be facing the best midlaner in CK. Still, the experience of the players may pull through if the ES Sharks rookies prove to be a liability.
As for the actual CK Playoffs, if anyone can pull an upset, it's BBQ. They are 3-3 with APK coming into series and finished with a victory, while APK lost their last match. VSG will most certainly beat Brion and advance.
Predicting a Jin Air relegation, an APK Promotion and a tossup for the last spot between KT and ES Sharks. BBQ has some potential to upset APK in playoffs, but they will probably lose and continue to grow for CK Summer.
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