Two LCK newcomers—SANDBOX Gaming and DAMWON Gaming—meet on April 3, but only one of them will remain standing. This is the wildcard round of the LCK Playoffs 2019, so it still follows the standard Bo3 format. Yet the stakes of this three-game series are higher than ever before. Let’s break it down.
SANDBOX Gaming has definitely surpassed expectations. Despite this being their first LCK split, they took on the most competitive league in the world with confidence and aggression. Even some of the best teams in Korea couldn’t help feeling overwhelmed. Unfortunately, SANDBOX Gaming’s macro isn’t on par with their individual talent, so they’re prone to outmaneuvering in the late game.
The rising stars
Most of SANDBOX Gaming’s momentum comes from the top side of the map. Summit may be a rookie, but he routinely puts veteran top laners on the back foot with his mechanics and carry-oriented playstyle. His dominance is reinforced by OnFleek, a daring jungler who’s always looking for clutch ganks and spectacular outplays. Combine that with a solid mid laner in Dove, and it’s not exactly surprising that SANDBOX Gaming managed to break into the LCK Playoffs.
Yet they have a clear weakness in the bot lane. Ghost might be strong on lane bullies, but he looks lost whenever he finds himself on the losing end of the ADC matchup. In theory, he could still get by if he had a great support at his side, but Joker doesn’t have the mechanics or the split-second decision-making to reliably protect his lane partner.
Then, DAMWON Gaming is a different beast. They might be a new lineup, but their playstyle revolves around well-timed rotations and front-to-back teamfights. You can count on them putting their enemies to the test in the late game. However, their early game is riddled with holes, so they can lose the game without even getting to the point where they can show off their strengths.
The pressure points
The best part about DAMWON Gaming is their top/jungle setup. Nuguri is a force of nature in the top lane, and his aggressive laning and confident splitpushing made him the primary carry of DAMWON in the first half the split. What’s most surprising is that his team found great success by subbing him out for Flame. The substitute top laner is much more versatile than the starter, and his veteran game sense allows him to single-handedly take over teamfights and skirmishes.
A similar dynamic exists in the jungle. Canyon is a promising up-and-comer that built his playstyle around river skirmishes and mechanical outplays, and Punch is a seasoned veteran who excels at pathing and enabling his teammates. This would be an excellent setup if DAMWON weren’t severely lacking in other positions. Yet ShowMaker is struggling to find consistency in the mid lane. And Nuclear and Hoit are having a hard time holding their own in bot lane 2v2s. It’s these deficiencies in the carry positions that will be the tipping points of the series.
PREDICTION: SANDBOX will exploit DAMWON’s early game shortcomings to win this series 2-1.
Image credit: LCK/Riot Games