This season, the significant increase of investor money in the North American LCS has led to a dramatic increase in the number of top-tier Korean imports in the region. Backed by outside money, Team Dignitas, Team Liquid, Immortals, Phoenix1, have all followed similar recipes of importing star Korean talent and filling up the roster with supportive or up-and-coming North American natives or NA residency players. (Echo Fox has followed a somewhat similar strategy, albeit using star EU mid laner Froggen instead of a second Korean player to pair up with Looper. This recipe of 2 star Koreans + 3 natives has been seen repeatedly in the LPL over the last few years, with some even pinning this change as the main reason for the LPL's decline from the clear-cut second best region to an equal with the rest of the non-Korean pack.
The influx of Korean talent is a better fit for NA than China because NA has a much smaller player base and fewer native star players. But the performance of NA players will still be crucial. Although the Korean players on most of these teams will be the primary carries, what truly unlocks the carry capabilities of star players is a well-balanced team. This article series will examine the NA role players on newly built All-Star teams and project how they can make their new teammates show their full potential.
Although Dignitas had mediocre results during their first run in the LCS, the re-branding and merger of Apex as the new Team Dignitas comes with the most exciting roster in the organization's history. The team imported not one but two Korean stars in ssumday and Chaser. ssumday is a carry oriented top laner who has increasingly raised his ceiling and consistency since beginning first coming into prominence as a talented but streaky top laner on the kT Rolster Bullets. Chaser is an aggressive carry jungler who performed very well on Jin Air but had to split playing time with Crash on LongZhu. Both of these players have shown that they need the right kind of players around them in order to succeed, so a good fit is crucial if Dignitas wants to play well in the NA LCS.
Backing up these players are is the trio of Keane, LOD, and Xpecial. Korean-Oceanic region player Keane, who has spent the vast majority of his career playing in North America after being imported by North American organization Curse, is expected to act as a translator/guide to the region for the team's Korean duo. ESPN's Jacob Wolf reported that Dignitas was extremely interested in chasing LOD, who they believed would be a great fit for the team due to his strong teamplay and historical willingness to fit into different line-up roles. Finally, the org has rounded out their roster with legendary North American support Xpecial. Although Xpecial is no longer in his prime as a player, he remained a solid support in the NA LCS last season and occasionally was still able to throw out one of his historic carry performances.
Let's take a closer look at how Keane will fit in on the new new look Dignitas.
Keane has historically been known for his use of cheese picks. During his time on the Korean solo queue ladder, Keane was able to reach a top rank by nearly exclusively playing 4 champions - Nidalee, Orianna, Kassadin, and his signature pocket pick, Hecarim. Upon entering the North American LCS on Team Gravity, Keane's play on standard picks, aisde from Twisted Fate, was fairly uninspiring. Eventually, Keane began eschewing traditional meta champions, and playing Jarvan and Urgot to all-in the other team's mid laner and prevent him from dealing damage. At first, this strategy worked fantastically - enemy mids dealt over 6500 less damage to champions when playing against Gravity. This strategy led to his nickname as the Anti-Carry. Unfortunately, the meta eventually moved away from poke-based champions such as AP Kog and AP Ez and towards sturdier and more supportive picks. In Gravity's first-round play-off series against TSM and their first-round gauntlet series against C9, Keane's play was highly ineffective and fans began joking that he was anti-carrying his own team.
However, Season 6 saw a very below the radar revamp and improvement from Keane. Because Apex spent one split in Challenger and was put into 7th place during their inaugural summer split, most of their players flew under the radar. In fact, the main attention-receiver on Apex was top laner Ray, who used carry-oriented top picks such as Jarvan IV and Irelia. In a stark contrast to his time on Gravity, Keane was the much more meta-conforming solo laner. At the beginning of the split, Keane was able to play champions like Vladimir and Swain because they were in the meta. He has always preferred to use tankier picks and as a result he was able to find individual success to start off the season. Most impressively, he continued to diversify his game by adding in champions like Taliyah and Cassiopeia to his champion pool while building on his pre-existing proficiency with Twisted Fate and Viktor. Although Keane was not the carry for Apex, he was a very reliable secondary damage dealer whose contributions flew under the radar. He was particularly good at early game pressure either through hard pressuring the tower or roaming on Taliyah and Twisted Fate.
Based on the criteria Dignitas needs out of their mid laner, Keane was a great acquisition based on the available pool of NA/NA-qualified players. On Dignitas, Keane will be able to help communicate and coordinate with his Korean teammates from the impactful mid lane position. He also shows the kind of low economy gameplay that is needed to put ssumday and Chaser into a star position. In particular, his lane pressure and roaming will be a big benefit to his teammates, although he'll have to work on his teamfighting if Dig wants to become a top NA team. For Dig to succeed, Keane will be called upon to piece together his overall game and serve as a strong secondary or tertiary teamfighting carry behind ssumday and possibly LOD. Keane will also be able to benefit from Dig's newly imported coaching staff. Based on his improvements in the past, it's possible that Keane will continue to grow and become a much better pick-up (or really, a much better keep-on) than anybody expected.