When former Incredible Miracle and Longzhu Gaming mid laner Kim "Frozen" Tae-il joined Turkey's 1907 Fenerbahçe, many considered his career over. Instead, he helped lead the team through the 2017 League of Legends World Championship Play-Ins alongside former Gravity and Unicorns of Love jungler Kang "Move" Min-su and veteran Turkish top laner Berke "Thaldrin" Demir.
Despite 1907 Fenerbahçe's 0-6 record in the main group stage, Frozen and Move's relative success precipitated a flurry of activity in the 2017-18 offseason. Now, China and North America were no longer the two major destinations for South Korean players seeking opportunities outside of LoL Champions Korea.
The 2017 Turkish Championship League Summer split had a total of eight South Korean players. In the 2018 TCL Winter, this number ballooned to sixteen players and four coaches spread across eight teams. Some of the new arrivals, like former Ever8 Winners jungle-mid duo of Kim "Malrang" Geun-seong and Park "Cepted" Wi-rim, were rising talents. Yet most of these players, like Move last summer on 1907 Fenerbahçe, or Team AURORA's Kim "Wisdom" Tae-wan, had already played in other regions outside of South Korea with varying levels of success. SuperMassive's Lee "GBM" Chang-seok is another example of this, having been on NRG eSports, eUnited, and a brief stint on Team Vitality. On SuperMassive, he was joined by former Afreeca Freecs and Jin Air Green Wings support, No "SnowFlower" Hoi-jong.
SuperMassive razed through the 2018 TCL Winter regular season with a 26-2 record. GBM, who has been through many ups and downs in his career, became one of the best-performing mids in the region, even more than Frozen or a rising talent like Cepted. He played 16 champions this past split, including long-time favorites like Xerath and unique choices like Illaoi. Snowflower continued his aggressive streak that he showed in the LCK, especially on picks like his signature Thresh, or Morgana, and became one of the team's shotcallers. The meta, and this upcoming Mid-Season Invitational tournament, is full of teams that can successfully play around their AD carries or bot lane duos, and SuperMassive is no exception to this.
What has made SuperMassive so strong as a team isn't GBM and Snowflower specifically but the combination of GBM and Snowflower with three veterans of the Turkish scene: top laner Asım Cihat "fabFabulous" Karakaya, jungler Furkan "Stomaged" Güngör, and AD carry Berkay "Zeitnot" Aşıkuzun. Snowflower's aggressiveness has helped facilitate Zeitnot, which has allowed SuperMassive to generally rotate their duo lane to wherever they need to take turrets. Stomaged is a generally steady jungle presence -- despite not having as strong early farming statistics as some of his TCL counterparts -- but can also pull off more aggressive moves with the team, like his Level 2 bot lane gank in Game 1 of the recent TCL Finals. The only individual weak point on SuperMassive is fabFabulous, who could have a tough time once he faces better top laners, although SuperMassive admittedly give him very few team resources, especially when compared to other TCL top laners.
This SuperMassive team is now a shoo-in to top Play-In Group B (KaBuM e-Sports, Dire Wolves, PENTAGRAM), and possibly make a run at the MSI main stage.
The SuperMassive organization has been here before. It was KaBuM eSports who showed at the 2014 World Championship that, on a off day, even an unlikely minor region team can upset a major one in a single game. Yet, it was 2016 SuperMassive who, despite a 1-9 group stage record, shifted perception in how minor region teams were discussed and addressed at an international level. Yes, the entirety of their professional scenes were smaller and worse than those of the major regions, but the differences between the teams at the top were closer than previously anticipated. These were no longer teams to be written off as coming to the tournament for the fun and experience to bring back to their regions. They were there to win, just like every other team. The Commonwealth of Independent States' Albus NoX Luna at the 2016 World Championship and later, Vietnam's GIGABYTE Marines across the entirety of the 2017 competitive season only furthered the discussion.
Now, the question of the 2018 MSI Play-In isn't whether SuperMassive will make it out of groups -- if they don't, it will be a major Play-In upset -- but whether they can take out a major region team like the LoL Master Series' Flash Wolves to make it to the MSI main stage. The answer is a hard maybe, with odds still in favor of the Flash Wolves due to their international experience and strong performances from AD carry Lu "Betty" Yu-Hung and mid laner Huang "Maple" Yi-Tang.
The Flash Wolves themselves occupy an odd position at international events. For the past five LMS splits, the Flash Wolves have consistently beaten the competition, leading to the joke that the LMS isn't the Taiwan/Hong Kong/Macao region but the Flash Wolves region. Despite a jungle downgrade from Hung "Karsa" Hau-Hsuan to Kim "Moojin" Moo-jin it still ran through G-Rex in the 2018 LMS Spring Finals 3-0. Perception of the Flash Wolves vacillates wildly depending on its last international performance. Because the Flash Wolves' 2017 World Championship performance was awful, many are expecting this aggressive SuperMassive team to take them out.
In order to do that, SuperMassive will first have to make it out of their group, which should be a fairly simple task on paper, but it's still a volatile best-of-one group stage where upsets become commonplace.