“When we first started, our goal was to win just one game.”
ESC Ever coach Kim Ga-ram after the team’s 2015 KeSPA Cup victory
In late 2015, a South Korean challenger team captured the hearts of international fans. Equipped with peerless Bard player Kim “Key” Han-gi and a scrappy team-fighting style, ESC Ever had just failed to qualify for LoL Champions Korea when the team defeated CJ Entus to win the 2015 KeSPA Cup.
The difference between their loss to SBENU Sonicboom in the 2016 LCK Spring Promotion tournament and the 2015 KeSPA Cup, according to various members of the team, was the addition of jungler Kim “Ares” Min-kwon. Ares brought a stable voice to the team, guiding ESC Ever beyond a lineup that simply waited for the one perfect teamfight to a team that better understood drafting and basic macro play.
His arrival coincided with a sponsorship from esportsconnected (ESC) whose involvement ushered in a better environment for the team, including a gaming house and better practice space. After a shocking victory over the Qiao Gu Reapers at 2015 IEM Cologne that December, ESC Ever was bound for the 2016 IEM World Championship. There in Katowice, the team’s fairy tale clock struck midnight. ESC Ever managed an unlikely win against Team SoloMid thanks to an advantageous teamfight, but was quickly dispatched by Royal Never Give Up and TSM in the loser’s bracket.
“I realized that we were a lot more lacking than we thought,” Ares told theScore Esports at the event. “I also felt that there are a lot of great teams in the world.”
This harsh lesson continued when ESC Ever qualified for 2016 LCK Summer and discovered that there are a lot of great teams at the professional level in South Korea as well.
Now in 2018 LCK Spring, Ares can be seen behind the team in the booth every week during Champion Select as their strategic coach, a reminder of the team’s roots and the organization’s first brush with international fame. The lineup he coaches is completely different, with only one holdover from the original KeSPA Cup-winning team: top laner Kim “Crazy” Jae-hee, along with mid laner Kang “Tempt” Myung-gu, who replaced Kang “Athena” Ha-woon prior to the 2016 IEM World Championship. The name is completely different too: bbq Olivers, named after sponsor Genesis BBQ and its 100 percent extra-virgin olive oil chicken.
The BBQ sponsorship was supposed to usher in a new era for ESC Ever, whose glory days of winning KeSPA Cup and IEM Cologne were a distant speck in the team’s rearview mirror by the 2016-17 offseason. ESC Ever exacted revenge on SBENU Sonicboom to qualify for LCK a split after the team’s brief time in the international spotlight, but were quickly sent back to the promotion tournament at the end of that summer with only five total series wins.
Armed with chicken gladiator masks and free BBQ chicken for LCK audiences, bbq Olivers made a marketing splash with their new sponsor at the start of 2017 LCK Spring. Their performances still left much to be desired. The team narrowly avoided relegation that spring, with an identical 5-13 record that kept them firmly in the bottom of the standings, and found themselves relegated to the promotion series again after a 3-15 2017 LCK Summer. Although bbq Olivers qualified for 2018 LCK Spring, rumors that Genesis BBQ was planning on withdrawing from League of Legends surrounded the team in the offseason. Instead, the team kept its sponsorship and acquired two unique players from overseas: jungler Kim “Trick” Gang-yun and support Lee “IgNar” Dong-geun.
Trick and IgNar were known as early as their trainee days in South Korea. IgNar also played for Incredible Miracle and started a few games for KT Rolster and Trick played seven games while on CJ Entus, but both players made names for themselves abroad in the European League of Legends Championship Series. As the stalwart jungler of G2 Esports, Trick helped lead G2 to four consecutive EU LCS titles, two Mid-Season Invitational appearances, and two League of Legends World Championship appearances. IgNar’s time with Misfits Gaming in Europe was shorter, but his impact was widely felt in the EU LCS and at the 2017 World Championship for his slightly off-meta support picks and aggressive roaming style.
On paper, these moves were interesting. Trick’s farm-focused style could be counterbalanced by IgNar’s roaming pressure provided that AD carry Jang “Ghost” Yong-jun could hold his own in lane and mid laner Tempt could establish mid priority to aid both Trick and IgNar in their endeavors. Not only did the new bbq need IgNar and Trick to adjust to their new team, they needed Tempt to become a reliable mid lane presence.
Until this split, Tempt was mired in mediocrity. He was maligned at the start of his career as the problem with ESC Ever when the team failed to make it out of the group stage at the 2016 IEM World Championship. This label persisted through the team’s struggles in 2016 LCK Summer, despite the fact that Tempt played a near-identical role of wave-clearing and trying to establish mid priority for Athena back when he was on the team.
Later on that year, Athena attended the 2016 World Championship with IMAY, while Tempt played in the promotion tournament with ESC Ever. Although Tempt occasionally had good performances here and there throughout 2017, he was never anywhere near the conversation for best-performing mid laners in South Korea. Tempt wasn’t bad, but he wasn’t good either, and received a comparatively large amount of bbq Olivers farm after 15 minutes for their troubles.
This year, Tempt has tried his best to rewrite this history. He still receives a large amount of farm from bbq, but has paid the team back by having the fourth-highest damage percentage of all players and first of all mid laners at 32.2 percent. Tempt is also tied at tenth for overall MVP points with 500 total and, for the first time, has been on the periphery of the mid lane conversation even if he’s still not in contention for the title of best.
The stage was set. Tempt was having a relatively strong split, which is what was needed for Trick and IgNar to thrive. Bbq looked promising at first — at least a mid-tier team.
They’ve become two teams to take a series off of Kingzone DragonX which, despite KZ top laner Kim “Khan” Dong-ha’s absence in Games 2 and 3, is still a significant accomplishment, especially with a Game 1 win over Khan and company. This is where bbq Olivers were at their best, especially with Trick on Skarner and IgNar on initiators like Rakan and Thresh. Trick looked more synchronized with his laners, especially Tempt, and the standings were still open enough to imagine that bbq could trend upward, if not into a playoff position, then at the very least out of relegation danger.
Yet, the place promised by this roster — a potential playoff spot — was not reached this split. Currently, bbq Olivers sit at 5-12 with only one more series to play. The best they can do is aim for eighth place to avoid the promotion tournament, and that relies not only on their own series against Kongdoo but how MVP performs against SK Telecom T1.
It’s difficult to pin bbq Olivers’ failure on any one player. Individually, bbq have a strong enough lineup to succeed and these same individuals have had strong in-game performances this year. There are cracks in their synergy, but more disappointing is the complete lack of map awareness and neutral objective setup. The team has had countless games where they have a strong early game — IgNar is unlocked, Trick communicates well with his lanes, Tempt blows up his opponent with Zoe — only to cede all of their advantages on a poor baron setup or a disadvantageous dragon fight. For a while, bbq didn’t seem to remember that the team had side lanes past the laning phase.
Whatever roles in communication and, more importantly, map play that IgNar and Trick had on Misfits and G2 have not translated over onto this bbq Olivers team. With other LCK teams like the ROX Tigers, who have a better understanding of how they should win, even if their execution is lacking, there is no room for a team that misplays fundamentals as frequently as bbq have this split. For now, this year’s bbq Olivers are carrying on the tradition of ESC Ever in the worst way possible: an eighth/ninth place spot in the standings.