In the 2017-18 League of Legends offseason, two world class junglers became free agents. GIGABYTE Marines coach Dương "Tinikun" Nguyễn Duy Thanh desperately hoped that jungler Đỗ "Levi" Duy Khánh would earn a higher salary outside Vietnam while Taiwanese jungler Hung "Karsa" Hau-Hsuan announced that he would finally be leaving the Flash Wolves. In 2018, Karsa would join Royal Never Give Up to play alongside jungler Liu "Mlxg" Shi-Yu.
The Flash Wolves were yet another unit of five dubbed a "friendship team," with the absence of Karsa meaning the roster would be going the way of the ROX Tigers, albeit with less international outcry. Karsa was the best jungler in the LoL Master Series. It was an amicable separation, but the future of the Flash Wolves was now in doubt. Karsa and mid laner Huang "Maple" Yi-Tang had been the team's standout duo for years. Now, Maple and the Flash Wolves would have to learn life after Karsa with South Korean jungler Kim "Moojin" Moo-jin.
"It's not really about having the team adapt to the jungler -- it's the other way around," support Hu "SwordArt" Shuo-Chieh said at the All-Stars event last year. "The jungler is going to have to step up and improve his personal skills to slowly adapt to the team environment."
SwordArt's sagacity -- perhaps fueled by past experience when the team failed to integrate South Korean AD carry Ha "Kramer" Jong-hun to the lineup in 2015 -- set the tone for the Flash Wolves during the 2018 LMS spring split. It was not smooth sailing between the Flash Wolves and Moojin, and the team also struggled with top laner Yu "MMD" Li-Hong, who was later benched in favor of Su "Hanabi" Chia-Hsiang. Yet as the season wound down, the Flash Wolves were once again victors of the LMS finals, this time after a 3-0 sweep of G-Rex in Macao.
The team played in a similar fashion as it had with Karsa, but this time Maple and AD carry Lu "Betty" Yu-Hung emerged as the team's primary carries. Moojin was a far more passive jungler than Karsa and relied on Maple to push out the mid lane wave to help set the Flash Wolves' vision net. Where the Flash Wolves excelled was the bottom lane, thanks to SwordArt and Betty. SwordArt's vision was not only impressive within the LMS but set an example for teams all around the world, giving the Flash Wolves consistent control of both bot lane and dragon.
Yet going into the 2018 League of Legends Mid-Season Invitational, the Flash Wolves were generally considered to be ranked last out of the five major regions: South Korea, China, Europe, North America and Taiwan. Disregarding the team's bad performance at the 2017 World Championship, the Flash Wolves still played in a similar fashion to how it always played; even with a less aggressive jungler, an inexperienced top laner in Hanabi, the team still won the top-heavy LMS.
By the end of Day 3 of the 2018 Mid-Season Invitational group stage, the Flash Wolves stood undefeated at 6-0 and became the first team to qualify for the bracket stage. After a quick tiebreaker game against Royal Never Give Up on the final day of groups, the Flash Wolves finished with a 7-4 record, a strong second-place seed, and a semifinals date with South Korea's Kingzone DragonX.
Gauging the strength of the Flash Wolves has been an impossible task for years. Taiwan lacks the money and infrastructure of other major regions (and some minor regions) and is top-heavy. Since the inception of the LMS, the Flash Wolves have attended six of seven total finals and won five of them. The team has represented the region at every Mid-Season Invitational event but the inaugural 2015 tournament and has not missed a World Championship in the same time frame.
In that same time period from 2015 to the team's current appearance at MSI in 2018, the strength of the Flash Wolves against international competition has vacillated. The team has done everything from bombing out as the last-place team in its group to topping its group. Earning the moniker of "Korean Killers" due to unlikely single-game victories, winning a Best of 5 on the international stage at a Riot-run event eluded the Flash Wolves until the team's recent 3-0 sweep of Gambit Gaming. Consistency only applied to the Flash Wolves when the team was in Taiwan. Now, consistency from a surprisingly strong group stage performance is exactly what the Flash Wolves need to truly live up to the former nickname.
The Flash Wolves have a strong matchup against Kingzone that begins with SwordArt and Betty. Through varying metas and unstable play from former Flash Wolves AD carry Hsiung "NL" Wen-An, SwordArt's bot side vision control has been a constant strength for the team that was, until recently, overshadowed by the dynamic duo of Karsa and Maple. At MSI, the Flash Wolves have shown a newfound ability to transfer these advantages elsewhere on the map -- to Maple and Moojin, or even top side with Hanabi on carry champions like Camille, Gangplank and his signature Yasuo. If the Flash Wolves garner bot side control, it has the capability to snowball to victory.
Yet the old signature of the Flash Wolves' mid game collapse after a strong early game hasn't fully left the team; although it has improved significantly, the Flash Wolves still struggle with a deficit. Against Kingzone, the team will have to be more flexible than it's ever been, bringing adaptation and adjustments over the course of a Best of 5 series, which was previously the bane of its international existence.