“The gap is closing” is a common League of Legends catchphrase. It’s so common, in fact, that it’s become a meme.
The meaning behind it is pretty straightforward: South Korea towers above everyone else, making for a distinct skill gap among the regions. Every international event creates a fragile hope that maybe—just maybe—the gap will close and another region will take down our Korean overlords.
Well, it happened at MSI
Usually, this is nothing but a pipe dream. Except at the 2018 Mid-Season Invitational, it actually came true. The LCK representatives—Kingzone DragonX—were challenged many times throughout the tournament. Even in the group stage, they dropped four out of 10 games, and two of them were against the unexpectedly powerful Flash Wolves.
However, it’s one thing to beat Koreans in Bo1 matches with a degree of variance. It’s another to contest them in a series setting. Flash Wolves learned that the hard way, as their group stage victories meant nothing in the face of Kingzone’s Bo5 prowess.
The next round
Then came RNG. The LPL champions took the fight to the enemy and scored a confident 3-1 victory against the best Korean team in the world.
In the past, such success would be unimaginable without the use of underhanded tricks and surprise tactics. If this was the case, many fans would draw parallels to another Chinese team, EDward Gaming, defeating SKT T1 at the 2015 MSI. Back then, both teams were evenly matched, but EDG clinched the series by countering Faker’s undefeated LeBlanc with a sudden mid lane Morgana. The creativity made for a good story.
But RNG turned that narrative on its head. They didn’t resort to any schemes.
In fact, it was Kingzone that tried to blindside them with picks like Vel’Koz, Irelia mid, and Illaoi top. And RNG still crushed them in a straight-up brawl. Of course, you could argue that the LCK champions underperformed. Or that the meta shifted in RNG’s favor, allowing them to target Kingzone’s inability to play with a losing bot lane.
Even so, this was the first time in three years that a Korean lineup lost a Bo5 against another region.
Why isn’t this a bigger deal?
Don’t get me wrong, RNG received a fair share of praise. Riot Games even produced the final Eyes on the MSI video to commemorate their victory.
However, the fanfare should come with such a monumental accomplishment isn’t there. The cold, harsh truth is that the West doesn’t have much to celebrate. For years, Europe and North America have been working hard to bridge the skill difference between the West and South Korea. And while RNG showcased that the feat is possible, ultimately, their victory didn’t change the fact that Western teams failed once again.
The 2018 World Championship will be a clash of titans. The LCK teams will do everything in their power to regain their international dominance, and the LPL lineups will attempt to capitalize on their previous success. But if you’re cheering for the LCS, things will be as dire as ever.
Editorial credit: Riot Games