South Korea just won its first international tournament in two years with a victory at Rift Rivals East!
LCK lineups proved dominant in the group stage, producing a combined record of 7-1 against the best League of Legends teams from the LPL, LMS, and VCS. The playoffs saw them clash with China and score a 3-1 victory in a nail-biting relay race final. Does this mean South Korea is finally back in shape? And how does this influence the global LoL esports landscape?
The resurging powerhouse
South Korea had a rough couple of years in League of Legends. After standing at the top of the LoL esports food chain for five years in a row, the region found itself struggling to stand up to China and Europe in 2018. This culminated in LCK teams not even making it past the first round of the playoffs of the 2018 World Championship and 2019 Mid-Season Invitational.
Things are likely to change, though, as South Korea scored a much-needed win at the 2019 Rift Rivals.
Granted, this event isn’t as prestigious as the MSI or Worlds. However, most Eastern teams still view it as a serious competition that gives them the chance to experience the thrill of international competition. Combine that with the fact that South Korea has an ongoing rivalry with China, and the 3-1 finals scoreline is more meaningful than it appears at first glance.
The manner in which LCK teams won is also impressive. The series kicked off with Kingzone DragonX struggling to match Invictus Gaming’s aggression only to rally behind their ace—Kim “Deft” Hyuk-kyu—and take the game with surgical teamfighting.
In the following match, SK Telecom T1 ran circles around Top Esports in the early game and sealed the deal with a number of game-changing Neeko ultimates courtesy of Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok. Surprisingly enough, the only LCK loss came off the back of the No. 1 South Korean team—Griffin—falling prey to the mid lane Pantheon of FunPlus Phoenix.
Finally, DAMWON Gaming picked up the slack and closed the series with a confident win over JD Gaming.
It’s still too early for celebration. A Rift Rivals victory doesn’t suddenly make South Korea the best region in the East. The LCK has a long way to go before it can claim to have regained its old dominance. However, this win does put a big dent into the narrative that LCK lineups are hopelessly behind their LPL counterparts. And it will be up to Korea to keep the momentum going at the 2019 World Championship and prove that the Rift Rivals victory wasn’t a fluke.