Having dominated the last five League of Legends World Championships, Korean teams were once again expected to shine brightly at this year’s tournament.
After all, the omens looked good. No non-Korean team had reached the final since Star Horn Royal Club from China’s LPL in 2014. Every final since pitted two of the LCK’s premier teams against each other. Remarkably, SK Telecom T1 appeared in every final since 2014.
Furthermore, with this year’s event heading back to Korea for the first time since 2014, having home advantage seemed to be an assist.
The favorites gone south
Yet the signs that the LCK were not as all-conquering as before were there pretty much from the start of the Spring Split this year.
The biggest shock has been the demise of SK Telecom T1, the undeniable kings of LoL Worlds over recent years and the only three-time winners. Despite having the world’s best player, Faker, SK Telecom T1 performed poorly in the Spring Split and then bombed in the Summer Split. They didn’t even earn one of the three qualifying places available for LCK teams in this year’s Worlds.
Last year’s champions, Samsung Galaxy, have undergone two name changes since that win and are now the Gen.G roster. They were expected, along with the other Korean qualifiers, Afreeca Freecs and KT Rolster, to be among the real favourites to win the title this summer.
Afreeca Freecs barely progress
In Group A, Afreeca Freecs were expected to be the dominant side drawn into a group that looked benign alongside G2 Esports, Flash Wolves, and Phong Vu Buffalo.
However, in their opening game, Afreeca Freecs were easily beaten by G2 Esports. A day later, their awful start continued with another defeat to Flash Wolves, putting the Korean team in real danger of not making it out of the group stage.
To be fair to the team, they then earned a win over Phong Vu Buffalo, which seemed to steady the ship. An important win over Flash Wolves followed, and the team then once again defeated Phong Vu Buffalo to go into their final game in the group with a 3-2 record, tied with G2 Esports and Flash Wolves.
Afreeca Freecs knew they had to win against G2 Esports to progress. They duly won their contest to claim top spot in the group. While Afreeca Freecs’ performances in the group stage may have been up and down, they did at least qualify as group winners.
Gen.G eliminated in shocking style
Gen.G were expected to be the dominant team once again in Group B. This, however, was a tougher group. Top Chinese team Royal Never Give Up, plus two teams from the EU and North America, Team Vitality and Cloud9, made it a tight affair.
After their six initial group games, Gen.G were bottom of the table, landing just one victory. In the end, Royal Never Give Up and Cloud9 took the two qualifying spots, with the Chinese team winning the tiebreaker. This was a stunning fall from grace for the former champions. There will no doubt be an inquest into why the team fluffed its lines so dramatically, especially in a World Championship on home soil.
KT Rolster defend LCK honour
Of the three Korean teams representing the LCK in the tournament, only KT Rolster can claim to have performed as Korean teams tend to. Currently, the team sits top of Group C with three wins from their three games so far, amassing victories over Team Liquid, MAD Team, and EDward Gaming.
While there are no Korean teams in Group D, there is one potential winner of the tournament emerging. Invictus Gaming, another of the three-strong Chinese LPL teams, has produced the strongest displays yet in the tournament. Their wins over Fnatic, G-Rex, and 100 Thieves have put them in pole position in Group D. They are now many people’s new favourites to win the World Championship outright this year.
It is a pleasant surprise to see a World Championship, particularly one being held in South Korea, not being utterly dominated by Korean teams. However, whether this is because of a temporary drop in form is questionable. The fact of the matter is with more top-level tournaments improving opposition, the rest of the world may finally be catching up.