The LCK is the main LoL competition in South Korea. It was founded by OnGameNet (OGN) in 2012 under the name of “The Champions” and was later rebranded as the League of Legends Champions Korea (LCK). Nowadays, the LoL LCK is a collective effort from Riot Games, KeSPA, OGN, and SPOTV Games, and it is best known for its high level of play and incredibly competitive structure.
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LCK Regular Season
Every LCK season is separated into Spring and Summer Splits, each with its own LCK standings. The regular season split takes place over the span of 9 weeks, and 10 teams compete with each other for the opportunity to reach the playoffs. The matches are conducted in a Double Round Robin format where every lineup plays two Bo3s (sets of three games) against every opponent. The first one to reach two game victories takes the match, but individual game records can also come into play during the playoffs seeding.
LCK Playoffs – Then and Now
Once the regular split comes to an end, the top 5 teams in the LCK standings move on to the LCK playoffs. The seeding process used to be quite unusual, as it put a strong emphasis on the regular season performance. For example, a team that finished the regular split in first place was seeded directly into the finals, a second-place team gota bye to the semifinals, the next team qualified for the quarterfinals, and the next had to play in a wildcard match.
This means that a team with the best regular split showing was the equivalent of a final boss that everyone else was desperately trying to challenge. And since it’s only playing the very last series of the LCK season, that team gotample opportunities to study the playstyles of other lineups while concealing its own strategies. Needless to say, this was a monumental advantage, and every team wants to go straight to the finals to have the best chance of claiming the trophy. This also has a huge impact on the LCK odds as the team winning the regular season has a huge edge over the field.
2021 brought sweeping changes to the playoffs format in order to provide LCK teams with more opportunities to advance to the finals. Instead of sending the winner of the regular season straight to the finals, the best six teams will qualify for the playoffs. The top two teams will advance straight to the semi finals, so outshining competitors during the spring and Summer Split will still be well rewarded.
The Road to the MSI and Worlds
All playoffs matches are conducted in a Bo5 series format, meaning that the first team to win three games advances to the next round of the competition. The only exception is the wildcard match that still takes the form of a Bo3. Playoffs contenders receive Championship Points that go towards qualifying for the World Championship (or Worlds). Naturally, the first-place team gets the most points, and the fifth-place team gets the least.
Additionally, the Spring Split winner is invited to the Mid-Season Invitational (MSI), a large competition that occurs between two splits. The Summer Split winner and two teams with the most Championship Points take part in the most prestigious tournament in the scene, the League of Legends World Championship. LCK betting favourites are Split winners are routinely among the favorites to lift the trophy, with Damwon Gaming as the most recent winner.
Every split counts in the LoL LCK, but most teams will try to hit the highest level of play in summer. After all, every League of Legends player dreams of going to Worlds.
Unlike with other major leagues, two teams with the worst regular split records have to fight for their LCK spots. And that means relegation. The promotion/relegation tournament pits the bottom-2 LCK teams against the top-2 CK (Challenger Korea) teams. These lineups battle each other in a competition similar to the playoffs, and if one of the LCK teams loses, it’s eliminated from the league. Meanwhile, one of the CK teams takes its plays and gets into the cross hairs of fans and pundits, usually as underdogs in the LCK betting landscape.
Relegation serves as an added incentive for teams to remain competitive throughout the entire season. After all, there’s always someone else ready to take their spot. Additionally, up-and-coming lineups can use this opportunity to qualify for the LCK and prove their worth against the best teams in the world.
LCK Champions: SKT T1 and Damwon Gaming
LCK had many different teams claim its title, but there’s one that stands out the most. SK Telecom T1. Fielding the undisputed best player in the world—Faker—SKT have enjoyed unrivaled success in the LCK, including a decisive victory during the original Champions league. And while they recently lost some ground, SKT have long since cemented their legacy as the most dominant team in the history of League of Legends. Every year, they get the first or second lowest LCK odds to win championship and they also score high in the bookmakers’ preferences to win the Worlds. After their resounding success at Worlds in 2020, Damwon Gaming have emerged as the main favorites to win the domestic league in 2021, with the lowest LCK odds at all esports books.
LCK at Worlds and MSI
When it comes to international tournaments, LCK teams used to be impossible to challenge. Since 2013, Korean teams seamlessly thwarted their international counterparts to win every single League of Legends World Championship. SKT T1, in particular, have three Worlds titles to their name and won every World Championship they attended, until Samsung Galaxy shattered their winning streak in 2017. Chinese teams ended their dominance in 2018 when Invictus Gaming won the trophy and one year later, FunPlus Phoenix doubled down on that win. Damwon Gaming fired back in 2020 to return the prize to South Korea and make LCK betting even more exciting for the upcoming season.
Things are a bit different at the Mid-Season Invitational. And while SKT T1 did score back-to-back MSI victories in 2016 and 2017, the 2015 and 2018 trophies went to the Chinese EDG and RNG respectively. In 2020 the tournament was canceled because of the global pandemic, and instead South Korean and Chinese teams competed in the Rift Rivals event. The competition was action packed but LCK betting fans are happy that the Mid-Season Invitational will return in 2021 with its original format.
Sweeping Changes to the LCK in 2021
The League of Legends Champions Korea will dish out larger amounts in 2021, as the prize pool increased a lot. Winners and runners-up will collect twice as much money this year as Secret Lab and HP Omen have joined the list of sponsors. The minimum salaries for coaches and players were also increased and this applies not only to LCK teams, but also those who compete in the Challengers League. This will make both divisions more attractive and provide pro-gamers with the impetus to persevere.
The fact that salaries were doubled and sometimes tripled for both players and coaches will provide the much-needed stability. Top players will be motivated to remain in Korea and contribute to the success of the LCK. More flexibility is given to teams in regard to player transfers, as exchanges can be made between the Champions and Challengers divisions. Teams can promote and relegate players three times during each split at the start of the 1st and 2nd rounds, as well as before the spring and summer playoffs.
Punters will also benefit from these changes, as they will have more LCK betting opportunities during the regular season. Best of three matches are scheduled from Wednesday to Sunday during the first round, and from Thursday to Sunday during the second round. The lower division called the LCK Challengers League will have five games per day on Monday and Tuesday in a double round-robin tournament.
Why watch the LCK?
There are times when you just want to watch good League of Legends. And when that happens, there’s no better place than the LCK. South Korea has a long-standing tradition of forging esports champions, and LoL is no exception. A unique blend of talent, infrastructure, and grueling practice regiments puts LCK teams into a league of their own.
Compared to other regions, the South Korean Championship is more balanced and LCK odds reflect that reality. Many years ago, SKT1 dominated the league but nowadays there are several teams capable of causing upsets, even in best of three series. This provides punters with superior LCK betting opportunities, as they can bet on underdogs to win at least a match in the series.
Whether it’s teamwork or individual skill, Koreans always seem to be ahead of the curve, and many League of Legends fans consider claiming the LCK trophy a harder feat than winning Worlds. And if that doesn’t speak volumes about the nature of this league, we don’t know what does.