In December 2018 an LPL team was, for the first time in the history of League of Legends, the reigning World Champions. This meant that, on the 16th of January of 2019— for the first time since 2013— the South Korean LoL League was going to begin without the World Champion participating in it. Questions that hadn’t been asked for years were starting to creep up: “Who is the best region now?”; “Is LCK still the best?”; “Can LPL win next year?”. In this uncertain landscape, the old kingdom needed something new. Would Griffin deliver? The strongest startAs always, Kespa Cup marked the beginning of the South Korean LoL season. Changes were aplenty in the League after a disappointing Worlds performance, but Griffin’s roster wasn’t affected by them. Winning the tournament without dropping a single game and beating Gen.G 3-0 to close it out was the best start the team could’ve asked for, and was exactly the kind of performance fans were hoping for. The new roster had just suffered their first tough losses since joining LCK and seemed to bounce back better than ever.As 2019 began, so did Griffin’s best split yet. They didn’t drop a single series for 7 weeks straight, beating every team in the first round robin 2-0 except for Sandbox, who they beat 2-1. Their first loss was at the hands of Gen.G, a team that was having a terrible season but has historically beaten Griffin. Despite this unexpected 0-2 loss, they closed the split out with a whopping 15-3 series record, having lost only 8 of 39 games. This was a domination matched only by Summer 2016 ROX Tigers (15-3 series 30-10 games) and surpassed by Spring 2017 SKT (16-2 series 32-10 games).When a team of rookies on their second ever LCK Split needs to be compared to two of the most prestigious rosters in the history of the game, it is a testament to how unbelievably good they are. Griffin did match the kind of performances peak SKT and ROX did in the regular season, but when Spring 2019 Playoffs came around, the first negative narrative around them showed up: “Do Griffin choke in BO5s?”. The question was echoed throughout the World. How can a team that dropped 8 games in an entire Split lose 3 games in a row to SKT in the finals and show no signs of fighting back? Was it choking or a flaw of the South Korean playoff system?It was neither. The choking conumdrumLet's fast forward to the 26th of September of 2019, the day Kelsey Moser wrote an article whose title felt like a response to what was on everyone’s mind: “Griffin don’t choke, they just lose to better teams.”The author addresses the expectations and misconceptions that surrounded Griffin heading into Worlds 2019, but the main point that shines through and works perfectly to describe this night and day difference between regular season and playoffs is simple: consistency, for better or worse. Unlike most top teams from most regions, Griffin rarely oscillates in performance. Legendary teams like SKT, Fnatic, G2, and RNG have the winner trait that makes them perform their best when the odds are at their peak. When regional playoffs, MSI or Worlds playoffs come around, those teams perform at their peaks, but they sometimes lose to worse teams, especially in the regular season. G2 is a great example of this, having recently lost a game to the last team in the LEC. Griffin, as Kelsey points out, gets their first place finishes because they always win against the worse teams, but they almost always lose to better teams or good matchups into them. Frequent losses to Afreeca Freecs, SKT in playoffs and especially Gen.G— even when this squad isn’t performing well— show that the team’s problems stay the same and that those who know how to exploit them, do. As Moser more accurately expressed: “Griffin doesn't lose Grand Finals because they can’t play an extended series. They lose Grand Finals because of very consistent macro problems.”
Related: Damwon Gaming- Beneath the Griffin’s wingsA turbulent SummerSummer Split came along and the picture seemed unchanged. 4 weeks undefeated and Griffin lose to an underperforming Gen.G and a middle of the table Afreeca Freecs - the same teams that gave them problems in Spring, the same teams that Kelsey brings up in her article. This time it was different, though. Griffin had just come back from their first international tournament, Rift Rivals, and they were arguably the most underwhelming LCK team in it. These two losses came the week after their return and were soon followed by a 0-2 loss to Damwon and a 1-2 loss to SKT. The regular season kings managed to rise up again and close the Split out with a 13-5 series record (29-13 in games), tied for first place with Damwon Gaming. The now dreaded playoffs came around and the situation was too similar to last split’s. Griffin sat motionless in the finals waiting for the unstoppable SKT to run the gauntlet and inevitably dismantle them. Gloryless qualification2-1 against Afreeca, 3-0 versus Damwon and Sandbox. SKT just got better as the rounds went by. On the 31st of August 2019, it happened again. Griffin, the kings of the regular season, easily beaten by an unmatched SKT. This time, though, not all was lost. Due to their first place finishes in both Splits they were automatically qualified for Worlds 2019. Doubts roamed around in everyone’s minds. Griffin haven’t performed at all out of regular seasons and, as Kelsey pointed out, their only BO1 showing at Rift Rivals was not ideal. Would they really be able to perform at the World Stage? Could CvMax lead his team to glory?The structure starts to crumbleThe second question was answered earlier than it should’ve. On the 26th of September 2019, CvMax, the now infamous general-like figure behind Griffin’s roster left the team. The World Championship’s Main Event kicked off on the 12th of November, just two weeks after. Doubts just kept piling on top of each other and Griffin’s performance was now surrounded by unavoidable “what ifs”.Three years prior, in the 2016 World Championship, a similar case happened to a legendary LCK squad: the Rox Tigers. Thorin explains it in depth in this video, but let’s look at the similarities.The Rox Tigers dominated the LCK in 2016 alongside SKT. It was and has been the closest rivalry to ever occur in the region and ended up culminating in what is widely considered the best series in League of Legends history: the 2016 Worlds Semifinals.They convincingly beat all of their opposition except for SKT. They ended up winning the Summer Split— and finished that regular season 15-3 (30-10 in games), a nearly perfect match to Griffin’s record— but, like an omen, they didn’t have to face SKT in the playoffs. That matchup only happened at Worlds, in the aforementioned legendary clash of titans.What is often forgotten about that series is that, on the 16th of October 2016, Jacob Wolf published an article regarding the Rox Tigers’ players contracts and a probability of the team disbanding after Worlds. A month after, they faced SKT and lost. That was the last match this 5 men roster ever played. Soon after, all five players went their own ways.The situation isn’t exactly like Griffin’s, but the feeling surrounding it is the same. The unanswerable “What ifs” and “would they have played differently without these internal factors?”. Griffin was in a tougher position due to a coach loss before the tournament even started but, as pointed out by a few analysts, honeymoon phases after player/coaches leaving do happen. Yet, nothing will ever answer those hard hitting questions.Griffin did not do well in the World Championship, apart from a flash of greatness in two back-to-back Best of Ones against G2. The Knockout Stage placed them face to face with former World Champions IG and the result was a 3-1 so similar to the loss versus SKT in the Finals of Playoffs that it just felt wrong. The same problems, the same mistakes and a new panoply of issues surrounding the players, organisation and staff. The signs were more obvious than in a greek tragedy. After the World Championship ended, Griffin imploded, with most of its pieces scattered across the region. Alas, this story doesn’t end when curtain falls, and, like a forest is reborn after a fire, LCK and the South Korean region can use the talent that left Griffin to bring new life into the rosters. Chovy and Doran have joined the intimidating DragonX with CvMax once again at the helm. Lehends keeps his irreverent playstyle and champion pool as fresh as ever in Hanwha Life. Sword, Tarzan and Viper decided to stay in Griffin and try to create something new with their recent additions. No matter what the future brings to the region, one thing’s for certain:There will never be another Griffin.If you enjoyed this piece, follow the author on Twitter at @Kaaaosh.
Images courtesy of Lol Esports and LCK's Flickrs.