Beijing, China 2017. A stadium packed to the absolute brim witnessed the last all-LCK Worlds Finals. Samsung Galaxy, led by the now retired Ambition, took down a weakened SKT who crumbled behind Faker. That day two dynasties ended: SKT’s and LCK’s.
Ever since, the once-undisputed best region in the world has been chasing its own legacy while watching the LPL grow beyond anything we’ve ever seen. Damwon Gaming might’ve won Worlds 2020, but as they say, the exception proves the rule.
An unreachable team legacy
One of the fallen dynasties will likely never be surpassed. What SK Telecom achieved between 2013 and 2017 is the stuff of legends. Two MSI, three World Championships, back-to-back victories. Utter international domination, all while having the greatest player of all time at the helm.
No team has even come close to reaching this level of dynastic ruling, and no team ever will. The competition has risen to a point in which this kind of dominance is very likely impossible to reproduce. But the thing is, it doesn’t seem like that would be the LPL’s approach anyway.
The region has won 3 of the last 4 World Champions, two of the last three MSI and these achievements are shared between 4 different organizations: IG, FPX, RNG, and EDG.
While South Korea has thrived under individual team dominance, — first SKT, then Damwon— China brings new favorites to the international stage every single year. Their extremely robust Playoff format ensures that the best teams in the region make it through, but the region is so stacked with talent that surprises happen regardless.
Worlds 2020 wasn’t enough
Damwon Gaming had an excellent Summer Season in 2020, but one World Championship isn’t enough, especially with the mitigating circumstances around this specific one.
Winning an international tournament inside a small venue with around 6000 fans isn’t the same as conquering the Summoner’s Cup in front of thousands of fans in a packed Stadium. And even then, Damwon were the only world class team coming out of the LCK.
GEN G got demolished by G2 in the Quarters and DRX were dismantled on the same side of the bracket by DWG. Damwon had to take on the mantle of the SKT of old as the dominating representatives of the region, and so they did, but they’d have to do it again to truly make an impact.
Not to mention that, although MSI was canceled due to COVID, there was an online competition between the LCK and the LPL, in which the Chinese region was by far the winner, with the entire top three for itself.
The online factor makes the competition much less important than it would’ve been, but it’s still relevant to mention that Damwon’s only success was Worlds.
2021 was a return to the new normalcy
The year after Damwon’s success saw the LPL bounce back even stronger, and with two different protagonists for their success story. RNG got the better of DK (Damwon KIA) in the final and the reigning World Champions lost their chance at a back-to-back title at the hands of Edward Gaming.
Fans saw in Damwon Kia a new chance at another SKT dynasty. They had the ingredients: Showmaker was being hailed as a generational talent, the new breed of South Korean midlaners alongside Chovy.
Canyon was considered for a lot of this time the best player in the world, regardless of role. Nuguri, the dominating top laner, was replaced by Khan, a legend in his own right. Ghost and BeryL completed the team with all it needed, and they looked unstoppable, until they met the LPL in both finals.
MSI 2022 and the setting of a new age
MSI 2022 is yet another tournament with a gigantic asterisk beside it. We went over it in another article, but if you want a summary: despite it being played in venues with fans, the tournament was played on 35ms ping for its entirety, there were multiple tech issues around it and the eventual winners were playing from their team house, completely isolated from the pressure of a lan event.
Still, it’s getting harder to shake the feeling that the untouchable aura that seemed to follow SKT around, before it was shredded by Samsung in 2017, now surrounds whatever team emerges victorious from the gladiatorial pit that is the LPL.
2018 and 2019 were dominating years for the LPL. The best South Korean teams had a lot of issues, and that was a sort of transitional time for the LCK, with the best teams of old being replaced by the likes of Griffin and Damwon.
2020, 2021 and 2022 have not been the case though. Damwon were favorites to win Worlds both in 2020 and 2021. They won the first one, but lost to EDG the following year. They were the favorites heading into 2021 MSI and RNG got the better of them.
Now, we just saw T1 seemingly resurrecting the entire region’s legacy in what seems like the perfect mix of new and old blood in the LCK, being hyped to the pinnacles of expectation and being convincingly beaten by an RNG team which barely made it through the LPL playoffs.
Ask yourself, would RNG be the only LPL team able to take down this T1? The Xiaohu-led squad got taken to 5 games by JDG and to their absolute limits by TES in the Finals. Many believe that the series between these two teams could’ve gone either way. Given what we saw during MSI, could T1 really take down TES?
Worlds 2022 and a future to be written
The LPL has now reached the status that the LCK held between 2013 and 2017. They are the best region in the world, they might not have the GOAT or best player in the world, —although Xiaohu has been making quite the case— but they have such a wide and deep pool of talent that it cannot be matched.
They hold a dynastic rule over League of Legends, shared between four different squads. Can it be challenged? Or was Worlds 2020 really the exception?
We are now at a crossroads. The LPL will likely head into Worlds 2022 as the favorites, regardless of how strong the LCK representatives look, but a new age seems to be coming in Seoul.
T1 might’ve failed at MSI, but their lack of experience and the unique circumstance of the tournament gives them a pass. The sheer talent on display is something that has been missing from the region for a long time now, and if they can get it all back together again, they can still dominate everyone in their path.
And they won’t be alone. With Nuguri’s return, Damwon KIA is now immediately back to being a contender and a true challenge for T1 and whoever sets foot on the Rift with them. With how well Deokdam performed during Spring, and the well known talents of their Mid Jungle duo, their potential rivals that of T1’s.
If neither of these teams implode and a squad like GEN.G can get their act together, 2022 Summer might be the strongest South Korea has seen since 2017.
The question is, will it be enough to take down the LPL’s gladiators? Or is the legacy of greatness now out of their reach?
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Images Courtesy of Riot Games.
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