Unlike in years past, there are some serious doubts regarding the prowess of the Worlds 2018 LCK teams relative to the rest of the competition. A shaky showing from all the Korean seeds only amplified the whispers about the fall of the Korean dynasty.
Having said that, let’s recap all of the action and try to come up with a possible explanation as to why the Worlds 2018 LCK teams seem to be losing their hold on the international scene.
Who Are The Worlds 2018 LCK Teams?
The LCK representatives for the 2018 League of Legends World Championship were the defending champions, Gen.G, who rebranded from Samsung Galaxy, that qualified through the regional gauntlet; Afreeca Freecs that qualified based on points; the Summer Split winners, KT rolster.
This array of names is quite formidable, but storied organizations like SKT and Kingzone are missing from the picture. The argument exists that the LCK failed to send their best representatives to the international scene this year.
SKT had issues; Kingzone Dragon-X, the Spring Winners, were nowhere near close to the top of their game; Griffin had a decent shot at laying claim to one of the 3 spots, but bitter 3-2 losses at the hands of KT Rolster and Gen.G meant they would have to put their dreams of playing at Worlds 2018 on hold.
Worlds 2018 LCK Teams Group Stage Performance
The 3 LCK seeds had quite different trajectories in the group stages.
Gen.G just bombed out of their group; they ended 1-5 in the group of death and were the first team to be officially knocked out from quarterfinals. Gen.G were hard pressed to find answer to the aggressive gameplans and the pocket picks that Cloud9 and Vitality had planned for them. Gen.G usually like scaling compositions but neither the use of the aggressive Kang ‘Haru‘ Min-seung in the jungle position and a focus onto the early game helped them avoid elimination.
Afreeca started the first half of the group stages with the same score as Gen.G; they only managed to beat Phong Vu Buffalo and lost to the Flash Wolves and G2 Esports In their losses, it seemed as if they could not conjure any kind of counterplay. Once the opposing teams understood that they will not take any rasks, they cruised to victory. Morale in the team was particularly low and G2 and the Flash Wolves seemed in prime position to make it out of the group.
In the last day of their group though, Afreeca’s players played like men possessed. Well… not exactly. They had even more temperate decision-making but the opposing teams could not break the pace of the game. A clean 3-0 day and some stumbles from the other competitors meant that Afreeca would end as the first seed of their group.
Finally, KT had a dominant record in the group stages, with their only loss coming via a back and forth loss to EDG.
Playing Safe = Not Playing to Win
The Worlds 2018 LCK teams lost 8 games in the group stages this year. In comparison, they only lost 7 the 2 years before. We do not see dominant teams with barely any losses throughout the year like SKT and Samsung. Changes in the way that the game is played have been important for this advancement.
LCK’s dominance was based on cleaner execution in macro and Baron Nashor setups.
After the removal of Tracker’s knife and thus the darkening of the map for all the teams, the risk averse LCK teams have found difficulty in clamping down their opponents. Mistakes in rotations and lane assignments cannot be as easily punished due to uncertainty and lack of vision. Also, the specific league meta seems to have changed the landscape in Korea by a lot.
While laning is still important, the nature of the midlane and toplane matchups for a long period throughout the year has contributed to more reserved play.
Pushing advantages are paramount and a rather perverse meta developed where LCK teams over-indexed on this fact since solo-carrying from a lane became increasingly harder. This was especially pronounced in the botlane mages meta, when a lot of teams in LCK ended up drafting mages and experimenting with the new meta.
Worlds 2018 LCK Teams’ Individual Struggles
Specific reasons for each squad are also apparent. Gen.G could not adapt to the group meta fast enough. Their drafting was off in some games (putting carry champions in the hands of Lee ‘Crown‘ Min-ho given his performances was probably a mistake) but the most important factor was probably the elimination of Song ‘Fly‘ Yong-jun from their Worlds roster. Kang ‘Ambition‘ Chan-yong and Crown seemed severely off-form and together with Lee ‘CuVee‘ Seong-jin being on tank duty for 2 games, it seemed that Park ‘Ruler‘ Jae-hyuk would be the only threat on the Gen.G line-up.
Fly, during the regular season, was much better in setting up Ruler and Cuvee and he was an important factor for Gen.G’s run up to the playoffs.
Afreeca Freecs on the other hand were a team whose prowess stem from their drafts and their creativity. On the first game, they got outsmarted by the Heimerdinger composition from G2 to which they had no answers. In the second game, Flash Wolves drafted a composition that included many tanks and thus any proactive play by the Freeks and specifically Kim ‘Kiin‘ Gi-in Akali was punished. In the end, the Kai’sa carried the game.
While Afreeca managed to get 4 wins straight after those unfortunate results, they were never again thrown with such a curveball and it remains to be seen how they will react to sucker punches in the future.
KT Rolster stand out as the lone “complete” team from the LCK. However, even they have not found themselves fully tested yet. In particular, teams have yet to test their prowess in late-game fights, one of their more well-known weaknesses. Still, they have improved in many aspects of their game. Although it remains to be seen if that’s enough for them to win the Summoner’s Cup.
The Rise of the LPL
The downfall of the Korean dynasty is a catchy storyline. However, every good story needs an antagonist and this year the LCK’s antagonist is the LPL and specifically RNG.
RNG have won all international tournaments that it has participated in this year and they have been the team to beat. It is interesting to not the differences in adaptation to the new environment of League. While we can argue that the Chinese teams have caught up to the LCK in terms of macro, the main reason for their dominance is their ability in the micro part of the game; teamfighting positioning, engages etc.
Their skirmishes are not necessarily well-thought out, but they rather hammer on their opponents until they yield, from early game to the nexus falling. The effectiveness of their skirmishes lies on their perfect execution and great team communication.
This year’s powerhouses in China, like IG, JDG and Rogue Warriors thrive on this play style. While it is true that RNG and EDG are somewhat more restrained, their players are not afraid to duke it out and will chase for the kill.
This is something rather foreign to the Korean teams, but the fact is that the state of the game has just increased the expected positive outcome of that attitude and LCK teams might have to adapt.
What’s Next for the Worlds 2018 LCK Teams?
South Korea has been the dominant force in LoL for the last 5 years.
Right now, the Worlds 2018 LCK teams face new challenges in the LPL teams that are in the upswing and even western contenders that seemingly are closing the gap. A point of interest is how these teams will fare in a Bo5 setting and whether it means that LCK will finally find themselves taken off of their pedestal.
Regardless, the truth is that, unlike last year where most would have simply laughed off this notion, it is a reasonable question this year and signals a big swing in how we perceive international competition in League of Legends.
What do you think of the performance of the Worlds 2018 LCK Teams so far? Do you think this is the year that a non-Korean team will lift the summoner’s cup? Be sure to let us know your thoughts in the comments down below.