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League of Legends’ Korean coaches: the silent stars of Worlds

Cloud9's coach, Reapered, is Korean

While fans around the globe brag and sulk about their respective regions’ wins and losses on the international stage, Korean coaches can celebrate for their performance so far. Of the eight teams locked into quarterfinals, six have Korean coaches. This representation continues to solidify Korea’s legacy of influencing the top teams in League of Legends.

Koreans of the Past

Huni and Reignover were Korean imports on Fnatic in 2015
Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Throughout the history of professional League, organizations around the globe have imported Korean players, hoping to upgrade their rosters. Once it became obvious that LCK teams were the strongest, China, Europe and North America began to offer larger salaries to individuals that would change regions. Superstars like Deft, Mata and DanDy outsourced to the LPL, while rising stars like Huni and Trick made names in the EU LCS.

In more recent years, the trend of importing Korean players has plateaued. North America, Europe and China still occasionally pull new talent from Korean teams, but they currently recycle known quantities more often. Players like Ryu, Rookie and Profit still have homes in non-Korean regions, but the top teams from the NA LCS, EU LCS and LPL are opting for Broxahs, Licorices and Jackeyloves over importing Pilots, KaKAOs and Pireans.

Koreans of the Present

Instead, organizations have opted for importing Korean coaches. They have realized that mixing native and imported talent does not necessarily translate into success. Teams like Fnatic, G2, Cloud9 and RNG have found some success with stellar Korean imports on their rosters, but, NRG, ROCCAT, LGD, Team Liquid and many more teams have suffered with imports in the past. Organizations have figured out that they closer match LCK standards by leading endemic talent with Korean coaching.

Heart is a Korean coach for Royal Never Give Up
Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Last year, five of the eight Worlds quarterfinalists utilized Korean coaches. 2016 Worlds had six of eight, while 2015 only carried three of eight. Zooming out to see the total pool of Main Event World Championship teams, 31 percent of 2015’s rosters included a Korean coach, which grew to 44 percent in 2016 and 2017, and rose again to 50 percent this year.

Meanwhile, top non-LCK teams have reverted to native talent over Korean imports. Of the non-LCK quarterfinalists, only six of their 36 players are Korean (17 percent), which is equal to last year (five of 30), but less than 2016’s 26 percent (seven of 27) and 2015’s 19 percent (five of 27). This difference is even more stark when considering most quarterfinalists this year use a six-man roster, allowing for more imports if wanted.

Koreans of the Future

With so many organizations finding success with Korean coaches, expect more to bring them onto their staff. Three major organizations in North America utilize Korean coaching, while eight Chinese organizations have at least one. These regions will probably continue to import and trade coaches from Korea.

Fnatic's coach is Youngbuck, not someone Korean
Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Europe, however, does not seem to need them. All three of their Worlds teams have over-performed compared to expectations heading into the tournament, with only one starter and one substitute from Korea — no coaches. Maybe this will change when the LCS finds its Permanent Partners in 2019.

While C9 and RNG have reverted to non-Korean players, they still fall back on Korean coaching. Even if those organizations do not necessarily value Korean player talent over native talent, there is something about the leadership, discipline and maturity of Korean coaching that seems to work. We are certainly seeing it on display at this year’s World Championship, and will probably continue to see future North American and Chinese organizations sign on Korean leadership.


Images from LoL Esports Flickr

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