Korea – this region has never had a team finish lower than tenth at Worlds. For the past five years, Korea has had two representatives finish as top four in the world. Moreover, both teams in the World Championship finals for the past three years hail from Korea. The LCK has rightfully earned their spot as the strongest professional region for League of Legends.
Last year was no different. SSG knocked out first seed Longzhu in the quarterfinals, then took down second seed SKT in the finals – both 3-0 wins. Korea’s third seed fulfilled their underdog narrative and won the championship they narrowly missed in 2016. SKT and LZ still looked like two of the best teams globally, even though they had devastating low points in the tournament. Luckily, many elements of these teams carried over into 2018.
Longzhu Gaming entered the 2018 World Championship as the number one LCK seed. Riot ranked PraY, Gorilla, Khan, and Bdd as four of the top six players in the entire tournament, considering they won Summer Split convincingly by dominating every lane. LZ was the only team to go undefeated in groups, albeit against the easiest draft of competitors. Shockingly, SSG knocked them out 3-0 in the quarterfinals and sent LZ packing. One series of poor play shut down their entire year of growth.
For 2018, Kingzone acquired Longzhu’s LCK slot, changing the team name to Kingzone DragonX, and keeping the entire roster. Essentially a rebrand, fans expected KZ to remain dominant within the LCK in the Spring split, despite their shortcomings at Worlds. Finishing the regular season 16-2, KZ delivered, and moved on to win Spring playoffs against Afreeca Freecs 3-1.
The Spring Split win qualified KZ to the Mid-Season Invitational, where they were expected to dominate the international competition. Royal Never Give Up would most likely pose the biggest threat, with Fnatic, Team Liquid, Flash Wolves, and other regions’ representatives lagging behind. However, the best-of-ones did not play in KZ’s favor. They finished Group Stage in third, behind RNG and FW. Tournament rules allowed the first place team to choose their semifinals competition, pitting KZ against FW. They took down FW 3-1, but lost convincingly to RNG in the finals 1-3. KZ fell short of international expectations based on domestic performance yet again.
So far this Summer Split, KZ have continued their strong performances, sitting second in the LCK at 7-3. The newer, more fluid meta has not affected them to the same degree as other teams around the world. With 90 championship points and a strong start to Summer Split, KZ is all but guaranteed a slot at Worlds. They would need to completely flop the rest of the season to avoid a high playoffs finish, or winning the LCK Regional Qualifier.
Expect the Blue Dragons to return to the 2018 World Championship with a vengeance.
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The Huni-Peanut iteration of SKT qualified for 2017 Worlds as LCK’s second seed, finishing first in spring and second in summer. While they were clearly worse than LZ, SKT still seemed as strong as any other team in the world. With their history of international prowess, no one could count them out. Placed in Group A, SKT matched against Edward Gaming, Cloud9, and AHQ. They finished the Group Stage 5-1, granting them first seed for quarterfinals. Two 3-2 victories over Misfits and Royal Never Give Up propelled SKT into their third straight Worlds finals, but lost 0-3 to LCK rivals SSG. Another dominant year etched into SKT’s history.
SKT is facing new obstacles in 2018. Huni and Peanut transferred to new teams, and SKT brought in Thal and Blossom to take their spots, unanimously viewed as downgrades. Untara, Faker, Bang, and Wolf remained on the team, maintaining some stability, but their year has not been the best. During Spring Split, SKT waivered between ninth and fourth place, finishing with a 9-9 record. Luckily, their positive record against KSV and ROX placed them fourth heading into playoffs, where they solidified their fourth place spot.
This summer has seen SKT struggle to find their footing in the current meta. They are hovering around seventh-eighth in the standings, with even more roster turbulence than last split. At least Faker and Bang started every match during the regular season. So far, SKT has tried almost every combination of Thal-Blank-Blossom-Faker-Pirean-Bang-Leo-Wolf-Effort there is. They have currently settled on Thal-Blank-Faker-Bang-Effort, but this is an all-time low for the best team in the history of League.
Holding only 30 championship points, SKT may not qualify for this year’s World Championship, making it the first time SKT does not appear at the event. This will be a major shortcoming for the Korean organization, as they have never finished lower than fourth in anything, including Worlds. They have to improve significantly to make LCK playoffs and finish high enough to make the Regional Qualifier and run the gauntlet.
SKT’s odds are grim, making room for a new international competitor from Korea.
2017 was a Cinderella story for SSG. They rose from finishing fourth in the LCK Summer Split playoffs to winning the World Championship. They took down KT Rolster in the Regional Qualifier, KZ in the Worlds quarterfinals, and SKT in the finals to win the whole thing. SSG fulfilled the redemption narrative, following their 2016 defeat in the World finals at SKT’s hands.
This year has been a bit different. Coming into 2018, KSV esports bought Samsung’s LCK slot, rebranding to KSV, but keeping the entire roster. They started the season 5-1, but their 2017 Worlds form did not persist. KSV fell below SKT for fifth place in the regular season and playoffs, granting them ten championship points.
The team rebranded again in the mid-season, with KSV changing to Gen.G. Again, the entire roster remained mostly unchanged, and fans hoped for a rekindling. So far, the pattern is repeating itself. Gen.G has started the Summer Split 7-3, good enough for third place. But they will need to maintain their highest possible position to seriously challenge for a Worlds seed. They need to win outright, or at least finish high enough to challenge the four teams ahead in championship points. Like SKT, Gen.G will most likely miss Worlds this year, a far fall from world champions last year.
Challengers for 2018 Worlds Slots
With SKT and Gen.G faltering this summer, the LCK will likely offer up 2018 Worlds seeds to two new contenders. Afreeca Freecs looks like the best candidate for one of them. The lost to KZ in the spring finals this year, finishing second place, and they are currently 7-4 this summer, good enough for fourth. With 70 championship points, they have set themselves up with a high chance to qualify.
KT Rolster is another candidate for a Worlds seed, as they are every year. They took third place in the Spring Split playoffs, securing 50 championship points of their own. KT consistently held their spot towards the top of the standings, alongside AF and KZ. Their Summer Split is starting slower, currently holding sixth place at 6-4, but first place is only two wins away. KT will most likely qualify for the gauntlet and fight for the third seed.
However, a new challenger entered the LCK this summer: Griffin. This band of rookies is completely overtaking the league, currently in first at 8-2. If they win the Summer Split first seed, then the race for the other two becomes much more interesting. Second seed would come down to championship points, which, judging by the current standings, would go to KZ.
If the split ended right now, then AF would auto-seed to the gauntlet finals, where they would most likely face KT or Gen.G. These two teams are essentially tied, but judging from Spring Split, KT should be in better form. Regardless, AF would theoretically win the third seed.
On the other hand, if Griffin finishes second or lower, and Kingzone does not win in playoffs, then the LCK would be completely up in the air. Whoever won playoffs, most likely AF or KT, would take first seed. Kingzone would probably take second seed based on points, and Griffin, Gen.G, or AF/KT would battle for third seed.
There are so many possibilities, which makes the LCK Worlds prospects much more exciting than the recurring SKT-Samsung-X that we’ve grown used to seeing these last two years.