Since 2013, one of the most dominant conversations in competitive League of Legends is whether or not other regions are catching up to the dominance of Korea. Now, at the 2018 World Championships that conversation finally seems to be coming to a head, as the LCK has faced its worst ever start to a world tournament as a region. Despite these early struggles though, fans been too quick to announce the death of the world’s best region.
After three days of play in the Worlds 2018 Group Stage, Korea’s LCK, which has produced the winning team for each of the last five years, has a record of just 3-4 — a far cry from the utter dominance we’re used to from the region.
The LCK’s second and third seed teams — Afreeca Freecs and Gen. G, respectively — only have one win combined after five games. But the region’s number one seed, kt Rolster, who took down North America’s Team Liquid and LMS’s MAD Team, look like either the first or second best team at the tournament. The truth isn’t that Korea is in trouble. It might just be that the LCK’s second and third place teams are closer to the other teams in the world than ever before.
So, exactly how bad have the losses been for the LCK teams so far? The Flash Wolves have always been a kryptonite for Korean teams frequently beating them in group stage matches and their game against Afreeca Freecs was no different. A mostly slow game that was close to even for first 20 minutes, Flash Wolves eventually took complete control and prevented Afreeca from doing much of anything. Against G2, Afreeca looked completely out of sorts and honestly never seemed like they were going to give the European third seed a difficult game.
Meanwhile, for Gen.G, things have looked significantly better. The team’s first match was against Europe's Team Vitality. And honestly, Gen.G outplayed Vitality for just about every minute of that game until the last one when Vitality pulled off an inspired teleport-backdoor to steal a win from the jaws of defeat. As for their second game, Gen.G played Royal Never Give Up, the Chinese first seed and either the first or second best team at the tournament (depending on who you ask), but Gen.G played them close and managed to put up a strong fight against the only 3-0 team at Worlds so far. Also they absolutely destroyed Cloud9. Seriously. It was 24-minute win. But the truth is Gen.G may have hit a brief stumbling block, but there hasn’t been a game where they looked like they couldn’t compete.
So, maybe the truth is that the gap between other regions and the LCK really is tightening, at least when you look at some of the teams from the LCK. After all, throughout this LCK season, some of the only teams that really stood out like Griffin or KING-ZONE DragonX failed to make Worlds.
Afreeca matched up against their own region very well, but so far at Worlds the team simply hasn’t looked ready to compete against the rest of the world’s talent. That isn’t to say that the team can’t turn it around, but as of right now, they don’t look like an LCK powerhouse. They just look like another team and that’s fine. The LCK doesn’t have to offer us the top three teams at every World Championship to be considered the best region.
As for the other regions at the tournament, this does finally look like their moment to catch up, but they shouldn’t get ahead of themselves. Catching up to one team in a region, a team that seems to be lagging behind themselves, doesn’t mean the gap between Korea and everyone else is gone. It just means that it’s gotten smaller.