Is it time to crown China the kings of League of Legends?
Published on December 9th, 2018
The 2018 League of Legends World Championships was a year of firsts. North America advanced to the semi-finals for the first time since Season One, a European team advanced to the Finals, and for the first time in five years, the League of Legends World Champion would not hail from South Korea. With both of their two advancing teams being eliminated in the first round of the knockout stage, 2018 was by far the worst performance by the League Championship Korea's (LCK) members in recent memory. Considered by many to have the strongest teams in League of Legends, the stumbles of LCK champion KT Rolster and second seed Afreeca Freecs carried over into the quarter-finals as both were eliminated. This would open the door for The Chinese League of Legends Pro League's (LPL) Invictus Gaming to claim the World Championship crown with a 3-0 sweep of Fnatic. Led by star mid-laner Song "RooKie" Eui-jin and Finals MVP jungler Gao â€œNingâ€ Zhen-Ning, Invictus proved without a doubt that the LPL reigned supreme in 2018. Invictus Gaming's victory would end years of Korean dominance over the title, and bring into question whether China had finally passed Korea as the Kings of League of Legends. The LPL has teased the League of Legends world for years with it's potential. The largest region (they have a whole server dedicated to players ranked Diamond I and above), it felt like only a matter of time before China would finally break through on the international stage. In 2015 it appeared the LPL's Edward Gaming might be able to push the region forward after their victory over the LCK's SK Telecom at the Mid-Season Invitational. Yet at the World Championships, the region as a whole collapsed with none of their three teams making the top four in the tournament. This year, things were destined to be different. Much like in years past, that burning potential shone brightly early in the season for the LPL. At the 2018 MSI, the LPLâ€™s Royal Never Give Up led by ADC Jian â€œUziâ€ Zihao convincingly defeated the LCK champion Kingzone DragonX 3-1 to assert their claim as the best team (and region) in League of Legends. This momentum would carry forward into Rift Rivals, where RNG's 2-0 record in the Finals would help them overcome their opponents from Korea and Taiwan. Yet RNG would not be the only Chinese squad on the rise in the international scene. Led by RooKie, Invictus Gaming's strong Summer Split earned them the second Chinese seed at Worlds, and they became instant legends in Chinese League of Legends history when they knocked the LCK champion KT Rolster out of the tournament with a 3-2 quarter-finals victory. While past failures caused many to be hesitant to put their faith in China at the World Championships, the region pulled through by being the only major region to advance all three of their representatives into the final eight. And after Korea failed to advance past the first rounds of knockouts, the stage was set for Invictus Gaming to finally claim the title that China had fruitlessly chased for years. Invictus Gaming's victory may signal it is finally time for China to be seated as the kings of League of Legends. With a three-event sweep of Korea in 2018 (MSI, Rift Rivals, Worlds), China has proven again and again they are able to overcome the talent and coordination of the LCK's best. Once heralded as a region of unbridled aggression and constant team fighting, the Chinese scene's success can be attributed to their evolution into a more controlled playstyle with advanced macro play. Looking forward, it is easy to view the Chinese region as a favourite to repeat their World Championship run in 2019, especially as native talent continues to develop and players from outside regions flock to the LPL. Still, off-season roster changes can often have unexpected results, and although the region continues to add great individual talents (most recently Flash Wolves' Huang "Maple" Yi-Tang and Hu "SwordArT" Shuo-Jie), great talent does not always lead to great success in the future. All images courtesy of lolesports Flickr.