SK Telecom T1 is the most legendary team in League of Legends history. Two years ago, SKT made it to their fourth Worlds final in five years. But for the first time, SKT did not lift the summoner’s cup. They lost 3-0 to fellow Korean lineup Gen.G, ending over two years of dominance. But what people remember about Worlds is not Gen.G’s brilliant outplays and sheer dominance, it’s the devastation on the face of the best player of all time, Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok. As the victorious Gen.G squad crossed the stage to shake hands, Faker remained in his seat, head buried in his arms as he cried.
After an underwhelming performance in 2018 by SKT and South Korea as a whole, SKT came back swinging harder this year. They soared through a difficult Group C, sweeping aside North America’s Clutch Gaming and China’s Royal Never Give up and going 1-1 with Europe’s Fnatic. But Fnatic fought a little harder, going 1-1 with SKT and dropping a game to RNG that led them to a fated final game. The European roster capped off a brilliant group stage with a dominant 31-minute victory over the Chinese team that never missed a World’s playoffs.
But this time it was Fnatic ADC Rekkles crying, leaning on his chair, head buried in his hand and shaking with relief at overcoming RNG and their ADC, Uzi, who was his demon for a number of seasons. He cried with victory when he finally succeeded where he failed before. But on the other side of the stage was Uzi, head in hand crying in defeat. For the first time in his career with RNG, he was not going to playoffs.
In Group A, Korean team Griffin was facing their first international event. They were also facing a controversy that was mostly started by top-laner Sword, who in an interview called out their ex-coach, CvMax, who was fired two months ago, for lying. This started a spiral of controversy around CvMax and Griffin’s front office manager, Cho, which many thought was distracting the young team as they struggled through their first few days at Worlds. But they settled in, going 4-0 including a tiebreaker against defending MSI champions G2 to claim first in their group. On the other hand, G2 seemed set up for a perfect run through groups. The European roster were favorites headed into Worlds, so losing twice in a row to a young Griffin squad was certainly a surprise.
In Group D, Korea came out with their third first place. Third-seed Damwon bounced back from an iffy performance in the play-in stage, going 5-1 and claiming first place in their group, which means that Korea’s three teams all went 5-1 and first in their groups. This is important because it means in next week’s quarterfinals, none of them can play each other, which greatly improves their chances next week. It’s also a sign that the analysts and fans who said Korea’s dominance was over were incorrect. They may have struggled last year, but they’re back and ready to win this year.
In Group B, Splyce pulled out something close to a miracle. They turned a 1-2 first week into a 4-2 final record, going 3-0 on the last day and sneaking by in second place behind Chinese rookies FunPlus Phoenix, who struggled more than they were supposed to on their path to being the only non-Korean No. 1 seed.
Next week, three Korean teams, three European teams and two Chinese teams will walk up to the stage in Madrid and fight to stay. But North America, for the first time in years, won’t be there. Neither will the LMS, which contains Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau. Their six teams faltered in groups: North America went 5-for-13 while the LMS went 3-for-15. Even North America’s most dependable team at Worlds, Cloud9, who last year became the first North American team to make semifinals, didn’t manage more than two wins.
They will not be there when the eight remaining teams walk up to the stage. Their ghosts will be there, though: The what-ifs, the what could have beens. There are legacies written in almosts, as many of those players know. But when those eight teams walk onto that stage and face-off, they get the chance to silence the ghosts. They get to decide their own destiny and maybe, if they are lucky, they get to write their own legacy.
Ashton Stansel is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.