League of Legends: The top of the mountain

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Two years ago, DAMWON Gaming had not played a match in the LCK. They had qualified at the end of summer, but wouldn’t play their first games until the next year. In just two years, they went from never playing an LCK game to qualifying for Worlds twice in a row to, this past weekend, becoming legends. 

On Saturday, they fulfilled what many thought was their destiny, besting Suning in an incredible 3-1 series and becoming the first Korean team to win the League of Legends World Championship since 2017. They ended China’s streak, beating the underdog Suning and ending the Chinese organization’s miracle run in what might go down as one of the best finals in history. 

The first three games were close. Suning battled fiercely in Game 1 before finally succumbing to DAMWON’s superior teamfighting. Despite winning Game 2 and being close to a major comeback in Game 3, Suning crumbled in Game 4 and were demolished by DAMWON, who could clearly taste their destiny. 

After two years of relatively poor play from Korean teams internationally, this was the first time a Korean team had made the finals since 2017. It was a refreshing change to be reminded of just how good a dominant Korean team can be at this game. It was especially refreshing on the heels of DAMWON’s defeat at the hands of G2 in 2019, and as T1 missed Worlds after a disappointing summer. 

Canyon, DAMWON’s jungler, claimed MVP for the finals on the back of his impressive performance on Graves and Nidalee, ignoring his one very questionable Evelyn game in Game 2. Despite this, no one on DAMWON Gaming had a bad day, which is perhaps the biggest reason that even in the closest moments it felt like their series to lose. Suning, as good as they are, needed DAMWON to make more mistakes than they made. 

This kind of loss is unfortunately the type of defeat that might haunt the young Suning roster. It shouldn’t; they made it two rounds further than anyone expected and put up a good performance against a team that they had no business even being close to. The fact that they lost in the end isn’t a surprise, since most people viewed DAMWON as massive favorites and just taking a game is a good performance by Suning, especially considering the last several finals had been 3-0. 

It is also important to note that, in this year of the coronavirus, this was a tournament that went off seemingly without a hitch. The finals even had fans; many less fans than in previous years, of course, but six months ago it seemed unlikely that Worlds would happen at all. Simply having the event felt like a win, but having a finals that is already set to become iconic in the fabric of the best series in history makes the pain of the rest of the year in this sport sting a little less. Riot Games deserves praise for their handling of Worlds this year. 

The Grand Finals were a series that set both of these teams up for the future. DAMWON is also a relatively young lineup, with an average age just under 21, and they could potentially use this victory as the start of a legacy the League of Legends community hasn’t seen since the days of T1’s dominance. At the same time, performing this far ahead of expectations for Suning is a promising sign for their future. This is a team with two players under twenty in Huanfeng and Angel and Suning, perhaps most importantly, has all of their players signed through next year at least. Suning will probably be back with the same roster in a few months and they could absolutely dominate the LPL and face DAMWON again at the international events in 2021. 

But that’s for the future. Today, DAMWON Gaming are the World Champions, a very well deserved title for a team who came into the event as the favorites and met every challenge, every obstacle, every team in their path with a single-minded focus on victory. For the first time since 2017 it felt as though there was a team who was just better than every other team. DAMWON Gaming earned their title and, with the Summoner’s Cup finally in their hands, they reached the pinnacle of League of Legends and showed the world that sometimes, the best team really does finish first. 

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