Last Sunday, Korea’s LCK emerged champions of Rift Rivals for the first time in tournament’s history. In a four-game grand final, the LCK toppled its old rivals from China’s LPL and took home its first international victory since Worlds 2017.
Why was LCK successful this year, however? According to SK Telecom’s coach Kim “kkOma” Jeong-kyun and star mid Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok, it was all about unity and coming together as a region.
“I believe that we were able to win because the four LCK teams were able to cooperate as one,” kkOma told InvenGlobal. “Aside from the results, LCK became one in this tournament.”
“Through this championship, we were able to wash away some of the regrets from past tournaments,” Faker added. “It’s a good feeling of accomplishment, and I’m glad that we’re able to enjoy this victory with other teams.”
Although it’s not considered a major tournament by any measure, winning Rift Rivals on home soil is indeed a sigh of relief for the LCK. Ever since the 2018 season began, Korea has been struggling. In 2018, the region lost all international competition to China and had its worst World Championship appearance in history. Experts believed the region was in decline, unwilling to move away from its old traditions of small macro play and adapt to the fast-paced, teamfight-focused style that the LPL enforced.
The win also changed SKT’s perception of Rift Rivals itself. The tournament has traditionally not been well accepted in the major regions. Without neither prestige, nor real prize money on the line, and coming midway through the split, Rift Rivals has been considered a tournament that slows down regular season, if anything. While the top teams travel to compete in a showmatch-esque event, those that stay at home can get full days of practice.
“Up to the second year, I wasn’t completely satisfied with the tournament because of the busy schedule,” kkOma said. “Now that we’re quite used to it, we prepared thinking that we really want to win in this third year.”
Whether the LCK will transition from a successful Rift Rivals to a deep run at World 2019 remains to be seen. The region is already evolving, taking after some of LPL’s quirks and tendencies, but it is yet to prove itself on a major international stage. MSI wasn’t it, but maybe the stadiums of Europe in October and November will be.