Team China had to initiate a fight. Team South Korea’s composition had the scaling advantage. They were on a timer. Furthermore, South Korean top laner Kim “Kiin” Gi-in’s Kennen was pushing onto the bot lane inhibitor. China knew that Yan “Letme” Jun-Ze’s Jarvan couldn’t stand up to him in the 1-vs-1. They knew that they could win the teamfight mid. Just like that, South Korea’s 1-3-1 setup was easily broken. After every teamfight win, every objective, the crowd erupts with rhythmic cheers of “加油!” (jia you) urging Team China to succeed. These fans managed a near-impossible feat: surpassing the levels of enthusiasm from the home LoL Pro League crowds in cities like Beijing, Chongqing, Hangzhou, Xi’an, Chengdu, and Shanghai.
Game 2 of the series was all Team South Korea past the early mid game with Go “Score” Dong-bin, Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok, and Jo “CoreJJ” Yong-in orchestrating successful skirmishes. A different section of the crowd cheered at every teamfight, the noise swelling at every small Team South Korea victory.
To an outsider, especially in the west, the 2018 Asian Games may not seem like a premier event. These are national teams with little practice time, composed of players from a variety of top teams (for the most part) in their respective regions. To the players themselves — some of whom had endured condensed super-schedules with their regular teams just to represent their countries in this tournament — it means more than we can understand from an outside perspective.
The 2018 Asian Games is not a League of Legends event, nor is it a gaming event. Recognized by the International Olympic Committee, the Asian Games is the second-largest multi-sport competition in the world — the first is the Olympic Games. This wasn’t just a finals match but a gold medal match and a debut stage for esports to a wider audience at a sporting event. In South Korea, all three major television broadcasters — KBS, SBS, and MBC — aired the 2018 Asian Games esports demonstration live. The United States equivalent of this would be if an esports event was broadcast on the likes of CBS and NBC.
Yet, despite the gravity of broadcast television and the IOC connection, watching the Asian Games was also an odd call back to Season 2 and early Season 3, where international events were still held in abundance, and the League of Legends Championship Series had yet to begin in North America and Europe. These were the days of circuit points and surprises — the days of IPL 5 and watching the best players in the world clash on the Rift in a quick tournament. It’s wasn’t the same, nothing will ever return us to those days, but the 2018 Asian Games came surprisingly close, especially when watching the scrappy Team Saudi Arabia take a game off of Taiwan in the bronze medal match or the latest bloody entry in the China-South Korea LoL rivalry.
Myriad narratives surrounded the 2018 Asian Games esports demonstration, especially with the Chinese and South Korean squads. South Korea, formerly an international powerhouse, was 0-2 against China in international LoL competitions. China’s Royal Never Give Up beat South Korea’s Kingzone DragonX at the 2018 Mid-Season Invitational, and China had again defeated South Korea in a thrilling best-of-five relay during the 2018 LCK-LPL-LMS Rift Rivals event. The gold medal victory at the 2018 Asian Games was yet another accolade in China’s remarkable 2018 international run, and raised further questions about the strength of South Korea prior to the 2018 League of Legends World Championship, which will be held in South Korea.
There was the question of Faker, whose SK Telecom T1 team failed to make playoffs this split for the first time in the organization’s LoL history. Faker was underperforming, outshone in his own league by the likes of Kingzone’s Gwak “Bdd” Bo-seong, Griffin’s rising star Jeong “Chovy” Ji-hoon, and Lee “KurO” Seo-haeng, the latter of whom used to be known as a mid laner who could go toe-to-toe with anyone but Faker. Despite South Korea’s loss and subsequent silver medal, Faker proved at the 2018 Asian Games that he still deserves to be considered as one of the best in the world.
South Korea’s jungler, Go “Score” Dong-bin, has been criminally underrated internationally — due to only one Worlds appearance in 2015, well before he became the jungler he is today — and entered this tournament with a chance to have his first premier victory be a gold medal at an international sporting event. Yet once again, he fell short, and was taken out in favor of Han “Peanut” Wang-ho for Game 4. On the opposite side of the Rift, this marked yet another championship for Uzi, who has been on an unstoppable victory tour after his first-ever LPL title in 2018 LPL Spring.
These are just a few of the stories around Team China and Team South Korea that continued at this event. The 2018 Asian Games wasn’t perfect, and suffered production issues that led to massive delays on Day 1 along with a few behind-the-scenes blunders, but it was fun to watch. China continued their dominion over competitive LoL in 2018. Uzi continued his golden season. Score continued his second-place streak.
Currently, there are many legitimate reasons to be upset with LoL game developer Riot Games. Whether it’s a rotten workplace environment that seemingly corrodes everything and starts at the top of the figurative food chain, to budget cuts throughout the year, culminating in recent hiccups leading into what is supposed to be LoL’s premier event: the World Championship. Worlds will be without the English broadcast team on site for most of the event, and poor planning led to underwhelming venues, especially when compared to last year’s pageantry at the Beijing National Stadium (Bird’s Nest). Players and fans are rightfully angry, now taking a closer look at Worlds and wondering if it isn’t a bit too bloated (as a month-long tournament) in the first place and Riot’s lack of monetization around the event and its LCS leagues.
The 2018 Asian Games doesn’t answer these or countless other questions surrounding Riot Games and LoL right now. Instead, it was a simple and surprising breath of fresh air — a necessary reminder of how fun competitive LoL can be, and a relatively successful display for esports on a larger, non-endemic stage.