Everyone knew that the LCK had to change in 2019. The 2018 World Championship was a massive wake-up call for the region, and Korean powerhouses seemed to have made all the right moves to ensure that a disaster like that never happened again. Afreeca Freecs strengthened their mid lane with a rising star in Ucal, KT Rolster rebuilt their lineup around the ultimate top lane carry in Smeb, and SK Telecom T1 finally moved away from their long-standing tradition of developing untested rookies towards signing established superstars. It seemed like every single one of them was set for a triumphant return in 2019, and fans were excited to see them in action.
Now, several weeks into the Spring Split, a new narrative has emerged.
Suddenly, multiple LCK newcomers stepped up to challenge the old guard on stage, and these veterans wavered. Afreeca Freecs, KT Rolster, and even SK Telecom T1 suffered one crushing defeat after another at the hand of hungry up-and-comers like SANDBOX Gaming, DAMWON Gaming, and Griffin.
Of course, this didn’t entirely come out of the left field. Griffin already made a splash in the 2018 Summer Split, and the fact that they held onto their roster in the offseason ensured they had an upper hand on teams that overhauled their lineups for 2019. And while DAMWON Gaming didn’t have any stage experience, there were murmurs about them overwhelming the likes of Cloud9 and Fnatic in practice matches.
Still, that doesn’t explain SANDBOX Gaming. And it certainly doesn’t explain why LCK juggernauts are losing so much ground to organizations that haven’t even played a full competitive season. However, that inexperience might be a weapon in and of itself.
It’s no secret that most successful South Korean teams are very set in their ways. Their infrastructure, player management, and coaching methodologies have been refined by decades of continued esports dominance to produce foolproof ways of cultivating greatness. In League of Legends, that happens to be focusing on macro and teamfighting.