For South Korea, Worlds 2018 has been nothing short of disastrous. Not only did the reigning champions Gen.G get knocked out of their group in last place, but neither of the remaining LCK teams even made it through the semifinals. And considering how South Korea dominated the League of Legends landscape for the past five years, such a steep fall from grace quickly became one of the main Worlds storylines.
Many fans tried to find the reasoning behind this narrative, and the answer they arrived at was the meta changes. It’s true that League of Legends went through a lot of patches in 2018, and many of them chipped away at South Korea’s strengths. Casual players will probably remember the Scuttle Crab rework and sweeping AD carry nerfs, but in pro play, the most important change was the removal of Tracker’s Knife. Without it, competitive teams had a much harder time lighting up the map and suffocating their opponents through superior vision control—something LCK lineups historically excelled at.
The introduction of increased bounties and powerful playmakers like Akali and Irelia presented another issue. Suddenly, the game put a strong emphasis on early skirmishes, and League of Legends matches went from a chess-like battle of wits into an all-out brawl. And as exciting as that is for the viewers, it became a nightmare for the LCK teams that relied on macro and rotations to outmaneuver their opponents around the map.
But is that really all there is to South Korea’s downfall?
It’s common to view Korean teams as League of Legends machines that take things slowly in the laning phase and grind you down in the later stages of the game. However, that’s only a part of the picture. The truth is that LCK lineups never shied away from aggression. At Worlds 2014, Samsung White overwhelmed their opponents in the early game, producing a monumental +3,125 average gold difference at the 15-minute mark (or GD@15) over the course of the tournament. A year later, SK Telecom T1 also had an impressive +1,375 GD@15, and KT Rolster were close behind with a +1,056 GD@15 of their own.