The League of Legends Korean scene just had a string of changes subtly as large as the Korean exodus of 2014. Failing to regain the World Championship, LCK teams are dead-set on revamping their entire system to compete with the LPL. China won the last two Worlds titles back to back, after five consecutive Korean champions from 2013 to 2017. Now, the balance of power shifted towards the Chinese league. There are some analysts saying Europe is the real #2 behind China. While that statement will inevitably draw a lot of arguments, the fact remains that Korea’s dynasties are now basically gone. In order to grasp the magnitude of these offseason moves, let’s dive into each one.
kKoma joins Vici Gaming of the LPL
Kim “kkOma” Jeong-gyun, a name that is synonymous to SKT T1 and their record three World Championships. KKoma started his career in esports as a mediocre Starcraft 2 player. KKoma then decided to quit the game and switched to League of Legends instead. He played for StarTale for a while before realizing he’s better off as a coach. He then signed with SKT T1 in December 2012. Together with League’s greatest superstar, Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok, they jumpstarted the SKT dynasty in 2013.
.@VICI has found their new coach, according to sources: kkOma.
— ESPN Esports (@ESPN_Esports) November 25, 2019
Despite massive success in five years, kKoma faced unreal pressure and scrutiny whenever SKT struggled. After their first Worlds title in 2013, SKT’s lineup ran into a wall and failed to qualify for Worlds 2014. Thereafter, Kkoma rebuilt SKT around Faker and merged SKT S and SKT K together. This lineup went on to win SKT’s back to back title in 2015 and 2016. Then, in a heartbreaking loss to Samsung Galaxy, SKT lost in the grand final of Worlds 2017. KKoma rebuilt the SKT roster anew, this time going for known superstars to surround Faker. Sadly, they failed to reach their goal. SKT lost in the semis of MSI 2019 against G2 Esports, and again in the semis at Worlds 2019. Despite their immense talent on paper, the Koreans struggled against unpredictable opponents.
In the face of another rebuild, kKoma decided to leave SKT, along with Kim “Clid” Tae-min (Gen.G) and Kim “Khan” Dong-ha (Allegedly to FunPlus Phoenix). It’s been speculated that with his coming marriage, he wanted a less stressful environment with less demand for immediate success. Hence, he signed with LPL’s Vici Gaming and he will be coaching for them in 2020.
Kim replaces kKoma on SKT
With kKoma leaving, SKT needed a brilliant coach to guide SKT in his place. Enter Kim “Kim” Jeong-soo, formerly of Damwon Gaming. The man who guided Invictus Gaming to the World Championship in 2018 returned to Korea in 2019 as the head coach of Damwon Gaming. Damwon Gaming was a struggling CK (LCK’s academy league) team that failed to qualify for LCK in 2017. After picking up Jang “Nuguri” Ha-gwon, Heo “Showmaker” Su, Kim “Canyon” Geon-bu and coach Kim, they managed to enter the LCK. The international community spoke highly of the team, scrimming Worlds 2018 finalists Fnatic during their Worlds run and allegedly destroying them. Despite the hype, they were second fiddle to Griffin, another new team from CK that had their own set of young prodigies.
We’re thrilled to announce that Kim “Kim” Jeong Soo is the new head coach of T1 League of Legends team. As an industry veteran, Kim has previously won Worlds and led multiple teams to championship contention. Please welcome Kim to the T1 family!#T1WIN #T1Fighting pic.twitter.com/CzdQuUpFQT
— T1 LoL (@T1LoL) November 26, 2019
Nevertheless, Damwon Gaming was relatively successful for the season. They won the LCK gauntlet to earn the 3rd seed for Worlds 2019. There, they dismantled every single team in the Play-In Stage, as well as earning the first seed out of Group D. However, their youth and inexperience were exploited by G2 Esports in the quarterfinals. Most of their players must’ve had gotten great offers to play elsewhere, most notably Showmaker and Nuguri. Fortunately for them, the starters seemed to be sticking together. However, they will be playing their 2020 season without their leader.
Kim will have massive shoes to fill in kKoma’s place. If anyone can ever match up to his credentials, Kim certainly has a chance. He’s already won Worlds once, with the highly inconsistent and dysfunctional Invictus Gaming at that. SKT may not have a roster that matches the 2019 iteration on paper, they will certainly have a worthy successor in the backstage for them.
SKT signed Kim “Roach” Kang-hui as their new top laner. They also signed Moon “Cuzz” Woo-chan, DragonX’s former jungler. Lee “Gumayushi” Min-hyeong, a highly touted trainee, will also be on the main roster, albeit as a sub. They too will have massive shoes to fill and the entire Korean community will be watching their every move.
**Article featured image source: T1 LoL Twitter