Last night, China’s top esports competition kicked off with a slate of four matches featuring some of the highest profile teams in the league. Fans tuning in to China’s big debut witnessed matches dominated by a different country—Korea.
One of the biggest stories during the League of Legends offseason was the exodus of Korean players to China’s League of Legends Pro League (LPL), chasing lucrative contracts rumored to be worth hundreds of thousands and even millions of dollars.
Apparently, China is getting what it paid for. In all four matches, Korean players were pivotal in securing the win.
In the first match of the day, Invictus Gaming challenged Chinese darling World Elite. Invictus’ pair of Korean mercenaries, the dynamic duo of KT Rolster Arrows, dominated the match. Aggressive jungler hero Lee “KaKAO” Byung-kwon set up a game one snowball on Jarvan IV with two early kills, ending the match with a 5/2/9 KDA.
His partner in crime Song “RooKie” Eui-jin put up a 6/0/8 KDA on Twisted Fate, using perfectly timed ultimates to pick apart World Elite, including an early dive past the mid tower to kill one of World Elite’s lone Korean player, Lee “Spirit” Da-yoon. The second game, Spirit got World Elite rolling with some early Rengar play, but it wasn’t enough to stop KaKAO and RooKie. The mid laner finished the game with an 8/2/11 KDA on Fizz.
Other matches featuring star Korean talent went a similar way. LGD Gaming picked up world champion Gu “Imp” Seung-bin and two Korean top laners, Choi “Acorn” Cheon-ju and Lee “Flame” Ho-jong, during the offseason.
All three played a role in dismantling Energy Pacemaker. Gu put up a 7/3/11 KDA in the first game on Sivir and followed it up with a whopping 10/0/5 Caitlyn, leading the server in kills both matches. LGD Gaming opted to use Choi in the top lane in game one, getting a 5/2/13 performance out of him on Irelia. In the second match, legendary carry top laner Lee put up a nearly identical 5/2/10 KDA line on the same champion.
In the final match, Edward Gaming showed off their shiny new superstars. Mid laner Heo “PawN” Won-seok picked up where he left off at the Riot World Championships, where he emerged as a massive mid lane threat while taking the title on Samsung Galaxy White. In game one his Kassadin was insane, posting a 13/4/13 KDA line while decimating Team King. Game two was more of the same—his 7/1/7 KDA Fizz again led the server in kills. Team fight master Kim “Deft” Hyuk-kyu fared just as well, an 8/3/15 KDA Twitch leading into a 5/1/8 Sivir.
Even in the fourth match, Snake versus Gamtee, the Korean players made a big impact. Unlike LGD Gaming, Invictus Gaming, and Edward Gaming, Snake didn’t make any high profile Korean acquisitions. But Kim “Beast” Joo-hyun, a Korean jungler who played on Bigfile Miracle during the second half of 2014, controlled the match for Snake. In game one his 3/0/10 Nunu set up his mid lane Xerath to carry and he followed it up with a 5/0/10 game on Jarvan IV.
In every game with a Korean player in a mid lane role, that player led the series in kills. In the match that didn’t feature one, Beast put up an 8/0/20 KDA line. The only Koreans who underperformed were the poor World Elite players Spirit and Noh “Ninja” Geon-woo, who had the misfortune of facing RooKie and KaKAO.
That’s just a sampling of the Korean talent, and talent in general, present in the LPL. We still have yet to see Vici Gaming and their two world champions Choi “DanDy” In-kyu and Cho “Mata” Se-hyeong hit the rift, or mid lane general Bae “Dade” Eo-jin and top laner Jang “Looper” Hyeong-seok on Master3. OMG and Star Horn Royal Club, two of China’s top three teams last year, have yet to play a game.
In some ways this might be selling the local talent short. Players like EDG top laner Tong “Koro1” Yang and LGD Gaming support Chen “Pyl” Bo put in top level performance. OMG, featuring an all-Chinese lineup, is still one of the favorites to win the league. They debut tonight against DanDy and Mata’s Vici Gaming. But it looks like Korean players will be driving much of the standings.
Chinese teams committed millions of dollars to bringing in Korean talent, and it’s paid off in the win column so far. It’s a brave new world in Chinese League of Legends, but it’s similar to the old world order—Korea is still king.
Image via Riot Games/Flickr