When Chinese money spurred an exodus of Korean talent to China at the start of 2015, many wondered whether China would now become the world’s top League of Legends region.
This weekend, the League of Legends Pro League (LPL) crowned its first champion of the year, and four of Korea’s best showed that they’ve still got it.
EDward Gaming dominated the regular season with a 14-3-1 record, making them massive favorites to take the playoffs. But the playoffs themselves weren’t smooth sailing. In the first round, dark horse World Elite took the team to a fifth game, taking advantage of the absence of ailing Korean mid laner Heo “PawN” Hyuk-kyu, who was hospitalized due to a back injury. But PawN heroically rushed from the hospital to join his team and play in the decisive fifth game, a 6/1/7 Kassadin performance that staved off the World Elite comeback.
LGD took a different path to the finals. A 7-10-5 regular season record only ranked them in sixth place, but the team saved its best League of Legends for the playoffs. There they were unstoppable, sweeping OMG and Snake, two of the top three teams during the regular season, in succession.
That set up an epic battle in the finals: Edward Gaming on one side, perennial Chinese champions, featuring Samsung Galaxy White AD carry Kim “Deft” Hyuk-kyu and Samsung Galaxy Blue mid laner PawN; LGD Gaming on the other, with White’s AD carry Gu “Imp” Seung-bin and Blue’s top laner Choi “Acorn” Cheon-ju.
Even after China bought Korea’s top talent, we still got four players from last year’s dominant Samsung organization in the final.
The key matchup, of course, was in the bottom lane. Deft and Imp earned reputations as the top two players at the AD carry position last year as members of the same organization, allowing them to build a rivalry and relationship that pushed each other to reach even greater heights. Even in a different country, on different teams, they’re still managing to do just that.
The two players and teams put together one of the most exciting series of League of Legends this year, a back-and-forth final that went down to the wire.
In the end, it was the favorites EDward Gaming who survived—barely. In the fifth game of the series, LGD scored first blood, punishing PawN’s risky Twisted Fate pick. Their plan to shut down one of the most dangerous carries in the LPL succeeded as the mid laner finished the match with a 0/6/5 KDA. But EDward Gaming clawed back, eventually building a mid game lead in large part to the play of their Chinese top lane and junglers, Tong “Koro1” Yang and Ming “ClearLove” Kai, veterans of many championships on EDward last year. LGD Gaming tried to get back into the game by forcing a Baron, and then the best player in the planet at his role showed why he’s earned that epithet.
A lengthy team fight ensued and for a moment, it looked like LGD had the upper hand. They scored two kills while losing Imp. But missing that key carry was critical—Deft and his Sivir stood alone against three members of LGD and mowed them down. When the dust settled, he had a pentakill. EDward rushed into LGD’s base and ended the series.
The pentakill was the perfect ending to a nearly perfect season by Deft, a player who has reached a level of play even higher than the superstar performance that helped Samsung Galaxy Blue win titles in Korea last year.
The championship continues local dominance for EDward Gaming, traditionally the top team in China. Even after the import of Korean stars, they managed to maintain their dominance. But they’ll also try to shed a leftover stigma from last year now that they’ve earned a spot at the Midseason Invitational next month: their history of poor play on the international stage.
At the World Championship last year, EDward Gaming underperformed as the top team in China while OMG and Star Horn Royal Club exceeded them. Now, as China’s champions once again, with many calling them the best team in the world after Korea’s talent moved to China, EDward Gaming will have a chance to rewrite the narrative.
If Deft, PawN, ClearLove and company continue playing like this, their story is just beginning.