Photo via Riot Games

Griffin’s fall from grace: From Worlds favorites to relegation

What went wrong with the rookie Korean superteam?

In April 2018, a rookie League of Legends team emerged from Challengers Korea. The roster swept team after team and set their sights on first in the LCK Summer Split.

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But following three dominating LCK seasons and a subsequent World Championship participation, Griffin were relegated after failing to escape last place in the region this year.

So what changed to cause Griffin to fall from a World Championship to relegation?

The beginning of the dominating roster

Griffin formed in 2017 with top laner Choi “Sword” Sung-won as the pivotal member of the team. After a decent start in Challenger’s Korea, the team failed to maintain momentum as a result of changing junglers. A couple of members left and coach Kim “cvMax” Dae-ho joined, allowing Griffin to improve their standings significantly and win most of their remaining series. They did not qualify for the promotional tournament to the LCK that season after being defeated by APK Prince.

Months later, Griffin picked up the bot lane of Park “Viper” Do-hyeon and Son “Lehends” Si-woo—the beginning of their success story.

Griffin’s first LCK season

After defeating the LCK’s last-place teams Kongdoo Monster and MVP in two dominating victories during the 2018 Summer Promotion, Griffin qualified for the LCK and made sure everyone knew new kings were in town.

They began the 2018 LCK Summer Split with a series of convincing wins. Once their mid laner substitute was old enough to play, they fielded him in to give him some practice. This gave birth to the now-renowned mid laner Jeong “Chovy” Ji-hoon. They finished their first LCK split in second place and lost the playoff finals to KT Rolster in a close best-of-five series. Due to a lack of championship points, Griffin had only one shot to qualify for 2018 Worlds by winning the Regional Gauntlet. They were close in doing so but lost to Gen.G in the finals in another narrow best-of-five series.

Even though Griffin missed the 2018 World Championship, they put up an impressive showing for their first split in the league and became feared by other teams. They even got revenge against Gen.G later on by winning the Korean KeSPA Cup after the World Championship.

2019, the Year of the Griffin

Image via Riot Games

Ahead of the 2019 season, esports company STILL8, former owners of the relegated Kongdoo Monsters, bought Griffin.

Griffin headed into the 2019 split off a win in the KeSPA Cup with their five-man roster, leaving no room for substitutes. Sword, Tarzan, Chovy, Viper, and Lehends were on a mission to dominate the LCK once again.

They stomped the competition, losing only three out of 18 series and ending the 2019 Spring Split in first. Because of their regular season standings, Griffin were placed directly into the LCK Spring playoff finals, a seeding which is “cursed”—no one outside of T1 seems to be able to win if placed there. They lost 0-3 in the playoffs to SKT, who had to climb through the playoff gauntlet, a tradition which would continue going forward. 

Heading into the Summer Split, Griffin acquired substitute top laner Choi “Doran” Hyeon-joon, a promising solo queue superstar. With Doran trading time with Sword, the Griffin squad looked dominant once more, dropping a couple of series in the regular split but ending up in first in the region’s standings.

After finishing first in both the Spring and Summer Splits, Griffin acquired enough Championship Points to qualify directly for the 2019 World Championship.

The beginning of Griffin’s downfall

Image via Riot Games

But as the international tournament approached, skies grew grey for Griffin. The team’s head coach cvMax was released from the team just one week before the 2019 World Championship.

Sword, Tarzan, and mid laner Shin “Rather” Hyeong-seop later shed light on the situation, saying cvMax had verbally and physically abused the players. This prompted his dismissal before the World Championship and more investigations in the following months.

And while Griffin climbed out of an easy Worlds group stage, they lost to Invictus Gaming in the quarterfinals. One could give them the benefit of doubt since Invictus Gaming went on to win Worlds that year, but ultimately playing without a coach likely led to drafting phase mistakes and poor VOD analysis. 

Griffin’s last attempt

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At the end of November 2019, the parent organization of Griffin dissolved all players contracts, allowing them to explore other options. Following the announcement, the organization parted ways with three key players: Chovy, Lehends, and Doran.

Griffin signed former T1 top laner Untara, former Origen mid laner Yoo “Nae-hyun” Naehyun, and rookie support Jeong “Kabbie” Sang-hyeon to complete its roster going into the 2020 Spring Split. After a poor showing at the KeSPA Cup 2019, Griffin signed additional players in Yoon “Hoya” Yong-ho for the top lane, Son “Ucal” Woo-hyeon for the mid lane, and Jeong “Irove” Sang-hyeon to replace Kabbie, who left the organization.

The new iteration of Griffin looked weak after losing their star-performing players in three lanes. They had their worst season, which could be attributed to the lack of the head coach who had led the team in their journey from Challengers Korea to the LCK finals. After ending the season with a 5-13 score, the Griffin roster was sent to the 2020 LCK Summer Promotion to defend their LCK spot.

They had to defeat Sandbox Gaming, who placed ninth during the regular Spring Split, to come back into the LCK. But after a conving loss to Sandbox, Griffin were knocked out of the LCK, marking the end of an era.

Where are the Griffin members now?

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The original Griffin roster is unlikely to reunite after the former players found new homes where they shined. Solo laners Doran and Chovy ended up on DragonX, who placed in the top three during this year’s LCK Spring Split. Lehends signed with Hanwha Life Esports, and although the team wasn’t as successful, it has shown a lot of positivity and motivation towards improving their standings.

The most successful of them all, however, is jungler Seo “Kanavi” Jin-hyeok. Griffin originally loaned out Kanavi to Chinese team JD Gaming on poor terms and had reportedly pressured the player to accept an unfair contract. The contract, which ultimately led to fines for both JD Gaming and Griffin, included a five-year commitment for the lowest possible salary. Kanavi later re-signed with JD Gaming on better terms and went on to win the 2020 LPL Spring Split with the team.

Even though this chapter is over for Griffin, no one knows if fans will see them again. With the LCK moving to a franchise model in 2021, Griffin might look to apply for franchising and we may get to see another chapter of this organization.

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Cristian Lupasco
Finance expert by the day, cooking enthusiast by the night. Found a passion for writing about video games last year.