The Untold Story of Korea's Worlds Contenders
All too often the stories and questions that aren't sexy, aren't interesting, and aren't exciting get forgotten, causing the answers of some of the most important questions to be forgotten behind memetic wins and losses. Every team has a forgotten story, and hopefully more writers will be able to shed light onto the storylines other regions bring to this Worlds.
The LCK-Has the Korean talent generator finished spinning up?
Just about 11 months ago, the Korean Exodus begun, sending a vast majority of the top players within the region outside to Korean, European, and American teams. The leading question on the minds of many analysts at the time was whether or not the KeSPA teams would be able to train new talent fast enough to regain the competitive nature of the region. Undoubtedly, the change away from a tournament format into a league allowed many inexperienced players to get more time in a LAN environment, offering them more experience in Best-Of series than they would have received in previous years. What was most surprising however, was how a team of low-tier players was not only able to qualify into the league, but then sweep the first half of the Spring season. Their name? The GE(Now KOO) Tigers.
The Tiger's initial success landed them a spot at the first international event since the exodus, IEM Katowice. As the one Korean team at the event, they failed the represent the region to the standards that had been set less than 8 months prior, losing to a bottom-tier Chinese team. At the next, and most recent international event, MSI, the one team that had been positively affected by the Exodus took second place. This Worlds is going to be the first time that we get to see the infamous Korean talent generation tested against the former members of the region.
This event will answer two questions for about the LCK-Has region had enough time to train new stars to be ready to take on their former alumni, and will the money offered after their potential success be enough to entice them to leave?
KT Rolster-Can the Picaboo show sustain itself?
After two Gauntlets, KT Rolster solidified themselves as the second best team in Korea. What they didn't do, however, was solidify themselves as a legitimate contender for the Summoner's Cup. Some very interesting parallels can be drawn between SK gaming's Spring Split, and the current status of KT, which leaves the actual level of the team to be questionable at best. Both teams were brought up by a star player in the bottom lane, Forg1ven and Picaboo. Both teams leveraged the skill of the player to build a style revolving around them, with SK's ADC focus, and KT's extreme roams in the early game. Both teams had extreme success with the new styles, yet when it mattered most, the focus on only one style of play caused the teams to collapse in high-pressure situations. While they have had time to try to refine their alternate strategies, the international competition that they're going to face will have an equal amount of time to practice shutting down the roams.
Its worth nothing that KT Rolster are nowhere near close to being a bad team, nor are they as one dimensional as SK, as they've had success even without Picaboo roaming. The problem, however, is that there is quite a noticeable skill difference between the two styles of play which will limit their chances of success against teams equal or greater to them in skill overall.
The big question that will be answered for KT-Is their domestic success due to a playstyle that the region didn't have time to adapt to, or are they legitimately the second best team in the region?
KOO Tigers-The Ghost of Najin Past?
The story of the KOO Tigers is one of endless failure. No, not failure on the level of Xenics, but rather failure in the sense that they've yet to have a meaningful accomplishment not get overshadowed by an even greater disappointment. They swept the first round robin in Champions Spring, only to be upset at Katowice. They were seeded into the finals, only to be swept by SKT. They managed to regain their form, only to be defeated by KT, and not enter the finals. Now the team is at Worlds, where the expectation is that they will win their group.
If they fail to secure first, the Tigers will be seen as under-performing in the eyes of the Korean legacy. If they do secure first, they've met expectations, and nothing more. If the team goes out in the bracket stage early, they will again be seen as a disappointment. And if they do manage to make it to the RO4, they will have purely met expectations.
And to be clear, the Tigers are not a bad team. Their success this split should demonstrate that. The problem, is being good is merely OK in the eyes of fans, and being bad is unthinkable.
KOO fans be warned, you should have a very important question on your mind-Can the Tigers finally overcome their history of failure in important matches, or will their time at this year's Worlds be known as nothing more than a second NJWS?
Much like the Juggermaw composition, this year's Worlds is all about hanging SKT's star carry on a stick, before inflating it with the shields(of cash) if it catches someone's eye. And like the aforementioned composition, there is a limit to the amount of cash that someone will be willing to pay.
Unlike the other teams at this tourney, SKT has been in the public eye for so long that they don't have any truly unique storylines. Instead, their biggest challenge won't come until the off season, where assuming the CN teams don't fail miserably, SKT is going to receive extremely large offers for their star players. Essentially, this year's Worlds is one giant commercial for all the SKT players, and some of the richest owners in Esports are already dialing the number on the screen.
The biggest fear every SKT fan should have-Is SK Telecom willing to keep paying their star players for another year, or will they retire in China with the other "Summoners Cup" holders?