So you are a League of Legends player residing in North America and make some attempts to follow either League Champion Series European (EU) or North American (NA) teams. When the World Championship Series comes on you get bummed that most EU and NA teams do not make it to the finals. Why does this happen, they perform so well during their respective seasons. There is one caveat you are leaving out, the League Championship Korea. This is where some of the top teams that have won worlds hone their skills to perfection.
The most recent matchup at Worlds features two South Korean teams SK Telecom T1 and KOO Tigers. If one of those names looks familiar that’s because SK Telecom T1 took home the coveted Summoner’s Cup back in 2013 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, California. At the time the Korean team steamrolled their competition back home and while at worlds they were expected to make it to the finals. At this years 2015 Worlds they are favored to win over the aggressive looking KOO Tigers who crushed Fnatic in the semifinals of Worlds. If you are wondering who won the Summoner’s Cup in 2014 it was Samsung Galaxy White, yet another Korean team.
Why have the Korean teams dominated the global stage in the last three years? To answer that requires some deeper understanding of the mentality and culture of the Korean players. One of the best Korean players to look at is Lee “Faker” Sang-Hyeok. He is regarded as one of the best if not the best player in the world. With a Championship under his belt already he is positioned himself for yet another victory at this year’s Worlds.
Climbing up from the bottom ranks in League under the alias “GoJeonPa,” Lee soon found it difficult to be matched with players that were on the same skill level. That is when SK Telecom T1 stepped in and found the young super star. Soon after he enrolled in high school he found himself dropping out to join SK. This seems like it is a relatively large leap, to go from school straight to gaming.
However the culture in South Korea is accustomed to situations just like this. As far back as the release of StarCraft in 1998, Korean teens have spent their time glued to a computer screen. A regulatory agency (Korean eSports Association) was even created to help manage all of the esports action. Not only did the agency come into existence but two cable networks started to dedicate their air time to esports. Along this time several thousands of “PC Bangs” were being established throughout South Korea. These “PC Bangs” created a safe haven for gamers to congregate and perfect their skill. Instead of going out with some friends to watch the newest movie or get some dinner, you would meet up at a “PC Bang” and spend the night gaming with friends.
This high concentration on computer gaming is not the only driving force behind the seemingly unstoppable South Korean gamers. There is pressure that each of the gamers feel to represent not just their families but South Korea as a whole. This pressure is not just an internal motivator but external to. In several interviews Lee stated that South Korean fans can be overly harsh if he is not playing up to their expectations or makes a mistake during an important match. He has also stated that his family pride rests on his shoulders.
While the pressure can be great at times in the EU and NA competitions it is nothing to this extent. Nor is the culture as geared towards PC gaming as the South Koreans. Looking at these two factors it is easier to understand how these powerhouse teams are formed.
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Looking back at the LCK from 2012 to present the names of teams like Azubu Frost, Kt Rolster, MVP Ozone, Samsung Galaxy Blue, CJ Entus, KOO Tigers and SK Telecom T1 show that the South Korean league is populated with talent. This talent did not just appear out of thin air. The LCK hosts the Challenger Series where emerging players get a chance to showcase their talent. So much talent that Chinese gaming companies have been attempting to buy out Korean players in order to bolster their rosters. In several cases like SK Telecom T1, several players took deals that were offered to them and now play for Chinese based teams. Some have even said that they are free from relentless South Korean fans quoting the Chinese fans as more “laid back.”
In other cases like Lee’s, the companies would offer staggering salaries in order to win him over. To no avail, Lee has gone on record saying that he will be sticking with SK Telecom T1 for the foreseeable future and intends to bring home some more prestigious titles and Summoner Cups before he is finished. After which he might want to return to school.
These Challenger series have given rise to great teams like SK Telecom T1 and players like Lee “Faker” Sang-Hyeok. Knowing how the players got there will now shed some light on what the other leagues around the world must do in order to keep up. In reality, the rules and regulations for each region (North America, Europe, Korea, China) are very similar and leave very little room for deviation. The Korean stage just happens to be filled with a more dedicated player base than all the other regions.
If you have never followed the LCK it is understandable to question why you would start following it now. However, given the recent knowledge on how hard these players in South Korea work to obtain their positions and all that they sacrifice on the way towards that goal. It might be worth following, at the very least, to see the insurmountable competition that is in store for your favorite team outside of South Korea. Let’s face it, the Korean and Chinese teams have been taking competitive gaming more seriously than most of our competitors and it shows on a global level.