With Kingzone DragonX’s Round 2 loss to Afreeca Freecs and SK Telecom’s failure to reach the play-offs, this will be the first time that neither Faker, Pray or GorillA will not feature in the LCK play-off final.
This season has been somewhat of a transition to a new generation for Korea’s LCK. A Spring final saw Afreeca Freecs compete at a level which they had not experienced before (albeit against a team of seasoned veterans) and the Summer Split’s regular season has made way to the rise of Griffin, a newly promoted team generally comprised of rookies.
This new era for the LCK is further emphasised by the omittance of some of the league’s most experienced players; Faker, Pray and Gorilla.
The LCK was formed in 2015, and the first ever Spring final saw all three of these players compete. SKT’s merger of it’s two sister teams (ST Telecom T1 K and SK Telecom T1 S) to form SK Telecom T1 brought a victory over in their first split over GE Tigers, whose bot lane consisted of Pray in ADC and GorillA on support. This win earned SKT a place in the first Mid Season Invitational, however a loss in a 5 game series against China’s Edward Gaming saw them miss out on being crowned champions.
The Summer Split of 2015 brought further success for SKT. This time they found themselves up against KT Rolster in the final, who were no match for a dominant SKT roster than easily won 3-0 in their Bo5 and would go on to steamroll Worlds that year (beating PrayrillA’s re-branded KOO Tigers in the final).
SK Telecom’s success continued into 2016. The Spring Split play-off final would once against pit Faker’s squad against Pray and GorillA, whose team had re-branded once again and were now known as ROX Tigers. A 3-1 triumph from SKT secured their 3rd LCK title in a row as they were still the only team to win the competition. This cemented SK Telecom’s MSI position for the 2nd year running, and this time they got what they were after. A 3-0 series win over NA’s underdogs Counter Logic Gaming meant that SKT got their hands on the trophy for the first time.
After three consecutive LCK titles, SK Telecom’s reign finally came to an end in Summer 2016 where a 3-2 loss at the hands of KT Rolster meant that they did not make it to the final. However, a 1st place finish in the regular season meant that the Pray and GorillA’s lovable ROX Tigers would face off against KT for the trophy. A 3-2 score won the title for ROX and booked them a place at Worlds that year, where they would go on to reach the final. Unfortunately for ROX Tigers they were eliminated at the semi-final stage by the eventual winners SKT, who went on to beat Samsung Galaxy 3-2 in the final.
Investment troubles for ROX ahead of the 2017 season led to a release of their roster, where all but Pray and GorillA ended up on different teams. The duo secured spots with Longzhu Gaming, a team who were yet to experience success and would only go on to earn a 7th place finish in the 2017 Spring Split regular season, one that was not good enough to reach the play-offs. Faker hadn’t moved from SKT during these years, and an updated roster featuring PrayrillA’s former teammate Peanut in the jungle stomped their way through the split, only dropping 2 series through the regular season and beating telecom rivals KT 3-0 in the final. This earned them a spot in MSI once again, where a convincing 3-1 victory over Europe’s G2 Esports would win the title for the 2nd year in a row.
Moving to the Summer Split of 2017 is where PrayrillA’s Longzhu would finally find success. A change in top lane saw a relatively inexperienced Khan join the team, and with it brought a dramatic change in fortunes. A 14-4 regular season record meant that Longzhu finished in 1st place, guaranteeing their spot in the final. SKT did make play-offs with a 4th place finish, and a dramatic run through the gauntlet meant that Faker and his team would compete with Pray and Gorilla once again. This time PrayrillA came out on top, however the finish was enough for both teams to earn a spot in Worlds.
Unfortunately for Longzhu, their LCK performances did not translate to Worlds success. Despite winning their group without dropping a game, a 3-0 loss to SSG in the quarter-finals would end their Worlds dream early. Faker’s SKT did make the final, however they were devastatingly beaten by SSG who picked up their first Worlds title since the merging of sister teams Samsung White and Samsung Blue.
2018 saw a takeover and re-brand for Longzhu (something Pray and GorillA were well accustomed to), and the team was now known as Kingzone DragonX. Their regular season form picked up right where it left off and they finished 1st once again, this time only dropping 2 series. SKT’s poor form found them only in 4th place, where another play-off loss to KT Rolster meant that they would not be representing Korea at MSI for the first time. A surprise package in the form of Afreeca Freecs earned a place in the LCK final this split, however Pray and GorillA would go on to win their 2nd LCK title in a row with a 3-1 victory. Sadly for Kingzone, they would again be unable to carry their form over to the international stage as they succumbed to a 3-1 loss to an Uzi-inspired RNG in the final of 2018’s MSI.
We now find ourselves in the Summer Split of 2018, one where significant balance changes have seen dramatic consequences in the fortunes of some teams. With Faker’s form in doubt, he found himself watching from the bench for a large part of the regular season as SKT failed to reach the play-offs for the first time. Kingzone were also unconvincing for large parts of the split and would go on to finished 3rd based on head-to-head records despite having the joint highest wins with 13. This placed them in Round 2 of the play-off gauntlet, however they were unable to beat Afreeca Freecs in a Bo5 as they were eliminated 3-1.
That defeat has lead us to here, a play-off that will not see either Faker or PrayrillA in the final for the first time since the LCK’s inception. Despite this, all three players have seemingly been in the scene long enough to experience such ups and downs and been able to overcome them. Logic would suggest that they will be back and will be seen in the final again. However, the notorious cut-throat nature of Esports, in order to bring immediate results, begs the question of whether we may see any of these players move rosters ahead of next season, or perhaps even quit playing for good.