The Korean powerhouse are set to make their first World Championship appearance in the group stage tomorrow, but just what version of the squad will we see?
Griffin rose to prominence back in 2018 as a team that took the LCK by storm. A Challengers Korea (Korean second division) side at the time, they swept through the competition with ease in the Spring split, finishing the regular season 14-0 before beating ninth and tenth placed LCK sides Kongdoo Monsters and MVP to lock in their spot for the Summer.
They continued their strong form in their inaugural LCK split and finished with a joint best record of 13 wins and 5 losses; tied with KT Rolster, KingZone DragonX and Gen.G. This earned them a bye to round three of the playoff gauntlet, where a 3-2 victory over Afreeca Freecs pushed them into the LCK final at their first time of asking. A KT Rolster superteam that was finally coming to fruition clinched the five game series with a 3-2 as Griffin failed to take the title.
At this stage, any fan that was told that Griffin would go on to make the next two finals and still would not win a title would surely think it to be unbelievable. However, as we know, that’s exactly what happened. Spring and Summer finals in 2019 were lost at the hands of giants SK Telecom despite the young team reaching the gauntlet as first seed on both occasions.
Griffin looked a formidable lineup during both of these splits and would’ve made worthy winners in either instance, only fumbling at the final hurdle. This has caused many to call into question their nerves on these big occasions, staining their otherwise ruthless reputation.
Having spent their first two LCK splits with Sword in the top lane, consecutive losses in week 5 of Summer (at the hands of Gen.G and Afreeca) was enough for the side to bring in fresh blood in the form of Doran.
A relatively inexperienced player, Doran had been on the Griffin roster for a number of months but was yet to make his debut. His only previous competitive experience came in the form of amateur tournament the KeG Championship and the end of season KeSPA Cup; representing Seoul on both occasions.
A key difference between Sword and Doran since the latter’s introduction is the variance in champion pool. While Sword played seven champions in his 23 Summer regular season matches (and only two of these more than a single time), Doran utilised 10 champions across 19 games with an almost identical winrate (69.6% and 68.4% respectively).
While regular season winrate stayed the same as the side continued to dominate their way to a first place finish, playoffs form came back to haunt them for a third time in a row. With Doran in the side, Griffin once again fell at the hands of SKT despite putting up more of a fight on this occasion, picking up a single win in their 3-1 loss to improve on the 3-0 defeat in the Spring final.
Starting with the side back in 2017, coach cvMax led the team through their fairy-tale journey from Challengers to the LCK final, and stayed with the side to guide them to their first World Championship qualification this season.
However, with Worlds around the corner and practice well underway, Griffin management took the bold decision to let their coach go in light of under-performance. In the eyes of organisation, three consecutive third place finishes were not good enough as they had presumably expected a title by this point in time.
While there may be some truth in the team’s sentiment, the timing of such a decision could arguably not be worse. With only weeks away from the competition, Griffin have now been forced to prepare without the man that built the roster and moulded them into a top team in Korea, and likely the World.
We’re now less than 24 hours from seeing Griffin make their World Championship debut, a group stage match against another tournament favourite in the shape of Europe’s G2 Esports. What remains to be seen is which version of Griffin will show up over the coming weeks. Will we see the dominant Griffin of past regular seasons, or will we see the ‘chokers’ that fall at the final?