The Roar
The Roar


KeSPA Cup showed why it's not all doom and gloom for Korea

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31st December, 2018

The KeSPA Cup is awesome. It is reverent of a different time, a time in which League of Legends still had tournaments run by third parties.

Or perhaps it is a cousin of other, non-League competition where that is still the norm. Take Counter-Strike, for example.

Its developer, Valve, has almost nothing to do with organising competitive play apart from choosing who should host a couple of Majors each year.

The LCS system has been great, I’m a huge fan and have been since the get-go, but KeSPA Cup leaves me wishing we still had a wider variety of tournaments in the West.

LCK commentator PapaSmithy has compared KeSPA Cup to football’s FA Cup. The comparison is far from perfect – the former lacks the history and prestige of the latter – but it isn’t completely wrong either. The romance of cup competition is certainly present, as are the giant killings.

They started early, at least in name, as Busan Rising Star took down the work-in-progress roster of MVP in the very first round.

I say “in name” because, though MVP has been a pretty mediocre team for a while, this current line-up might be the most mediocre yet. A Challenger team beating MVP of the LCK is technically an upset, but the five players on Busan beating the five players on MVP? Not so much.

Busan then went on to defeat another LCK team in the shape of Jin Air Green Wings, before losing to KT Rolster.

JAG and MVP may lack the star power of the next team on the receiving end of an upset, but that doesn’t detract from Busan’s accomplishment. After all, what’s better than taking down one LCK team?


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In case you somehow missed it, SKT was the next giant to meet his very own David. This particular David had his name changed to DAMWON Gaming, but he still remembered to bring his slingshot and down went Goliath.

More impressive, though, was the manner of DWG’s victory: comeback wins in professional League are rare. Comeback wins against SKT are almost unheard of, but the challenger team did exactly that.

A composed baron sneak got them back in a game three that seemed all but lost after a disastrous opening 20 minutes. From there, they closed out the series in a professional fashion that SKT themselves would have been proud of.

DAMWON went on to lose to Griffin in the next round, but everyone loses to Griffin these days. Even Gen G, their previous Achilles’ heel, could do nothing to stop them in today’s grand-final.

Indeed, the new champions swept through the entire competition without dropping so much as a game. In case anyone thought their rise to power in 2018 was a Leicester City-like flash in the pan, KeSPA Cup was here to show that they still mean business.

The teams Misfits Gaming and G2 Esports compete in final of the 'LCS', the first European division of the video game 'League of Legends', at the AccorHotels Arena in Paris on September 3, 2017.

League of Legends. (CHRISTOPHE SIMON/AFP/Getty Images)

But even DAMWON nearly fell to what would have been, in retrospect, almost as big an upset as their win over SKT. They were one game away from elimination at the hands of KeG champions, Seoul.

Never knew Seoul had its own team? Never heard of KeG? You’re not alone. They were a regional team in a largely unheard-of tournament, which qualified the winners for IESF 10. Awkwardly for the rules, the team was made up of subs from LCK teams, plus one free agent by the name of Pop.

IESF, by the way – briefly, because it’s quite the rabbit hole – is an international competition that receives almost zero coverage, at least on the parts of the internet I frequent.

Australia actually finished in the 9-16 bracket, losing to event tournament runners-up… wait for it… Macau. Yes, really. Macau then lost in the grand-final to South Korea, so at least some normality was restored in the end. China did not send a team.

Back on topic: KeSPA Cup taught us a lot about the lay of the land in Korea right now, not least of which is the fact that a similar tournament in Europe and America would be awesome.

general view during the opening round at the League of Legends College Championship on May 25, 2017 in Santa Monica, California.

League of Legends. (Photo by Josh Lefkowitz/Getty Images)

I already mentioned the fact that Griffin is here to stay, but, perhaps more importantly after a year in which Korea’s dominance of the international scene finally crumbled, KeSPA Cup showed that Korea still has an incredibly deep pool of talent from which to draw.


Yes, it’s pre-season and many of the top teams are in the midst of remodelling. Even so, would you expect SKT to lose to a challenger team? Would you expect that challenger team to almost lose to mix-team of reserve players?

Significantly, we saw glimpses of what the rebuilding might look like for many LCK teams once the work is complete. SKT showed flashes of former and future glory at times and Gen G looked well on their way to recovery in the earlier stages. Griffin is the team to beat, though, and they have no renovations to deal with.