More than a decade has passed, and multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) League of Legends has been going strong ever since globally-renowned developer Riot Games released it in 2009. In 2011, they further cemented the game’s solid foundation in the industry by launching the League of Legends World Championship (or more commonly known as Worlds).
The Worlds is the top-tier annual esports tournament for League of Legends. Its multi-million-dollar prize pool, ceremonial performances, and outstanding competition among brilliant teams across the globe explain why it is one of the world’s most prestigious and watched tournaments.
With exceptional League of Legends teams and players hailing from different parts of the world, the more important question that concerns the gaming community now is, which country is the most successful? Meet the top five legendary teams in South Korea, and understand why the country dominates the video game and esports tournament.
5 most successful South Korean LoL teams
The five following teams have appeared, competed, and won in the League of Legends Champions Korea (LCK). Founded in 2012, it is the main esports tournament for League of Legends esports in South Korea, serving as a qualifier for the very prestigious Worlds.
Previously known as SK Telecom T1, T1 is a massive esports organisation consisting of various teams for 11 different gaming fields. In all of that, their most successful is the League of Legends team that has won thrice (2013, 2015, and 2016) in the Worlds, followed as a runner-up in 2017 and semifinalist in 2019 and 2021.
Mid laner Lee ‘Faker’ Sang-hyeok is one of T1’s prized assets. Not only is he the most successful player in the team, but he is currently the world’s highest-paid League of Legends player, with an estimated net worth of $4.5 million as of 2020. As a complement of his superb skills, Vice President Dustin Beck of Riot Games once called him the ‘Michael Jordan’ of the video game.
South Korea straightly swept the Worlds championships from 2013 to 2017. Apart from T1, Gen.G won the Worlds twice in 2014 and 2017 and recently finished as a semifinalist in 2021.
Formerly known as KSV Esports, Gen.G is a globally-renowned and valuable esports organisation with headquarters in Santa Monica, Los Angeles, Seoul, South Korea, and Shanghai, China. As for the latter, Forbes reported that they are the world’s sixth-richest esports group, with an estimated net worth of $185 million as of December 2020.
- DWG KIA
DWG KIA or DAMWON KIA is the third South Korean team that won the Worlds in 2020, then as a runner-up in 2021. Despite their most recent finish, they were commended for their perfect 6-0 run in the 2021 Worlds group stage. It wasn’t until China’s Edward Gaming swept away the championship from them in a very close 3-2 series.
Apart from League of Legends, DWG KIA has other teams for video games Fortnite Battle Royale, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG), Rainbow Six Siege, and Valorant.
- Hanwha Life Esports
Hanwha Life Esports won League of Legends Champions Korea in 2016, whereas finished as a runner-up in 2015 and semifinalist in 2016 in the Worlds.
Unlike the esports organisations mentioned above, Hanwha Life Esports only participates in two gaming categories: League of Legends and Crazyracing Kartrider. The latter is an online multiplayer racing game created and published by Nexon Korea Corporation.
- OGN Entus
OGN Entus currently has divisions for Clash Royale and PUBG. Their former League of Legends teams — where they were previously known as CJ Entus — was disbanded in 2017 when they were relegated for the first time after the 2016 LCK. Interestingly enough, they may not have won LCK, but they were able to finish as a runner-up in the Worlds in 2012.
Why South Korea dominates League of Legends
Whether it is a tech industry or gaming category, there will always be a leader in any field. If China and the European Union (EU) West prevail over Dota 2, then South Korea dominates League of Legends, and here are a few reasons why they are as such.
- South Korea kickstarted esports in the early 2000s
While esports was in the gaming scene in the early 1970s, it wasn’t until in the late ‘90s and early 2000s in South Korea that it reached the mainstream. From a historical perspective, this growth was due to the mass building of broadband Internet networks following the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis.
The 1997 Asian Financial Crisis caused a high unemployment rate in South Korea, urging the national government to encourage its jobless citizens to be creative in looking for alternative ways to earn income.
By chance, South Korea was thriving in the digital sector during the economic crisis. It was so advanced and prevalent that Internet use reached at least 56% of the population. Meaning, that high-speed connectivity, state-of-the-art computer hardware and software were all the necessary factors for citizens to enjoy and make money from graphically demanding PC games.
- PC bangs
PC bangs are a kind of advanced local area network (LAN) gaming centres available in many parts of South Korea. They consist of high-speed internet connection, top-notch computers, drinks and food, where they, later on, became the home ground of budding professional esports gamers.
PC bangs became more popular in South Korea when American video game company Blizzard Entertainment released StarCraft in 1998. It is a military science fiction real-time strategy video game that later on became the country’s national esports after the national government’s Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism created the Korea e-Sports Association (KeSPA) in 2000.
- Cultivated esports culture
KeSPA is South Korea’s official governing body of esports, with a mission to further the hypercompetitive gaming scene in all kinds of industries. For one, they broadcast various esports tournaments (e.g. League of Legends Champions Korea) on multiple cable channels.
Furthermore, South Korea treats pro esports gamers similar to K-pop (Korean popular music) idols. Players who have high ranks in Solo Queue get invited to join a team as a trainee, practising many hours a day to develop their ranks, solo and teamwork skills.