Long story short, not by a long shot.
After a long series of International wins in a row, the LCK are struggling with their mortality. Some would go so far as to say that it is the end of the LCK. Clearly, that is an overreaction.
Too Big to Fail
LCK, especially SKT T1, has built a legacy that won’t crumble simply after 1.5 years of defeat. If that were the case, even smaller regions like the SEA Tour and the LJL would have disappeared years ago.
Oh Cruel Irony
In the past, when LCK always won international tournaments, other regions’ viewers were thoroughly displeased by the way their top teams would emulate the LCK style of risk-averse vision-controlled gameplay.
This was probably the result of the perceived prowess of the LCK style as well as much convincing nudging by one Christopher “Montecristo” Mykles. He wasn’t wrong though. Given the state of League of Legends in the past years, vision was readily available a la Trinkets, Control Wards and even Stalker’s Blade. This was, in fact, the most efficient way to win any international tournament.
However, Riot’s new patches have started to encourage teams to take more risks and enter more skirmishes for map objectives instead of soullessly crushing the enemy team via perfect vision control. This led to the rise of the LPL, which was always hailed for their ability to teamfight.
Even as the LCK struggled to regroup, it was apparent that they would not adapt to the new meta well. This was evidenced by their strong vocal resistance to change when the AD Carries were nerfed to the ground, forcing Bot laners to play Mages and Bruisers at the bottom lane or employ the funnel strategy. Arguably, many other regions resisted these changes as well, but the LCK players voiced this out the most.
The LCK’s long-ingrained method of playing League of Legends served as a detriment to them. At one time, other regions played to their comfort zone, showing Champions that they already knew how to deal with. They had all the contingencies and game plans ready at their fingertips because they had seen those situations so many times. As creatures of habit, they played well because they were conditioned to react appropriately to each and every predictable enemy move.
Even when lesser teams pulled out something unorthodox for LCK teams to deal with, LCK were taught to fall back on their conditioned training and controlled playstyle to overcome those odds.
This would no longer work for the LCK in 2018 onwards. From the aggressive risk-taking of the LPL to the well-executed unique picks from LEC and LCS, LCK could no longer fall back on the years of conditioning and experience.
Players that claim that they could have played the game better are deluded. They could not have played better when facing against something they have never experienced before; that is nigh impossible to do. Sure, mechanically they could have played better, but that was never going to flip the scales in their favour as much.
LCK showed signs of change in 2019 Spring when the new blood, Griffin, Sandbox and Damwon came into the picture and dominated the first half of the round robin, giving the LCK hope that their largely ingrained tendencies would shift towards more risky teamfighting and unique picks.
Unfortunately, it was not meant to be. SKT’s mechanical prowess trumped Griffin’s attempt at unique picks in the bottom lane. Poor execution on Griffin’s part allowed SKT to mount a comeback in Game 1 while a repeated attempt of the same strategy meant that SKT had Griffin’s number from the very first second of Game 3.
With SKT T1’s recent loss at MSI 2019, people are now calling the LCK region rigid and inflexible, only playing the meta picks and unwilling to challenge it with fresh but risky picks. What was once the LCK’s greatest strength has now become it’s Achilles’ Heel.
The Power of Franchising
Billions of dollars worth of investment has to amount to something. While LCK remained largely the same barring a move from OGN to Riot’s LoL Park, nothing much changed.
While LCK was busy winning titles, LPL, LCS and most recently, the LEC all started to grow their infrastructure. Let’s face it. Franchising worked. Franchising improved the overall quality of all the regions involved. Gone are the days when you could boast about the LCK and how teams have established much law and order and a competitive environment.
Now, it its the LCK that has failed to garner more investment into their realm. Much more could be done in the LCK, especially since there are many larger organizations that could jump into esports. Lotte would be a good example, and it is a tragedy that they haven’t even ventured into anything of the sort.
LCK has lost its most talented players to better paychecks elsewhere for long enough. Stemming this trend would be the first step towards regaining ground on the international stage.
League of Legends is vastly different as compared to when it was in Season 3. As more and more regions start to find success in playing their own style while also taking lessons on proper execution from the LCK, one can only hope that LCK follows suit and develops something new in order to climb back to the top.
The gap has well and truly closed, but once again, LCK is not doomed.