Since the inception of Rift Rivals, the region expected to win in East Asia's premier League of Legends tournament has not.
First, there was the shocking victory for China's LoL Pro League in the tournament's inaugural year. Last year, there was Royal Never Give Up's dominant rise on the heels of their Mid-Season Invitational crown. But this year, when the tide seemed to have shifted in the LPL's favor, South Korea's League Champions Korea restored no small amount of pride lost at the recent world championship with a 3-1 victory in the final against the LPL.
Here are four things of note from the tournament, which featured the LCK and LPL as well as the League Masters Series (Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau) and Vietnam Championship Series.
For the LMS, the future is shaky at best
If it wasn't enough that the LMS had two teams taken away from it and given to the VCS, both regions lost every single one of their Rift Rivals games for an 0-11 performance. The VCS teams get a bit of a pass because it's their first year at the international event, but the LMS performance was a reminder of how far the once bet-worthy dark horses have fallen.
Since the Taipei Assassins' Season 2 World Championship victory, Taiwanese teams have earned a reputation for shutting down stronger South Korean squads. This perception only grew with the Flash Wolves' relative success and dominion over the region from 2015 to 2018.
With staples of the original Flash Wolves team like Hung "Karsa" Hao-Hsuan, Huang "Maple" Yi-Tang and Hu "SwordArt" Shuo-Chieh now in the LPL, though, the LMS seems to have run its course. It produced strong players who rose to the top and found opportunities in other regions.
The decision to separate the LMS from the greater Garena Pro League for 2015 was a sound one. But now, after this 0-11 Rift Rivals performance alongside the VCS, the writing is on the wall.
Now cracks a noble heart that bested many South Korean teams in single-game matches. Good night, sweet prince.
South Korea is back
South Korea's disappointing performances throughout 2018 culminated in an embarrassing quarterfinals exit from the world championship stage on home soil in Busan. LCK representative SK Telecom T1 also did not perform as well as expected at this year's MSI, although in fairness, they ran into eventual MSI champion G2 Esports in the semifinals. It's been a rough year for South Korean League of Legends as the once-default best region in the world was forced to accept that it was no longer on top.
LCK-LPL-LMS Rift Rivals, however, showed the potential the South Koreans still have and reminded the League of Legends world that the region is a worlds contender.
Furthermore, a bot-lane-focused meta suits a lot of these top LCK teams perfectly. If the game continues to shift away from a more solo-lane focus, expect to see teams like SKT, Kingzone and Damwon Gaming thrive.
This isn't to say that the LCK has restored absolute dominion over the LoL landscape. G2 Esports, Orige and Fnatic, alongside North America's Team Liquid and LPL teams like FunPlus Phoenix, Invictus Gaming and Royal Never Give Up, would make for an incredibly interesting tournament. League fans should be more upset than ever that we don't have more international events so these teams can beat each other up on the regular.
SKT can play proactively
When the SKT "dream team" came together this past offseason, I said that this could be one of the best teams South Korea could put together if it jelled. Former JD Gaming jungler Kim "Clid" Tae-min, aggressive to a fault, was going to help push SKT past their default scaling, five-on-five teamfighting style and into a world where they could have more of a solo lane focus with Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok and Kim "Khan" Dong-ha.
What happened instead was that Clid was too frequently ahead of his team in smaller skirmishes, especially in the early game. SKT came together in time to win the spring split but fell to G2 at MSI. Since then, they've struggled, defaulting to a slower style and making mid-series roster substitutions. It seemed like this SKT, regardless of talent, was completely lost and headed for a similar fate as last year's SKT.
Rift Rivals seems to have rejuvenated SKT, who looked incredibly strong in the finals against Topsports Gaming. Topsports were shockingly unable to do anything against SKT's stifling early game pressure. I just wonder where this SKT was for the entirety of this summer. Hopefully they can take this victory and translate it into more proactive success in the LCK itself.
The LPL continues to disappoint
This is the most disappointing narrative to come out of this Rift Rivals, especially with a team like Royal Never Give Up and bot laner Jian "Uzi" Zi-Hao back in the LPL, likely salivating over the bot-lane focus that this meta brings.
That being said, it's time for another adjustment of expectations regarding the LPL. These teams were done in by poor drafting, misunderstanding of the 9.13 metagame (likely from jumping immediately onto the 9.13 patch from 9.11) and abysmal mid-game decisions. The LPL still has the largest amount of talent of any region, but those squads once again need to revisit how they wield that talent. Picking random skirmishes over and over in the mid game is not the way to use it.