League of Legends World Championship Pits a Defending Champion Against an Up-and-Comer

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League of Legends World Championship Pits a Defending Champion Against an Up-and-Comer

When the 10th annual League of Legends World Championship Final (or “Worlds Final”) starts this Saturday, South Korea’s Damwon Kia will be looking to win their second straight championship against a Chinese team. This year’s challenger for the title is EDward Gaming (EDG) who are playing in their first ever Worlds Final, capping a banner year where they came in third in the Spring LPL (China’s League of Legends Pro League) tournament, won the summer championship, and then beat fellow Chinese power Royal Never Give Up (winner of the spring championship and the global Mid-Season Invitational) on their way to this Worlds final appearance.

The two teams playing in the final are relative upstarts with significant pedigree, though this is a clear champ and challenger situation. South Korea’s Damwon Kia (DWG KIA or DK) are appearing in their second straight final, after winning the championship last year. DWG KIA have only been around since 2017, when the roster of MiraGe Gaming was signed by Damwon after qualifying for the Challenger level in League of Legends. This year, DK swept the 2021 Spring and Summer League of Legends Champions Korea (LCK) season tournament and playoffs after winning the Summer season and playoffs in 2020.

This is also the potential last match for DK’s Top Lane player Khan, because of the Republic of Korea’s law requiring military service that must start by the age of 28.

When asked for a prediction at a recent press conference, Damwon head coach Kim “kkOma” Jeong-gyun declared they would beat EDward 3-1 on the strength of their coaching staff and players. Damwon’s 21 year-old Mid Laner Heo “ShowMaker” Su called for a 3-0 sweep, citing feeling tired after playing five matches in the semifinals: “I want to pick up a 3-0 and go home.” When Chinese media asked EDG Support player Meiko, he responded similarly: “We had to play through 10 games to make it to the final, so we would like to have 3-0,” and repeated the answer when prompted for trash talk. It appears that both teams are quite confident, somehow propelled by their relative exhaustion.

Bold as that prediction might seem, a sweep in this year’s final wouldn’t be the first. Every World Championship final from 2017 to 2019 was a sweep, with Korean Samsung Galaxy beating Korean SK Telecom T1 in 2017, Chinese Invictus Gaming beating European Fnatic in 2018, and Chinese FunPlus Phoenix beating European G2 Esports in 2019. T1’s first title was also a sweep over Chinese Royal Club in 2013.

T1 is the most decorated team in LoL Worlds history, placing runner-up in 2017 to go along with three titles in 2013, 2015, and 2016 (all of which were coached by kkOma), and being knocked out during the semifinals in 2019 before their finish there this year.

Still, EDward Gaming’s making it to the final is a considerably bigger surprise for some than DK, since they had to get past Gen.G, an organization which, having acquired the League of Legends team through the acquisition of Samsung’s esports division, can also claim two titles. In the Worlds Final preview by Spotify Studios League of Legends podcast Rift Reaction on Wednesday, the T1-DK semifinal was referred to as “the real final” (like the 2012 Alabama-Georgia SEC Championship for you Dawgs fans). One of the hosts, much like one of Damwon’s players, expects the series to go 3-0. It wouldn’t be surprising if the prediction proved wrong, but it’s an intriguing storyline either way: is this the beginning of a dynasty for Damwon, or Edward’s breakthrough year?

Besides that brief piece of trash talk, the players on either side were largely respectful of one another. Damwon’s Jang “Ghost” Yong-jun expressed respect for Park “Viper” Do-hyeon, one of the two Korean nationals on EDG, as a talented and mechanically exceptional player. At the previous press conference, Viper called Ghost his biggest inspiration—the two both play in the AD Carry position, a central role that allows ranged damage dealing that stacks through modifiers.

When EDward’s Viper was asked if he had any words for Damwon’s ShowMaker, he simply said “let’s put on a good show and have a good game,” while Damwon’s BeryL also mentioned he’s learned a lot from EDward’s Tian “Meiko” Ye. Meanwhile, EDward Gaming’s Zhao “Jiejie” Lijie attributed his aggressive playstyle to this being his “first Worlds journey” and wanting to demonstrate a good individual performance. ShowMaker also objected to a question about the effect of pending free agency for him and some of his teammates, expressing that he is “a member of Damwon Kia right now and I don’t understand why I’m getting this question. It doesn’t affect me at all.”

Like the rest of the World Championship tournament, the final this weekend is taking place in Reykjavik, where the international Mid-Season Invitational was held. The World Championship was originally intended to be held in China, but COVID-related travel restrictions precluded that. The winning team won’t just receive the Summoner’s Cup, but also 18 karat gold rings adorned with diamond embedded inside sapphire and designed in concert with Mercedes-Benz. Each player’s ring will include their Summoner name (in-game callsign), a conspicuously large Mercedes-Benz logo, and the team tricode.

Who will win this year’s Summoner’s Cup? Find out when the 2021 League of Legends World Championship begins on Saturday, Nov. 6, at 8 a.m. ET / 5 a.m. PT (4 p.m. local time GMT/ICT). It will be available at the Lol-Esports YouTube, who will also replay the match at 1 p.m. ET, the LoL-Esports website, and the Riot Games Twitch channel.

Kevin Fox, Jr. is a freelance writer and Paste intern. He loves videogames, film, history, pop culture, sports, and human rights, and can be found on Twitter @kevinfoxjr.

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