It had been 1,106 days since a non-South Korean team defeated a South Korean team at a major international League of Legends tournament.
That counter can be reverted back to 0, as China's Royal Never Give Up defeated South Korea's Kingzone DragonX in the final of the 2018 Mid-Season Invitational. It was the first time since the 2015 MSI final in Tallahassee, Florida, where, in a similar fashion, China's representative EDward Gaming upended South Korea's SK Telecom T1 to win the inaugural tournament. At the time, the loss could be explained by the recent exodus of star players from South Korea's League Champions Korea to China's LPL, with EDG possessing two South Korean stars in Heo "PawN" Won-seok and Kim "Deft" Hyuk-kyu.
Three years later, there are no excuses for South Korea. Since recovering from the exodus, the region had never been stronger. The 2015, 2016 and 2017 world championships were all-South Korean affairs, and the loss to EDG prompted the rest of the region, especially SKT, to never let something like that happen again. If it wasn't for the fact that only one South Korean team could enter MSI, the finals for the past two years, which were one-sided victories for SKT, would have also probably been between two South Korean squads. That's why Sunday's victory for Royal Never Give Up will go down as a landmark victory in the history of League of Legends, officially marking the end of a three-year dynasty bookended by Chinese teams lifting the championship at MSI.
It's impossible to talk about the championship victory without starting with RNG's ace and the undisputed best AD carry in the world, Jian "Uzi" Zi-Hao. In what was expected to be a career-defining tournament for the Chinese superstar, Uzi ascended into a new tier of levity, winning his second-straight trophy after six long years. The MVP of the tournament, Uzi, was the one to put the final touches on the title win, stopping a Kingzone comeback in its tracks with a double kill and pushing through the South Korean opposition's base to win it all.
For the first time in his career, there was no "but" when talking about how incredible Uzi was.
"He is a great player, but his team ..."
"Uzi is a great player, but when it comes to a final, he just can't get it done."
"Uzi is a great player, but against the best South Korea has to offer, his mechanics are nowhere near enough to win."
All that was left on the stage in Paris -- with thousands chanting his name, recognizing the player who dismantled their home favorite Fnatic two days earlier in the semifinal -- was a player, for the moment, with no equal. The past and future aren't as important as the present. And in the present, Uzi is the best League of Legends player in the world.
"I've been trying to win this title for six years now," Uzi said on stage following the victory. "I can't imagine [that] I'm standing here with this trophy. I'm super excited for this moment."
On the other side of the coin, Kingzone, a team not only expected to win the tournament but do it in record-breaking fashion, will leave with far more questions than answers. After going into Worlds last year as the favorite to win and falling in a sweep during the quarterfinals, it's another heartbreaking loss on the international stage for the longtime bottom lane duo of Kim "PraY" Jong-in and Kang "GorillA" Beom-hyun. Considered one of the best duos throughout their careers, the two will return to South Korea still winless at international events.
At the 2014 World Championship, PraY and GorillA would lose to another Chinese team, this time OMG, in the quarterfinals without picking up a game. Fast forward a few months on the newly formed GE Tigers, the team was expected to win the IEM World Championship but was handed the biggest upset in the game's history when it lost to the bottom dwellers of the LPL, Team WE. While Uzi shed his image of choking at large events, now firmly in the discussion of the best ADC ever, PraY and GorillA will only face more and more pressure at each international event they enter.
Kingzone's success in the upcoming LCK summer is now negligible. Regardless of how well the team does in its home country, no one will believe in this team again until it can win a championship on an international stage. KZ could go through the entire LCK summer season without dropping a single game, and it will all be for naught come Worlds if it isn't the last team standing when the victor is crowned.
The team's top laner, Kim "Khan" Dong-ha, who said in a pre-interview that he would make the other top laners at the event "kneel" has gone from one of the consensus strongest players at his position to possibly being the worst player at his position throughout the entire event.
Heading into the World Championship in South Korea, the field has never been more wide open. China has proven it doesn't need South Korean imports to defeat its rival -- and the league's top team in the regular season, Invictus Gaming, might even be stronger than RNG with a healthy lineup. Taiwan's Flash Wolves, from the often forgotten region of the LMS, will almost assuredly be at Worlds, and with how well it performed at MSI, expected to make a deep run. Europe's Fnatic, G2 Esports and others will only get better in the summer months. North America, with possibly the deepest field of strong teams it's ever had in the league, will be sending three teams all expecting to make it out of groups (with probably only Cloud9 making it out, per usual).
And for the South Korean hosts, it will be a tournament of redemption. Kingzone believes it is a much better team than what it showed at MSI, but no one will believe it until it shows up. KT Rolster will want to finally do something on the international stage. The Afreeca Freecs, the team known as one of the most hardworking in all of esports with days off few and far between, will be grinding to get even stronger. Then, having seen his cross-region rival finally win the big one, Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok and SK Telecom T1 will be wanting to erase the worst season in the storied franchise's history and make sure to meet Uzi and RNG once more on the Worlds stage.
This time, however, in differing roles. It will be Faker, the challenger, and Uzi, a giant bullseye on his back, the one calling the shots as champion.