In Berkeley, there are a lot of reasons your neighbors might be screaming at 5 a.m. Maybe they’re having a party that’s gotten way out of hand, or maybe they’ve just received an email that their 9 a.m. class is canceled. Or, consider this: They could be nerds who stayed up late to watch the League of Legends World Championship.
Around 7 a.m. Oct. 31, DAMWON Gaming took down Suning 3-1 to become the 2020 League of Legends world champions. After beating out 21 other teams in the monthlong tournament, DAMWON became the first Korean team to lift the Summoner’s Cup since 2017.
Of the 6,000 fans who watched the final battle in Shanghai’s Pudong Soccer Stadium, many hoped that Suning, of China’s League of Legends Pro League, would take an underdog victory in the team’s home country.
The first three games (including Suning’s win in Game 2) were extremely close, but DAMWON firmly shattered the home crowd’s dreams by the fourth and final game of the series, completely shutting out Suning in a 27-minute stomp. DAMWON jungler Kim “Canyon” Geon-bu, who was awarded MVP of the series, looked especially dominant, handily building early leads for his laners to snowball the team to victory.
“In an interview during Worlds, I had said that my goal was to win the championship and to get the finals MVP,” Kim said in a post-match interview, translated by Inven Global. “Now that I really got it, it’s unbelievable and I feel amazing.”
DAMWON’s journey to the championship was nothing short of incredible. The team has become the best in the world in an extremely short period of time, signaling a new rise of Korean strength with its aggressive, adaptable play style.
DAMWON is a young team by any standard; it qualified to compete in League of Legends Champions Korea (LCK), the highest-level Korean regional league, in spring 2019.
“Last year, DAMWON was full of rookie players that played around their mechanics. But this year, with Coach (Yang “Daeny” Dae-in’s) feedback, the players gained a lot of understanding of the game and absorbed it really well,” said Lee “Zefa” Jae-min, DAMWON’s head coach. “That’s why they were able to win Worlds.”
Bot laner Jang “Ghost” Yong-jun, who was once a notoriously weak player in the Korean competitive scene, had never been to Worlds before 2020.
“A message to the other (pro) players who are having a tough time: They can just look up to me and think, ‘This kind of guy can also win Worlds,’ so I hope they can cheer up, never give up and accomplish the goals they have,” Jang said in a press conference after the match.
Suning, with a second-place finish, came out of the tournament with achievements of its own. The team was constantly underestimated, with many predicting that Suning would fall in the first round of the knockout stage. Yet, the team proved to be fierce competition.
The series has been hailed as the most exciting finals in the last four years, breaking the streak of 3-0 series that began in 2017. Suning top laner Chen “Bin” Ze-Bin also wrote his way into history with the first-ever pentakill in a finals series, wiping out all five of DAMWON’s players on Fiora in Game 2.
Like everything else in 2020, the tournament was marked by the effects of COVID-19. Players spent 14 days self-isolating in a government-run converted hotel, reminiscent of the famous NBA bubble.
But even under unusual circumstances, nothing can take the shine away from DAMWON’s crowning achievement.
“The message that I want to say to the players is, you guys are the best players in the world,” Lee said.