It’s safe to say this year’s MSI has had its fair share of upsets. North America got knocked out before even hitting the Semifinals, and teams like Pentanet.gg and PSG Talon upset the competition when it mattered most. Despite the ferocious competition throughout MSI’s various stages, it’s almost surprising that we wound up with a Grand Final between the two most favored teams. RNG took a convincing 3-1 set against PSG Talon, and DWG KIA managed to scrape out a 3-2 set against MAD Lions. It was a crushing defeat for MAD and every EU fan out there, but their set showed some of DWG KIA’s weaknesses. The seemingly infallible Korean powerhouse had very visible weaknesses. The same was true of RNG throughout MSI, and both teams dropped games against Western teams.
While RNG and DWG KIA seemed like they were evenly matched going into the Grand Finals, their playstyles were very different. DWG KIA historically preferred long teamfights and strong macro game. They fought around objectives, prioritizing gold on the map over gold from kills. RNG were the complete opposite, and they looked for skirmishes wherever they can. The teamfights that RNG won were usually quick, and RNG’s only losses when they were ahead on gold came from this set. Their ability to snowball and find a decisive lead was near-impeccable, and that proactivity is what ultimately lost DWG KIA this 3-2 nail-biter of a set.
Where did DK go wrong? How did RNG dethrone the team that won last years’ World Championship? Considering where DK’s weaknesses seemed to lie before this set, the cause of Korea’s downfall may surprise you.
Cleaning things up
DWG KIA’s bot lane has been the subject of scrutiny over the course of MSI. It always seemed like a weak point for the team in Korea. At least, in comparison to the strength of the rest of the Damwon roster. Ghost tends to be more of an anchor, putting out damage from the backline when he can and doing his best to be hard to kill. BeryL, on the other hand, is extremely aggressive. Always pushed up and looking for a fight. Unfortunately, teams have learned that they can take the fight to BeryL and easily pick him off. In Damwon’s set vs. RNG, their bot lane rose to the occasion and managed to best GALA and Ming, arguably the best bot lane in the world.
Ghost’s performance was loud throughout this set, finding a big Penta and Game 4’s big highlight clip. That said, this is a pretty easy cleanup. Ghost just had to follow through on RNG’s overextension and the rest of his team’s setup.
Ghost’s Quadra kill in Game 2 is a fantastic showcase of his confidence and the fact that he isn’t scared of GALA.
DWG KIA were able to find enough room on the map for an obvious Baron call here, and RNG had to rush to get in. Wei attempted to flash over the wall and steal Baron, but Canyon had no issue securing the buff for DK.
Notice how not even Khan decided to follow up on his Lee Sin Q and go in, but Ghost saw an opportunity. This wasn’t exactly a safe play for Ghost, but it was a risk he decided to take. And it paid off.
GALA attempted to ult onto Ghost and assassinate him in the backline, but Khan was quick to back up his ADC and ensure this fight went DK’s way. RNG’s response to DK’s Baron call was scattered, and Ghost knew exactly when he needed to get in the fight and push their advantage.
DK’s bot lane wasn’t a huge issue in this set. Rather, the mainstay players, esteemed as some of the best Korea has ever had, seemed shaky in this set. RNG decided that targeting DK’s comparably weak bot lane wasn’t the way to go. Instead, RNG brought the fight right to ShowMaker and Khan. RNG’s 3 wins were off the back of Khan and ShowMaker getting pressured early on. This is a massive indicator of how different these two teams’ win conditions are.
DK are all but unbeatable when it comes to late-game teamfights. Their near-flawless record in the LCK is a product of DWG KIA’s teamfighting prowess. So, RNG decided to make sure the opposition never got to the late game. Cryin, a player that was often overshadowed by Xiaohu or GALA, had a great showing on Lucian in Game 1 and Nocturne in Game 5.
Cryin’s target prioritization is what won this skirmish for RNG. Canyon got deleted immediately, leaving DWG KIA scrambling for a return kill. Xiaohu barely lived, and Cryin had no problem taking out ShowMaker once Wei was able to join the fight. RNG took a very clean 3-0 fight here, and it was all off the back of Cryin’s aggressive play.
RNG’s adaptations to their draft and playstyle were a key part of keeping this set competitive. Some of RNG’s drafts felt tailor-made to throw off DK’s playstyle, and the games that RNG drafted confidently are the games they won. Early game was key.
RNG’s knight in living armor
GALA’s a good player across the board. His mechanics are near-flawless, and his aggressive playstyle often turns teamfights in RNG’s favor. Kai’Sa’s mobile and slippery playstyle augments and amplifies exactly what GALA wants to do. What’s more, the current meta’s top picks are so oppressive that DK weren’t able to find a way to pick or ban Kai’Sa away from GALA without sacrificing other strong picks. At least, in their eyes. Letting GALA run free on his premiere pick for every game of the series may have been what cost DK the set.
GALA’s Game 3 performance perfectly encapsulates how much trust GALA has in his team. He zooms past tower range and right into the entirety of DK, immediately bursts down Ghost, and causes a panic for DK. Xiaohu was then able to use Mega Gnar to displace the rest of DK, and Game 3 was theirs. This blitzkrieg style seems to be a massive part of RNG’s identity as a team, and the speed at which they’re able to find an engagement is something DK were unable to deal with in their losses. Especially in Game 5.
Ending DWG KIA’s reign
Game 5 was a catastrophe for the reigning Korean world champs. The other four games were pretty close. Things weren’t over until they were over for DK, and they were always trying to find a way back in. That makes it all the more tragic that Game 5 was an absolute slaughter, and the root of DK’s problems came from a poor draft.
Everything about RNG’s team composition screams hard engage. The things that won RNG Games 1 and 3 are present in spades for Game 5’s draft. Meanwhile, Damwon KIA’s draft completely lacks hard engage. Tahm Kench, their only heavy frontliner, is entirely meant to prevent RNG from destroying their flimsy backline. This poke comp may have been alright if ShowMaker was able to get his hands on Zoe; Jayce wasn’t exactly a good substitute for the lethal range Zoe provides. Khan dominated Xiaohu’s Gragas in Game 4 with the Aatrox pick, but Wei was determined not to let Khan get away with a similar level of dominance.
At the 18-minute mark, it’s hard not to feel like this game is over for DWG KIA. Once again, the bottom lane wasn’t an issue for DK. Rather, early pressure from Wei and excellent rotations from Cryin kept DK’s heavily lane-focused draft from getting into the game, and it never felt like DK had a chance in Game 5. Getting behind on champions like Jayce, Rumble, and Aatrox feels like a death sentence. They’re all terrible at self peeling and escaping the type of hard engage RNG drafted.
It’s hard to say what happened to DK’s draft in Game 5, but it’s a real shame we didn’t see a team composition molded around DWG KIA’s true strengths as a team.
A long flight back to Korea
A win for either side would have been historic. The only team to win Worlds and MSI back-to-back was SKT-T1 during Faker’s reign of terror, a Korean dream-team whose run through international competition is cemented in League of Legends’ long competitive history. DK weren’t able to match their predecessors, but RNG’s Xiaohu became the first player to win an international title in two different roles. His swap to top lane has been a great one, and Xiaohu’s ability to play whatever his team needed is a large part of what got RNG this far.
RNG may be the team to beat going into the next LPL season, but DWG KIA’s dominance has been shaken. LCK teams now know where the biggest weaknesses are, and it’s very possible that Damwon will have a much harder time coming out of the LCK’s Summer Split with a record as strong as the one they had in Spring.
MSI has shown us that teams around the globe are capable of bringing a level of competition few expected. Some teams rose above expectations, and others sank below them. It’s easy to say DWG KIA performed below expectations, but it’s also possible that global competition has grown. RNG and DWG KIA both dropped games against Western teams. The World Championship is bound to be a treat this year.