DAMWON Gaming and DRX will fight for domestic supremacy at 4 a.m. ET on Saturday in the final series of a South Korean season that could signal a changing of the guard in League of Legends’ most successful region.
After three straight domestic championships by nine-time champions T1 led by leader Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok, it’ll be a duel between South Korea’s two young heirs apparent to the mid lane throne as DAMWON’s Heo “ShowMaker” Su and DRX’s Jeong “Chovy” Ji-hoon take center stage.
A victory in the best-of-five finals for DAMWON will book their ticket to Shanghai for the League of Legends World Championship as South Korea’s top seed. While DRX is also battling for that No. 1 seed, the team has already qualified for worlds, with the two-hour flight to Shanghai from Seoul already secured following the team’s comeback win over Gen.G in the semifinals.
Chovy, DRX’s ace, came up big with all three of his team’s Player of the Match awards in the round of four, amassing 29 kills and nine assists to just five deaths in those wins. But will it be enough to stop ShowMaker and the relentless green object known as DAMWON in the LCK final?
The Tiny Genius
When thinking about ShowMaker, my mind always falls back into a conversation I had at the 2019 world championship. I was with friend and fellow esports journalist Ashley Kang discussing the ESPN Top 20 Players at Worlds feature that had come out just before the tournament. DAMWON became a hot topic during the deliberations of which players made the list, with their most outward-facing member inside and outside of the game, Jang “Nuguri” Ha-gwon, being the lone member of the team to make the list.
I, personally, was a champion of Nuguri amidst those discussions, preaching his innate talent and how he forced opposing teams to react to him regardless of his scoreline. He was a neon-cladded target that could never go unnoticed by enemies; regardless of whether he was up three kills or down three kills, Nuguri kept pressing forward, his precise mechanical skills allowing him to find a foothold into matches other players could never in a million years manage to survive.
Kang, though, saw it differently. She really liked Nuguri and praised him as a player, but identified another player as the reason DAMWON were so great: their spectacled, small-in-stature mid laner, ShowMaker, who was 19 at the time. To Kang, his consistent performance and level head allowed Nuguri to play so overly aggressive (and sometimes sloppy) in the top lane. Their partnership as a duo lane, with equally talented young jungler Kim “Canyon” Geon-bu bridging their lanes, made DAMWON fearsome to domestic and international opponents. And though Nuguri was the player who went on to snatch the headlines at the world championship with his feud against reigning world champion top laner Kang “TheShy” Seung-lok, it was ShowMaker who, as usual, was the far more consistent of the two, carrying DAMWON when Nuguri’s stubbornness got the better of him or the bottom lane was overwhelmed.
A year removed from that talk, ShowMaker’s diligent ascent has continued, culminating in league MVP honors during the LCK summer split. He finished in the top 10 of almost every positive statistical category in the LCK, cementing his status as an all-around talent. He can play almost every single champion in the game, and he’s showcased that fact even more in solo queue, where he reached the highest tier of the online ranked play ladder, Challenger, while never playing the same champion twice (he used 87 champions total).
Tanks, split-pushers, carry mages, heavy roaming champions — it didn’t matter, ShowMaker could play it and excel in the role, the ever-turning cog in an all-out aggressive machine. He led DAMWON on a 10-game win streak to end the regular season and a 34-5 record over both splits, the best regular-season LCK record since the summer of 2015, when SK Telecom T1 went 35-6 over the spring and summer splits games. SKT would go on to win the world championship that fall, and DAMWON, coming off a worlds quarterfinals appearance in 2019, will look to get a title themselves this year.
If you were to draw up a perfect player to build around, ShowMaker comes close to that prototype. He’s intelligent beyond his years, cool under pressure, skilled as they come in terms of pure reaction speed and is always evolving as a player. In those few times when he’s been outclassed, he’s learned from his missteps, put his head down and worked even harder.
His former coach, Kim “Kim” Jeong-soo, a world champion with Invictus Gaming and now head of DWG rival T1, summarized ShowMaker best in an interview with esports outlet Inven Global late last year.
“I’m always grateful to Showmaker,” Kim said in the interview. “I even feel bad for the other players that I only talk about Showmaker. I’ve praised him so much that people may even think I favor him over other players. The praise is well deserved because he really is the perfect player. Good personality, mindset, skill, and provides good feedback. I don’t think I’ve ever scolded him since I came to DAMWON, and I don’t think I’ll need to in the future.”
The only two things missing from a player seeking perfection in every way coming off his first league MVP award? A domestic championship and the ultimate prize of all League of Legends pros: the Summoner’s Cup.
Saturday, ShowMaker will look to cut that list in half.
A teacher and a student
The story of Chovy’s ascent is almost nothing like ShowMaker’s.
A former one-trick Cassiopeia player on the South Korean online server, Chovy almost didn’t even attempt to go pro. He was scouted by former pro top laner Kim “cvMax” Dae-ho, who was attempting a switch to the coaching world following a humdrum tenure as a player. If it wasn’t for cvMax prodding Chovy to take part and try out for then-amateur team Griffin in 2018, Chovy’s story might have ended there, a faceless Challenger player that never took the risk to try and breakthrough into the world of pros.
Luckily for the both of them, Chovy tried out for Griffin and made the team that cvMax was made head coach of the year prior. Although Chovy sat behind starter Shin “Rather” Hyeong-seop, he got his chance to start for the team in the game’s first matchup in the LCK after Rather and Griffin lost their inaugural game vs. Hanwha Life Esports. With cvMax looking on, the former one-trick that knew nothing about the macro side of League of Legends or how to properly play the game went on to win back-to-back games with a combined KDA of 14/2/12.
From that day, Chovy was never a substitute again. Rather, a strong player in his own right, was later loaned to the Flash Wolves in Taiwan. CvMax didn’t need time to think about his decision; Chovy, then a 17-year-old rookie, was going to be the centerpiece of the team he believed could take down the old pillars of South Korean League of Legends and then the world itself.
Together, the two made three consecutive LCK finals. However, beginning with a close defeat to KT Rolster in LCK Summer 2018, Chovy and cvMax lost each one of them.
Chovy’s road to the top hasn’t been perfect, even during his flashiest in-game moments. In 2018, he was still learning how to play the entire map and be a focal point of the team. In 2019, he evolved, becoming a dominant laner and centerpiece of his team; he still lacked the all-around play and consistency of other top mid laners but overtook many of them through pure mechanics and winning the game in the laning phase. Griffin, off the back of Chovy winning his first league MVP award in spring 2019, qualified for their first-ever world championship in Europe. And though the team won their initial group and went into the quarterfinals with heavy momentum, they failed once more in a best-of-five, losing to reigning world champions Invictus Gaming in four games.
As the offseason began, Chovy was left at a crossroads. He had established himself as one of the best young talents in the world with as much natural ability as anyone playing League of Legends and was free to sign with any team in the world. Griffin and his mentor cvMax had gone through a nasty breakup before the 2019 world championship, leading him to depart from the organization that gave him his first start in the pros. Rival South Korean teams wanted to sign Chovy, but money from abroad, namely multi-million-dollar contracts from China and the United States, complicated his decision.
If he signed with Evil Geniuses of North America or the number of Chinese teams vying for his services, he would be set for life. They were offering life-changing money that would have made Chovy one of the highest-paid esports pros in the world.
There was one thing stopping Chovy from going after that fortune: the mentor who helped him become a pro in the first place. CvMax signed with DRX early in the offseason and promised that he would build a team that could win a world championship, reigniting the goal that he set for Griffin before the team went off the rails.
Chovy wanted to continue toward that goal, too and turned down the several offers he received to sign a one-year deal with cvMax’s DRX. The organization, dumbfounded, had no clue how they signed Chovy to a deal far below his market value. Chovy wanted to win the Summoner’s Cup with cvMax, and to him, that meant more than any bank account number could give him.
Chovy had bet on himself. Instead of regressing and never seeing those types of contracts again, he planned to once again have a career-defining year and prove to teams around the world that he can lead the new generation of League of Legends talent as the game’s professional scene turns into a new decade.
In DRX’s semifinal vs. Gen.G, every single analyst, South Korean and English, on the broadcast picked against DRX. Chovy, as he’s done so many times already in his young career, took over when his team needed him and was the X-factor that carried DRX to the final. DAMWON is another beast entirely, though; they play the same up-tempo, aggressive style as DRX but quicker, more coordinated and better executed.
This final, the fourth of Chovy’s career, is one he is expected to lose. On paper, it’s hard to believe anyone would pick DRX to upset the most dominant LCK team in over a half-decade.
As long as Chovy is in the mid lane, though, DRX and cvMax believe they can win the LCK championship. He defeated spring’s MVP Gwak “Bdd” Bo-seong in the previous round, and now we’ll see if he can slay DWG’s ace and newly crowned summer MVP in the grand final.