A brief history of League of Legends world championship teams

by Brian Bencomo

This year’s League of Legends World Championship, aka Worlds 2023, is underway in South Korea. Worlds 2023 will be the 13th edition of the annual Riot Games tournament to determine the best League of Legends team in the world. Teams have competed throughout the year in their respective regional leagues, and now the best teams from each region will face each other for a chance to lift the Summoner’s Cup.

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Korean and Chinese teams have been the most frequent champions, but Europe and Southeast Asia each can claim one championship. As the world awaits the 2023 League of Legends world champion, here’s a brief look back at the previous champions and the biggest storylines at each championship.

Worlds 2022 - DRX

Photo credit: Colin Young-Wolff / Riot Games

There are so many elements that came together to make DRX’s Worlds 2022 world championship win one of the most memorable. Their Cinderella run to win Worlds as the fourth seed from Korea and the only play-in team to ever win stands out. Then, there was the final. The thrilling 3-2 victory for DRX over T1, the three-time world championship org previously known as SKT, was immediately recognized as an instant classic. And in that final, the Kim "Deft" Hyuk-kyu vs. Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok storyline took center stage as the two LCK veterans and former high school classmates faced off in a David vs. Goliath matchup. Faker had won three world championships, and Deft hadn’t won any.

Read more: Worlds 2023: Teams, schedule, format and biggest storylines

Before beating T1 in the final, DRX beat the defending champs EDward Gaming 3-2 in the quarterfinals and Korean top seed Gen.G 3-1 in the semifinals. Per EsportsCharts, the world championship was the most watched ever with viewership peaking during the final at over 5 million across popular platforms like Twitch and YouTube but not including viewership in China.

Worlds 2021 - EDward Gaming

Photo credit: Clive Rose / Riot Games

A decade after the first Worlds, only one organization had won multiple world championships, T1 (formerly known as SKT). DWG KIA (formerly known as DAMWON Gaming) had a chance to become the second team to accomplish the feat as they sought to win Worlds in back-to-back years. DWG KIA and star mid laner Heo "ShowMaker" Su appeared to be the heirs to the legacy of Korean greatness on the international stage that Faker and SKT had established in the mid-2010s. However, instead it was EDward Gaming who came out on top to become the third Chinese team in four years to win Worlds. League of Legends veterans and longtime teammates Lee "Scout" Ye-chan and Tian "Meiko" Ye both finally lifted the Summoner’s Cup for the first time.

Worlds 2020 - DAMWON Gaming

Photo credit: Zhang Lintaol / Riot Games

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic making it difficult to hold live events, Riot managed to hold Worlds with extra precautions and players competing inside a bubble environment with no spectators except for the final. Korea’s DAMWON Gaming entered Worlds as Korea’s summer champs and went 5-1 in the groups stage. In the playoffs, DAMWON beat fellow Korean team DRX 3-0 in the quarterfinals and Europe’s G2 Esports 3-1 in the semifinals. They reached the final, where they faced Chinese team Suning. DAMWON beat Suning 3-1 to stop China’s run of consecutive world championships and put Korea back on top. It was the first world championship by a Korean org besides Samsung or SKT.

Worlds 2019 - FunPlus Phoenix

Photo credit: Colin Young-Wolff / Riot Games

Just like the previous year, the Worlds 2019 final was once again a battle between China and Europe. This year, the cards seemed stacked in Europe’s favor. G2 had won both LEC splits and the Mid-Season Invitational, and they appeared destined to become the first team to walk the “Golden Road” by winning both domestic splits and both international splits in the same year. Plus, with the world championship being held in Europe, G2 would get the benefit of playing in front of friendly home crowds.

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However, Chinese summer champs FunPlus Phoenix had other ideas. They beat 2018 Worlds finalist Fnatic 3-1 in the quarterfinals. Then they beat 2018 champions Invictus Gaming 3-1 in the semifinals. The highly anticipated finals clash between FPX and G2 ended up being a blowout for FPX as they won 3-0 to win a second consecutive world championship for China. Just like Invictus Gaming in 2018, a combination of Korean and Chinese players was the key for FPX, whose acquisitions of Chinese player Gao "Tian" Tian-Liang and Korean player Kim "Doinb" Tae-sang proved vital to their success.

Worlds 2018 - Invictus Gaming

Photo credit: Riot Games

With Korean teams winning five straight world championships, Worlds 2018 was a proud moment for the host country Korea, and Korean fans had high expectations for a sixth straight world champion. Instead, one Korean team was eliminated in the group stage, and the other two were eliminated in the quarterfinals. In a shocking development, three Western teams reached the semifinals.

However, it was the one Chinese team in the semifinals that would ultimately lift the Summoner’s Cup. Invictus Gaming entered the tournament as China’s second seed and went 5-1 in the group stage and knocked out Korea’s KT Rolster 3-2 in the quarterfinals. They followed that up with two 3-0 wins over European titans G2 Esports and Fnatic to win Worlds 2018. Invictus Gaming became the first Chinese team to win Worlds. It wasn’t all bad for Korea, however, as Koreans Song "Rookie" Eui-jin and Kang "TheShy" Seung-lok were members of the world championship team.

Worlds 2017 - Samsung Galaxy

Photo credit: Riot Games

Three years after the dissolution of Samsung’s sister teams, one of which won Worlds 2014, Samsung Galaxy claimed a world championship and got revenge in a finals rematch with SKT. SKT were going for an unprecedented third straight world championship as they entered the Bird’s Nest Stadium in Beijing to face Samsung Galaxy. The fantastic setting for SKT’s potential three-peat was the same stadium that hosted the Olympics a decade earlier, and which this year featured an AR dragon swooping over the crowd.

Samsung Galaxy went 4-2 in group play and then beat Longzhu Gaming and Team WE in the playoffs before facing SKT, whom they beat in a surprising 3-0. A young Park "Ruler" Jae-hyuk, who would become a franchise icon for Gen.G, and Jo "CoreJJ" Yong-in, the future organizational cornerstone of Team Liquid, were part of this championship Samsung Galaxy squad.

Worlds 2016 - SKT

Photo credit: Riot Games

Worlds returned to the United States with another final at the iconic Staples Center in Los Angeles this year. And once again it was Faker and SKT lifting the Summoner’s Cup. The organization became the first to win Worlds in consecutive years, and the core of Faker, Bae "Bengi" Seong-woong, Bae "Bang" Jun-sik and Lee "Wolf" Jae-wan cemented their place in history as back-to-back champions. With three championships in four years, SKT was the first (and so far only) dynasty in League of Legends esports.

Read more: A legendary career: Faker's results at Worlds and MSI

SKT beat fellow Korean team Samsung Galaxy in the final 3-2, and Faker was named finals MVP for the first time. However, perhaps the most memorable match of the tournament was the semifinal between SKT and their rivals, the ROX Tigers, at Madison Square Garden in New York. The thrilling five-game series was and is still considered one of the greatest League of Legends matches of all time.

Worlds 2015 - SKT

Photo credit: Riot Games

SKT made their presence known with their first world championship in 2014, but it was their 2015 win that established them as the preeminent team in League of Legends esports. SKT were at the peak of their dominance as they won the spring and summer championships in the Korean domestic circuit and entered Worlds as favorites. They went 6-0 in group play and then won their quarterfinal and semifinal series by 3-0 scores. With a flawless run entering the final, SKT faced the upstart Tigers, who were quickly becoming their Korean rivals. The Tigers managed to take a game, but Faker & Co. ultimately prevailed 3-1 to win their second world championship.

Worlds 2014 - Samsung White

Photo credit: Riot Games

For the first time in the young history of League of Legends, the world championship was held in South Korea, which was quickly emerging as the home of the best players and teams. There were three Korean teams at the world championship, including NaJin White Shield and sister teams Samsung White and Samsung Blue. Samsung Blue were the better sister team throughout the year, but at Worlds, Samsung White went 6-0 in the group stage and beat Samsung Blue in the playoffs semifinals to reach the final. In the final, Samsung White triumphed in front of the home crowd at Seoul’s World Cup Stadium over Chinese team Star Horn Royal Club. All of the players on Samsung White would go on to play in China the following season as part of the infamous “Korean Exodus.”

Worlds Season 3 (2013) - SKT

Photo credit: Riot Games

The story of modern League of Legends really begins with the 2013 world championship. For the second straight year, Riot Games held Worlds in Los Angeles, but this time upgraded the finals venue from the smaller Galen Center to Staples Center, home of the world famous Los Angeles Lakers. Korean organization SK Telecom T1, better known as SKT, discovered a young prodigy by the name of Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok this year. The team built around him and won the Korean summer championship and regional finals en route to a dominant performance at Worlds to win the team’s first world championship. It would be the first of three championships for SKT and the first of five straight for Korean organizations.

Worlds Season 2 (2012) - Taipei Assassins

In 2012, the second edition of League of Legends’ world championship expanded from eight to 12 teams and teams from Korea and China competed for the first time. However, it was a team from Taiwan that made the biggest splash. The Taipei Assassins beat Korea’s NaJin Sword in the quarterfinals and Europe’s Moscow Five in the semifinals. They beat Korea’s other team, Azubu Frost, in the final to become the first and so far only team from Southeast Asia to win the League of Legends world championship.

Worlds Season 1 (2011) - Fnatic

The first and thus far only time a Western team has won the League of Legends world championship was in 2011. This world championship was a far cry from the tournament we know today, as only eight teams competed and no Korean or Chinese teams were in attendance. Europe’s Fnatic went 1-2 in the group stage, but it was good enough for them to reach the six-team modified double elimination playoff bracket. They beat North American teams Counter Logic Gaming 2-1 and Epik Gaming 2-0 in their first two playoff matches. Fnatic then beat fellow European team Against All Authority twice, in the upper final and grand final, to become the first League of Legends world champion.

Lead photo credit: David Lee / Riot Games

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