In 2014, after proving their region’s dominance over the rest of League of Legend’s international competition at the World Championship, several of the best Korean players in the world packed their bags and left. League’s Spartans, who came from the most competitive, hardest-training environment in the world of professional gaming, were going abroad.
What was at the heart of the Exodus? Mostly, money
InSec, the jungler who pioneered a complex play that was subsequently named after him, took a position on China’s Star Horn Royal Club. Ryu, former mid laner for the KT Bullets, joined the French organization Millenium. Over the course of the 2014 season, over 20 players on prominent KeSPA (The Korean Esports Association) teams left their organizations. Even Samsung White, the team that had just won the World Championship, was dissolved less than a month later in what some took to calling the Korean Exodus.
What was at the heart of the Exodus? Mostly, money. After watching what star players like InSec could do for a team, organizations around the world offered salaries which Korean teams could not or would not compete with. Faker, who had only just started to receive the title of “Best Player in the World,” reportedly received an offer close to a million dollars. He didn’t take it; others did. At the time, some theorized that this would mean the end of Korean dominance in League of Legends, since their talent would now be spread across the globe. This appeared to be, in hindsight, a bunch of horse shit. SKT went on to win the next two World Championships in a row, while the players that had changed regions found themselves frustrated on rosters that failed to perform internationally.
Two years later, that frustration seems to have come to a head. In recent weeks, three major Korean players have announced their intent to leave their current teams and return to playing in the country they made their name in.
Deft and PawN, ADC and mid laner for Edward Gaming, were the first to say so. At the end of October, both announced that they would be leaving the team. Deft, concerned about burnout in his future, said in an interview with FOMOS that he didn’t know how much longer he would be able to play at his current level: “I don’t think I have a lot of time in which I can continue to perform well. I wish to return to Korea where I have a higher chance of winning Worlds.” PawN has been less public about the reasons for his departure, but his return to Korea is probably motivated by similar reasons.
Another prominent figure who left in the Exodus, Mata, is quitting his position on RNG, where he’s been for two years. While the team wanted him to stay, the star support player said on his Facebook page (translated by Yahoo) that health problems were at the forefront of his decision, and that he thought all the time about playing in Korea again.
While PawN and Deft helped to steer EDG to regional dominance, and Mata made any bottom lane he was part of a feared prospect, neither team had much success on the international stage. All three players will likely be returning to humbler salaries and stricter training regimes, but this appears to be a price they’re willing to pay for the possibility of glory. Where they’ll land is still up in the air—no offers have been made public yet—but this could be the beginning of a power shake-up in the LCK on a scale we haven’t seen in years.