A curse is some kind of otherworldly force that hinders any positive outcome to reach whoever has affected it. In most fictional works, curses take a huge amount of effort to defeat. The protagonists of these stories, after facing challenges, end up beating the odds and achieving great things.
In reality, life is unfair and curses are more difficult to overcome. The fabled Worlds Curse that plague those who win the annual World Championships have consistently shown a decline of performance from the highest point of their career. Fans start to lose interest in those teams, and the general view of them falls to rock bottom.
This brings us to think: is the Worlds Curse a real phenomenon?
The Trend among World Champions
Out of the seven teams that have won the World Championships, most of them ended the following seasons with subpar performance. Let’s take a stroll down memory lane and check out the different teams.
Fnatic, the very first Worlds champion, did not make it to Worlds in Season 2, ended in 4th place in Season 3, and ended 12th place in Season 4. Since then, their next highest point was reaching 2nd place against Invictus Gaming in 2018, who also had their own troubles later down the road.
Taipei Assassins became the first Southeast Asian team to win Worlds in 2012, at the dawn of League of Legends in the Asian eSports scene. The year after, they did not make it to Worlds Season 3, and placed top 15 in Season 4.
Samsung White in 2014 took down Star Horn Royal Club (now reincarnated as Royal Never Give Up) and reached Top 3 in the Korean scene right after—but the team eventually disbanded and the players went their separate ways.
Samsung Galaxy, Samsung White’s sister team 3 years later, also made history as the first team to lose in the Grand Finals of World Championships only to win in the next one against SK Telecom T1. Right after, the team was reformed into KSV eSports, and then again in 2018 into what we now know as Gen.G.
Invictus Gaming was the 2018 World Champion, and this marked League’s first Chinese champion. Key players like JackeyLove and theShy gained a huge following after this achievement. A year later with the same roster, they ended up in 3rd place after losing to FunPlus Phoenix, another LPL representative that later became our most recent World Champion to date. From there on, they have still remained as a strong LPL contender with Rookie and Ning still in the team.
SK Telecom T1, the Outlier
Only one team did not follow the trend of most Worlds teams, and that is SK Telecom T1.
SKT is the most iconic team in League eSports, home to arguably the best League of Legends player Lee in “Faker” Sang-hyeok. They are the only team that won not one, not two, but three different World Championships in Season 3, 5, and 6. They fell short in 2014 due to failing to earn enough points.
One noticeable trend in their three victories, however, was the slow but steady decline in the Grand Finals standing. They swept Royal Club with a 3-0 in 2013, beat KOO Tigers 3-1 in 2015, and clutched a victory against Samsung Galaxy 3-2 in 2016. A year later, the tables were turned as Samsung Galaxy 3-0’d them in the 2017 World Championships.
Because of their consistent success relative to their competitors for several years, along with the thriving eSports scene in South Korea, SKT grew themselves to be the outlier among the downhill trend of World Champions. Now renamed as T1, a new generation of champions are breeding, and it’s only a matter of time to see if Faker and the rest can carry the legacy in the new age.
It’s difficult at the top
One thing that most spectators do not realize is the pressure that comes with being the reigning team or player in the competitive scene or ladder. The pressure that a king experiences is a thousand times heavier than what his competitors feel against him.
The pressure applied by the need to maintain an image of being “the best” weighs heavily on most professional players and teams where their livelihood highly depends on their performances in best-of-three and best-of-five games.
This is especially true for the winners of the World Championship. As a winner of the game’s biggest Esports event, their team name echoes in all corners of the world and reaches the ears of both casuals and competitive spectator folk. What follows their victory screams follows the pressure of a new season filled with unpredictability, new tactics, and new rosters.
SKT, as one of the most recognizable Worlds-caliber teams, experience the huge pressure brought by their past successes and the need to keep the brand alive and satisfy their fans. During the 2020 Mid-Season Cup, they were the first LCK team to drop the tournament despite being the number one seed. In the LCK 2020 Summer Season, T1 has been surpassed by DAMWON Gaming, DragonX, and Gen.G, the other teams that make up LCK’s Top 4.
FunPlus Phoenix, the reigning World Champions, are also not doing too well in Season 10. After winning Worlds 2019, they landed 3rd in the LPL 2020 Spring season, and then 8th in the 2020 Summer playoffs. Their final chance to make Worlds is in the Regional Finals, as the 6th placer in championship points. The team needs a miracle to make it back.
The League of Legends Esports scene, with hundred thousands of spectators across the globe, has to be one of if not the largest in all of eSports. With the current pressure from their sponsors and spectators, the path to Worlds is a tough gauntlet, even for the best teams that surface every year.
The idea of a curse plaguing these teams is a tough topic to nail down, because a team may look bad now but shine like a diamond in the next season.
Do you think the ‘Worlds Curse’ is a real phenomenon?