BUSAN, South Korea -- The BEXCO Auditorium speakers announced Team Vitality's win over Gen.G. The dazed South Korean crowd poured out the venue, many rummaging through their pockets for a smoke.
In the corner of the designated smoking area loomed a figure in a Gen.G jersey. Mid laner Lee "Crown" Min-ho stood alone, his eyes downcast, one hand in his pocket and one hand lifelessly holding a cigarette burning down. There was a hushed silence around him, and no one dared to approach him.
What word of comfort of do you offer to the defending world champion who has just been eliminated from the tournament? How do you console the first South Korean team to be knocked from groups in five years?
What goes through his head as he prepares to play against Royal Never Give Up, a match-up that could have been a world championship final but now sets to be a meaningless final game at worlds?
As soon as Gen.G lost to Vitality, online South Korean communities such as Inven and DCInside went offline due to the influx of traffic. Fans were shocked, bewildered and furious. Even though Gen.G began worlds with two losses, the majority of the people had expected the team to make a rebound and fight for a quarterfinal berth.
Part of this would have been due to Gen.G's current standing standing as the defending world champions; another because they are a fabled LCK team. Part of this also was due Gen.G's history as slow starter, but a sound deliverer, when it came to tournaments.
Gen.G has always been defined by predictable consistency. The team's roster has remained almost identical during the organization's three year history. Even through patches and meta changes, Gen.G's win condition would always remain the same: focus on the bot lane carry and late-game teamfights. Predictable and reliable. Lee Ji-hun, the team's General Manager, described the team to ESPN as such: "The team itself is very solid; "rock-like" I describe. Gen.G has often had reverse sweeps, and all the players in the team seem to have good level of concentration."
In the group stage, however, the qualities that Gen.G came to be associated with seemed to collapse upon them. The predictability made the team susceptible to early-game aggression. Gen.G's old-fashioned late-game draft looked helpless against Cloud9's early skirmishes with Hecarim and LeBlanc. Gen.G's heavy pace when it came to familiarizing itself with the changing meta was left exposed, and the team wasn't able to adapt to picks such as Irelia or Nocturne.
But where Gen.G's reliance on the proven cost them most was their roster choice. When Gen.G qualified for worlds, the team was asked to cut its roster down to six due to the competitive rule in international tournaments. Gen.G announced that the roster worlds will be Lee "CuVee" Seong-jin, Kang "Haru" Min-seung, Kang "Ambition" Chan-yong, Crown, Park "Ruler" Jae-hyuk and Jo "CoreJJ" Yong-in -- identical to the roster that won the 2017 world championship as Samsung Galaxy. The exclusion of Song "Fly" Yong-jun, the substitute mid-laner of Gen.G was notable -- he had successfully played the majority of the games of the summer split over Crown.
Gen.G's choice to fall back to previous year's roster even when the team situation has changed came back to haunt them. Crown's woefully limited champion pool and inability to play meta picks heavily targeted by the opponent teams. In the game against Cloud9, Crown was cornered into a Syndra pick in a losing match-up against LeBlanc, with an end-game KDA of 0/6/2. Against Cloud9 and Team Vitality's rosters of rookies and underdogs, the defending world champions looked almost pitifully directionless when their winning formula failed them.
The fall of Gen.G also poses a bigger question for the region it is representing, whether the dominance of LCK is over. However, it's a question that Gen.G themselves can no longer answer, as the world championship journey is over for them.
The final match of that day between Royal Never Give Up and Gen.G, two hours later, was mercifully quick. The sound effect of Gen.G's Nexus falling was drowned by the deafening cheers of LPL fans in the crowd, chanting RNG jia you! RNG jia you! (when contextualized, it translates to RNG fighting!) Ruler, the MVP of 2017 world championship, dropped his head into his hands. Crown was the first person to rise from his seat; he never once looked back as he briskly walked off the stage for worlds group stage.
The crown has fallen. A new king will rise.