With the greatest final battle in Worlds history occurring between Korean teams T1 and DRX, as well as another top-four spot in the tournament held by Gen.G, the LCK enters 2023 with a lot of hype. One of the English casters for the region, Wolf "Wolf" Schröder, feels the same. With the best Worlds tournament in history, an all-LCK final, and tons of big offseason changes, there was a lot on the caster's mind.
Inven Global had the opportunity to speak with Wolf, in this first part discussing his thoughts on the tournament, the finals, and the competitive landscape heading into 2022.
Thanks for the interview, Wolf! What were your overall impressions of Worlds this year?
The obviously cool thing about Worlds is that the storylines were really amazing — it's very rare to have a World Championship where from beginning to end, it had really awesome storylines. We had a really cool quarterfinals as well.
DWG KIA versus Gen.G — when we saw the group drawing, that was the one matchup that I was like, "As long as we don't get that in the quarterfinals, it's going to be pretty amazing." And we got it, but it was still an incredible matchup. Those teams being on the same side of the bracket was really unfortunate for fans of those teams, but the series really delivered. It's one of the underrated storylines of the tournament. Because obviously, neither of those teams went to the finals, but it was a really cool matchup that we got to see.
For a lot of Western fans, they're pretty sad with the performance of the LEC and LCS teams. But that being said, sometimes for Western fans when you have a World Final like this — with Korea versus China or Korea versus Korea — people find it to be boring because they're not familiar with the players. But this time, we had two of the most iconic players of all time (Faker and Deft) playing in the finals. And even if you don't watch the LCK, you know these players. You've heard of them. And as an LCK commentator, it was really cool to see the best of the best: the legendary Faker and the legendary Deft.
People got to experience that for the first time. Even though they have heard of the legend of Faker, many don't watch the LCK, so they got to see him on stage playing. And then also, we got to introduce to a wider audience some players that are less known like Zeka and Kingen. That was really amazing for a greater audience to be able to find out about how these players are so different from the players in their regions, and how they do have really cool personalities. They have good stories that Riot did a really good job of telling with their side content. So I really, really enjoyed this Worlds. It's going to be hard to ever top this Worlds — I don't know if we'll ever have one that's as good as what we had.
What were your impressions of the event you worked on during the event?
So Last Free Nation hosted a watch party next to the arena itself — the Chase Center. And we had what felt like a few hundred people pretty much the whole time we were there. I was there with dGon, MonteCristo, PapaSmithy, etc., and we hosted an event there: we had hand mics, gave analysis, and talked to the crowd. It was the first time I'd ever done anything like that — almost as a panelist.
It was really fun because we got to interact with the crowd. The crowd would yell questions at us or make jokes, so we could talk back with them. But it was really fun. It was the first time I felt like I had that intimate experience with League of Legends fans in America. I commentate in English in Korea, but I don't really get to see the fans face to face very often because of living and commentating in Korea.
One of the sad parts about not doing Worlds as a commentator this year was I wasn't able to interact with the crowd or the North American audience. But because of the Last Free Nation event that we did, I got to interact with some of the hardcore fans. Our goal for that event was to give people who didn't have tickets the opportunity to still have the Worlds experience really close to the venue, and feel like even though they didn't get to watch it in the arena, they got to drink beers with their friends, watch it, and be so close to the arena where all the other fans and players were.
And I think we had something really special there — it went better than we imagined. We weren't sure how many people were going to show up or logistically if it was going to work. It started raining and we were outdoors, so we had to rig the camera with plastic bags to make sure it wasn't going to get wet. But it was really fun — an unforgettable experience.
One of the interesting aspects of the finals was that it was the first time in a while we’ve had an all-LCK matchup. As an LCK caster that observed the region throughout the year, was this a surprise to you?
It was kind of a surprise to me because I looked at the strength of our teams. The main teams that we were looking at were Gen.G and T1, and we were hoping DWG KIA would perform. We knew that DWG KIA might perform because they usually are really fast at adapting to changing metas. So it was like, "Oh, DAWMON seems like a dark horse." I thought DRX would surprise people because they're better than people expect as the fourth-seed team, but I didn't think they were gonna go to even the semi-finals. I thought there was no chance. My favorite for the tournament was JD Gaming, and they massively underperformed.
But, the level of play we saw from DRX could be misleading with how well they did, because they don't normally perform consistently like that in the LCK itself. It was a huge overperformance by them — it felt like the more pressure they had, the better they played. I don't think they'll be able to repeat that success even if the roster stays together, necessarily. It was just a miracle run.
And the LCK versus LCK aspect of the finals is amazing for that region's fans, and for those who wanted to finally silence the LPL fans who were rejoicing because of win after win. So it was very cool in that regard. But I didn't expect it, and I want to say that I don't think it will happen again very soon. Because I think that with what's happening with LCK teams next year, we're gonna see big shuffles, and it's going to be a big reboot in terms of the rosters and what's happening.
The LPL is still a very strong region, and the LEC is going to be a pretty strong contender for at least having one team in the top four next year. That's my expectation because there are a lot of new faces and new teams and money being injected into the LEC — they have a really cool new format. The LEC will be very competitive in international events next year. I don't expect that we'll see another LCK versus LCK finals, because there are so many other good teams and different playstyles coming into next year. It's a completely new style of play — we're gonna see with the changes to the jungle that's happening right now in the preseason.
I would love to see the LCK versus LCK again and continue to see that dominance, but I don't think this is a tournament where we can say, "Wow, the LCK is way better than everybody else", the same way it was in the past when we had Samsung Galaxy versus SK Telecom T1 and stuff like that. It was that the LCK had a really good read on the meta, and DRX performed extremely well, while the LPL teams underperformed. In the past, it was that the LCK had better mechanics and vision game than everybody else, and no one was even close to them. But now, everyone is very close. So I don't want to say that LCK is a tier ahead of everyone.
Can you expand upon why you think Europe will do better going into next year?
The main reason why the LEC will be competitive next year is that it seems to be that there was a lot of cash injection and new teams to be excited about. Also, the format changes that were announced I believe will make the LEC a lot more competitive, because they will be playing more games against good teams. The weakest two teams will be eliminated, so all of the games that happen in those group stages will be best-of-threes, which normally the LEC was not doing — it was just best-of-ones. And because the level of play of the best-of-threes will be higher since you won't be playing against the weakest two teams, LEC will just overall have better games, and it will be harder and more competitive as a result.
And because there's going to be like three splits, I guess, there'll be more games overall for those teams to play at a high level. So my expectation is that even if the rosters don't end up with a European super team, that's not what's important. The nature of the format and making teams prepare for best-of-threes will naturally make whatever representatives LEC sends to international events this year much stronger, because they'll have a lot more experience with that. The format changes will absolutely make LEC a much stronger region.
I asked a similar question to your colleague MonteCristo: what do you believe caused the relative return in form for Korea compared with a few years when the region didn't appear to be as strong?
My feeling with Korean esports always — with the methodology of why they have done so well across so many esports titles — is that as a region, and as an esports culture, they like to master what they believe to be the best playstyle. They perfect it, and sometimes it takes the rest of the world some time to catch up. So with some of the changes that happened to how vision works, and how the jungle works, Korea had to adjust its playstyle a lot during those years.
Now that there's a new generation of players, we're getting older and more experienced. Players like Canyon, for example, who was a new face to most people when he was an MVP in the 2020 Worlds finals — now he's a veteran. He's played for several years. It just took some time for Korea to get players who were good at mechanics, but also had aged enough to be more versatile in terms of shotcalling and communicating.
We have a new generation of LCK players. It's funny to say that, obviously, with Deft versus Faker in the finals of this Worlds, but they have a whole new generation of players around them, and the LCK has rapidly developed a new set of coaches. It used to be everyone only knows kkOma, but now you have a whole set of completely new faces. So it's just an evolution of how LCK has understood how the game has changed and adapted — that's why they have come back to the top again.
The Worlds analyst desk from the semifinals onward notably lacked LCK talent. Do you believe there was insight about the Korean scene that was missed on the Worlds broadcast?
I watched the broadcast, and overall, they hit a lot of the narratives. I actually really love the talent that Worlds had in the finals. Emily Rand, for example, is extremely knowledgeable about the LCK, and she did her research very well. Also Caedrel — who was obviously casting the finals — has watched the majority of the LCK. Because he spends a lot of time co-streaming it, he has his eyes on the LCK nonstop.
Sometimes it can be a big problem when you don't have someone who's actively watching and thinking about a region in a final like this. Because, yes, they could do all the research they want, but if they're not actively watching it and focusing on it as it happens live, they usually don't have those same anecdotes and stories. But Caedrel did a really good job of bringing some of those storylines to the front of the finals cast because he had spent so much time watching these teams.
Most people don't know this, but Caedrel was actually partnered with DRX for a while as well. He's pretty close with that team and knows a lot about them and their inner workings, so it was really cool that he was in the final.
One storyline that was hit, but wasn't really hammered home was that DRX was the sixth-place team from the LCK. They barely won the Worlds qualifier. And if we did our qualifiers differently, and we didn't have the format that we do, they wouldn't have been at Worlds at all.
So DRX being so unlikely as the fourth seed was crazy in itself, but they also were sixth place. They lost in the first round of playoffs, and they were in sixth place in the regular season. And showing that the LCK has so much depth, there were two teams that could have been there: KT Rolster and Liiv SANDBOX — they were the favorites to be there. One of those two teams was considered to be likely the fourth spot, but they didn't make it. DRX made it instead and then won the whole thing.
It tells a really cool story about how the LCK has evolved, and how strong of a region it is now. Because people used to call it a one-team region. "It's only DAWMON, that's the only good team." And now we can see the whole depth of the region, which is really amazing. That storyline was kind of hit, but if I was on the finals — or if Atlus, Chronicler, or Valdes were on the finals — that's something that they would definitely be talked about a lot more.