As Griffin did not apply for the League of Legends Champions Korea (LCK) franchising for 2021, the team will reach the end of its journey with the 2020 Summer Season.
This puts an end to one of the most exciting storylines in recent LCK history. Griffin’s rise was meteoric, but so was their downfall. Their break-out performance as a stack of rookies gathered under the visionary leadership of Kim “cvMax” Dae-ho, their three consecutive LCK finals appearance, and their demise following internal conflicts, recurring mismanagement, and legal issues happened all in a period of just three short splits.
The story of Griffin is perhaps one of the most wasted opportunities and potentials in modern-day League of Legends, begging the question what legacy the team could’ve given the game had it survived the rot at their core.
The beginning: Entry into LCK
Griffin first entered LoL esports back in 2017 by acquiring five amateur players, formerly of I Gaming Star, and participating in the 2017 Challengers Korea (CK) Spring Split. The start wasn’t great: they placed 7th and were threatened with relegation from the CK. However, a massive rebuilding of the team invited change for the better.
Griffin completed their new roster with Choi “Sword” Seong-won, Lee “Tarzan” Seung-yong, Shin “Rather” Hyeong-seop, Park “Viper” Do-hyeon, Son “Lehends” Si-woo alongside head coach Kim “cvMax” Dae-ho, and ignited the engine for their legendary run. It began with a 4th place finish in the CK Summer Split, which they followed up with the signing of bot lane duo Viper and Lehends to improve the roster even further.
At the 2017 KeSPA Cup, Griffin unraveled an even bigger potential. Their trademark was the exciting teamfights, which earned them clean 2-0 victories over APK Prince and Afreeca Freecs. In the match against SK Telecom T1, runner-ups of that year’s World Championship, Griffin’s performance exceeded expectations, as they resisted SKT’s advantage to make for a close series. Despite losing it, Griffin’s performance was enough to start winning them fans.
Already then, Griffin was on another level compared to the other CK teams. They scored a perfect 14-0 season in the 2018 CK Spring Split, winning 28 games out of 30. As the undisputed champion, Griffin cruised through the promotion series and earned an LCK Summer Split ticket.
cvMax’s LoL philosophy: Teamfights without shotcalling
Griffin proudly entered the 2018 LCK Summer Season, winning their first six straight matches. Their performance from the previous KeSPA Cup had carried over to the LCK and even when Griffin was trailing, fans knew to expect a comeback win through unparalleled teamfighting. Griffin concluded the season with a 13-5 record, tied for first but trailing in win points behind kt Rolster, the only team with a better head-to-head record against Griffin.
“Griffin just might be the best at teamfights in the world right now” — CloudTemplar
Head coach cvMax explained where the strength of Griffin lay. Where many teams would put emphasis on good shotcalling, cvMax’s valued a coherent mind within the team, and Griffin was extremely close to this philosophy.
“What's important is that everyone thinks in the same way, and if they do, there is no need to make shortfalls,” cvMax told InvenGlobal.
This resulted in Griffin finishing second in the Summer Playoffs, falling shy of qualifying for the World Championship. The regional qualifiers were a near miss as well where Griffin lost to Gen.G, who clutched the last 2018 World Championship spot for the LCK.
For thousands of League of Legends fans, this result was perhaps the biggest disappointment coming from the LCK. At Worlds, Gen.G delivered Korea’s worst world championship performance in years, while Griffin — which many saw as the most electrifying LCK team in a long while — watched from the sidelines at home.
Yet, failing to reach Worlds only had positive effects on Griffin. In the 2018 KeSPA Cup, they did not drop a single game. Griffin swept Afreeca Freecs, DAMWON Gaming, and Gen.G to claim the championship. The momentum carried over to the 2019 LCK Spring Split too, as Griffin dominated the league.
Griffin opened the regular season with a 15-3 record, going seven straight weeks without a loss, and cvMax's eye for talent was reaping results. Chovy, who had become the starting mid laner in late 2018, recorded an insane KDA of 115 until SANDBOX Gaming finally killed him. In the bot lane, Viper developed the reputation of a carry who can play anything — a key skill in the volatile bot lane meta of that time, which often put AD Carries on mages. At the same time, Lee "Tarzan" Seung-yong was already in the conversation for the best jungler in the LCK in only his second split and was only overshadowed by Kim "Clid" Tae-min's titanic contribution to SK Telecom T1.
In short, cvMax's five were popping off. The KDA leaders of the season per position were all from Griffin (top lane notwithstanding). Chovy finished the season as the Spring Split MVP and hopes were high for the fans as their team headed straight to the finals. However, SK Telecom T1 stood in the way as Griffin choked in the finals with a now-infamous Taliyah-Pantheon bot lane.
Losing high-stakes best-of series would also become one of Griffin’s defining characteristics and persist until the very end of the organization.
Griffin bounced back in Summer and had another successful split, finishing first in the regular season with a 13-5 record. In the finals, however, SKT completed the deja vu and trampled the youngsters 3-1. Griffin had now made it to three consecutive LCK finals and lost each one of them.
Losing high-stakes best-of series would also become one of Griffin’s defining characteristics and persist until the very end of the organization. Nevertheless, expectations were still high for the team: they had made Worlds and were considered one of the favorites to win it, despite the fact that the internal issues that would ultimately end their short legacy had already started brewing.
Bits and pieces: The controversy rises
About a week prior to the 2019 World Championship, Griffin announced out of nowhere that they were parting ways with head coach cvMax: a shocking move considering cvMax’s contribution to Griffin’s three-peat LCK finals.
Controversy aside, Griffin debuted at the World Championship with a 5-1 breeze through the group stage before the then reigning world champions Invictus Gaming ended their run with a 3-1 win in the quarterfinals. While a top 8 finish may have been a rather successful debut for a team of such young age, it didn't match the attention and promise Griffin previously garnered.
After Worlds ended, the reason why Griffin and cvMax parted ways circled back into the public eye. CvMax had stayed silent during the tournament and was even seen cheering for his former players on stream with his jersey on. He even put on a bit that he was there with the players, doing the draft together. However, after Sword and Viper told cvMax to “stop talking falsely about the team” in an interview, it prompted cvMax to open up about what happened in Griffin leading up to his resignation.
"I think cvMax is spreading lies," Viper told Naver. "We like him as a person, so we watch his streams occasionally, but he says a lot of things that bother us. If he was truly the head coach that loved and cared about us, I don't think he would be engaging in this sort of behavior. We let it slide because it's cvMax, but it is really putting us in an awkward position. So I hope, for the sake of our team and the players, he should distance himself from our team."
On stream, cvMax revealed controversial things that had been going on within the team over several streams. The first was how there was a conflict between him and Griffin director Cho Gyu-nam, who fired cvMax for incompetence, despite him leading a bottom CK team to the three-peat LCK finals. According to cvMax, Cho was of the opinion that Griffin and the players didn’t need their head coach. As the story developed through follow-up media reports, it created the picture of a team in critical discord, ripe with internal conflicts. Management, coaches, and players seemed heavily divided, with no tangible attempt from upper management to solve the issues for the betterment of the team.
In a second stream, cvMax dropped another bomb about Griffin's mismanagement, revealing that director Cho tried to threaten Seo “Kanavi” Jin-hyeok with tampering in an attempt to make the jungler sign a five-year contract with JD Gaming — a period beyond the maximum allowed from Riot Games. According to cvMax, director Cho’s intention was to sell Kanavi to JD Gaming for transfer money. The controversy drew increasingly more attention, forcing Riot Korea and KeSPA to launch their own investigation.
The result of said investigation brought on severe punishments. Griffin was fined 100 million KRW (approx. $85,000) and director Cho and cvMax were given indefinite suspensions from the league. The allegations towards cvMax — now a head coach for DragonX — stated that he had committed physical and verbal violence towards the players, which cvMax would ultimately take to court.
While the dissonance within Griffin was threatening to crack the team in half, it also split the public opinion in the middle. Some saw cvMax as the villain who had overstepped the power given to him and called for his exile from the LCK. Others saw him as a victim of a power move from the "suits" that ran Griffin, and the real reason why the team even made those three finals and qualified for Worlds.
Riot's investigation also unraveled the “slave contract” between Kanavi and Griffin. This further soured the already deteriorating public opinion of Griffin and so the team announced that they will be allowing all players to become free agents so that they can sign proper contracts. Shortly after this announcement, Choi “Doran” Hyeon-joon, Chovy, and Lehends declared free agency and left the team. Doran and Chovy would later follow cvMax to DragonX — with Chovy reportedly declining "what would have been the biggest contract in western League history" — while Lehends would sign with Hanwha Life Esports.
Since Kanavi's contract was international, the resolution of his case took additional time. Riot cleared that Kanavi is free from whatever contract he had signed and saw Still8 (Griffin's parent company) as responsible for this incident. Riot ordered every member of Still8’s management to be replaced by the end of 2019 and required the company to divest all shares before the start of 2020 Spring. Furthermore, they would defer cvMax’s competitive ruling until everything is re-investigated by a third party.
This ruling, combined with the wave of top player exits, effectively foreshadowed the end of Griffin just one split later. Although the team was still in the LCK, it had lost the majority of its roster, including its head coach and star mid laner, and was in corporate free-fall. As fans tuned in for the 2020 Spring Split, they knew the Griffin of old was far gone.
Relegation and the end
"Just a few months ago, this team was one of the favorites. But everything’s different… they're not that team anymore." — CloudTemplar
When Griffin returned to the LCK in 2020 Spring, they were a different team. Although they still had Sword, Tarzan, and Viper, their performance on stage was unrecognizable, and to make it worse, Sword was still tied to the lawsuit with cvMax.
Griffin ended the Spring Split last with 5-13. In the following Relegation matches, they lost to Seorabeol Gaming and SANDBOX Gaming, which ended their LCK journey. Viper and Tarzan left the team and only Sword remained as a relic of Griffin's golden era. As LCK was also reformed into a franchised league, this would be the last promotion/relegation series Griffin would play.
On June 25, Riot Korea announced that Griffin had not applied for LCK partnership. Given their last place in Challengers Korea, it is still yet unknown on whether or not they've formed a consortium with other organizations that applied for LCK franchising.
The more likely scenario, however, is that Griffin will be gone from the league for good — a tragic end to one of the best, most memorable storylines in Korean League of Legends. The name of Griffin will no doubt go down in history as a remarkable team, which ushered in the next generation of top LCK players, but also as an organization that squandered it all away in perhaps the biggest waste of potential in recent memory.
A waste that spoiled what could've very well been the next defining LCK legacy.