BEIJING -- Three years ago, days after winning the 2014 League of Legends World Championship, Samsung Galaxy was at the lowest point in the organization's long history. The entirety of its title-winning team, Samsung Galaxy White, left the club to pursue higher salaries in China, as did every starting player from its sister team Samsung Blue. Over the next year, Samsung Galaxy would become a punchline, a roster filled with no-names and rookies languishing at the bottom of the Korean league.
On Saturday, in front of over 40,000 fans at the Bird's Nest in Beijing, Samsung Galaxy completed its rebuild, ending the dynasty of fellow South Korean side SK Telecom T1 to win the organization's second world title. The team's 3-0 triumph was a result of trusting the process, slowly putting together a roster that could take down the greatest player in the world.
Looking back, Samsung's lost year of 2015 is part of its success story. Even though it spent the season at the bottom of the LCK standings, the team stuck by the two starters who stood out: Lee "CuVee" Seong-jin and Lee "Crown" Min-ho. Then, adding veteran Kang "Ambition" Chan-yong before the 2016 season took it to the next level. Samsung made a surprising run to last year's Worlds final before being stopped in the final by SKT, losing a classic five-game series at a sold-out Staples Center.
When a majority of teams would have made sweeping changes after failing to win Worlds, signing a superstar free agent or making a flashy trade, Samsung did the opposite. It stuck with the same five players, only adding a young jungler in Kang "Haru" Min-seung to take the load off Ambition's shoulders. The team didn't stray from the rebuild.
Now, in this year's rematch with SKT, led by the game's all-time best player/coach combination in Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok and mastermind Kim "kkOma" Jung-gyun, Samsung saw its patience rewarded, its blueprint succeed. The longest-tenured member of the team, CuVee, who endured jeers and taunts during the team's darkest season, played a pivotal role on the night, quieting the pro-Faker and SKT crowd with the performance of his life.
But no player took a longer road to the Summoner's Cup than Samsung's captain Ambition. Once regarded as the best mid laner in South Korea before transitioning into the jungler role, he was the first victim of Faker's legend five years ago. At every upswing in his career, Ambition met with an even better performance from Faker. But over the course of this World Championships, the recently married jungler played the best games of his career, when just two years ago people believed it might be time for him to retire.
"It's been seven to eight years of my professional career, [and] I was never the best," he said. "I was one of the top but never the best. I think winning this Worlds in this moment pays back for all those times that I struggled. Maybe all that time struggling was meant for this moment."
Together, Samsung Galaxy did the unthinkable: taking down the SK Telecom T1 dynasty in a one-sided victory. Head coach Choi "Edgar" Woo-beom, who has watched his team rise, fall and rise again, sees his players not as subordinates or pieces on a chessboard, but as a family. "I have two sons, but besides my own sons they [the players] are like my sons," he said.
Tonight, there is no bad to speak of. The rebuild is complete, and Samsung Galaxy is the champion of the world once more.