SEOUL -- On the evening of Aug. 18, Park "Viper" Do-hyun nervously walked into an interview room somewhere in LoL Park. Half an hour earlier, he and his team Griffin had defeated Hanwha Life Esports 2-0. The victory had given Griffin enough match wins to ensure first place in the standings of the 2019 LCK summer split. This meant two things. First, Griffin would now progress directly to the summer split finals. Second, Griffin had qualified for the 2019 League of Legends World Championship through the circuit points the team had accumulated over the spring and summer splits.
Yet, Viper did not look overjoyed. He did not smile at the remark that he will soon be flying to Europe to play at worlds. He gazed absently, like a man who had just woken up from a dream --or a man who was in a dream and too afraid to wake up.
"Perhaps this will be more real by tomorrow," he spoke slowly and carefully. "I just didn't know that it would take so long. It took a year. But I'm glad that I'm able to go to worlds in my second attempt."
Viper and Griffin's yearlong journey to worlds first began in the 2018 summer split, when the team was promoted from Challengers Korea to the LCK. Griffin's coach, Kim "cvMax" Dae-ho, vocally expressed his ambitious goals over numerous interviews soon after the team's promotion. Griffin did not want to win a few matches or go to playoffs, cvMax said; Griffin wanted to go to worlds in its very first split in the LCK. In a famous 2018 interview with a South Korean outlet DailyEsports, Viper proclaimed to the LCK fans, "See you at worlds."
Griffin did not hesitate in proving themselves as they quickly rose through the standings. The team's jungler Lee "Tarzan" Seung-yong and mid laner Jung "Chovy" Ji-hoon became universally praised for their mechanical prowess. Propelled by individual strength of the players as well as their ability to fight as a team, Griffin upset powerhouses such as Kingzone DragonX and Gen.G Esports.
As the team qualified for the LCK finals after a dominating split unprecedented by a newly promoted team, people looked forward to Griffin winning the championship, heralding a new dynasty in the oldest, most prestigious league in the world.
Yet, everything fell apart for Griffin in the stage that mattered the most. At the 2018 LCK summer split finals, the veteran KT Rolster exploited Griffin's mistakes and came back from behind to defeat Griffin 3-2. Two weeks later, Griffin lost yet another best-of-five series, this time to Gen.G at regional qualifications. Griffin's dream of reaching the 2018 world championship was over.
"Even when I look back to it now, there are so many regrets, places that we could have improved on." Viper said when asked about the loss against KT Rolster. "However, I believe that we were able to stimulate growth through [the LCK finals]."
Griffin's road to worlds would continue to be troubled in 2019. At the end of the 2019 spring split, Griffin again played in the LCK finals, only to be swept by SK Telecom T1 3-0. A few days after the confetti had settled for the victorious SKT and the decorated Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok, Tarzan changed his League of Legends client name to "Native American Rain Dance." When asked about the meaning of the name in an interview with ESPN, Tarzan admitted that it was from a story Viper had told him.
"The saying goes, the Native American rain dance always works, because they simply keep doing it until it rains," Tarzan said. "If we keep going to the LCK finals, won't we win someday, eventually?"
Griffin's rain dance continued into the 2019 summer split. Griffin experimented outside their teamfight-oriented playstyle and introducing Choi "Doran" Hyeon-joon to the roster. The growing pains were eventually rewarded, and Griffin once again finished the regular-season summer split in first place. Griffin had finally punched its ticket to worlds, but they had done it without winning a finals series.
Back in the interview room at LoL Park, Viper quickly set his mind away from worlds and to the challenges ahead.
"We may have qualified for worlds, but it is important for us to become a team that deserves the title." Viper said.
Griffin still has a lot to prove to the League audience. Griffin will face SK Telecom T1 again in the summer split finals and attempt to defeat the ghosts of the 2019 spring split finals. Then, at the 2019 world championship, Griffin will play against Western teams for the first time and be expected to live up to the mythos built around them.
Will the magnitude of their achievement over the last year eventually sink in for Viper and the young blood of Griffin? Perhaps it will if Griffin finally wins the LCK finals, once and for all proving themselves in a major series. Or, perhaps it will be the moment they step onto the worlds stage for the first time. As the stage light shines down on them in Berlin -- like a blissful rain after a long rain dance -- perhaps a proud smile will finally break upon their faces.
See you at worlds, Griffin.