South Korea has long been looked at as the absolute best region in League of Legends. Pros from other regions often travel there to bootcamp, and many of the best players in other major regions were imported from South Korea.
For instance, EDG’s Worlds-winning roster had two Korean players. Both Lee “Scout” Ye-Chan and Park “Viper” Do-hyeon had a history in Korean pro play before getting imported to China. It makes a lot of sense that players from all over the world flock to South Korea when trying to find a place to improve.
However, many native South Koreans have been complaining about a declining solo queue experience — chief among them being the man himself, Faker.
After Chinese pro player Yu “Qingtian” Zi-Han intentionally threw one of Faker’s ranked games, a massive conversation has been started about the state of Korean solo queue.
Reaching for the stars
Don’t let the initial news deceive you, there are many strong Chinese pro players playing on Korean servers that are actively improving the environment and bringing their skillset to the region. Former pro player and content creator Christian “IWillDominate” Rivera tweeted about how four of the top five spots in Korean solo queue were held by current LPL players.
Some players like V5’s Rookie were native Korean players before they were imported to China to play on LPL teams, but others like the rank one player Iwandy, who was, up until recently, a sub for LNG that got edged out of the starting roster this year.
A few other players in the top ten here like Rare Atom’s Yu “JunJia” Chun-Chia and FunPlus Phoenix’s Yang “Care” Jie are players that aren’t starting for their respective teams, meaning that they likely have the time to grind Korean solo queue that players on starting rosters don’t. On paper, this isn’t a problem. Clearly, these players are skilled to be able to get to the top of the ladder in what is widely regarded as the most competitive environment in the world.
The problem lies in the policing (or lack thereof) from Riot Korea when it comes to solo queue games. This is just as much a problem domestically as it is with players from other regions. Don’t let the incident that’s bringing this to light fool you into thinking that all the problems with Korean solo queue are purely coming from players in other regions flocking to the servers and ruining game quality. There’s a lot more to it than that.
In a four year old reddit post about streamer and infamous Master Yi one-trick Cowsep, he was reportedly banned on all six of his accounts over a minor dispute, and had a lot to say about just how dire the solo queue experience was, even back then. A quote from his response on the matter is particularly telling:
“I feel that Riot Korea is sending me a warning. They want me to keep my mouth shut. Immediately upon seeing all of my accounts banned, I felt like they were threatening me and if I keep speaking up about their problems they'll escalate the ban to a permanent one.”
Along with this statement, Cowsep reported that he had video proof of players intentionally feeding in his games, and had some other posts from the controversy at the time claiming that Korean players were insulting his proficiency in Korean language, as well as calling him derogatory terms and claiming they were going to throw because he played poorly in previous matches.
It’s been a long time since the Cowsep drama, but his claims and the unfortunate circumstances around being banned still hold a lot of weight when trying to break down the current situation. They help show us that a lack of policing in Korean solo queue has been an issue for a long time. We’re only hearing about it now because Faker said something.
Pros and cons
Top Esports released a statement about Qingtian’s inappropriate behavior, and subsequently fined him a month’s salary for his behavior. However, the real question is whether or not this would have happened if anyone other than Faker had complained about it. Players who go 0-16 in matches of this calibur shouldn’t be allowed to walk with no penalty, and that’s the core of the problem.
This isn’t a new problem, either. Korean solo queue has long been plagued by people intentionally feeding and throwing games if a lane doesn’t go their way early on. On top of that, there was also a period of time where illegal Chinese betting sites had players trying to throw games to swing bets in their favor, and it became a big enough problem to be directly addressed by Riot Korea.
Faker’s former teammate Lee "Wolf" Jae-wan said on broadcast that Faker should have complained years ago. It seems that Faker has been patient about the issue and dealt with it up until this point. However, it seems like he’s done being patient. Faker has threatened to boycott solo queue if things don’t change. According to T1 CEO Joe Marsh, there are talks in progress with Riot Korea about improving the Korean solo queue experience.
He was fairly tight-lipped on the topic, but it’s good to hear that some progress is being made to make solo queue a more tolerable environment. Something like Champions Queue in NA has really helped curb some of the toxicity that’s omnipresent in ranked for any game, and it shows there are ways to create more competitive environments outside of scrims. Additionally, being able to practice in Korean solo queue has shown good results for international players.
For instance, a short time after hitting rank one Korea, Iwandy has been put back on the starting roster for LNG, replacing Zuo "LvMao" Ming-Hao. It’s hard to say just how much his ranked grind contributed to the substitution, but it’s hard to deny a positive result like that. There’s a clear positive for pro players from all regions grinding in Korean solo queue.
As much as Faker’s frustration makes a lot of sense, the thought process that Chinese players are the problem has a lot of very real implications and ramifications. The real problem here seems to be a lack of disciplinary action for players showing unsportsmanlike conduct, whether they’re native to South Korea or otherwise.
Faker has since clarified his statement in an interview with Ashley Kang of Korizon Esports, and expressed that he, “personally hoped that such penalties will be given out more actively in the future.” In addition, he made sure to clear up any misconceptions about his anger toward Qingtian, the player in question.
“My specific statement happened to be targeted toward a Chinese player in this instance. But always, for me personally… It doesn’t matter which country the player is from.”
This certainly seems more in-line with the conduct we’d expect from Faker, and I’m sure he meant no ill will with his initial outburst outside of getting a proper penalty levied against Qingtian. However, Faker is the sort of person that has to be careful with blanket statements.
When Faker speaks, the world listens. For better or for worse.
This is a very complex, multi-layered issue that doesn’t have an easy solution. Everyone has bad games, but when do you draw the line and say someone is inting? How do you create an algorithm that identifies that without wrongly banning players? Considering that players from other regions like China and Taiwan play on higher ping and don’t often speak fluent Korean, is there any effective way to stop discrimination against these players?
Hopefully Faker’s call to action helps create a better solo queue environment for everyone trying to play on Korean servers. South Korean solo queue has long held a reputation for being the best region to improve at League of Legends. Hopefully it stays that way. For everyone.
Carver is an esports journalist and analyst who specializes in Eastern League of Legends.