On the opening night of the League of Legends Championship Korea season, Kingzone DragonX, the rebranded reigning champion Longzhu Gaming, lost in straight sets to the defending world champions KSV Esports (formerly Samsung Galaxy) in a one-sided contest.
From that point on, Kingzone would only drop six maps throughout the rest of the spring split, capping off its second straight domestic championship with a 3-1 win over the Afreeca Freecs in the playoff final.
In matches during which KZ played its full starting roster of Kim "Khan" Dong-ha, Han "Peanut" Wang-ho, Gwak "Bdd" Bo-seong, Kim "PraY" Jong-in, Kang "GorillA" Beom-hyeon for the entirety of the series, the team was undefeated. In the opening night loss to KSV, Khan was suspended for the match due to unprofessional behavior in an online game during the offseason. The other defeat, a stunning 2-1 upset to the BBQ Olivers, KV also was without Khan for a third of the series, as the team's ace top laner was substituted after the first game because of breathing issues that relegated him unable to play.
In short: Kingzone has been historically great in its run to the spring championship. Halfway through the season, the team seemingly went into auto-pilot, treating games more like a friendly scrimmage to throw things at the wall more than a serious matchup in the most competitive League of Legends region in the world.
What was supposed to be one of the marquee matchups of the season between last season's playoff finalists of Kingzone and SK Telecom T1 turned into a one-sided embarrassment for the winningest franchise in the LCK. Kingzone had little issue brushing aside SKT in a laugher of a series, going 4-0 overall against the former champion on the season. It was less of a passing of the torch moment and more a forceful proclamation of who sits on the throne in South Korea.
Over the course of the season, Kingzone's greatest threats (SKT, KT Rolster, and Afreeca Freecs) went a combined 2-15 against the Dragons, with Afreeca Freecs the only team of the trio to take games off the back-to-back champion. By the time Kingzone had downed Afreeca in Busan to defend its championship -- the appropriate tagline "Another Level" tied to KZ's run to the final -- the next question wasn't if the star-studded team could win the upcoming Mid-Season Invitational in Europe, but if any domestic champion entering the tournament could take a few games off the South Korean league winner.
Looking ahead into the summer season, unless something major happens in the offseason whilst Kingzone is in Europe at MSI, the Dragons will be a heavy favorite to complete the domestic three-peat heading into the World Championships. Afreeca, the team that lost to Kingzone in the most recent domestic final, plays well together and has some of the best macro in the world, but a career season by support Park "TusiN" Jong-ik could be difficult to replicate. Even if TusiN can establish himself as the best support in the LCK two seasons running, Afreeca doesn't possess the firepower necessary to topple the reigning champion.
KT Rolster? The opposite of the Freecs. It theoretically has the pieces necessary to combat Kingzone, but the team's lack of consistency and wonky chemistry at times keeps it from being a serious challenger. All hopes will rest on super rookie Son "Ucal" Woo-hyeon having a breakout summer split where he takes a talent leap similar to Bdd from last year, where he went from heralded solo talent to the conductor of his team's success and winning the regular-season MVP award.
KSV? In the team's current state, there is a better chance the current world champion nears the relegation zone in the summer than pose a challenge to the team it swept in the quarterfinals of last year's Worlds.
SK Telecom T1? There's no point discussing SKT as even somewhat of a threat to Kingzone until it has a semi-effective jungler.
At this point in Kingzone's campaign, its main rival is not any of the present teams across the globe but the ones of the past, most notably Samsung White of 2014 and SK Telecom T1 of 2015, both of which ended up as world champions. In Samsung's case, it only dropped two maps en route to its Summoner's Cup victory at a World Championship where no one was close to putting up a competitive fight. For SKT the following year, it was more of the same, the team led by Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok only dropping a lone map to the KOO Tigers in the final to break up the flawless tournament run.
Kingzone, though, can accomplish something neither of those clubs was able to: the quadruple, consisting of both domestic titles, a Mid-Season Invitational trophy and a World Championship.
Although SKT won both of its domestic seasons and eventually the world championship, it failed to capture all four trophies when it fell to China's EDward Gaming in the final of the Mid-Season Invitational. Samsung White didn't even win a relevant individual team championship before taking home the Summoner's Cup. It took the entire year for Samsung White to put everything together, being outshone and one-upped by its sister team, Samsung Blue, for the majority of the year before running circles around its kin in the semifinals at Worlds where it blew out SSB in three straight blowouts.
For Kingzone, the chance to become the first club in League of Legends to win all the relevant gold in one year is on the table, and it's the goal the team should set for itself beginning with its trek to Europe in a few weeks, to begin the Mid-Season Invitational. The team isn't perfect -- lulls in the mid-game and sloppiness in map play get brushed over by the team's raw talent -- yet with seven months remaining in the 2018 season, there is time to fix the small holes in Kingzone's game to make this team the greatest to ever play.
"I've conquered Korea now," said Khan in Kingzone's post-championship victory. "All top laners of the world, come bow down in front of me and kneel."
Rest of the world, you're officially on notice. The quadruple is in play, and with arguably five of the best 10 players in the world in its starting roster, Kingzone is playing for more than just the present. It's playing for the past and future as well.