Credit: League of Legends Champions Korea (LCK)

COVID alert in LCK: Players, staff test positive for COVID-19—should the league go online?

The LCK’s future game days may be thrown into disarray as six players have tested positive for COVID-19 during and after the Korean Lunar New Year break, and the situation is still developing.

The positive cases follow a huge wave of new cases in South Korea, raising more concerns about the future of sporting events in the country should cases continue to spike—the LCK being one of them.

What is the LCK’s current situation?

Currently, four team members from Nongshim RedForce caught the virus after fully vaccinated AD carry Ghost suffered from a breakthrough case. Mid laner Bdd, secondary support Peter and head coach sBs were affected, and primary support Effort’s test results are pending at the time of writing.

Additionally, DRX will be filing at least four players from its Challengers lineup in the LCK. The team announced that mid laner Zeka and support BeryL tested positive on Feb. 3, then added 24 hours later that top laner Kingen, jungler Pyosik and substitute support Taeyoon tested positive as well.

Both teams are set to file substitutes on their lineups during the week, and their situation is unenviable. As for the remaining teams, no news is good news. However, if the pandemic situation in South Korea continues as it has been lately, this sentiment won’t last long.

South Korea’s COVID-19 situation and how it could impact the LCK

According to Reuters, South Korea extended its social distancing rules on Feb. 4, adding a 9 p.m. curfew for restaurants and a six-person limit on private gatherings.

The country’s government is reacting to an unprecedented spike of cases. Indeed, the number of confirmed cases for Feb. 8 is 36,719, much higher than their highest mark in December 2021 (7,843) or its pre-Omicron numbers (2,883 at most, with over a year spent in triple-digit numbers).

As people return from their Korean Lunar New Year break, the pandemic may spread further, eventually reaching other teams in the LCK or forcing a temporary shutdown of offline events.

An online transition would preserve competitive integrity as teams could field their starting five even if one of their team members is sick—or, in DRX's case, four players.

It wouldn’t be a first for Riot Games: after suspending the LCK for two weeks during the spring split, when the pandemic broke out, teams competed online during the summer split.

If the LEC had an offline-only policy as the LCK does, the team could have forfeited those games, depriving the league of one of its strongest teams in the spring split.

Amid other teams dealing with their own outbreaks, G2 Esports’ players and staff contracted the virus, but they eventually reached a 6W-3L record as they fielded a full lineup.