The 2022 League of Legends season is underway, and I’m excited. Across the four major regions (yes, that includes North America until Riot Games says so), storylines abound.
Over the course of three days stuck in a hotel, I have carefully listed 50 things (teams, narratives and players) I’m intrigued by in the new year.
What better way to kick off this list than the return of the second-best player to ever download this forsaken game?
— Bilibili Gaming (@BilibiliGaming) December 15, 2021
While Jian “Uzi” Zi-Hao still hasn’t made his official return to the Rift on his new side, Bilibili Gaming, we all know it’s coming. Once the Lunar New Year passes in China, I expect to see the legend return. Forget your fireworks, all I want this year is Uzi tumbling on Vayne.
Speaking of all-time greats returning, how about the most decorated player in North American League of Legends history in Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg? In his new Team Liquid duds, hope springs eternal with what could be the most talented group the four-time League Championship Series MVP has ever had playing around him. Sorry TSM fans. He kinda looks clean in the Liquid uniform.
OK, OK, I’ll say something nice about TSM. Although expectations are lower than usual for the winningest franchise in LCS history, I actually love that they doubled down on picking up Chinese youngsters to build around their ace (and reigning league MVP) Mingyi “Spica” Lu. In particular, from what I’ve seen in tape review, new starting support Wei “Shenyi” Zi-Jie could be a standout immediately depending on the communication of the starting lineup.
I’m not penciling TSM into any final appearances at the moment, but they should be competitive and have world championship upside if everything comes together. At worst, it’s a relatively young squad who should learn and improve a lot in a better-than-usual LCS.
Team Vitality, all of it. They came out of the gates slowly with an opening 1-3 record in Europe, but regardless of their success or lack thereof, the Bees are going to be a team to watch all year long.
Either they’ll live up to their ceiling and get things together to be a force not only domestically but at worlds, or the multi-million-dollar project will implode with the various personalities and superstars on the roster.
Either way, Vitality are going to be fun to watch in 2022.
On the other end of newly founded superteams, we have Gen.G over in South Korea. The Tigers were one of the major winners in the offseason when they signed Jeong “Chovy” Ji-hoon to a mega deal to secure the services of one of the world’s best players. And even though Chovy hasn’t had the greatest start – which, for him, is still better than a majority of mid laners – Gen.G have impressed through every player having a shining game or moment so far in this fledgling campaign.
Choi “Doran” Hyeon-joon has never won me over as an elite starting top laner, even in his triumphant streaks, but that could all change in 2022. He has been a marvel in almost every game so far, and with the top lane position in a bit of a limbo right now in South Korea, this could be the year he puts everything together to become a superstar in his own right.
In the battle to challenge Doran and Gen.G, T1 seem to be the clear rivals alongside DWG KIA early on in the season
After overcoming their mightiest opponent yet in the form of crypto cash in the offseason to re-sign Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok, the three-time world champion franchise is poised for a fourth this fall in North America. The GOAT won two of his Summoner’s Cups in California, and though this year’s finals venue isn’t the Staples Center in Los Angeles, I don’t think Faker would mind hoisting another world title a short plane ride away at the Chase Center in San Francisco.
How good can this Fnatic team be? On the surface and following a few regular season games, they’re a bit rough around the edges but are a joy to watch and are grabbing wins. After a melancholy and frankly depressing end to the 2021 season, it would have been easy to blow things up and go for a rebuild.
Instead, the orange and black reloaded, and should be a force deep into this year’s campaign.
I don’t care what anyone tells me, I’m not getting off the Kang “TheShy” Seung-lok bandwagon. At this point it might have a few blown tires, a damaged engine and a half-cracked windshield, but I’m not leaving. TheShy will have a career resurgence on Weibo Gaming (pour one out for the now-defunct Suning) and even if he doesn’t, I’m going down with him.
TheShy might not go down as the greatest top laner of all time, though I do stand by my opinion that he had the highest peak of any top laner to ever play League of Legends. I still believe he can reach those scintillating, untouchable highs again.
While I’m making declarations about former Invictus Gaming world champions, let me also throw out some love for Victory Five’s Song “Rookie” Eui-jin. Although not as rickety as the TheShy bandwagon, Rookie has lost some of the shine he once possessed in previous years.
Don’t worry, I’m still with you Rookie. He’s arguably in the discussion for a spot as a top-five player in history, and a comeback year with V5 (Ninjas in Pyjamas this coming summer) will only build upon his already Hall of Fame career.
FlyQuest signing Zaqueri “aphromoo” Black was a great choice. At the age of 29 after a decade of playing in the LCS, I still rate Aphromoo as one of the stronger supports in the league. A true legend of the game that deserves more praise for the longevity and consistency of his career, even while on a few below-average rosters.
Regional leagues! We know about the never-ending pipeline that is South Korea’s amateur scene and the Goliath known as China’s sprawling and extensive minor league system, but 2022 seems set up for Europe’s secondary leagues to take center stage.
From Spain to France to Poland, European Regional Leagues are not only stacked with talent but hungry, ever-growing esports organizations wanting to take their own next step in the space. The likes of France’s Karmine Corp and the recently initiated KOI of Spain are two budding franchises who already boast larger fan bases than teams playing in the tier one competition: the League of Legends European Championship.
And who isn’t interested in seeing Martin “Rekkles” Larsson take the leap at KCorp to see what the legend can do with perhaps the fastest-rising esports org in the world.
KT Rolster, Counter Logic Gaming, OMG and SK Gaming are four famed organizations from each of the major regions that have failed to make noise in recent years. Can any of the slumbering quartet wake up in 2022 and remind their starved fans how it feels to win again?
My bet is on OMG. Lin “Creme” Jian has the makings of a young, exciting player ready to take the necessary jump from intriguing prospect to legitimate star this campaign. For the sake of CLG fans, I just hope they don’t finish 10th again, or at least don’t bench a fan favorite player in a Bud Light ad. Either will suffice.
I’ll make another bold prediction right here: Nongshim RedForce will be playing in North America at the 2022 League of Legends World Championship this year. They’re a side with talent at every position and have players who still haven’t hit their primes, in my opinion.
Gwak “Bdd” Bo-seong is in contention for most overlooked player to ever play, and that was never more evident than when he was moved in the offseason following a world championship in which he was immaculate. He will never be as exciting to watch as a Chovy or have been an icon like Faker, but he’s a player that has learned to do the little things needed to win.
With Bdd at the helm alongside players such as back-to-back world finalist Jang “Ghost” Yong-jun and Kim “Canna” Chang-dong, NS RedForce are going to be one of my must-watch teams of the year. They’re making worlds, quote me on this.
On the topic of teams going to the 2022 world championship, put me down for Cloud9. This might be risky seeing as like half their lineup is currently in visa purgatory, but as Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng has said many times: Who cares about spring split?
I’m a firm believer in Robert “Blaber” Huang and Ibrahim “Fudge” Allami as players skilled enough to stand up to the best the rest of the world has to offer. They added some major firepower with the signings of Park “Summit” Woo-tae and Kim “Berserker” Min-cheol.
Although C9 have a slew of questions, especially Fudge’s development in the middle lane, there is no questioning the amount of raw talent this side has on its roster, down to its substitute players. I can’t wait to see them play.
I also can’t wait to see Nick “LS” De Cesare coach C9. His short stint managing the BBQ Olivers in South Korea’s second division was appointment viewing, and that’s only multiplied now in the LCS. I’ve always been a fan of LS and his distinct, sometimes polarizing viewpoints on League of Legends, no matter if they differed from my own.
Love his game philosophy or hate it, you know you’re going to be watching every game with a strong opinion. And really, there are few coaches (if any) in the world who bring that kind of entertainment value.
I really like the new 100 Thieves uniforms with the white collars. This isn’t deep or anything, but I just needed a place to state that I am a fan of this unique choice.
— 100 Thieves (@100Thieves) January 14, 2022
100T’s initial baseball uniforms are still in my pantheon when it comes to esports sportswear, and these preppy, my-private-school-tuition-costs-more-than-your-car uniforms are another winner in my book.
Let’s talk a little about the reigning world champions in Edward Gaming. They return the full roster that took home the Summoner’s Cup last year in the best worlds final we’ve ever seen over DWG KIA, and there is no reason (other than the incredible depth in China) they can’t be the first franchise since T1 in 2015 to repeat as world champions.
I’m just worried about what their fans might do on Weibo if they do repeat; in 2021 they chopped off their hair, chugged alcohol and streaked down the streets of Shanghai. I don’t even want to guess what their fans might do live in San Francisco if they win it in front of an audience.
Green card willing for Jo “CoreJJ” Yong-in, I can’t wait to see the bottom lane combination of Steven “Hans sama” Liv and Team Liquid’s talisman support. They have the experience, skill level and drive to be the best bottom lane we’ve ever seen in the LCS.
I’m cheating here, but I needed a place to vent about this: In contrast to my love of the 100T uniforms, I’m not a fan of the rebranded Kwangdong Freecs.
I am happy for the organization and players for getting a name sponsor that will hopefully make all of them a lot of money. Alas, I can’t move on without saying I hate the new uniforms. There are too many red teams, especially in Korea, where there’s literally another team with “red” in their name.
I miss the powder blue that the Freecs rocked as Afreeca. They had one of the best color schemes in the world, and now they’re just another one of the 700 teams wearing red and black.
Again, congrats on the money, Freecs. I will pour one out for your blue uniforms and logo.
Li “Xiaohu” Yuan-Hao’s return to the mid lane is something to keep an eye on.
He was arguably the best top laner of 2021 and moved back to his natural position in favor of Chen “Bin” Ze-Bin. Bin has been a bit awkward so far since joining RNG, so maybe if things don’t improve, the storied franchise will likely look to see if they can clone Xiaohu for both solo lanes.
For the next section, I’m going to choose the 25 players that I’m monitoring as my picks to have breakout years in 2022.
We will revisit this list near world championship time to see how well my 20 choices performed.
Lee “Yaharong” Chan-ju (Detonation FocusMe)
Doğukan “113” Balci (Karmine Corp)
Jeong “Feisty” Seong-hoon (Fredit BRION Challengers)
Cho “Roamer” Woo-jin (Hawnha Life Esports Challengers)
Bradley “Bradley” Benneyworth (Team Liquid Academy)
Lee “Dread” Jin-hyeok (NS RedForce)
Choi “Zeus” Woo-je (T1)
Park “Hena” Jeung-hwan (Fredit BRION)
Lee “Clozer” Ju-hyeon(Liiv SANDBOX)
Jeong “Peter” Yoon-su (NS RedForce)
Deng “shanji” Zi-Jian (OMG)
Zhang “Yuekai” Yue-Kai (Invictus Gaming)
Ping “xiaolaohu” Xiao-Hu (FunPlus Phoenix)
Peng “Xiaohao” Hao (Anyone’s Legend)
Fu “Hang” Ming-Hang (FPX)
Kim “Malrang” Geun-seong (Rogue)
Jakub “Cinkrof” Rokicki (Team BDS)
Raphaël “Targamas” Crabbé (G2 Esports)
Erik “Treatz” Wessén (SK Gaming)
Mark “Markoon” van Woensel (Excel Esports)
Milan “Tenacity” Oleksij (100 Thieves)
Fatih “Luger” Güven (Counter Logic Gaming)
Kim “Berserker” Min-cheol (Cloud9)
Colin “Kumo” Zhao (FlyQuest)
Nicholas Antonio “Ablazeolive” Abbott (Golden Guardians)
LNG Esports were my Chinese dark horse team last year when they made their Cinderella run to the world championship, and they’re primed to be even better in 2022 with the addition of Kim “Doinb” Tae-sang.
Xie “icon” Tian-Yu was solid and sometimes excellent in his supportive role in the middle lane, but it’s hard to argue that LNG didn’t upgrade with a player who has won a world title enabling junglers. And there might not be a better jungler in the world right now to enable than LNG’s Lee “Tarzan” Seung-yong, who ended 2021 in incredible form and has somehow looked even stronger to kickoff 2022.
Tarzan and Doinb are a one-two punch capable of winning the Summoner’s Cup. In 2021, LNG were outside contenders. That’s not the case in 2022; they’re a favorite to make it North America for Worlds.
Two years ago, G2 Esports were the talk of the League of Legends world. They were brash, boisterous and had a playstyle to match, drawing attention from Western and Eastern franchises alike. Their peak came at the 2019 world final when they fell to China’s FPX in front of a hometown crowd in Paris.
2020 was a lukewarm sequel where G2 fell in the world championship quarterfinal, and 2021 was a box office flop, with one of Europe’s best-known franchises not making it to the world championship in shocking fashion.
Now, this storied, blockbuster franchise is doing a reboot. While Marcin “Jankos” Jankowski and Rasmus “caPs” Borregaard Winther (yes, he actually changed the capitalization of his name to that) stayed on for this new generation of G2, they’ve populated the rest of the roster with young talent, particularly in the bottom lane.
We’ve seen the Samurai rebuild and reload before to great success, and though the names might not be as flashy, the potential and experienced talent is there to battle for a European title in 2022.
What is the state of DWG KIA? As I previously reported in the offseason, the back-to-back world finalists felt confident in bringing back their big three trio that won them the Summoner’s Cup in 2020 with Jang “Nuguri” Ha-gwon, Kim “Canyon” Geon-bu and Heo “ShowMaker” Su. Plans changed once Nuguri decided to take a sabbatical from professional play for at least the spring split, which left the organization few options to put together their starting roster they already spent millions on.
Thus far, the band-aid fix of top lane battery Yoon “Hoya” Yong-ho and Noh “Burdol” Tae-yoon has left a lot to be desired. What was once a calling card for DWG has turned into an anchor, with teams already taking advantage of their weak point in the top lane.
Canyon and ShowMaker are good enough on their own to power their way to the playoffs and possibly the 2022 League of Legends World Championship. But for a franchise that was a single game away from cementing an international dynasty only a few short months ago, anything less than another trip to the world final would be considered a failure.
Without a sturdier top lane option or steady improvements from Hoya and Burdol, domestic success let alone a world title will be more fantasy than reality.
This was going to be No. 1 on my list, butI bumped it down to second because I don’t want to jinx it – the world championship in North America.
Although Worlds has seen record-breaking numbers in recent years and the 2021 edition featured two of the best matches ever in League of Legends (DWG vs. T1, DWG vs. EDG), there were no fans in attendance. Since 2020, we’ve only had one major international match with a crowd, that being the 2020 final with a limited capacity.
Above all else in 2022, if the world championship can take place as planned with fans across the continent of North America, it is going to be a special tournament. As someone who has been fortunate enough to cover multiple world championships on the ground all across the world, I can say without hesitation that nothing is quite like the League of Legends World Championship when it’s a multi-leg trip across several cities, each bringing their own flavor and feel to the table.
All I want in 2022 is to be sitting in the stands watching the opening ceremony at the Chase Center, amongst the fans, fellow media members and employees at Riot. If a North American team somehow made it there too without needing to buy tickets, I might never complain again.
So, with me hoping not to jinx myself with the whole fans comeback thing, what is the No. 1 thing I’m excited about in 2022?
F**k it, let me dream – I am all in with Evil Geniuses.
Jeong “Impact” Eon-young has aged like a fine wine and is one of the most battle-tested players in the world. We’ve seen him time and time again quiet doubters on the international stage by neutralizing and even bettering some of the best young top laners in the world. He’s the definition of a grizzled veteran, and the type of player you count on to win big matches.
EG’s new starting jungler, Kacper “Inspired” Słoma, is coming off an MVP season in the LEC and is only 19 years of age (20 at the end of January) with his prime still ahead of him. Unlike other imported star players before him, Inspired still hasn’t hit his ceiling and should be hungry, having never won a major domestic title or gotten past the group stage at the world championship.
If the chemistry is right and he can acclimate to living in Los Angeles, Inspired is a self-sufficient player EG could build around for years to come.
Philippe “Vulcan” Laflamme is a star in his own right and just made it to the top eight at worlds as part of C9. When it comes to native talent in the LCS, there are few if any you’d want in your starting lineup above Vulcan. On a team that seems to want to fight early and often with players willing to push the pace, Vulcan’s engages and proactive style should be a match made in heaven.
Honestly, though, the reason EG are No. 1 is their two junior members: Kyle “Danny” Sakamaki and Joseph “jojopyun” Joon Pyun.
EG are betting on two teenage native players to be the central carries on a team with hopes of winning the LCS and going to Worlds.
Danny was a revelation last year and was EG’s best player down the stretch, almost at times willing EG to the 2021 Worlds tournament. As for jojopyun, he enters the LCS as a starter with the highest expectations an NA-born mid laner has had since Eugene “Pobelter” Park was a teenager himself (now 25).
It’s not that rookie NA mid laners haven’t been given chances – albeit they’ve been few and far between, and many with short leashes – but that much wasn’t expected when they played. Many were given the role of a quasi-support, with the central goal of getting their teammates in the side lanes or jungle ahead.
That’s not jojopyun. He is a player who is renowned for his mechanics and willingness to play forward in lane, welcoming the challenge of a one-on-one crawl. Whereas other rookies came in hoping to keep their starting job for more than a month, jojopyun is coming in with the goal to become the top mid laner in the LCS.
In the now-10-year history of the LCS, an NA-born mid laner hasn’t even been in the discussion of the best at the position since the days of Andy “Reginald” Dinh and Hai “Hai” Lam. That was until Reginald stepped aside and retired, bringing in a lanky, shy teenager from Denmark who wanted to make his own name for himself by the name of Bjergsen.
All of these narratives can come crashing down in a few months time, as they often do in esports. If you read this in five months, EG could be starting a new imported player in mid lane or at the bottom of the standings for putting their faith in two kids from North America.
Yet, if it does work out and the carry duo can live up to the immense hype alongside their already proven teammates, it’s going to be a whole lot of fun. Early on, their games have been a treat to watch, including jojopyun beginning his pro career with a win over that once-lanky Danish kid who is now known as the greatest to ever do it in the LCS.
Team Liquid vs. Evil Geniuses was the biggest rivalry in North American esports over a decade ago in StarCraft II.
Why not revive it with League of Legends in 2022?