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League of Legends

A DRX Triumph: The Most Unlikely Finalists at Worlds 2022

Zakaria Almughrabi

No matter the outcome of the Worlds 2022 Finals later today, the story of the tournament has been without a doubt DRX. The LCK’s fourth seed team went through hell and high water just to make it to Worlds in the first place. From their incredibly lackluster regional performance until their finals berth last week, this season for DRX has already been a complete roller coaster. And now, they’ll be facing T1, a team that has been consistently dominant in League of Legends this year – but not unbeatable.

DRX Worlds 2022

Image Credit Riot Games | Colin Young-Wolff

DRX Roster, Assemble

Coming into the 2022 season, DRX as an organization was looking into a major rebuild after a 2-16, dead last performance in 2021’s summer season. They decided to keep just two pieces of their previous team: top laner Hwang “Kingen” Seong-hoon and jungler Hong “Pyosik” Chang-hyeon. Kingen was purchased from Chinese team Bilibili Gaming the year prior, while Pyosik was brought up through DRX’s academy team.

To fill out their roster, DRX decided to bring back veteran ADC Kim “Deft” Hyuk-kyu from his year on Hanwha Life Esports. They also bought back-to-back Worlds finalist support Cho “BeryL” Geon-hee from DWG KIA. All of a sudden, the roster looked much stronger than the previous iteration. All that was left was to get a mid laner.

For their mid, instead of vying for a tenured mid within the LCK, DRX once again looked to Bilibili Gaming. They picked up Kim “Zeka” Geon-woo, a Korean mid laner who spent the last two years in China. Zeka wasn’t a rookie by any means, but he was certainly unproven. He had only made the LPL playoffs once in four tries, and was eliminated at 7th-8th with BLG.

Regular Season Woes

With a brand-new coaching staff in tow, the goal was for this roster to develop into a top half team within the year. Their spring regular season went very well, as a late surge allowed them to finish in fourth overall with an 11-7 record. Unfortunately for DRX, they lost their first best-of-five to Kwangdong Freecs and were eliminated. Still, this was a decent first split for a rebuild. If they could continue that upward trajectory, DRX would surely be a threat to the top of the table in summer.

Instead, DRX stagnated. They didn’t show much notable improvement throughout this year’s summer season. Their record was kept decent by beating teams below them. Of DRX’s nine wins, seven of them came against bottom four opponents. Still, a 9-9 record was enough for the sixth and last playoff spot in summer.

DRX predictably didn’t make any strides in playoff prep and were easily handled by Liiv Sandbox in round one. Throughout their entire summer split, DRX’s game record against winning teams was 3-11. The only caveat was that making playoffs twice gave them enough Championship Points to be the lowest seed in the LCK Regional Finals for Worlds Qualification.

The Climb Begins

Faith in this DRX roster was at an all-time low. With DWG KIA winning the upper seed qualification match, DRX had to contend with KT Rolster and Liiv Sandbox for the last Worlds spot. First up was KT, a team that DRX hadn’t won a single game against in six months. It was a grueling series that saw KT go up 2-1 after crushing DRX in 26 and 31 minutes.

At this point, DRX subbed out Pyosik for Lee “Juhan” Ju-han in the jungle. This move ended up working, as DRX was miraculously able to turn the series around. In the final two games, Zeka had a combined KDA of 10-3-13, while Deft went 7-3-14. Just like that, DRX had a rematch against Sandbox for the last ticket to Worlds.

For this series, DRX started Juhan from the beginning. He performed well in game one on Poppy which led to a win, but had an abysmal game two. Subbing Pyosik in for game three bore no fruit, so once again DRX had to fight back from a 1-2 deficit. With Juhan back in on Sejuani duty, DRX rallied behind Zeka and Deft once again to complete the comeback, culminating in their most decisive game of the season. Against all odds, DRX made Worlds 2022.

Worlds 2022 Debut

As the LCK’s fourth seed, DRX began Worlds 2022 in the Play-in Stage. They were placed in Group B alongside the Mid-Season Invitational Champions Royal Never Give Up from the LPL. It was unknown how much DRX could have evolved during Worlds training, so their first match against a title winning team was going to be a good indicator.

In that game, DRX was put on the back foot early by some good early RNG plays. They were able to flip the gold lead in their favor after an 18-minute Dragon fight. Even so, RNG didn’t go down easily. A 31-minute Baron steal from their mid laner extended the game. When it looked like RNG were fully back in it, Zeka made his big first highlight play of Worlds. After one more dramatic Dragon fight, DRX was able to take the game in 42 minutes.

With the hardest game out of the way first, DRX cruised to a 5-0 record in their group. This gave them a direct spot in the Worlds Main Event. After the group draw, DRX was placed in Group C. There wasn’t an overwhelming favorite to beat in the group; it was instead a group of life, where anyone could realistically perform and advance.

Showing Up at Groups

The DRX Worlds 2022 Group Stage began against Rogue, the LEC’s first seed. Once again, DRX fell behind in the opening minutes and started to come back around mid-game. This time however, the decisive fights went in Rogue’s favor thanks to what was largely a better draft. The result was a Rogue win and an 0-1 start for DRX.

After seeing this performance, people weren’t confident in DRX taking down Top Esports, the LPL second seed. The game turned out to be incredibly one-sided in favor of DRX. This result came largely from TES drafting a Draven and getting denied on a bot dive by Deft and BeryL. Notably, Pyosik had a strong showing on Graves, finishing with a 6-0-8 KDA.

Worlds 2022 Pyosik

Pyosik went from being subbed out in the LCK Regional Finals to being a major boon for DRX at Worlds 2022. (Image Credit Riot Games | Colin Young-Wolff)

The GAM Esports game was a 23-minute stomp, putting DRX on a 2-1 record. The biggest takeaway from the game was that Zeka’s 10-1-2 performance on Sylas was even more confirmation that he was a monster on melee AP mid laners. Fast forward to the next week. DRX made quick work of both Rogue and GAM, bringing themselves up to a 4-1 record. They were guaranteed a top two finish by the end of the day.

After losing to TES in the rematch, both DRX and Rogue held 4-2 records. A tiebreaker was needed to decide who would get first seed. This game was close for about 10 minutes. When mid-game began, Zeka’s Sylas started running rampant. Zeka made multiple plays to snowball DRX towards the win. By the 22-minute mark, Zeka was 5-0 making plays to end the game. Just like that, DRX finished first-place in Group C.

Facing the Greatest Adversity

By this point, DRX had earned a top eight at Worlds, an achievement that few players can ever say they’ve done. Many recognized that DRX looked much stronger here than they ever did playing in Korea this year. That said, some of their success was largely grouped with the LCK as a whole: all four of their teams qualified for the Worlds 2022 Quarterfinals.

DRX’s first best-of-five at Worlds would be against China’s EDward Gaming, the defending world champions from 2021. The Korean side was once again underdogs, but that was no different than it had been the whole year. They remained underdogs when they lost game one after leading for much of the early game. And when EDG’s Inhibitor respawned right in Deft’s face after being one millisecond from ending the game, it would have been no exaggeration to say that DRX was done.

But DRX wasn’t done. In one of the slowest burner games of Worlds, DRX grinded out a game three win in 42 minutes with only 17 total kills being exchanged. When both Zeka’s Sylas and Akali were banned in game four, he showed up big on Azir to help DRX tie the series. And when he was given Sylas in game five, Zeka put up one of the hardest carry performances in Worlds history.

Making the Finals

This win was only the second reverse sweep to ever happen at Worlds. But the job wasn’t done yet. DRX’s semifinal opponents were Gen.G, the LCK’s first seed and summer champions. In the head-to-head, DRX has not beaten Gen.G in a single game the entire year. Winning three games seemed like a stretch, let alone one.

That said, the slate is always wiped clean at Worlds. All that matters is winning in the moment. And with a Worlds Final on the line, that’s exactly what DRX did. After losing game one in a one-sided manner, DRX fired back with three games in a row. Game two was spearheaded by Deft and BeryL’s Caitlyn Lux bot lane. Game three saw Zeka’s Akali pop off with the help of Kingen’s Ornn and BeryL’s Renata teamfighting. And in game three, Pyosik’s Kindred and Deft’s Varus melted the tanky dive comp of Gen.G.

No one could have seen it coming. The team that came into Worlds as a fourth seed, the team that had a losing game record regionally in summer, had qualified for the Worlds 2022 Finals. DRX are the first team to ever go the distance while starting in the Play-ins, showing just how much improvement they’ve truly made in such a short time.

Deft’s Legacy

To fully appreciate this Cinderella run, we need to take a look back on DRX’s heart and soul, Deft. Deft is a legacy ADC player from Korea. He has been a pro for nearly 10 years at this point. From very early on in his career, it was clear that he was a top talent. In just his second season, Deft won the LCK trophy in spring and was runner up in summer with Samsung Blue. Going into Worlds 2014, Deft’s team was favorites to go all the way.

Unfortunately for Deft, they fell in the semifinals to their sister team in Samsung White. SSW would go on to win Worlds. The year after, Deft was part of the exodus of Korean players to the LPL. He found himself on EDG, even then one of China’s top teams. They won the LPL spring season, then took the MSI trophy. At Worlds, Deft’s team fell short once again, losing to Fnatic 3-0 in the quarterfinals.

Deft had another shot at a World Championship the next year with EDG. This time, they won the LPL summer season and were the number one team out of China. For a second consecutive year, quarterfinals were as far as Deft got. In 2017, Deft returned to Korea on KT Rolster. They had a good season overall, ending the summer playoffs in third place. In order to go to Worlds, KT would need to beat Samsung Galaxy in the Regional Finals. SSG swept KT, then went on to win Worlds 2017.

Try Again and Again

2018 marked Deft’s return to the top of the LCK. KT finished 13-5 in both splits, winning the summer season in dramatic fashion against a young and talented Griffin squad. As Korea’s first seed, KT and Deft were favored to make a deep run at Worlds. This would be Deft’s best shot at the Summoners’ Cup in two years.

Once again, Deft would fall to what was essentially his curse at this point. KT Rolster was eliminated in quarterfinals at the hands of Invictus Gaming 3-2. And of course, IG went on to win Worlds 2018. Deft went to Worlds in both 2020 and 2021 as the LCK’s second and fourth seed (on DRX then Hanwha Life). Both times, Deft exited the tournament in quarterfinals. At this point, he had not made top four at Worlds in seven years.

Deft has been one of the best, most consistent ADC players in League of Legends history. He has two LCK and two LPL titles, as well as seven Worlds appearances. In the two years of his career that he didn’t go to Worlds, he was just one game away in the Regional Finals. And despite all of this success and consistency, Deft has just one Worlds semifinals and zero Finals appearances. He has been forever the bridesmaid, never the bride.

Coming into Worlds, Deft had hinted at this being potentially his “last dance.” After a nearly 10-year-long career, thinking about retirement is only natural. But the dance hasn’t ended yet. This DRX Worlds 2022 team has evolved more rapidly than any team we’ve ever seen. Deft even said in an interview that he’s glad to see that he can still improve. And after making his first Worlds Finals appearance, we might be seeing more of Deft to come.

The Conclusion to Worlds 2022

DRX has a tall order ahead of them. T1 is the only other team that has looked more indomitable than DRX at Worlds 2022. It’s well known among League fans that Deft and Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok went to the same high school in Korea. Deft tells of how he was always the best player in his class, but that there was this one guy in school who had him beat. After all these years, Deft will finally have his chance at revenge.

Worlds 2022 Deft Faker

Which Mapo High School graduate will win Worlds 2022? (Image Credit Riot Games | Colin Young-Wolff)

The Worlds 2022 Finals begin on November 5th at 8:00pm ET. No matter the result, this has certainly been a Worlds to remember.