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Top
League of Legends

Looking Back on 2022 in League of Legends

Nikhil Kalro

Year-enders can be fun. To encapsulate the talking points, the highs and lows, and the records. It’s an exercise that had us dig deep and look at how League of Legends changed. From the shadows of the raging pandemic at the start of the year to the completion of the best-ever Worlds to the several records set by path-breakers, there were plenty of magical moments this year. As the year winds down, it’s time for contemplation for the organisers, teams around the world, and the hundreds and thousands of players.

looking back 2022 league drx

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA - NOVEMBER 05: DRX reacts with excitement onstage after victory at the League of Legends World Championship Finals on November 5, 2022 in San Francisco, CA. (Photo by Lance Skundrich/Riot Games)

Viewership was at an all-time high, as were sponsorships. Regions that were forgotten rose like a phoenix from the ashes, and new winners emerged. A region itching to break the duck over the Europeans finally had their moment in the sun.

Let’s now recap all of these:

The Best-Ever Worlds

Some of the most exhilarating matches were witnessed at the 24-team event, and the competition for the best region in LoL came down to one between Korea and China. For the record, four Korean representatives made it through to the grand final of Worlds 2022. Korea has won six titles between 2011 and 2021. China appeared to have been shaded, especially when it was known two LCK teams, T1 and DRX, would compete in the final.

And what a final it was, living up to expectation with an edge-of-the-seat thriller. The sides traded blows, punched and counter-punched before DRX prevailed to be crowned World Champions. That they were an unlikely winner was a tremendous result for the sport, validated by the record viewership it broke.

A LoL record was broken with the match attracting 5.1 million viewers, comfortably surpassing the previous record of 4 million viewers. It was available on several streaming platforms, including Twitch, Youtube, and Facebook. The viewership stat doesn’t include Chinese platforms, which have consistently contributed a significant chunk. While scheduling of the event made it difficult for viewers from different geographic regions, the compelling nature of the contests and quality made it unmissable.

During the group stages, it was revealed 98 different champions were picked or banned. The number comfortably crossed 100 by the time the finals came around. Never before had the tournament seen such a paradigm shift in teams’ approach. The meta proved versatile, and teams proved they weren’t afraid to experiment on the big stage. It made the tussle for the top spot enthralling, as Worlds 2022 would go down as one of the best in LoL history.

The European Fortress is Breached

In October, North American outfit Evil Geniuses made LoL history when they took down Europe’s MAD Lions sensationally in a 3-0 sweep. This made them the first team from America to beat a European outfit in an international series. MAD Lions also, despite the loss, made history that day when they became the only team from the region to not make it past the play-in stages twice. It’s a record they don’t want to remember, though.

But let’s also give you the big picture. Despite this jinx being broken, European teams still dominated North America like no other. In the very first week of the group stage, North American teams went a combined 0-9 against Europe. However, what North America’s two wins over European teams in the groups stage did was give fans in the region plenty to be proud of, while also dashing the hope of European fans who longed to see their teams enter the knockouts.

The Return of VCS

Let’s be honest: Covid-19 affected the world in unimaginable ways. Some countries had it worse than others. Travel and quarantine rules made connectivity a massive challenge. You couldn’t have possibly envisaged regions being cut-off entirely from sport, culture, travel, and trade in our lifetimes. Yet, it happened.

When esports and gaming picked up during lockdowns, it was seen as a blessing in disguise in the moment. However, soon we realised sponsors needed to come on board for the big tournaments to return. But with the pandemic shrinking budgets, teams having lesser and lesser opportunities to compete, and those having a chance unable to because of travel, it got that much harder.

Ask Vietnam. The hugely popular Vietnam Championship Series was on the receiving end of the pandemic’s restrictions, with its representative teams having had to skip three international tournaments in a row: Worlds 2020, Mid-Season Invitational 2021 and Worlds 2021. The final tournament, VCS Winter 2021, took place after the main World Championship, when the LoL community had already gone on an off-season break.

However, this year, we had an on-time start to the first split of season five. It set the tone for an enthralling season. Teams from the region looked at the prospect of competing in big events again. They drew inspiration from the performances of teams like Saigon Buffalo, who at this year’s MSI, exceeded their own expectations, perhaps, by advancing from the play-in stage.

It was an opportunity that came out of the blue, especially after they appeared to have made peace with the non-qualification that hit them hard. However, with GAM opting to compete elsewhere, given the Southeast Asian Games were being hosted in Vietnam because they believed competing there would give them greater exposure, Saigon had a backdoor entry by virtue of finishing second.

They finished second in both splits, and featured in both the MSI and Worlds. That their roster was largely full of homegrown talents made it all the more magical. They were lauded for creative picks and great comebacks, like the one against Japanese team DetonationFocusMe where they came back from the dead.

Never mind that nerves got the better of them at crunch moments. Their sixth-place finish in the group stage wasn’t half as bad as you’d think it was. For a team that was coming out from cold storage, especially as far as world events were concerned, this was a creditable finish. That they made it through to Worlds 2022, their fourth International event and their second time at LoL’s most vaulted and celebrated tournament, was massively creditable.

LCO’s Impressive Revival

Australia, too, bore the brunt of the pandemic. When Riot decided the LoL scene in the region wasn’t sustainable anymore, things appeared to be heading towards a dead-end two years ago.

Costs had risen, returns had diminished, players weren’t entirely happy, and the sport was on a decline. Players were starting to compete in other regions, mostly the LCS. But then the ESL came on board. Their first challenge was to restore the dipping quality so that they could guarantee viewership, which in-turn could lead to sponsorship. It was massively important, with the Oceania region trying to stand on their feet. And they did.

Today, the LCO in its current form is an eight-team event, the biggest in the Oceanic region. Is it better than the previous version? Yes, on current evidence. Is it close to some of its peers? Not yet, but it won’t be long before the gap is bridged. And Chiefs Esports Club laid down the marker for other teams to emulate.

T1’s Grand Streak Ends

Do T1 have the same aura as they did in 2019? Are they overly reliant on Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok and Lee “Gumayusi” Min-hyeong? Are their back-up players capable of posing a similar threat? Anyone who has seen their record this spring split can’t ignore this claim to greatness. Yet, it’s a topic that, quite justifiably, elicits strong opinions.

And at this year’s MSI their grand streak ended. Having won the spring split 18-0,  they stormed through the group stages of the MSI and won six more without breaking into a sweat. Eventually, they lost to G2 in the first game of the MSI 2022 rumble stage.

The end result is this: T1 came within a game of being crowned MSI champions, something they last won in 2017. But China’s Royal Never Give Up proved too good in the end in what was an intense back-and-forth rivalry that came down to the very last match in the best-of-five. In all, T1 have won two MSI titles (2016 and 2017) – something no other team has managed to do back-to-back – and have been runners up twice (2015 and 2022).

They owe much of their success to Faker, who is set to complete nearly 10 years with the team and is staying on at least until 2023. At Worlds 2022, he set a record by featuring in his 100th world championship game, and marked the occasion with a stunning performance to close out a tight game. No other pro player has a remarkable win rate of over 71% at Worlds. In October, following a clash against Fnatic, Faker set a new record for most collective kills in Worlds history when he surpassed former ADC Jian “Uzi” Zi-Hao’s record of 350 kills. The best news for T1: Faker doesn’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon.