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League of Legends

Are T1 Primed for Another Championship at Worlds 2022?

Zakaria Almughrabi

The League of Legends Worlds 2022 Group Stage will conclude on October 16. We’ve already seen Group A, what many consider a group of death, play to completion. The four organizations present were all powerhouses in their respective major regions and have also all made it as far as the Worlds Semifinals before. If you don’t count Cloud9, that bar raises to the Worlds Finals, with EDG and T1 having won it all before.

T1 Worlds 2022

Image via Riot Games | Colin Young-Wolff / All stats courtesy of Oracle's Elixir

Even in such a stacked group, T1 absolutely smoked the competition. If it wasn’t for a week one loss to Fnatic, it would have been another 6-0 for Faker and the legendary South Korean organization. Whenever T1 have been at Worlds, they’ve always advanced from their group in first seed and have never been eliminated before semifinals. The first part of that statement has continued, with the second pending.

In their 5-1 run, T1 had an average game time of ~26:20. This is the shortest of any team by a minute, or over two minutes if you only count teams with winning records. Let’s take a look at T1’s run through Worlds so far and analyze how they were able to dominate in the back half of groups, as well as what it means for the rest of the tournament.

Setting the Stage

T1 came into Worlds 2022 as Korea’s second seed, not first. Their loss to Gen.G in the summer playoff finals solidified T1 as beneath Gen.G in terms of power level coming into the biggest LoL tournament of the year. And with hype for the LPL’s top seeds rising, few had T1 on their minds as frontrunning title contenders.

Fast forward to the Worlds Group Stage. T1’s opening match was against last year’s Worlds winners, EDward Gaming. This happened because EDG were the third seed out of China this year. T1 absolutely crushed the defending champs in just under 23 minutes with a skirmish and mechanics-focused draft. Picks like Lee Sin for Mun “Oner” Hyeon-jun, Fiora for Choi “Zeus” Woo-je, and Akali for Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok looked unstoppable.

On day two however, T1 faltered in an unexpected loss to Fnatic, EU’s third seed. If we look at the draft, T1 came in with a similar plan. Zeus had another split push duelist threat in Jax. Oner and Faker had a strong 2v2 skirmish with Viego and Akali. Things started off rough however, as an early misplay from Oner (and great play by Iván “Razork” Martín Díaz) fed two kills and double buffs over to FNC’s Lucian Nami bot lane.

Oner was forced to hover bot to make sure Lee “Gumayusi” Min-hyeong could still farm, resulting in T1’s top lane tower getting taken early. Even with help, T1’s bot lane couldn’t stabilize. Elias “Upset” Lipp found a 2v2 kill onto Gumayusi, resulting in another tower and a Dragon. From this point, FNC were able to control the map and take favorable fights against T1 on their way to a 29-minute win.

Quick Repairs

We’ll skip over the T1 win over Cloud9, but just know that the game ended in 25 minutes with a 17k gold lead for T1. Group A had a shorter break than everyone else, since they had to play their second-round robin on day one of week two. T1’s first game back was a much-anticipated rematch against Fnatic. The draft strategy for T1 this time around had one key difference that would become the theme of the day.

T1 put priority on tank jungler Sejuani for Oner. While he had two Viego and one Lee Sin games so far, T1 opted to put him on Sejuani for all three games in the second half. Playing a team full of squishier, yet high damage skirmish champions can work if you’re the better team. However, if one early play goes awry, you won’t have the ability to play the same way for the rest of the game. This was what happened to T1 in their Fnatic loss.

Sejuani Worlds

Sejuani has over 90% pick and ban presence at Worlds 2022 so far. (Image Credit Riot Games)

This change was likely the result of a new meta read for T1. They recognized that Sejuani is no slouch in skirmish, as the tank’s damage is deceptively adequate. On top of that, she provides key engage via Glacial Prison that is useful no matter what the game state is. She is also flexible between jungle and top lane, helping give T1 a draft edge. Sejuani essentially became insurance for T1, but it didn’t take away from their early game dominant playstyle at all.

Revenge Served Cold

Fnatic ran back a similar draft, putting emphasis on Lucian Nami bot with Poppy jungle, a pick unique to them. Instead of Aatrox Azir however, Fnatic ran double melee champs in Maokai and Akali. With two tanks locked in for top side, Zeus pulled out the surprise Yone counter pick.

The game plan for Fnatic was similar, pressure T1’s scaling bot lane early and get strong enough to win mid-game skirmishes. While Fnatic did gain a small lead in the early game, T1 avoided the doomsday scenario of a fed Lucian Nami that plagued them in the first matchup. They even got two kills onto Zdravets “Hylissang” Iliev Galabov’s Nami and four turret plates thanks to a Rift Herald.

From this point, Fnatic didn’t have the gold or map control needed to continue executing their game plan. T1 were fully stabilized and scaling. The gold lead continued to grow in T1’s favor as they came out ahead in multiple fights. By 22 minutes, T1 had a 6k gold lead and Baron buff. It took a second Baron to end it, but T1 still closed out in under 30 minutes.

Showing Versatility in Draft

The Cloud9 rematch was just as one-sided as the first game between the two. The difference is that with C9 mathematically eliminated, they pulled out some unusual picks like Heimerdinger support. Most importantly in this game, Gumayusi and Ryu “Keria” Min-seok piloted the Lucian Nami lane to great success, showing that they are comfortable with the picks.

Lastly came the final game of Group A, T1 versus EDG part two. Both teams were 4-1 coming into the match, but T1 had the first head-to-head win. This meant that a win locked T1 as first seed, while a loss would lead to a tiebreaker match. T1 had no intention of playing that tiebreaker, so they brought out their most unique draft of the Group Stage.

T1 intentionally gave over the powerful Maokai top pick early in draft. The response was Gangplank for Zeus. GP is a very powerful but notoriously difficult to pull off champion. However, if any top laner at Worlds 2022 has the confidence to play GP, Zeus is that top laner. T1 rounded out their comp with a Kalista/Soraka bot lane and Faker’s first control mage of the tournament in Viktor.

Securing First Seed

Instead of wanting to engage in skirmishes with dive-based mid laners like in their first five games, T1 opted to play a zoning composition. By being first to objectives, Viktor, Gangplank, and Soraka could control the choke points, forcing EDG into lose-lose situations.

While T1 started out on the back foot early after a few deaths, a solo kill by Zeus at 14 minutes in threatened to snowball Gangplank out of control. Now with confidence, T1 grouped up for the second Dragon of the game. EDG threatened to collapse on the entirety of T1, but back-to-back Soraka silences from Keria extinguished any threat and put T1 into the kill lead.

By now, Zeus had two completed items to zero on Li “Flandre” Xuanjun’s Maokai. An 18-minute team fight showcased this power with Zeus coming away with a triple kill. From there, the game was completely one-sided. T1 closed out with confidence, claiming first seed in Group A. They also importantly established themselves as a team with an incredibly flexible and threatening draft phase.

T1’s Playstyle at Worlds

We mentioned earlier that T1 has the fastest game time of any team at Worlds 2022. T1 also has the third highest gold differential at 15 minutes at +2050. Being up 2k gold at 15 is a great way to win most of your games, since it means that you’ll always be at an advantage going into crucial mid-game fights. Despite this stat, T1 have only gotten first blood in two of their six games (33%).

Most of their early gold gained comes from Turret plates. T1 takes an average of 7.2 plates per game, which calcs out to 1,152 gold. If you sort by the reverse, Cloud9, Fnatic, and EDward were 16th, 14th, and 5th in this stat. While EDG looks close, they’re down almost two plates from T1’s average, which is a kill’s worth of gold.

T1 also is predictably great at CSing on their key carry players. Gumayusi sits at second of CSD at 10 minutes for ADC with 7.7 (behind RNG’s Chen “GALA” Wei, who is a huge outlier at 31). Zeus is number one in this stat for top laners at 13.8 over six games, an absolutely astronomical number.

The jungle support duo of Oner and Keria do tons of work to ensure that T1’s win conditions come to fruition. Oner’s three Sejuani games tanked his damage output stat and is a cause of his bottom five gold share % among junglers. His focus is much more on defending his laners to make sure that they can get the resources they need. Keria has the second highest kill participation among supports at 78.6%, showing that where he goes, T1 follows.

T1 Worlds 2022

Gumayusi and Keria had a slower 2022 regular season, but are starting to peak again just in time. (Image via Riot Games | Colin Young-Wolff)

Faker Faker, Play… Enabler?

Lastly, let’s talk about Faker. League’s GOAT has been having a very strange Worlds 2022. He leads mid laners in team death share by a large margin, making up almost 30% of T1’s deaths. He also has the lowest gold share and CS share post-15 minutes for mid laners by far at just 19% each. That’s right, Faker gets less than one-fifth of his team’s gold and CS as a solo laner.

T1’s franchise player has taken a backseat this Worlds, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Ever since this T1 squad rose to the top of the LCK in 2021, the team has always been about Faker leading a new generation of young talent. It’s hard to pick a “best player” on T1 because it could be any of them on the right day.

Even so, Faker has been making due. He sits middle of the pack in kill participation and damage per minute. He also has three solo kills throughout groups, tying him for fifth most overall. It’s clear when watching the game that Faker is being left to fend for himself most of the time, constantly being hounded by enemy junglers and more.

T1 and Faker are okay with this. His veterancy has proven invaluable when put in spots that many lesser mid laners would crumble in. When under constant pressure and being put behind individually, Faker is one of, if not the best player to still get the job done. He is the final gear that T1 need to keep this well-oiled machine going.

T1 may not have been fancied as title contenders coming into Worlds 2022, but they’ve made themselves known as one now. Zeus is a top two top laner in the tournament alongside JDG’s Bai “369” Jia-Hao. Gumayusi is one of the most mechanically proficient ADC’s left in the tournament with the fundamentals to match.

The support system of Oner and Keria enables T1’s carry threats to always get what they need to win. Faker’s proficiency at outputting maximum effectiveness while given literal peanuts to work with is invaluable. And with a deep draft playbook and a coaching staff capable of adapting quickly, it’s very hard to ignore this T1 team going into playoffs. We’ll see if Faker and T1 can claim their fourth Summoners’ Cup as Worlds 2022 continues.