The 2018 competitive season has come on and gone. Champions have risen while others have fallen — mostly at the hands of China’s LoL Pro League. Invictus Gaming hold the world title and China holds every title this year, but past that, there were ten players that stuck out above the rest in this momentous year of LoL esports.
Emily Rand and Xander Torres broke down the top ten players in League of Legends this year, favoring consistency, high levels of team contribution, and overall year success. You might disagree with them, but that’s okay. Just remember that Song “Rookie” Eui-jin is the best.
1. Song “Rookie” Eui-jin, Invictus Gaming
Rookie’s ascension to the top of League of Legends esports was long overdue. Around the same time that Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok dramatically rose from a throne in the 2013-14 Champions Winter Finals opening, Rookie began making waves with KT Rolster Arrows. The team became a persistent thorn in SK Telecom T1’s side throughout 2014, and Rookie was heralded as the next Faker, the player poised to challenge SKT’s mid laner for the title of best player in the world.
Yet, Rookie vanished, like many players, from the international public consciousness by leaving South Korea for China, the latter country’s competitive league far less watched at the time by audiences outside of China. Faker and South Korea rose undisputed, and all players outside of LoL Champions Korea weren’t regarded as true contenders for the title of best player in the world.
There’s a lesson to be learned here about general public perception, but it’s also taken a while for Chinese teams to reevaluate their own approaches to the game, coaching, and the signing of foreign players, so we won’t denigrate those who ignored Rookie for so long as soon as he left South Korea. Yet, the answer to the question of where Rookie all these years is simple: still killing it in China’s LoL Pro League. Rookie made China his home and has still been contending for the title of best player in the world despite less-than-ideal team results. Even in 2015 when all three Chinese teams including Rookie’s iG (especially iG) fell on their faces at Worlds, Rookie’s mid lane duels throughout the year were a thing of beauty.
This year was different in that iG was not simply Rookie and four other players but legitimate improvement of iG over time to become one of the best teams in the world. It would be remiss to reward Rookie without acknowledging that he couldn’t have done it without his team. But ultimately, taking first on this list is a celebration of many things: iG’s growth as a team, China’s maturation as a region, and Rookie’s continuing dominance. He’s always been contending for the title of best player in the world, and this year was the most convincing case that, even if it’s only a moment, he claimed that throne for himself.
2. Jian “Uzi” Zi-Hao, Royal Never Give Up
Had Uzi and Royal Never Give Up won the League of Legends World Championship, Uzi would have easily taken the top spot on this list. As it is, he was only narrowly beaten by Rookie due to RNG falling completely flat at Worlds, stubbornly sticking to a single-damage style that was built specifically around Uzi — something we thought that RNG had previously evolved from, leading to their success in every other tournament they participated in this year.
One tournament does not erase a year of dominance. It may knock Uzi down a peg or two, but it doesn’t diminish his myriad other accomplishments this year including two LPL titles, the Mid-Season Invitational title, and the Asian Games gold medal. This was the year of China in competitive League of Legends, and it started with Uzi and RNG.
It’s difficult to believe that at this time last year, Uzi still had yet to win a domestic title. Despite his natural talent and position in the LPL since 2013, Uzi’s first LPL title came in 2018 LPL Spring. This victory opened the floodgates for Uzi’s success, placing the AD carry and RNG on a track that seemingly had them snapping up every available championship including Worlds. Uzi’s defeat at Worlds was significant, but so were his earlier successes this year.
3. Shi “Ming” Sen-Ming, Royal Never Give Up
Uzi was arguably the best League of Legends player for the majority of the year, leading RNG to numerous championships, as well as China to a gold medal in the Asian Games. Yet, the support by his side, Ming, often did not receive the same praise that the superstar AD carry did. As one of the best supports in the world, Ming controlled RNG’s vision game and had excellent synergy with not one, but two junglers.
Ming’s vision driven gameplay supported by his endless flexibility made him the best support in the world over the course of the entire 2018 season. Compared to Cho “Mata” Se-young, his peaks were more consistent, and compared to Hu “SwordArT” Shuo-Chieh, his success was legitimately sustained in meaningful titles during the year. At the top of the support position in League of Legends, there will always be different aspects to value, but Ming embodied the core values of the position this year better than anyone.
4. Rasmus “Caps” Winther, Fnatic
Caps is the highest ranked Western player on our list and deserves it more than anyone. As one of the most consistent players in Europe, he won both European titles with Fnatic and spearheaded the best Western run at Worlds since Fnatic’s own Worlds win in 2011. As a player that clearly could compete with the best of the best in the east, he even held his own against eventual world champion Song “Rookie” Eui-jin.
Caps played in a less competitive league than some of the players below him, but he still showed the prestige of a world class player throughout his international appearances. More importantly, he was a significant part of Fnatic’s success. It is unlikely that Fnatic makes it to the final of this year’s world championship without him at the carry helm. That’s no shade against Martin “Rekkles” Larsson, just credit to the mid laner that proved Europe has what it takes to compete at the very top.
5. Hung “Karsa” Hau-Hsuan, Royal Never Give Up
Karsa is the first player to make a significant splash in the LPL after moving over from the smaller, weaker LoL Masters Series and it’s recognized here with the jungler in 5th place. After winning domestic title after domestic title with Flash Wolves, he did the same with RNG in a more challenging region. On top of that, he defined his position domestically and was the strongest jungler at this year’s Mid-Season Invitational, where RNG eventually took the trophy for themselves.
Karsa could have been higher on this list as one of the best performing junglers all year, but he did have a slow start due to some detrimental draft setups from RNG. Unfortunately, RNG also fell out of the world championship in the quarterfinals, denying Karsa’s chance at a world title. Still, the only jungler that felt comparable to Karsa for most of the year was KT’s Go “Score” Dong-bin (shoutout to Griffin’s Lee “Tarzan” Seung-yong for Summer), who was often heralded as the best jungler in the world. Karsa might not have necessarily been the “best” jungler in the world for most of the year, but he was the missing piece for an RNG team that needed their title. His impact was immediately felt and RNG delivered results until it really mattered in the end.
6. Kang “TheShy” Seung-lok, Invictus Gaming
If this list more heavily weighed the last month of competitive League of Legends, there is no doubt that TheShy would be at the top with Rookie. Without a doubt, TheShy was one of the most talented top laners in the world with some of the best laning prowess the game has ever seen. Even known for inventing combos on the mechanically intensive Riven, TheShy’s impact on top lane is felt. His dominance on the top side of the map greatly enabled iG’s “win lane, win game” style that defined the team for much of 2018.
The only strike against TheShy is one word: consistency. Often times TheShy might struggle to execute proper teamplay around teleports or teamfights. Subsitute top laner, Duke, also stepped in for iG on more than a few occasions as the team struggled to find their LPL title. Still, TheShy smashed the top lane world when it mattered most and delivered upon to Invictus Gaming and the LPL their first Worlds title. TheShy’s contributions to iG aren’t Rookie-esque, but his contributions are still arguably the most important for a top laner all year.
7. Park “Viper” Do-hyeon, Griffin
South Korea has a growth problem. Once the region most well-known for growing its own talent, for producing prodigious players who could transition from solo queue to lower-tier teams with ease before being snapped up by the larger organizations and polished to perfection, South Korea has stagnated since the initial Korean Exodus in 2014-15. We as viewers or fans, and the region, have been slow to notice it, yet looking around the LCK now, there should be more young faces replacing the old guard, some of whom are still at the tops of their positions.
This is where Viper and Griffin come in. Griffin was a breath of fresh air this year, a harbinger of just how stale the LCK had become, and Viper was at the forefront of Griffin’s more creative strategies. Teammate Lee “Tarzan” Seung-yong may be the best player on Griffin, but we gave Viper the nod because of his willingness to adapt, unlike many of his LCK peers.
Viper was a driving force behind some of Griffin’s weirder champion picks and strategies. Sometimes the team won because of them. Sometimes the team won in spite of them (Teemo). But the fact that Griffin were willing to innovate spoke volumes about the team and about the rest of the LCK in relief.
8. Go “Score” Dong-bin, KT Rolster
Speaking of players who have been around for years, Score has been playing competitive League of Legends in South Korea since he started for StarTale in 2012. Since October 2012, Score has been a KT Rolster company man, doing whatever the organization needed from him.
Score isn’t peerless in the jungle anymore, but he remains one of the most intelligent junglers in the world. He’s on this list not for dazzling mechanics but his thoughtful pathing and resourceful adjustments in the early-to-mid game. Although the KT super team is no more, it’s impossible to ignore that they came together and stayed together for two years with Score’s leadership abilities and strong jungling as a primary reason. This year, much like Uzi in the LPL, Score broke his own personal curse by winning his first-ever domestic title after years of falling just short.
9. Kim “Kiin” Gi-in, Afreeca Freecs
As a final endcap to the musings on the competitive landscape in South Korea is Afreeca Freecs top laner Kiin. Kiin is a player who has followed a more traditional trajectory in graduating from solo queue to a lesser LCK team in Ever8 Winners. And from Ever8 to a stronger LCK team in the Afreeca Freecs. His success, and inclusion on the South Korean Asian Games roster speaks to his stability, talent, and willingness to improve. Kiin’s top lane prowess took Afreeca from a middling team to contending for the spring LCK title.
More importantly, in a world where South Korea has to contend with teams in all other major and minor regions for the country’s own talent, Kiin is a standout example of a player who stayed and whose potential continued to grow. Like Viper, Kiin represents hope for the future of South Korean League of Legends. That even if they faltered this year, if teams can mine and develop their own talent, South Korea won’t fall behind for long.
10. Martin “Wunder” Hansen, G2 Esports
As the final player on our list, Wunder gets the spot as a consistent, dominant domestic player and clutch performer at Worlds this year. Most importantly, his impact on G2’s style of play is what nets him the final spot over strong players like Team Liquid’s Yilliang “Doublelift” Peng and Flash Wolves’ SwordArT. Similar to TheShy, he defined top lane in Europe and was appropriately voted to all-pro team. Though he is flexible on both tanks and carries, he made a name for himself as a carry split-push threat both domestically and internationally, tearing teams apart single-handedly.
G2’s success at Worlds would not have been possible without Wunder and his impact there is what truly bumps him up to number ten. Still, he proved himself during the entirety of the year as not only the best Western top laner, but as one of the best Western players. Wunder is nothing, but exciting to watch and his prospects for 2019 only look brighter.