With more than four full years of competitive League of Legends having passed, compiling a list of the top 20 players ensures many famous, well-loved and fondly remembered players are going to be left off such a list.
Deciding the names and order of such a list requires one to determine for themselves the weighting of different criteria to come to a coherent and consistent decision-making process. To determine this list and its order I considered a player's level of play, relative to the time; the importance of his role and impact within his team, including how much of a focal point he was; the success of his career, relative to who he had on his team and in the context of the best tournaments; domestic and international play, in their own context.
With the Korean leagues being the most competitive and high level for a number of years, it's inevitable that I've often had to favour those players with overwhelming domestic success, even sometimes over Western players who have solid resumes internationally. The domestic success of players in other regions has been considered, but the Korean leagues have been the only domestic region which could truly be considered as good or better than international competition. Others may weight the critera differently, but in part one of this two part series, I will lay out the places 20-11 in my Top 20 LoL Players of All-Time.
Thorin's Top 20 LoL Players of All-Time
Part 1: 20-11Part 2: 10-1
10. Zhu "NaMei" Jia Wen (ADC)
Notable accomplishments:2012 G-League 2012 (3rd-4th)2013 LPL Spring (2nd)2013 WW National Elite Cup (2nd)2013 StarsWar 8 (3rd-4th)2013 LPL Summer (1st)2013 WCG (2nd)2014 International Esports Tournament (1st)2014 LPL Spring (1st)2014 IEM Season IX - Shenzhen (2nd)2014 LPL Summer (1st)2014 S4 Regional (1st)2014 S4 Worlds (5th-8th)2014 NVIDIA Game Festival (1st)2014 NEST (2nd)2014 National Electronic Sports Open (1st)2014 Demacia Cup S2 (1st)
Of all the names on my top 20, NaMei's may be the least well known and respected. That is despite the fact the prime of his career has been over Seasons 3 and 4, in the second most competitive region in the world. Within that region, NaMei has established a level of individual play and team accomplishment that nobody else from China can match. In 2013, NaMei was the true heir to WeiXiao, taking over as the best AD Carry in China at a time when Westerners would naively assume Uzi was the best Chinese ADC. That year, NaMei's Positive Energy, which featured zero names the vast majority of LCS fan would recognise, were able to repeatedly place top four in Chinese LANs, reaching both LPL season finals and winning the second.
In 2014, NaMei moved over to EDG, an entirely new set of team-mates, and set about dominating domestically to the extent that he reached the finals of nine offline tournaments, winning seven of them. That run included both LPL titles and the regionals. NaMei is on a streak of winning the domestic league three straight times, in the second most competitive and high level region in the world. In all three of those campaigns, he was the most valuable player for his team and at the very least a contender for the best player in the league. NaMei's domestic resume can be considered the most impressive in the history of League of Legends, taking into account all regions.
As a player, his level has been phenomenal, from the aggressive laning of Positive Energy through to the more passive, late-game-orientated era of EDG, NaMei has shone as the primary driving force of his teams and the focal point around which their success has been constructed and executed. No ADC has played at a higher level for as long or as consistently as NaMei. Internationally, he has performed well below his domestic level, underwhelming on the two occasions he has left the country, but he practically maxes out criteria like overall level of play, domestic success, role importance within the team and level of team-mates.
On the latter point, it's worth mentioning that the veterans and respected players in NaMei's EDG were those in the supportive roles (Jungler and Support), with NaMei's solo lanes being far from highly touted individual carries, though U did eventually develop into a solid second star by the end of their run together. If EDG won or lost, it often came down to NaMei's level of play and its consistent excellence is the primary reason they were able to put together such an incredible run of form and accomplishments.
In one category (international play), NaMei falls short, but in all of the orders he is amongst the best to ever play competitive League of Legends. You'd be hard pressed to find a player with better domestic results, especially in such a competitive region; who had less help, in terms of star level talent team-mates; maintained such an elite level of play for so long; and who had such asked of him in terms of role within the team and importance to the conditions of victory. The world may not know it, but NaMei is one of the greatest hard carries to ever play.
9. Alexey "Alex Ich" Ichetovkin (Mid)
Notable accomplishments:2012 IEM VI Kiev (1st)2012 IEM VI World Championship (1st)2012 Dreamhack Summer (2nd)2012 ECC Poland (1st)2012 Season 2 EU Regional (1st)2012 Season 2 World Championship (3rd-4th)2012 Tales of the Lane (3rd)2012 IPL5 (4th)2013 IEM VII Katowice (1st)2013 IEM VII World Championship (3rd-4th)2013 MLG International Exhibition (2nd)2013 EU LCS Spring (2nd)2013 EU LCS Summer (3rd)2013 Season 3 World Championship (5th-8th)2013 IEM VIII Cologne (1st)2014 IEM VIII World Championship (3rd-4th)
Those who only remember the last year of Alex Ich's career do not know the real Alex Ich. When Moscow Five rose up to dominate Europe and establish themselves as the world's best team, Alex Ich was the primary carry of the team and very much triggered a lot of the team's play. There was a time when Alex Ich could stomp opponents in the Mid lane and carry team-fights, even from gold and kill deficits. Genja and Darien had their good tournaments, but Alex Ich was the carry position player who had to perform if M5 were going to emerge victorious from a fight, a series and a tournament.
In Season 3 and early Season 4, Alex Ich's level had dropped back gradually, even seeing himself surpassed by more names domestically, but his clutch play was a hallmark of the overall ability of Gambit to elevate their level when offline tournaments, particularly those featuring international teams, came around. As a unit, they had an incredible natural synergy and unspoken team-play dynamic, but Alex was also always able to find a way to match-up against the world class mids his teams would inevitably have to face as they progressed through their seemingly endless international play-off runs.
Until Season 4, Alex Ich was a player who transcended metas, able to be an elite EU Mid laner both in the S2 days of the farm-intensive picks and S3 assassin snowball meta. Alex was less known for specific signature champions than for finding champions which worked and would allow him to be impactful once those team-fights arrived, where M5 and Gambit always did their best work. In terms of accomplishments, Alex has been one of the most successful players of all-time, with numerous top placings in both international and domestic competition.
While his individual level of play could not always match-up to that of Froggen or xPeke, Alex had the killer instinct of a champion and the ability to play under pressure with a freedom and gusto that few Westerners have ever truly been capable of. Once upon a time, he would have been in the top five of such a list as this, now he settles for an impressive top 10 entry and one of the truly great careers.
8. Danil "Diamondprox" Reshetnikov (Jungle)
Notable accomplishments:2012 IEM VI Kiev (1st)2012 IEM VI World Championship (1st)2012 Dreamhack Summer (2nd)2012 ECC Poland (1st)2012 Season 2 EU Regional (1st)2012 Season 2 World Championship (3rd-4th)2012 Tales of the Lane (3rd)2012 IPL5 (4th)2013 IEM VII Katowice (1st)2013 IEM VII World Championship (3rd-4th)2013 MLG International Exhibition (2nd)2013 EU LCS Spring (2nd)2013 EU LCS Summer (3rd)2013 Season 3 World Championship (5th-8th)2013 IEM VIII Cologne (1st)2014 IEM VIII World Championship (3rd-4th)2014 IEM IX Cologne (1st)
Prior to the rise of DanDy, it looked as if no Jungler would ever be able to touch Diamondprox's throne for the status of the best of all time. Diamondprox not only established himself as the best Jungler in Season 2, but entirely revolutionised the way the position was played. Before Diamond, many of the top players were passive, more supportive style players, there to protect, support and advance their carries. Diamond came along with the mentality of a duelist and the mindset that he could carry the game himself. Working with his team, he tore through opposing Junglers and teams to establish M5 as a European dyanasty that even in their waning days, as Gambit, could still always rise to the level of the opponents and compete with even top Asian sides.
Without Diamondprox, there may never have been an inSec, a KaKAO, a Svenskeren or a Jankos. Not only did he develop the style of aggressive gank-heavy, jungle-dueling that has since been used by so many of the world's best Junglers, but he continually played a central role in the development of the champions used to those ends in the Jungle. Up until the Summer of 2014, one could see Diamondprox repeatedly finding new picks or ways to build otherwise ignored picks, finding ways to bring something new to the Jungle.
In Diamondprox, we arrive at the first player on the list who is not playing one of the traditional carry positions (Top, Mid or ADC) and yet who was a carry in terms of the importance of his role within his team and his impact on Gambit's wins. Even during late Season 3, when every other position in competitive LoL had been subjugated by the sheer force of the elite Asian players, Diamondprox stood as the only Westerner who was still in contention for the best in the world at his position and who the Asian players still looked to as leading the way.
7. Henrik "Froggen" Hansen (Mid)
Notable accomplishments:2012 Dreamhack Summer (1st)2012 ECC Poland (2nd)2012 Season 2 Regional (3rd)2012 OGN Champions Summer (2nd)2012 Season 2 World Championship (3rd-4th)2012 MLG Fall Championship (3rd)2012 Lone Star Clash (1st)2012 Dreamhack Winter (2nd)2012 IPL5 (5th-6th)2013 EU LCS Spring (3rd)2013 EU LCS Summer (4th)2014 EU LCS Spring 2014 (4th)2014 EU LCS Summer 2014 (1st)2014 IEM IX San Jose (3rd-4th)
Froggen is not just the best Western Mid laner to ever play, he is the best Western player of any position. For someone who started his career as a one trick pony, attempting to play Anivia in every game, he has perhaps the widest champion pool of any Westerner in history, able to find picks which work for him in any meta and, during his peak periods, find wins on enough diverse picks to make his pool as deep as one can imagine. In Season 2 he was, at the peak of his form, the best player in the world, routinely carrying games and rarely, if ever, being beaten out by his opposing Mid laner.
A quick assessment of his team-mates in that CLG.EU/Evil Geniuses line-up will show that none could retain their status within the context of their roles beyond Season 2, leaving Froggen as one of the great Western players to have played with significantly less help and talent than anyone else who would be in conversation to be on a list such as this one. Even with team-mates gradually falling away and slumping in Season 3, Froggen carried his team to two consecutive top four finishes in LCS. While the assassin meta reigned supreme, in the Summer of 2013, his game was the most at odds with the meta it has ever been, and yet he was rarely ever shown up directly by the aggressive snowball Mids who ran through Europe at the time.
Froggen is the unique package of impressive talent, known for his proficiency in hitting skill-shots and mastering combinations on numerous champions; unparalleled dedication, slaving away in practice above and beyond the call of duty; and composure, playing his entire career as the main focal point of enemies in team-fights and with the pressure of carrying on his shoulders. There have been others with the talent to match Froggen, others who have been dedicated to their craft as professionals and others who have been able to stand the pressure of being the one opponents are always looking to shutdown, but none who can match the Dane in all three categories and can then add in the kind of longevity he has shown. Froggen was the best EU Mid laner, by a considerable margin, in both Season 2 and Season 4.
In terms of accomplishments, Froggen has a very solid resume of top finishes in tournaments. What he lacks in terms of titles, he makes up for in consistency and frequency. Here is a player who has reached the semi-final of the World Championship, who was one game away from winning the top Korean league and who bested a prime Moscow Five to take a European title. During the Summer of 2014, his Alliance team did not give up more than two wins to any single opponent in 36 games played, with Froggen as the primary carry and focal point of the side at all times.
6. Choi "DanDy" In Kyu (Jungle)
Notable accomplishments:2013 OGN Champions Spring (1st)2013 AMD-INVEN GamExperience (1st)2013 OGN Champions Summer (3rd)2013 OGN Champions Winter (2nd)2014 OGN Champions Spring 2014 (3rd)2014 OGN Masters (1st)2014 OGN Champions Summer (3rd)2014 Season 4 World Championship (1st)
DanDy has finished in the top three of five straight seasons of OGN Champions, winning one of those seasons and accomplishing those feats with four different players over his two solo lanes. As those players, who have all displayed radically different styles of play, have been and gone, the only factor that has remained has been DanDy's elite level of play and ability to elevate those team-mates to their peaks. Over that time period, DanDy has been among the best players in the world without a drop, the only constant the in the top world's top three Junglers.
What has made DanDy unique is that he has the skillset of a carry Jungler, yet has successfully pioneered a hybrid approach, applying those skills to a more supportive approach, getting his lanes ahead and ensuring they don't fall behind or find themselves unduly pressured. Master of the counter-gank, DanDy's intuitive knowledge of where the opposing Jungler will be and synergy with Support partner Mata, to create an unmatched vision control game, has ensured his teams have always been amongst the most gank-resistant and capable of finding their desired engagements.
Individually, he is a master of his position; in combination with Mata he makes up one of the most unique and yet dominant synergies of all-time, coming from the supportive roles; and as part of three quite different line-ups, he has consistently contended for titles domestically. That he won the Season 4 World Championship, adding the biggest and best title of them all to his already well-padded resume, only cements DanDy as the king of the Jungle role.
5. Hong "MadLife" Min Gi (Support)
Notable accomplishments:2012 OGN LoL Invitational (1st)2012 OGN Champions Spring (2nd)2012 OGN Champions Summer (1st)2012 Season 2 World Championship (2nd)2012 OGN Champions Winter (2nd)2013 IEM VII Kato (3rd-4th)2013 IEM VII WC (2nd)2013 OGN Champions Spring (4th)2013 OGN Champions Summer (4th)2013 IEM VIII Singapore (2nd)2014 OGN Champions Spring (5th-8th)
MadLife not only revolutionised the Support role, innovating a play-making style from it, but also transcended his role to become a legitimate contender for the title of best player in the world, during his peak in Season 2 and early Season 3. Never being parntered with a top tier AD Carry, he was consistently able to guide his team's to impressive placing, reaching the first five finals of his career, winning an OGN title and playing in a World Championship as part of that run of form. MadLife finished in the top four of the first nine offline tournaments of his career.
Until Mata's rise, no other Support in the world could reasonably be held against MadLife and favourably compared, such was the disparity between his level of excellence and all the rest of the world's best Supports. His skill, ability to play-make, knowledge of champions and vision control were second to none. As I've paraphrased to explain MadLife's play-making before: a great player can make a play nobody else can, but a genius can make a play you didn't even know could be made. Such was the visualisation and creativity of MadLife's thought-processes and execution.
Where so many of the names on this list played with other great players and formed special synergies with key team-mates, MadLife's best team-mate was Shy and none of the others he went into war with would come close to featuring on this list. His career should, in that respect, have been a 'what if?' story, but instead ends up as one of the most impressive and legendary in the game's history, even two years removed from his last appearance in a big final. When fans referred to MadLife as "God", they were not overstating his significance, game impact or level of play.
4. Bae "dade" Eo Jin (Mid)
Notable accomplishments:2012 IEM VII Cologne (3rd-4th)2013 OGN Champions Winter (5th-8th)2013 OGN Champions Spring (1st)2013 AMD-INVEN GamExperience (1st)2013 OGN Champions Summer (3rd)2013 OGN Champions Winter (2nd)2014 OGN Champions Spring (1st)2014 OGN Masters (1st)2014 OGN Champions Summer (2nd)2014 Season 4 World Championship (3rd-4th)
After NaMei, dade is likely the most contentious placing on this list. Typically, streaky players fail to accomplish the same heights of success as those who are consistently elite. Moreover, they often tend to be resigned to secondary carry or star roles, putting a team over the top when at their peaks but not dragging them down when in their slumps. dade is the greatest streaky player in the history of competitive League, but his peaks were so spectacular and with levels of play at such impossible heights, that he was the primary carry player on two entirely different teams, sharing no team-mates. The same player who slumped so embarrassingly at the Season 3 World Championship also delivered two superlative Spring seasons to win two OGN titles with entirely different teams.
Aside from the five members of the legendary SK Telecom T1 side, the only player to have won two OGN titles is dade. He stands alone as the only player to reach four OGN finals, two with each of his famed core sets of team-mates. Playing alongside a monster Jungler like DanDy, one could have accorded much of his success to having a great supportive position player like that, yet the latter half of Dade's career saw him reaching two OGN finals, winning an OGN title and placing top four at the World Championships, all without the help of DanDy. On the topic of help, while his Ozone days saw him surrounded by world class players, some of whom feature on this list, in his Blue days dade was the man and his side-kick Deft was excellent, but played off of dade's excellence and play-making style.
Not all of dade's OGN finishes should be considered of an equal quality, in line with his streaky form, as he has realistically had three incredible season (OGN Spring 2013, OGN Spring 2014 and OGN summer 2014) and two good seasons (OGN Summer 2013 and Winter 2013). His highs were as unbelievable as his lows. The greatness of dade's career cannot be overlooked on the basis of the depths to which he has slumped. Put together a list of the 10 greatest individual games ever played in OGN history and only Faker could hope to command more slots on the list.
3. Cho "Mata" Se-hyeong (Support)
Notable accomplishments:2013 OGN Champions Spring (1st)2013 AMD-INVEN GamExperience (1st)2013 OGN Champions Summer (3rd)2013 OGN Champions Winter (2nd)2014 OGN Champions Spring 2014 (3rd)2014 OGN Masters (1st)2014 OGN Champions Summer (3rd)2014 Season 4 World Championship (1st)
The magnitude of MadLife's accomplishments and level of excellence, meant that few Korean players would ever be able to eclipse him and especially, it seemed, no Support players. Two years after making his debut in the Korean leagues, Mata stands as the best Support player in history and one of the best players to ever compete in League from any position. Think of any component or quality of a Support player and Mata stands as an example of mastery in that respect. His laning is impossibly good, his play-making is legendary, his synergy with his AD Carry is some of the best ever seen, his champion pool is never exhausted and his vision control is unparalleled.
In terms of accomplishments, Mata's resume displays a long history of excellence. When people point to Ozone's embarrassment at the Season 3 World Championship, failing to progress to the play-offs, it's worth bearing in mind both that that was the only occasion in Mata's career where he has ever failed to make the semi-final of a tournament and also that he won the World Championship the following year. In the most competitive years of LoL, Mata has never failed to remind us why he is the world's finest Support player. When SKT reached the top, few could claim PoohManDu was above Mata, when Heart's Blue twice bested White in OGN semi-finals, all still bent the knee.
Playing in a team with imp, DanDy and dade, Mata had some of the finest help any great player could wish for, but he ultimately stands as the best of that incredibly talented and prolific bunch. All were great players, nearly all the best to ever play their positions from Korea, but Mata was the foundation from which it was all built: the botlane, the vision control, the shot-calling, the confidence bordering on arrogance that he should be the champion of any tournament he competedin.
2. Gao "WeiXiao" Xuecheng (ADC)
Notable accomplishments:2011 Tencent Game Arena Grand Prix (2nd)2011 IEM VI Guangzhou (1st)2011 Tencent Games Carnival (1st)2012 World GameMaster Tournament (1st)2012 NVIDIA Game Festival (1st)2012 StarsWar 7 (2nd)2012 Tencent Game Arena Grand Prix (1st)2012 OGN Champions Summer (5th-8th)2012 Season 2 World Championship (5th-8th)2012 WEM (1st)2012 IEF (1st)2012 GIGABYTE StarsWar League (1st)2012 TGA Grand Prix Winter (1st)2012 IPL5 (1st)2012 G-League Season 2 (1st)2013 GIGABYTE StarsWar League Season 2 (2nd)2013 NVIDIA Game Festival (1st)2013 LPL Spring (4th)2013 Asian Indoor-Martial Arts Games (2nd)2013 IEM VII Shanghai (1st)2013 WCG China Qualifier (2nd)2013 NEST (2nd)2013 LPL Summer (3rd)2013 WCG (3rd)
Prior to Faker imposing an unrelenting monotheism on the League world, the game was sustained by a pantheon of gods. MadLife produced miracles from what was traditionally the weakest position in the meta, Froggen had mastered the Mid lane role, Diamondprox invented new picks on a monthly basis and Shy was the Top laner any team would dream of having. The final positional god was WeiXiao, who was perfection in the botlane.
No AD Carry had better mechanics than WeiXiao, able to stand alongside Doublelift and PraY in that regard. No AD Carry could play out team-fights with such positional genius as WeiXiao, the closest comparison perhaps being the unique and unorthodox style of Genja. What set WeiXiao and Genja apart, though, is that the former was the focal point of enemy aggression and cc, while the latter was a secondary afterthought in the face of a team containing Alex Ich. Nobody mastered the Season 2 champions like WeiXiao, his Ezreal, Corki and Vayne all were played at an impeccable level.
When World Elite won IPL5 and established themselves as the best team in the world, continuing that success into an unbelievable run of domestic dominance early the following year, it was on the back of WeiXiao's individual play, which could be argued to have been the best in the world of any position. He was the carry and WE were the team, with no confusion about that order of things. Misaya was a fine second option and carried his own threat potential, but WeiXiao was the one whose play created the golden age of World Elite.
After World Elite's Season 3 fall, sliding out of even being considered a top three Chinese team, the team was taken apart piece-by-piece and for many Westerners that is the end of the story. What is not fully understood or appreciated, is that the story did not end there for WeiXiao and his legacy. In Season 4, the maestro of the ADC position delivered what may one day be recognised as his true masterpiece, playing at an elite level, but without any help to speak of, particularly lacking at the Support role, and yet nearly carried WE into the play-offs of LPL Summer. The definition of no peel, this era of World Elite saw WeiXiao required to achieve an impossible level of efficiency in both the laning phase and team-fights, else his team had no chance of securing the victory.
In terms of domestic success, WeiXiao has one of the best resumes in the history of LoL. In terms of international success, he won competitions in two different eras (pre-S2 and pre-S3), with one of those being one of the most competitive tournaments ever held (IPL5). He did have help, but it has at times been over-stated, or the significance of his efforts in the team's victories might have been over-looked. Even prior to his retirement, he could make a claim to being one of the small handful of the world's best AD Carries, as good as any Korean. The first to truly master the role of AD Carry, he finished his career with one final brushstroke of excellence. In a world without a certain SK Telecom Mid laner, this would be the greatest League player in history.
1. Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok (Mid)
Notable accomplishments:2013 OGN Champions Spring (3rd)2013 OGN Champions Summer (1st)2013 Season 3 KR Regional (1st)2013 Season 3 World Championship (1st)2013 OGN Champions Winter (1st)2014 All-Stars (1st)2014 OGN Masters (2nd)
Faker is not just the best Mid laner to ever play League, he is the best player of any position to ever play League. He is not just the greatest League of Legends player in history, he is one of the best players to ever play any esports game. The impact and significance of Faker's career can almost not be overstated. Had he never won a single tournament in his entire career, achieving an identical level of individual performance but never having the help or team performance to secure the trophies, a case could still be made for him topping this list, purely on the basis of his individual play and consistent excellence.
Of course, Faker did win and win with an incredible frequency. Back-to-back OGN titles, the first to ever accomplish such a feat. The World Championships, another first for his home country of Korea. Faker was not just the primary carry of SKT, he was indisputably so. There have been games, even during the prime run of SKT, where Faker did not require others to contribute and make plays, but merely not to feed and to allow him a canvas on which to manifest the impossible. When one speaks of hard-carrying or 1v9ing, Faker is not just the best example of such, but surely has the most games in which he has managed that feat.
Faker's laning is near-unbeatable, repeatedly able to outplay the opponent 1v1. Faker's team-fighting is unreal, displaying decision-making which has spawned hours of highlight footage. Faker's mind for the game is unparalleled, seeing him succeed on practically every champion he has turned his hand to and quickly able to adapt to and maxmise the kit of any pick he deems the focus of his attention. When Faker plays a champion, it becomes Faker's champion, no matter the fame or success others have achieved on it. Faker's Orianna, Faker's Zed, Faker's Riven, Faker's Gragas, the list goes on and on.
Many places on this list are variable and can change as the next years unfold, but it will take a once-in-a-life-time level talent, combined with the right team to succeed prolifically, to unseat Faker from the top spot.
Thorin's Top 20 League Players of All-Time
20. xPeke (Mid)19. Reapered (Top)18. Cool (Mid)17. Deft (ADC)16. Piglet (ADC)15. imp (ADC)14. Shy (Top)13. KaKAO (Jgl)12. Flame (Top)11. Misaya (Mid)10. NaMei (ADC)9. Alex Ich (Mid)8. Diamondprox (Jgl)7. Froggen (Mid)6. DanDy (Jgl)5. MadLife (Supp)4. Dade (Mid)3. Mata (Supp)2. WeiXiao (ADC)1. Faker (Mid)
Positional break-down:Top - 3Jgl - 3Mid - 7ADC - 5Supp - 2
Regional break-down:Korea - 12China - 4Europe - 4North America - 0SEA - 0
Photo credit: lolesports
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