DWG KIA top laner Khan could just be the most acclaimed yet least decorated player in League of Legends history. Since making his debut in 2017, Khan has transformed from prodigy to legend, all without ever capturing an international title. But at the 2021 Mid-Season Invitational, the cards are falling on the table exactly how Khan needs them to. At long last, an international championship has never been closer to his fingertips.
It’s relatively easy to claim that Khan has been the favorite to win at every international tournament he’s attended. From Longzhu Gaming to Kingzone DragonX, SK Telecom T1, and most recently DWG KIA, Khan has always found himself on teams with an overwhelming amount of evidence pointing toward an eventual victory behind them.
But those victories have never come to fruition.
For one reason or another, Khan has seemingly always found a way to see his chances at an international title—whether it be MSI or Worlds—crumble at the last moment.
The closest that the veteran has ever been to actually sealing the deal came in 2018 when his Kingzone DragonX squad was just two games away from finishing off a dominant MSI run, only to be thwarted by Uzi and Royal Never Give Up—a player and franchise who had also been searching for their first international victory. Later that season, Kingzone fizzled out completely, missing the 2018 World Championship altogether.
The difference between that team and this year’s DWG KIA squad is incredibly simple, though. Back in 2018, four out of the five players on Kingzone were still searching for their first international title. At his first MSI, Khan had been surrounded entirely by players who were in pursuit of an identical goal. Although names like PraY, Gorilla, and Bdd have all gone down in the annals of League history, Khan finally has the chance to do what none of his former Kingzone teammates were able to do: win.
“If I get back to the finals, I know I’m going to win a championship,” Khan told Dot Esports.
In 2021, four out of the five players on DWG—Khan being the odd man out—are fresh off one of the most dominant runs to the Summoner’s Cup in recent memory. Khan’s teammates are accomplished and they’re on an unrivaled hot streak.
DWG KIA posted a 39-10 record across all games in regional play this spring and have only dropped two series all year long. Dating back to the beginning of last summer’s run to the world title, the DWG franchise has posted a total record of 93-18 over the last 11 months. Case in point, there’s no other team at MSI—or anywhere else in the world—doing what DWG KIA are doing.
To further Khan’s chances of grasping an international trophy in just a few weeks, the immense weight of carrying a team to the finish line has been lifted off his back this season. Throughout the early stages of his career, the young top laner was continuously asked to serve as a pivotal lynchpin in every roster buildup, gameplan strategy, and team composition. This year, Khan is taking up sole residency of the backseat and playing more comfortably than ever before.
In his rookie and sophomore seasons, Khan made a name for himself on hyper-aggressive, flashy top lane champions like Jayce, Camille, and Jax. But in 2021, Khan is embracing tanks like Ornn and Sion with open arms. His best performances on the season haven’t come on his trademark bruisers of yesteryear, but instead, they’ve come on some of the game’s beefiest frontliners. Across the games he’s played on his top three picks this season—Sion, Gnar, and Ornn—Khan has posted an illustrious record of 31-6.
By shouldering less of the burden a majority of the time, Khan has been able to make the most out of his versatility—a trait that was never able to shine during the dawning of his career.
“My role on any team is much different than it was back then,” Khan said. “In the past, I took on a lot of carry roles. Now, I’m focusing on what my team needs me to be. If they need a tank, I can be a tank. If they need to be aggressive, I can be aggressive.”
This year, Khan has the pieces around him to succeed in all facets of the game. DWG KIA are a strong team thanks to their ability to funnel resources into any player on the starting lineup and decide who they want to carry a particular contest without hesitation. Depending on how the game at hand is going at the time, DWG KIA can simply pick who they want to take over the game without effort and that player will do precisely that.
If the team sees an opportunity to win through ShowMaker, they’ll let him carry in his trademark style. If Canyon is providing the team with a lane to win through, DWG will drive right through it. And if the responsibility falls to Khan, he’s proven that he’s not one to shy away from a brazen performance—be it on a traditional “carry” champion or not.
“I have the teammates around me this year to not only make it to the world finals but to be the champions,” Khan said. “So now, I want myself and my team to keep practicing and focus on making ourselves perfect.”
If Khan and the rest of DWG continue to play like they have through the first half of the 2021 season, the notion of perfection, if not near-perfection, isn’t too outlandish for a DWG squad that’s proven they can find boundless success on countless occasions. Last year’s 51-8 game record to close out the 2020 season feels surpassable if the roster continues to click on all cylinders like it is right now. No one in Korea is holding a candle to DWG KIA in 2021, so a return to the international stage later this year—regardless of what happens at MSI—should be considered an inevitability. On the international level, it’s hard to find competition outside of the LCK as well. No other team in the world is dominating their regional circuit quite like DWG KIA.
As for Khan, who’s playing like he’s in his prime again, the road to greatness feels more straightforward than ever before. The return of “vintage Khan” is not a far cry from reality, except this time, international championships feel like a more reachable goal than they did during his early years. Still, the DWG top laner is taking things one day at a time instead of focusing on the potential additions to his personal trophy case.
“I’ve always been confident, but everyone knows that. I don’t need to talk about my confidence,” Khan said. “But I don’t think the early success we’re having guarantees anything in the end. We’re always going to be practicing.”
And sure, Khan has to run a daunting gauntlet of top-tier teams at MSI—almost all of which feature players who have denied him international glory in the past. But he’s more experienced than ever to get the job done. Players like Xiaohu and Perkz, who have each run right through Khan’s former teams to secure their own MSI titles in 2018 and 2019, are back for another round against the top lane legend in 2021.
This year, though, Khan has the best support system in the world around him in DWG KIA—one that’s good enough to roll right through any player or team that might have stood in his way in the past.
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