Many fans and experts thought that Season 5 would see the rise of new talents. With the mass exodus of Korean stars to China, it looked like a new generation of stars would be ready to dominate the Korean region. Chinese teams like Snake or King stood poised to try their hand against their new rivals. Across the sea, Western amateur teams like UoL, H2K, Team8, and Gravity all boasted heavily praised rising stars.
But strangely enough, Season 5 has seen not just the rise of new stars, but the triumphant return of League of Legend’s old guard alongside new teammates. In Korea, CJ Entus and GE Tigers, have fought back to the top of the table, with MadLife and PraY in particular looking like they’ve been born again. After carrying Gambit to yet another IEM title, Diamondprox heavily faltered but has roared triumphantly while carrying Gambit to a shocking 2-0 week in the EU LCS. Indeed, a surprising number of older players, such as EDG’s ClearLove, CJ Entus’s Shy, and to a lesser extent Gravity’s Saintvicious have seen unusual returns to form.
These surprising transformations have come because of a wide variety of reasons. Obviously, this wouldn’t work with every player – these players are clear exceptions and I have great deal of respect for them. Even returning to competitive form is a major accomplishment in and of itself. That being said, meta shifts, a new dynamic, or simply more practice can play a big role in transforming rejuvenating a has-been.
Here are four players (one from each major region, minus SEA, which I don’t know enough about) that would be fun to see come out of retirement.
Bok “Reapered” Han-Yu
Role: Top Lane
Favorite Champions: Vladimir, Irelia, Shen, Jax, Evelynn, Kha’Zix
Why he retired: After repeated failed role swaps (to jungle and then mid) Reapered retired from a Jin Air squad that topped out as OGN fodder.
The closing act of Reapered’s illustrious career was marred by his failed role swap to the mid lane and subsequent truly terrible performance against former SKT teammate Faker. Before that, Reapered decided to replace star teammate H0R0 by moving into the jungle. Although he was decent carry jungler and brought out innovative picks such as Gangplank and Fizz, these periods of play were merely a disappointing shadow of the top lane genius’s career. (I wrote an in-depth analysis of Reapered’s career here.)
As a top laner, Reapered’s play was defined by three calling cards – incredible shotcalling, an uncanny split pushing ability, and the ability to excel on all sorts of champions – mages or fighters; carries or tanks. His greatest (and possibly only) Achilles heel was his mediocre laning phase, particularly against jungler camps. It stands to reason that Reapered’s strengths and weaknesses would return alongside him to Season 5. Surprisingly, a quick glance at the current top lane meta reveals a metagame shockingly perfect for Azubu Blaze’s former strategic genius.
The current top lane meta currently requires top laners to master versatility and creativity in addition to the traditional brute force “island” approach top laners have taken for the last 4 seasons. The wide variety of power picks and the necessity of Teleport would both perfectly into Reapered’s wheelhouse. While some top laners often struggle to learn such divergent champions as Gnar, Irelia, and Rumble Reapered never had problems adapting to new picks. Oftentimes, he would even bring out new specialties such as Vladimir or Evelynn to devastating effect.
His other great strength, shotcalling, is also extremely relevant in a game that has increasingly awarded intelligent trade-offs and diverse strategic play. No team has yet fully understood the value of stacking dragon buffs versus towers; the man who strategically carried one of the worst teams to win an IEM Championship should at least get the chance to try his hand at the problem. Likewise, the top lane meta of lane swaps prioritizes intelligent rotations and roaming over outright mechanical force. Although Reapered’s one-on-one dueling skills were oftentimes quite spectacular, he still fell prey to mechanical giants like Flame or MakNooN. The existence of lane swaps would allow him to pick and choose his laning match-ups while also flaunting his superior strategic knowledge.
Furthermore, analyst MonteCristo has stated multiple times that he believes split-pushing tactics are secretly overpowered in today’s metagame. The push-enhancing Baron buff and the under-utilized Elixir of Ruin could combine to give individual players an incredible tower taking potential. Who better to explore this strategy than the first and arguably greatest split-pusher to ever play this game?
Gao “WeiXiao” XuechengÂ
Role: AD Carry
Favorite Champions: Ezreal, Vayne, Lucian, Corki, Graves
Why he retired: After failing to carry a moribund World Elite to the world championships two seasons in a row, WeiXiao retired from competitive play to begin a lucrative streaming career.
Although I believe there are many reasons Tabzz and Reapered could succeed in today’s meta-game, there’s still many elements of speculation to their returns. With the next name on the list, there is simply no question that WeiXiao could still play as a top-tier AD Carry. Prior to his disappointing retirement at the end of Season 4, WeiXiao was still in contention for the best AD Carry in China, a strong field that included names like UZI and NaMei. Fans who didn’t realize strength of WeiXiao in Season 4 either did not watch the Chinese scene or failed to comprehend just how poor his teammates were. This frustration supposedly played a big role in his retirement, and Spirit has since taken his role in trying to carry a moribund World Elite team. The real tragedy of this situation is that Spirit’s newfound amazing jungle pathing has upped his carry-oriented playstyle to an all-time high. A Spirit + WeiXiao combination could probably carry 3 Bronze players at least into the LSPL.
WeiXiao has always been first and foremost a skillshot virtuoso. His mastery of Ezreal is infamous, but his strong mechanical skillshot play also lended itself to brilliant performances on Corki, Varus, and Kog’Maw. WeiXiao also acted as World Elite’s primary shotcaller, although results were mixed – his reluctance to commit to teamfights until he was extremely fed led to WE’s downfall just as much as it led to their success. In spite of these weakness, many could have still argued for WeiXiao as the world’s strongest AD Carry near the end of Season 4 – his incredible play in both the laning and teamfighting phases led to a rare consistency that few other AD Carries could boast. Other than his occasionally selfish shotcalling, he simply had no weaknesses, and it should probably be noted that nobody else on his team remotely resembled a world-class carry player.
There’s no need to project what WeiXiao would be like in this meta – the AD Carry role is extremely similar to what it was like before he left. The only difference is that his beloved Ezreal is now once again a top-tier champion. If he just stays at the exact same form he was at during his retirement, WeiXiao could easily still compete at a top level. His retirement wasn’t a case of a washed-up old great, but simply a frustrated player making the clearly superior economic decision. It’s unlikely that WeiXiao will ever grace the LPL again, but World Elite fans can surely hope – the team desperately needs its old carry with IEM just around the corner.
Martin “Deficio” Lynge
Favorite Champions: Lulu, Fiddlesticks, Nami
Why he retired: Deficio stepped down from competitive play to make way for mithy on the ill-fated Lemondogs/Ninja in Pajamas roster. Although he received offers from some teams, he ultimately chose to accept a casting role for Riot Games.
The European region has always had a very hard time holding onto talent. Several players have gone on to leave the league before their prime was truly over (the last games of Alex Ich and Genja are perhaps the best examples of this) and the aforementioned Lemondogs roster stands as another example of tragically lost talent. (Most notably Zorozero.) Here, I chose to focus on a player who many wouldn’t immediately associate with a great lost talent. In a region with many true lost gods, it may seem odd to pick a player who was never truly at a world-class level. Nonetheless, I have always respected Deficio’s game and wondered what could have been had he stayed in competitive LoL.
It may shock some modern fans that Deficio was once a player, and a quite good one at that. With fellow casters Kobe and Jatt having also made the pro-to-Riot move, fans may assume that Deficio was just like them – a player who left the scene before it reached it’s peak. In actuality, Deficio was a key member of a very powerful NiP team that featured current superstar Bjergsen, lost talent extinkt, and the cursed Freeze. The team rampaged through the Season 3 Summer Split until extinkt’s untimely retirement. The story of how Deficio joined NiP is a quite funny one – initially interested in a managerial role (where he would return after the team picked up mithy) the former high elo jungle and mid lane main would move into the support position due to the team’s unhappiness with their current tryouts. The Copenhagen Wolves were forced to play without star Bjergsen to enter the league and eventually received roster upgrades and a new sponsor under NiP (at that time, they were regarded as a very reputable LoL organization until their multiple years of bad luck.)
What distinguished Deficio’s style was a propensity for insane laning aggression and definitive shotcalling. Alongside Freeze, Deficio would constantly shove his opponents under lane and harass them on poke champions like his beloved Fiddlesticks or Lulu. In spite of this very risky style, Deficio’s strong vision control meant that the NiP bot lane could shove with impunity – he finished with the highest KDA of all supports in the summer split. Outside of the laning phase, Deficio’s play was only middling. He mostly focused on a peeling role and only occasionally found good opportunities to roam or create picks. In addition, Deficio’s shotcalling was quite strong. At their peak, NiP had a strong understanding of the Season 3 lane swap meta and the need for constant ganks in the mid lane.
The most intruiging part of a possible Deficio move is that no player has made a move back from caster to player. As a caster, Deficio has done immense research on the international scenes, and has quietly become one of the most knowledgable Westerners on the Chinese scene. It would be fascinating to see if he could apply this knowledge to competitive games.
Lyubomir “BloodWater” Spasov
Favorite Champions: Sona, Zyra, Nami, Annie, Janna
Why he retired: After XDG’s role-swapped Zuna and Xmithie, they went from a champion contender to one of the worst teams in the LCS. Amid rumors that he was planning on retiring soon, XDG removed Bloodwater.
At one point in time, BloodWater stood as the heir to Xpecial’s throne as the greatest support in North America. After failing to make the LCS with Azure Gaming, BloodWater would eventually replace long-standing support muffinqt on Team Vulcun. His mastery of vision, knowledge of objective timings, and fearless playaking played a big part in transforming Vulcun from a middling North American squad into a feared contender. Vulcun would reach the world championships in Season 3 before multiple late game mishaps would lead to an early exit from an arguably winnable group stage. It looked like Vulcun was here to stay but their ill-advised roll swap as well as their inability to recover from their late-game shotcalling issues spelled the talented roster’s demise.
Eventually, BloodWater would be removed from XDG in favor of support Sheep, who has since become a very talented player in his own right. Nonetheless, it’s hard not to wonder what could have been for the last of XDG’s core members. Xmithie has received another chance at stardom on CLG and mancloud has formed his own Challenger team in a bid to return to the big leagues. On the other hand, Bloodwater has disappeared without a trace.
Bloodwater’s biggest strengths were his strong vision control and willingless to make plays, even on very squishy champions. Entering the realm of speculation, when it was said that Bloodwater performed the shotcalling for XDG, they were known as a very strong late game, often hyperscaling on mancloud’s Nidalee and Zuna’s Tristana. When it was suggested that the shotcalling duties had changed, Vulcun began frustratingly losing games in the area they once excelled in. On the other hand, Bloodwater was quite mediocre on engaging champions. His Thresh had it’s bright moments, but during the “engage meta” of early Season 4, he only ever shone on Annie. However, the current meta boasts multiple mage picks that Bloodwater has always been able to play to great proficiency. His beloved Janna has finally returned to the meta, and he was always an impressive Lulu and Nami player.
Bloodwater is gone for good, but at a time when multiple top teams have taken risks on newcomers or imports, it’s fun to dream that a team will take a flyer convincing one of North America’s genuine superstar talents to come out of retirement.