We’re through the month of February, and the Spring Split is well into its second half in every major League of Legends league around the globe. While some might be further along the way, the playoff race is just as heated in all four leagues: the LCK, LCS, LEC, and LPL. Just over two months separate us from the Mid-Season Invitational, and it won’t be long until a Spring Split champion is decided in every league.
We asked a panel of our League writers—Tyler Esguerra, Michael Kelly, and Blaine Polhamus—to answer three pressing questions regarding the current state of the global League scene, as well as the outlook for the competitive landscape’s coming months.
Who is your global pro League MVP thus far?
Hylissang has always been one of the most recognizable stars in Europe’s League scene, but this season, he has not only tightened his gameplay but also become a consistent force in Fnatic’s war machine to the top of the LEC. The 26-year-old veteran hasn’t changed his playstyle too much, with champions like Pyke, Rakan, Thresh, Braum, and Leona littered through his pool. With a ton of heavy engage picks in his repertoire, you’d expect Hylissang to have quite a lot of deaths like in previous splits, but it looks like the LEC’s resident Professor has turned a new leaf.
He currently has a 3.5 KDA with one week left in the season, according to League stats aggregate Games of Legends. If Hylissang can keep his deaths to a minimum, it’ll be the highest his KDA has been since 2018. He also has the fourth-lowest death count in his role with 37 deaths this split, which is a huge change from leading the 2021 Summer with 74 deaths and his 99 deaths during the 2021 Spring Split.
It’s not like he’s playing timidly, either. Hylissang has a higher kill-participation percentage this season than he had in both the 2021 Spring and Summer Splits, and his average share of Fnatic’s deaths is also the lowest it’s been since 2019. He’s playing smarter, staying aggressive, and has maintained his drive to become the best as he and his teammates strive for gold.
Throw everything you think you know about “sophomore slumps” out the window. Gumayusi’s second season as a full-time player for T1 has been electric thus far.
A sizeable factor as to why he’s been so successful is because the better part of the Spring Split has revolved around a meta featuring Aphelios, Jinx, and Caitlyn—champions that are so squarely in Gumayusi’s wheelhouse. Twenty-three of T1’s 29 games have featured the T1 ADC on those three champions, and he’s won 19 of them.
Keep in mind Gumayusi won 20 out of 23 games on Jinx and Aphelios last season, but didn’t post a win rate over 60 percent on any other champion that he played at least five games with last year, according to League stats site Games of Legends. So maybe when the meta shifts away from his mains, Gumayusi will regress back to the mean. But playing into the meta is part of what makes pro League players so valuable, and right now, there isn’t a better player in the game’s current environment than Gumayusi.
After rumors of retirement, former world champion mid laner Rookie instead opted to take on an entirely new challenge. Leaving his long-time team of nearly seven years, Invictus Gaming, Rookie left his spot as the franchise player to join the freshly renovated Victory Five roster. Alongside two LPL upstarts, an LCK top laner making his debut in China, and an experienced jungler seeking redemption, Rookie was the clear centerpiece of this team.
The veteran mid laner has not missed a step in his transition to this new roster. Rookie currently leads his role in overall kills (113), posts the second highest DPM (619), and an impressive KDA (5.5) and kill participation (71.4 percent), according to Oracle’s Elixir. In one of the most competitive leagues in the world for his position, Rookie has kept pace with the seemingly ever improving pack of LPL mid laners.
Victory Five are undoubtedly the dark horses of the LPL, as the unlikely team currently leads the league with only one loss. There are plenty of reasons behind the organization’s unprecedented success, however without Rookie Victory Five’s sudden and meteoric rise would have been impossible.
With the end of the Spring Split nearing, who are your picks to be the four major region MSI representatives?
All three of our writers selected Team Liquid, Fnatic, and T1 to raise the Spring Split trophies in the LCS, LEC, and LCK, respectively. Liquid’s early dominance of the LCS’ first round robin, Fnatic’s playoff-ready and veteran-stacked roster, and T1’s perfect record were all factors that led us to our unanimous decisions in North America, Europe, and Korea. But where we differed entirely in our picks came in the LPL, where all three writers selected different teams to represent China at MSI. Below, you’ll find our writers’ in-depth thoughts on their picks to play at MSI later this spring.
Tyler: Team Liquid
Liquid had an unusual start to 2022 after the team was forced to run a handful of different iterations due to issues around CoreJJ’s green card. They performed well without their superstar support, but once he finally became an NA resident, this juggernaut lived up to the hype and then some.
Unapologetically destructive in every lane, Liquid have the third-most kills in the league with the lowest death count of any LCS team this season. The team has a monstrous average gold difference of 940 at 15 minutes, an 89-percent first blood rate, and a 78-percent first-to-three towers rate through the Spring Split, according to Oracle’s Elixir. With legends like Bjergsen, Bwipo, CoreJJ, Hans Sama, and Santorin charging the field and head coach Guilhoto piloting the plans behind the scenes, there’s no other better option for NA’s MSI hopes than this superteam.
With how commanding of a start they’ve gotten off to, it’s hard to imagine a world where T1 don’t represent the LCK at MSI this year. With a perfect match record of 12-0 and near-immaculate game record of 24-5, they’re the only team across the four major regions to not drop in a match in 2022.
T1 have easily handled every team in Korea this season, keeping the region’s other top competitors like DWG KIA and Gen.G at bay, while easily rolling over the rest of the league. They are a prime example of a “deep” roster playing in a “shallow” league, as all five of their starters are putting up All-Pro caliber splits while easily cruising to a playoff berth. With only 12 matches played and three weeks left to go until the split closes, T1 have clinched their Spring Split playoff ticket faster than any other team in their respective major league. And with how handily T1 have stood above the rest of Korea, it’s hard to see any other team in the LCK making a run at them for a trip to MSI.
Making only two changes to the topside with the additions of Razork and Wunder, Fnatic have emerged as an early favorite to lift the LEC trophy. Coming within inches of their first trophy since 2018, Fnatic have shown they are serious contenders to represent the LEC in the first international tournament of 2022.
Fnatic undoubtedly have shown the strongest early game in the European league. With one of the fastest average game times in the LEC, often using early objective advantages to springboard into winning games. Well into the regular season, Fnatic boasts the highest Herald (70 percent), dragons at 15 minutes (1.20), and dragon-control rates (65-percent), according to Games of Legends. Not only rich in objectives, Fnatic’s adept laners are also accustomed to garnering massive positive gold differentials, giving the team the second highest overall gold difference (1,455).
Okay, so who’s winning the LPL Spring Split?
Tyler: Edward Gaming
There are many different contenders in the LPL (as usual) this season, but I won’t bet against the defending world champions just yet. Edward Gaming currently have three series losses under their belt with a 68-percent win rate among all their games. Two of those dropped best-of’s also came at the hands of V5 and Weibo, who are at the top of the standings in the LPL.
EDG might have stumbled through week seven of the Spring Split with their first 0-2 finish, but in a best-of-five situation with an MSI appearance on the line, this squad knows exactly how to show up with the pressure on. They still have the fastest game time of any team in the league, according to Oracle’s Elixir, but they have to ensure that they can maintain consistency with how explosive they’ve proven to be. They’ll probably want to stick with their Flandre as their top laner heading into the postseason too, seeing as they dropped their series against Top Esports with sub top laner, Xiaoxiang.
Michael: Weibo Gaming
After a season in the cellar and a full-blown change in ownership, it’s easy to forget the team formerly known as Suning came two games away from winning a World Championship a little over a year ago. Now, under the Weibo Gaming banner, the same usual suspects that challenged DAMWON Gaming for the Summoner’s Cup in 2020 are threatening for a chance to play internationally again.
Weibo bolstered their top lane situation ahead of 2022 by signing former world champion TheShy and even brought back veteran support SwordArt after a brief stint with TSM in North America (although SwordArt has yet to play a game on stage in 2022). Beyond the veteran presence in Weibo’s clubhouse, the team’s breakout stars—jungler SofM, mid laner Angel, second-year support ON, and AD carry Huanfeng—have all advanced since they were last in the international spotlight. Angel in particular ranks second in KDA among all qualified players in the LPL, according to Games of Legends, with a mark of 7.0 through 28 games—that’s almost a full season in Western regions; it’s safe to say the sample size is sufficient enough.
Currently sitting in second place in an extremely tight league, Weibo has just as good a shot as any of the teams at or near the top of the LPL to win the Spring Split and play at MSI. What separates them, though, is that the majority of their roster has proven to show success in best-of-fives, specifically as a unit in 2020.
Blaine: Victory Five
Victory Five are admittedly unexpected contenders now poised to take a strike at the LPL crown. The squad has stood opposed to some of the most methodical teams in the league; V5 embodies the old LPL stereotype of fighting early and often. With the third highest overall combined kills (430), V5’s games average almost a kill per minute. The team is not only inclined to start fights but also closes them out better than any other team in the LPL, currently hosting the best combined KDA (1.42), according to Oracle’s Elixir.
The newly minted V5 roster has found a winning strategy in throwing opponents into chaos. Currently atop the LPL standings, the team’s combination of veteran experience and upstart talent has given V5 an impressive regular season that few could have predicted. Undoubtedly the team will face its biggest challenges come time for the Spring Split playoffs, but we can expect a new face to represent China at MSI.
Which newly assembled roster has made the weakest first impression on you so far this season?
Tyler: MAD Lions
The LEC has garnered a reputation for being a revolving door when it comes to new talent, and this past offseason was no different. Seven teams have at least one true rookie on their roster, including the defending champions, MAD Lions. This organization has brought at least two new rookies into fold every year since their rebranding from Splyce, but this is the first time its efforts have failed to bring immediate results.
MAD’s former star mid laner Humanoid took over the league with his dominant early-game presence, and his confident, clean late-game decision-making. Hopes were high for Reeker and Unforgiven since MAD’s coaching staff has helped rookies blossom into stars before, but this version of the squad isn’t close to bringing the same amount of mid-to-late game objective control and teamfighting prowess.
The rookie collectives that MAD curated in 2020 and 2021 were clearly outliers and not the norm, but the past two years made it seem like this organization was a talent machine that could forge young players into contenders in the span of a season or two. This speed bump should be a good test of perseverance for the coaching staff and its players. For now, however, they’re on the cusp of becoming the first team to win back-to-back LEC trophies, only to miss the playoffs entirely the following spring.
Michael: Team Vitality
We had the gumption to rank Vitality among the top 10 teams in the world in the preseason, but so far in the Spring Split, they’re barely sitting on the cusp of the top 10 teams in the West, let alone the world. Instead of running away with the LEC like we thought they would, they had to fight for their lives to even stay afloat in the playoff race.
And look, I know we weren’t alone in missing the mark on Vitality. Practically every League fan and analyst overvalued this team to some degree. And who knows, maybe they’ll swing things around and start to look like the team that was promised back in January at some point later down the line. But for now, this team is incredibly underwhelming. There’s no reason a team with a combined 16 All-Pro appearances should be barely avoiding the .500 mark as the season’s midpoint approaches.
It’s been a hard year for TSM fans. In an offseason where LCS teams began pulling talent from nearly every major region, TSM had potentially one of the most promising rosters. The talent combine hosted in South Korea supposedly tried out hundreds of potential candidates and whittled that number down to the two most talented players willing to make the leap to North America.
Keaiduo and Shenyi were both incredible prospects, and in the beginning of the Spring Split both put up respectable performances despite early losses. As the season has progressed and TSM have only continued to rack up a losing record, the overall performances of the team have broken down. After Shenyi was benched from the roster, Keaiduo’s performance saw a significant dip as his KDA dipped (3.3 to 1.1), kill participation waned (63.4 percent to 38.6 percent), and kill share dropped (22.0 to 13.6 percent).
The entire blame of TSM’s disastrous regular season does not solely belong to this new duo however, as the team has struggled as a whole. The team has struggled in gaining any sort of advantage, whether that be through skirmishes or objectives. Averaging the worst combined KDA (0.57), dragon-control rate (35 percent), and Baron-control rate (21 percent), it is nearly impossible for TSM to gain any advantage.
TSM’s accomplishments since its 2020 title have been few, and this new, innovative iteration of the roster inspired promise. Though still not entirely out of the playoffs yet, TSM would need to completely transform themselves to become a contender.