Well, we made it, League of Legends fans. It’s December of 2018, and that means the end of another year playing, watching, and following one of the most popular PC games in the world. This year was, without a doubt, one of the most eventful years in the game’s near-decade of existence.
Riot found itself in the middle of scandal, after scandal, after scandal, highlighted by an earth-shattering report of sexism running rampant throughout the company’s hierarchy. There was streamer drama, players breaking into cross-dressing cosplay, the start of franchising in North America and China, and a gigantic, building-sized mural on display in downtown Los Angeles. All in all, it’s hard to remember that all of it happened in the same year, but here we are.
Reflecting, though, reveals that certain people were at the center of most of the year’s many events. Whether it was within the realm of esports, the game, or beyond, certain individuals are to thank for everything that happened. So here are the nine most influential streamers, players, and everything else from the wide world of League in 2018, ranked by how heavy of an impact they had on the community at large.
9) Matthew “Nadeshot” Haag
Nadeshot was, prior to 2018, most known for his long and tenured career as an FPS pro player, particularly in Call of Duty. This year, however, his dream of building his brand, 100 Thieves, into something larger than life and completely new to the realm of esports became a reality. And now, that’s what he’s famous for.
Whether his brand-new League team was running through the playoffs, qualifying for Worlds, or caught in a controversy with William “Meteos” Hartman or Cody Sun, it was hard to look anywhere without seeing the 100 Thieves founder or hearing his name, for better or for worse. He also started a line of clothing on his brand’s merch shop, which sells out very rapidly every time new pieces are added.
The geography hoodie, windbreaker, and more, are all now instantly recognizable throughout the esports and League community, and are even worn by pro athletes like Josh Hart of the NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers. The success and popularity that 100 Thieves and even its YouTube series, The Heist, have raised put Nadeshot on our list above all other team owners. Earning a hefty hunk of Series A funding from Drake (Yes, that Drake)? That’s just the icing on the cake.
8) Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok
Faker had one hell of a tough year. He hadn’t fallen so hard since 2014, the only other year in his career that he and his team SK Telecom T1 didn’t qualify for Worlds. So why, despite those uncharacteristic failures, is Faker still on our list? Well, because Worlds qualifier or not, people just can’t stop talking about him.
Every week in the LCK, despite teams like KT Rolster walking all over SKT, the questions fans and analysts around the world kept asking were, “Can Faker come back?” “Is this the end of SKT?” “How can they salvage the year?” “Is Faker still the best player in the world?” He was the center of attention in Korea, and still one of the only Korean players instantly recognizable by foreign fans, despite his team being dragged through the mud all year long.
We’d be lying if we said he didn’t still have a massive impact on the community, even if it might have been a more significant impact had his team performed well. Whether or not you think you know the answers to the questions we just rattled off, those questions were still asked, and they were asked damn near constantly.
7) Jian “Uzi” Zi-Hao
Like Faker, Uzi also had a rough year, but in a completely different sense. He is, for all intents and purposes, the face of the LPL—and that’s even after being upstaged by rivals Invictus Gaming at Worlds. He was on track to finally deliver the LPL to salvation and finish off the perfect year after winning two LPL titles and MSI. All he had to do was win Worlds, a tournament in which he and RNG were projected as favorites.
Well, assuming you know what happened already, the LPL were delivered to salvation, but not by RNG or Uzi. Instead, it was IG that sealed the deal, and RNG couldn’t even make it past the EU LCS’ G2 Esports in the quarterfinals.
Still, despite the depressing ending, Uzi still had an overall extremely successful year. He even became the center of NBA superstar LeBron James’ new “Dribble &” campaign within esports, sporting his own Nike shirt that says “Dribble & Carry.” Sure, he may not have won or found any semblance of success at Worlds, but he’s still a part of a major mainstream campaign with one of the world’s most famous sports brands and athletes.
And he’s still really, really good at League. That has to count for something.
6) Eefje “Sjokz” Depoortere
As Uzi has become the face of the LPL, Sjokz has become the face of League esports in Europe. See, we would’ve said EU LCS right there, but that’s not what it’s called anymore, is it? It’s the LEC now, and although Sjokz isn’t solely working for Riot anymore and has joined as a freelance host/interviewer/analyst/whatever else she has in her seemingly endless toolkit, we don’t expect that to change anytime soon.
In 2018, Sjokz had arguably one of the best years of her career, speaking strictly from an accomplishment and influence perspective. She’s racked up around a million total followers across Instagram and Twitter, she hosted part of the World Championship and the Mid-Season Invitational for Riot Games, and she won The Game Awards’ 2018 Esports Host of the Year against competition such as Paul “RedEye” Chaloner and Alex “Goldenboy” Mendez.
As a freelancer in 2019, we suspect she’ll make appearances in other games and their esports communities. If she can make even half the impact on those as well, she’ll go down in history as one of the most decorated esports hosts in the industry. If, you know, she doesn’t qualify for that already.
5) Michael “Imaqtpie” Santana
Imaqtpie has always been one of the most popular League streamers on Twitch and beyond. By now, most people in the League world know the phrase “Thank you, thank you, thank you, appreciate it a lot,” by heart as what he says for subs and the like. It’s so recognizable that Riot even put it in the game as a voice line for the Nunu & Willump Bot skin. There’s something that happened to Imaqtpie this year, however, that stood him very far apart from any other popular League streamers.
Riot plastered his face all over a gigantic mural on the side of a 10-story building in downtown Los Angeles. In case you missed the surreal moment when it happened this summer, you can read our coverage on it, including an interview with the mural’s artist and the Riot staffer that made it all happen.
This level of advertising, if you want to call it that, isn’t something that happens often for games like League. Riot isn’t considered a Triple-A game developer like Ubisoft or EA Games, both of which are accustomed to giant billboards in places like Times Square in New York City, and neither is Riot’s competition. Blizzard Entertainment, for instance, started the giant mural trend for competitive multiplayer games when it spread murals of Overwatch heroes around the world, but Riot had never done anything similar for League.
Riot’s first leap into that field wasn’t for its champions or just any random advertisement, though. Its first mega-mural was for Imaqtpie, one of the game’s content creators, and that’s something that hadn’t been done before. It left a big impact on both the game and Imaqtpie’s fans, and we suspect more big gestures to content creators will follow in 2019.
4) Song “Rookie” Eui-jin
We’d be doing the League esports scene a disservice if we didn’t add Rookie to this list. As Uzi was the LPL player to fail in delivering salvation to his region, Rookie stepped up to carry his team past Fnatic in the Worlds finals to earn the throne. He had a fantastic year, earning his fans every step of the way by learning Chinese despite being a Korean import to the region.
Rookie has been a part of Invictus Gaming for almost as long as Faker has been with SKT. He’s only short a year, which is a long time to spend on the same team in a region that isn’t your home or native region. In fact, he’s also one of the many players in the world that have been nicknamed “Junior Faker” or some version of it throughout their career, so the similarities don’t stop at team dedication.
Rookie was also the LPL’s undisputed MVP this summer, which made his win at Worlds all the sweeter. After living in the shadow of RNG and Uzi for so long, becoming the league’s MVP and then winning Worlds over his rival was the perfect way to cement his legacy at the top.
3) Cecilia D’Anastasio
Cecilia D’Anastasio is the least “League of Legends influencer” of any person on this list, mostly because, well, her career isn’t defined by her success around the game. She’s on this list strictly for the impact she had on its fans in 2018, which, in terms of raw shock value, was incomparable. She was the journalist at Kotaku that broke the story on Riot’s sexism, which changed how people view the dev company and, therefore, how they view its only game.
The award-nominated feature that D’Anastasio wrote, called “Inside the Sexism at Riot Games,” featured the testimonies of 28 current and former employees at the company. It took months of research and digging, according to the author, and the result was, simply put, one of the best, most thorough pieces of investigative journalism in gaming or esports.
The esports side of League isn’t a stranger to investigative reporting, which is one of many forms of journalism. But the only investigative pieces those fans typically witness in that medium are roster move stories and occasional scandals. Scandals that are certainly minor when compared to the one in D’Anastasio’s piece. As for roster move scoops, those come typically only a couple of times a year, and usually just before an involved team would have revealed it anyway, thus lessening the value. That being said, there really hasn’t been something so fundamentally jarring or valuable to fans as “The Sexism at Riot Games.”
D’Anastasio’s original report and the follow-up reporting she published changed how the world looked at Riot in about as large of a sense as you can imagine. Riot even made formal apologies to its employees for what she dug up, and it has incorporated fixing its sexist culture into its 2019 manifesto. Following that, the company’s COO was suspended without pay as part of a punishment for his part in cultivating Riot’s sexist culture.
All of that has come from the reporting of a single journalist and her sources, making D’Anastasio the most impactful journalist for League in 2018 and the third most-influential person in the scene as a whole.
2) Zachary “Sneaky” Scuderi
Everyone probably assumes that professional esports players have hobbies. Some stream on Twitch, some livestream their trips to the gym, and others delve into the wonderful world of cosplay. If you know who Sneaky is, you likely already know which of those three was referring to him. He cosplayed a bit prior to 2018, but it was this year that he released his first major project, Dark Elementalist Lux, and it changed everything.
For starters, one of the most popular professional players in the League industry now cosplays regularly, which is major. But, and perhaps more importantly, he’s also one of the most popular pro players who happens to cross-dress. Sneaky’s outfits, so far, are entirely female, and recently, he’s even begun to add prosthetic breasts to make his semi-lewd cosplay cross-dressing even more realistic.
The implications that this has on the scene as a whole are vast. He’s an extremely prominent figure in the community openly practicing what is considered very different from the norm. And, possibly because of who he is, he’s received almost entirely positive feedback and love from his fans, at least on Twitter. Some of his heterosexual male fans often share memes admitting that they find Sneaky very attractive in his female outfits, too.
All of the support and love (sometimes too much love) is nothing short of fantastic for any and all content creators who wish to be accepted for who they are and what their interests may be. This makes Sneaky a leader for many of those people, whether he knows it or not. Go, Sneaky, go.
1) Tyler “Tyler1” Steinkamp
Tyler1. If you know League, you know that name. In fact, there’s at least a solid chance that you’ve heard of it even if you aren’t a fan or player of the game. Why? Because Tyler1’s sphere of influence is vast and unmatched when compared to anyone else within the League space.
While Sjokz has become the face of European League esports and Uzi has become the face of the LPL—Tyler1 is the face of League. He is everywhere. He has the most popular League Twitch channel of them all, Riot now features him in events that, in the past, were otherwise made for professional players, and at All-Stars he was even given a microphone to interview the world’s most famous pros in attendance.
Prior to this year, he was only known as that really, really angry streamer that was “banned indefinitely” from League for the levels of toxicity he reached. Since his unbanning, he’s cultivated an immense fanbase and now calls himself “the most reformed player” in North America. That fanbase was once primarily involved in the game alone, but it has now transcended into esports thanks to how deeply integrated he’s become with Riot’s esports broadcasts.
He has over two million followers on Twitch, he’s hugged Faker on camera, he hosts the most-watched non-Riot esports tournament of League on the market, and he’s had a flex-off with David “Phreak” Turley. He has his own line of clothing, and one of his many slogans, “Discount code: Alpha” is common knowledge throughout the community. Tyler1 is as close to a household name that League of Legends has ever had, and, whether you love him or you hate him, that can’t be avoided.