DRX have been dominant in the Play-Ins, but how has Zeka contributed to the team’s ability to exceed expectations at Worlds 2022? Nick Geracie investigates.
DRX, the 4th representative seed from League of Legends Champions Korea, have gotten off to a better start at the 2022 World Championship than anyone expected. Through five games of Play-Ins competition, DRX is currently undefeated and managed to fast-track themselves to the group stage of the Worlds 2022 main event. To the surprise of many, the team’s top performer at Worlds thus far has been mid laner Kim "Zeka" Geon-woo, who very well may have had the best week of his career throughout the Play-Ins.
Before DRX plays their first games of the Worlds 2022 group stage, let’s take a look back at Zeka’s dominant performance in the Play-Ins and explore how it has contributed to his team’s ability to exceed expectations throughout the first five games of the tournament.
Throughout the 2022 LCK season, DRX has been criticized for their lack of dimension as a team. Zeka is no slouch – in the 2022 LCK Summer Split, he led all mid laners in number of kills with 146 and was top 3 in several categories amongst his rolemates – but when things came down to the wire, DRX were often forced to rely on veteran AD carry Kim "Deft" Hyuk-kyu to get the job done, especially against the elite South Korean teams.
Because of this, DRX came into Group B of the Worlds 2022 Play-Ins as the expected 2nd seed by the group’s end in favor of the 4th seed from China’s League of Legends Pro League – and back-to-back defending Mid-Seasonal Invitation champion – Royal Never Give Up.
RNG, while perhaps not at the peak of their powers as they were during their run to the LPL spring title and their subsequent second consecutive MSI title, had shown the ability to play around multiple lanes at a far more consistent clip than DRX, and were able to do so at a more elite level consistently.
Not only did DRX beat RNG in the head-to-head in Group B of the Worlds 2022 Play-Ins stage, but through five games, Zeka has emerged as a second carry matching Deft in reliability, often eclipsing the star AD carry throughout DRX’s first five games of the competition.
Deft’s 9/1/6 Tristana performance against Royal Never Give Up stole the show, but Zeka’s Akali got the better of the LeBlanc of RNG mid laner Li "Xiaohu" Yuan-Hao in the skill matchup to the tune of a 5/0/8 KDA.
Despite Deft’s consistent excellence throughout the game against RNG, the highlight play of the match belonged to Zeka, who finished up a teamfight for the South Korean side with an impressive 2v1.
From that point onward in the group, Zeka became the star of the show for DRX. Against Saigon Buffalo, the 2nd seed from the Vietnam Championship Series, Zeka led the charge on Azir alongside Deft’s Ezreal to a convincing 2nd win for DRX in under 25 minutes.
In their next game against Turkish Championship League representative İstanbul Wildcats, Zeka found himself on Akali once again and went absolutely crazy to the tune of a 12/0/8 KDA, resulting in a sub-30 minute victory for DRX.
Zeka showed another gear in DRX’s 4th game of the Play-Ins against Liga Latinoamérica representative Isurus Gaming with a 7/1/4 performance on Yone in DRX’s fastest win of Worlds 2022, and while League of Legends European Championship 4th seed MAD Lions nearly took a win against DRX at the end of Group B, a fantastic Sylas performance by Zeka ultimately saved the game for the LCK squad when all was said and done.
DRX exited the Play-Ins as the only undefeated team and qualified for the group stage of Worlds 2022 without having to play a best-of-five series.
Key improvements from DRX and Zeka
It’s clear that Zeka’s fantastic performance in the Worlds 2022 Play-Ins is a big part of DRX exceeding expectations at the event thus far, and if we take a closer look at the games, it’s easy to see how that is manifesting for the mid laner. Zeka’s ability to deal damage has never been an issue – he was 3rd in damage per minute amongst all mid laners competing in the 2022 LCK Summer Split – but a few key differences in certain statistics tell the story of his elevated play.
Zeka farmed at a clip of 9.4 cs per minute in the 2022 LCK Summer Split, but that number has raised to 10.7 at the Worlds 2022 Play-In. Crucially, Zeka isn’t just farming slightly more, he’s getting far larger advantages in the laning phase at Worlds 2022. Zeka was only up cs at 10 minutes over his opponents by a 1.8 average in the LCK Summer Split, but at Worlds 2022 thus far, he’s been up an average of 7.4 CS at ten minutes against his lane opponents.
What the numbers tell us
The numbers don’t lie, but they often require context. Zeka’s performance comes with the caveat that three of these five games were against mid laners from wildcard regions, which could be the main cause of what statistics point to as an improved laning phase for the mid laner at Worlds 2022 thus far.
Whatever the case, Zeka’s stronger laning has led to mid and late games that still see him deal a good amount of damage for the team – a whopping 769 per minute throughout the Play-Ins – but without as many deaths as his play would cost him in the LCK. Zeka’s KDA of 15.3 in the Worlds 2022 Play-Ins was over three times higher than the next mid laner, and against any level of international competition, only four deaths in five games should not be understated.
This isn’t due to Zeka playing for KDA either. Four of DRX’s five wins have featured Zeka on the melee range, fight-friendly champions Akali, Yone, and Sylas. Even Azir, the one control mage Zeka has played so far, is far more potential for playmaking than almost any other control mage in League of Legends.
Whether Zeka can continue his strong laning against the teams in Group C at Worlds 2022 has yet to be seen, but the current mid lane meta has allowed him to showcase his strengths on the international stage at a level not seen this season domestically with DRX.
DRX begins their main stage run at Worlds 2022 with a match against LEC 1st seed Rogue, and while expectations for the LCK’s 4th seed are certainly higher than they were leading up to the event, Zeka’s ability to maintain an elite performance after his dominance in the Play-Ins will be a necessity if DRX wants to take a run at lifting the Summoner’s Cup this November.
All statistics courtesy of Oracle’s Elixir
All images by Colin Young-Wolff/Riot Games