SK Telecom T1 officially becoming a League of Legends dynasty. Dramatic roster changes. Best-of series in the LCS. This year has certainly seen the competitive LoL scene go through its fair share of changes. But throughout all that, a number of players proved themselves to be the best in the world. But which of these stars shone the brightest? Our resident League of Legends expert Gabriel Zoltan-Johan has carefully considered and narrowed it down.
10. Huang "Maple" Yi-Tang, mid lane, Flash Wolves - The only LMS player to crack the Top 10, Maple was a standout performer on the Flash Wolves. He had the highest DPM of all mid laners attending worlds and combined incredibly well with his jungler too. He also continued the Flash Wolves’ trend of neutralizing Faker, as they were the only team to defeat SKT in group stages, and were to thank for one of the two losses incurred by the eventual world champions by foreign teams at the event. But before Worlds, Flash Wolves also saw incredible domestic and international success. They completely dismantled the LMS in the spring split, securing an MSI berth off the back of their mid-jungle combo of Maple and Karsa. At MSI, the Flash Wolves surprised everyone, not only through being the only team to sweep SKT in the group stage, but by securing a semifinal spot that everyone assumed would go to Europe’s G2 Esports.
9. Ming "Clearlove" Kai, jungle, EDward Gaming - It’s no secret that Clearlove underperformed at the 2016 World Championships. But everyone going into this tournament knew what Clearlove was actually capable of having the highest KDA in all roles of all major regions of those who played more than five games. The fact that he didn’t show up to that degree is unfortunate, but one cannot count out his dominating domestic performance, only rivaled by junglers such as Score and Peanut.
8. Søren "Bjergsen" Bjerg, mid lane, Team SoloMid - The only NA LCS representative on the list, Bjergsen’s second half of the year was absolutely incredible, with an MVP award, NA LCS title, and a Worlds group stage performance that even had his biggest critics applauding him (he was near the top of KDA, DPM, and CS per minute charts among others). Though his team’s spring split was lacking, his own numbers showed that their growing pains were not affecting him, and TSM's unlikely spring playoff run off the back of Bjergsen's incredible performances also showcased the mid laner’s immense potential, which has yet to be truly fulfilled.
7. Kim "PraY" Jong-in, Ad carry, ROX Tigers - PraY enters the list at number seven, with a slew of domestic accomplishments and individual performances to his name. He is also the third ROX representative in the Top 10. Sharing the LCK Summer title and making a Worlds semifinal appearance with his compatriots, PraY also contributes intangibles that his stats don’t reflect, including absolutely stellar positioning as exemplified in this clip.
6. Han "Peanut" Wang-ho. jungle, ROX Tigers - Happy go lucky Peanut hits the list at No.6, where his personality was just as bold as his playstyle. Coming in as a replacement for Hojin on ROX, Peanut immediately impacted the way they played, leading to a dominating LCK Spring Split regular performance with his team, which supplemented their aggression with his own (sometimes) reckless play. Despite the Tigers’ Spring Split faltering around playoffs, causing them to miss MSI, this change eventually worked out. Peanut stomped through LCK Summer as well, sharing high KDA and first blood rates with Score, and helped the Tigers secure a victory that they were always barely out of reach of.
5. Go "Score" Dong-bin - KT Rolster’s Score is the best jungler on the planet. He’s also the best player to not attend an international competition in 2016. If you need any immediate proof for such a statement, KT’s own management noted that the super team they just created was built around Score rather than him being just another member. Score had the highest KDA and first blood rate of all junglers in LCK Summer, and often out-pathed and overwhelmed his opponents in all stages of the game. His aggression synergized with Ssumday’s and allowed his more passive lanes to thrive. His Gragas and Rek’Sai were literal clinics when played, effortlessly showing off ideal ways to create early pressure and have an imposing teamfight presence against backline threats. His own use of Kindred to supplement his carry playstyle in parts of the summer was also fairly substantial, accounting for 33 percent of all Kindred picks in the LCK, and 42 percent of its victories.
4. Kim "Deft" Hyuk-kyu - Deft sneaks into number four on our list off the back of incredible domestic showings. His team came second in LPL Spring, won LPL Summer, and won the Demacia Cup at the end of the year. Both wins later in the year were emphatic compared to the spring, which saw a resurgent Royal Never Give Up snag a spot to MSI in their stead. So what makes Deft so much better than his counterparts? As a player, Deft’s own individual contribution was massive, having stats that look eerily similar to Bang in both the LPL and Worlds. This was also takes into account the team's performance at Worlds, where Deft truly wore the backpack for the better part of their time in that competition (EDG’s one win in their quarterfinal match featured Deft going 11-1-8 on Caitlyn while his solo lanes barely kept it together). With that said, Deft lacked international success in 2016. In comparison to his contribution to a 2015 MSI title, EDG had an egregiously disappointing group stage at Worlds, which forced them into a duel with the ROX Tigers in the quarterfinals, in comparison to Group C leaders H2K having Albus Nox Luna. Still, Deft’s own performance and domestic success warrants his spot at #4.
3. Bae "Bang" Jun-sik - Bang's accolades under SKT and his individual performances have earned him the title of 2016's best AD carry. Also the winner of an LCK title, IEM title, MSI title, and second consecutive World Championship, it’s clear that Bang shows up to carry in big games. What’s under the radar, however, is just how impactful his individual performance has been. His laning numbers are absolutely insane, topping CS per minute and CS Difference @ 10 in almost every event he attends. His teamfighting numbers might actually be even better, as he's consistently putting out the highest damage per minute numbers as well as the lowest death percentage share of his team.
2. Song "Smeb" Kyung-ho - Smeb may have come into Worlds looking like the best player on the planet, but he leaves 2016 as the second best player on our list. Individually, it doesn’t get any better than Smeb. The winner of both LCK MVP titles as well as being part of a ROX Tigers squad that finally tasted victory with their LCK Summer Split win over KT Rolster, Smeb was clearly the biggest and most important Tiger of them all.
1. Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok - BREAKING: Faker is the best League of Legends player in the world. There’s not much more that he has to do to prove it, and his achievements this year alone would have cemented him as one of the greats. In 2016, Faker was part of an SKT lineup that won LCK Spring, IEM Katowice, and finally snagged the one that got away by winning MSI and completing a grand slam of sorts when it comes to title victories. Add that to his insanely deep champion pool (Faker played 27 different champions in 2016), his in-game performance, including being the top of the MVP standings for his team, and it’s clear Faker was revving on all cylinders, especially at Worlds where his laning numbers and damage numbers were nuts given his lower economic share on the team. Oh yeah, speaking of that worlds thing, he won worlds for the third time, being one of two players to win half the game's World Championships. Simply put, Faker is the GOAT in LoL.
Gabriel Zoltan-Johan is a News Editor at theScore esports and the head analyst for the University of Toronto League of Legends team. His (public) musings can be found on his Twitter.