There’s always one: Who could be this year’s Worlds dark horse?

Photo via Riot Games/Getty Images

Say what you will about best-of-ones and single-elimination tournament formats. Despite their flaws, the chaos potential remains relatively high so long as they are in play. Although it feels like the gap is widening at the top at times, threatening to slay competitive balance with each successive title an LPL team wins, there is absolutely still room for the likes of 2020 Suning to surprise us all and throw our pick ’ems right into the dumpster.

Here are some teams that could catch lightning in a bottle and take over as the neutrals’ favorite with a run at the 2022 League of Legends World Championship.

DWG KIA (LCK, Korea)

There’s always one: Who could be this year’s Worlds dark horse?

Photo by Colin Young-Wolff/Riot Games

No one has any idea what to think of DWG KIA this year. There were ups and down this year, to put it mildly, and roster shuffling at two different positions. That, combined with talented pieces performing well below their levels, led to a lackluster split. Heading into the regional gauntlet less than a month ago, some LCK analysts didn’t think they’d step up to the plate, picking Liiv SANDBOX and KT Rolster to join Gen.G and T1 at Worlds this year—and with good reason. At the time, that wasn’t a bad take at all.

This team is a roster that, for much of the year, was playing well below its (admittedly very high) level and might be peaking at the right time. And given that they took EDward Gaming to five games in the world finals last year, won it all the year before, took RNG all the way at last year’s MSI, and made a Worlds quarterfinal appearance in 2019, all while keeping the same ultra-talented mid-jungle core, that should be extremely exciting even for a neutral fan of competitive League. And with top laner Nuguri back in the fold after a split away from the game, the boys are back, and they are out for blood.

Oh, and Graves. Remember back in 2020 when junglers like Canyon, Selfmade, and SofM got to throw their weight around at the World Championship because carry junglers were the only way to play the meta? That might not be the case this year, but Graves was the harbinger of that meta, and he’s back thanks to some buffs in Patch 12.17. Canyon can take over games, and if he can slot back into his 2020 self and take advantage of some niche picks in the meta like Graves, this team could be a Worlds contender. Other junglers simply haven’t had to play the game in that way to get to the top this year. And if Korean solo queue is to be believed, Canyon is playing like a man possessed, ready to take this team by the scruff of its neck and will it to a Worlds run worthy of the talent on this roster.

GAM Esports (VCS, Vietnam)

There’s always one: Who could be this year’s Worlds dark horse?

Photo via Riot Games

If you thought Saigon Buffalo were a good time at MSI (you did), Gigabyte Marines’ return to the international stage will bring back not only the coolest team name at the tournament (sorry, CTBC Flying Oyster) but a dominant 2022 delivered by a veteran lineup and a full head of steam to boot. It can be tough to gauge just how good Vietnamese teams are in the grand scheme of things given their recent absences from international events, but if Saigon were any indicator as the region’s second seed, don’t be surprised if GAM rock the boat in a group with Rogue, Top Esports, and probably either Evil Geniuses or DRX.

Every single one of those teams has at least one glaring weakness. And while that does not an upset make, GAM’s willingness to buck the meta is, in short, the beautifully chaotic distillation of Vietnamese League that has been sorely missing from international events in recent years. And if you subscribe to the school of thought that attributes, in part, DetonatioN FocusMe’s success last year to speedrunning domestic play, then there’s reason to be hopeful for GAM Esports. This team has won three of the last six domestic titles, and every one they’ve lost has been 3-2, and only once since 2020 have they not finished with the best regular split record. And at the SEA Games that they represented Vietnam at? They only lost occasional games here and there in domestic qualification before sleepwalking to an undefeated title. This team is very good at League of Legends. They play an aggressive, high-variance style that is perfectly suited to catch teams with pre-existing notions of the meta and their own game plans off guard.

Although he and top laner Kiaya have been on this team since 2019, this team’s success starts and ends with Levi, the team’s longtime former journeyman jungler. Not only will he draw frequent Nocturne bans thanks to his 7-1 record on the pick this split (including playoffs), but he, of all the players on this roster, has that intangible “it” factor. He’s a guy that, when the team needs a play, he can say, “give me the dang gold, I’m wiping someone off the map,” and make good on the promise. Even if AD carry Sty1e can’t adapt to what will be an interesting bottom lane meta, support Bie will welcome a shift back to engage-style supports given his track record on Nautilus. Expect to see him, Levi, and mid laner Kati all over the map enabling either Sty1e or Kaiya. Kati especially is well known for his unselfish champion ocean. Ryze, Galio, Morgana, Karma—you name it, he’ll answer the bell if it’s needed.

LOUD (CBLOL, Brazil)

There’s always one: Who could be this year’s Worlds dark horse?

Photo by Bruno Alvares via Riot Games

You saw this coming when you read the byline, didn’t you? Obviously, I have some biases, but that’s why this team is a dark horse to make it out of play-ins. I do not think they are winning the Summoner’s Cup, let’s be clear.

LOUD have a lot going in their favor leading up to the Worlds play-in stage. Their best shot to become the first Brazilian team to play in the Worlds group stage since 2016’s “Exodia” INTZ lineup that took a game off LPL champions EDward Gaming is by taking advantage of the unpredictable nature of best-of-ones and finishing first in a relatively weak Group A. If they finish second and have to win a best-of-five series against, in all likelihood, either Royal Never Give Up or DRX, “it’s gonna get complicated,” as LOUD mid laner tinowns euphemistically mentioned in a CBLOL content piece earlier this week. But Fnatic and Evil Geniuses are both dealing with at least one substitute player in their lineups, and Beyond, Chiefs, and DetonatioN FocusMe are all manageable opponents. The odds are stacked against the Brazilians. But there’s a very real set of circumstances that can break in LOUD’s favor for them to reach the group stage. And 212 million people back home will be right behind them.

On the Rift, as most fans know, the way to upset the apple cart at international competitions as a weaker team is to play a higher variance style. In four-time CBLOL champion Robo, LOUD have a wildcard. He could lose them as many games as he wins them, but don’t be at all surprised if Tristana, Darius, or Rumble find their way into a draft in the second phase, especially if the meta shifts to a top lane carry one. Mid laner tinowns, who knocked Alliance out of Worlds 2014 as a 17-year-old, might be playing the best League of his long career. He is a quintessential untiltable, fundamentally sound, floor-raising mid laner. Ceos looks just as comfortable on an enchanter as he does an engage support, so expect him to be relatively meta-proof, and jungler Croc has honed his aggressive, playmaking style over the course of the split. And finally, if those blessed scrim rumors are to be believed, LOUD have been surprising the major region teams they’ve gotten to train against.

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