How DRX went from LCK underachievers to world champions

League of Legends Champions Korea has had a lot of strong teams over the years, but in 2022, after an incredible performance by T1, it looked like no other team would ever shine as brightly. Indeed, looking back on the Spring Season, it’s hard to even imagine LCK team DRX as League of Legends World Championship contenders, but their unpredictable rise has made their story one of the most exciting of the year in esports.

Coming into the first domestic season of 2022 with a refreshed roster, nobody was sure what to expect from DRX. Fans had certainly hoped that support player Cho ‘BeryL’ Geon-hee would make an impact after transferring from DWG KIA, but most eyes were firmly fixed on new botlaner Kim ‘Deft’ Hyuk-kyu to make the biggest impact in Spring.

At first, it appeared that the team simply didn’t click, as they lost both of their opening weekend matches, but in Week 2, a win over Kwangdong Freecs allowed them to begin building some momentum. DRX would eventually finish fourth, but were promptly knocked out of playoffs in the quarterfinals by KDF.

DRX struggled domestically during 2022, but still showed promise

© LCK / Riot Games

Summer started out more promisingly for DRX, as the team went undefeated for the first two weeks. Unfortunately, this winning streak wouldn’t last long, as the team were defeated by ⁠Liiv SANDBOX and T1 in Week 3. This second domestic season would be even harsher for DRX, as they finished sixth, barely scraping into Playoffs with a 9-9 record. DRX were then knocked out in the quarters once again, this time by SANDBOX.

Following the disappointing conclusion of the Summer Playoffs, DRX were given one last chance to redeem their year with the LCK Regional Finals. This special competition to determine the third and fourth Korean teams to qualify for Worlds was just what DRX needed, as the team finally clicked. DRX exorcised their demons, beating Liiv SANDBOX twice to secure their place in the international tournament.

Deft proved instrumental to DRX’s success

© LCK / Riot Games

As most League fans already know, what came next would go down in esports history. As the region’s lower seed team, DRX had the odds stacked against them coming into the competition, as they would first have to battle their way through the Play-In stage before they could even show their stuff in the tournament proper.

Beginning their Worlds journey in Mexico City, DRX started off by soundly defeating their five opponents in Group B, including the likes of Royal Never Give Up, MAD Lions, and Saigon Buffalo. A 5-0 flourish popped them at the top of Group B, and qualification through to the Main Event.

The Cinderella story continued in the Main Event Group Stage, where DRX continued to show what they were capable of. Deft shined against Top Esports, while midlaner Kim ‘Zeka’ Geon-woo seriously showed up in a meeting with GAM Esports. Losses to Top Esports and European squad Rogue wasn’t enough to dampen the spirits of the high flyers, who swooped into knockouts as the top-ranked team in Group C thanks to a tiebreaker win against Rogue.

Deft and Faker settled their scores at Worlds 2022

© Lance Skundrich / Riot Games

As the quarter-finals got underway, it was clear that DRX were on a full-blown miracle run. An intense five games against China’s EDward Gaming saw DRX pull off a stunning reverse sweep, securing a place in the semi-finals where they would meet fellow LCK squad Gen.G. Over four nail-biting games, DRX outplayed Gen.G, emerging victorious over the LCK’s top seed. Now the stage was set for a Grand Final that almost no one saw coming – DRX vs T1.

DRX’s unlikely run to the final was mirrored by T1’s predictably flawless performance throughout the tournament. Now, Lee ‘Faker’ Sang-hyeok and Deft – who have something of a shared history, having both attended Mapo High School – would meet on the biggest stage in LoL esports for one epic final battle. With Faker approaching the twilight of his career, he was looking to add a fourth Worlds trophy to his cabinet, while Deft sought his first Worlds win before leaving the esport behind for his mandatory military service.

While DRX grabbed First Blood in the opening game, it was T1 who would win this first game, owing to a methodical, calculated style of play. DRX hit back in Game 2, however, pressing Faker and baiting T1 into some intense team fights, most of which DRX managed to come out on top.

T1 proceeded to match point in Game 3, but DRX evened the odds in Game 4, bringing things down to one last all-or-nothing game. For much of the final matchup, the two titans remained on an even keel, that is until DRX broke through at 40 minutes, slaying the Elder Dragon and obtaining the power boost they needed to storm T1’s base.

DRX’s Worlds run will go down in the history books as one of the greatest

© Lance Skundrich/Riot Games

Against all odds, DRX had done it. After a mediocre domestic run, they had somehow risen through the ranks on the international stage to become the first team to come from Play-Ins to lift the Worlds trophy. For Deft, the bittersweet moment couldn’t have come at a better time. Now, with a new roster on the way for 2023, the world’s eyes will be on what comes next for DRX.

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