How it works: Each member of Inven Global's seven-man coverage team picked their personal top 10 players per position and assigned them points from 10 (best) to 1 (worst). The players were then sorted by their average scores (shown next to their names). The top 10 players made it into these article series, with the top 5 getting their own write-up.
With Worlds 2021 around the corner, a lot of excitement surrounds not only which team will lift the Summoner's Cup, but which top players will find the most individual success on the highest stage. With so many exceptional and storied mid laners, fantastic bot lanes, and exciting jungle talents, the battle in the top lane may be overlooked by some.
It shouldn't be.
The battle of the top lane is an exciting discussion for Worlds. Although LCK usually has a monopoly on elite top laners (especially with most top LPL teams having an LCK top laner), the LPL and LEC have made major developments to have their own strong solo-laners. It's such an exciting time for the position.
Here are Inven Global's ranking of the best top laners for the 2021 World Championship:
10. Morgan (HLE), Hanabi (PSG), Fudge (C9) — 1.29/10
9. Adam (FNC) — 1.57/10
8. Rascal (GEN) — 2.43/10
7. Alphari (TL) — 3.29/10
6. Canna (T1) — 3.43/10
5. Armut (MAD) — 4.86/10
Just by judging overall performance throughout 2021, it's difficult to rank İrfan "Armut" Tükek as among the strongest top lane talents. Throughout the LEC's Spring and Summer Splits, MAD Lions' top laner didn't stand out the same way Andrei "Odoamne" Pascu or even Adam "Adam" Maanane would. In a team stacked with individually talented players across the board, Armut never seemed so special.
Except when it mattered.
It almost feels as though Armut is becoming the next iteration of Martin "Wunder" Hansen — a Shaquille O'Neal figure that plays into shape throughout the season. Most days don't expect much. If it's playoffs, MSI, or Worlds — expect to get your teeth kicked in. Even last year at Worlds when playing for the relatively unimpressive SuperMassive, Armut still had some impressive plays.
During MAD's win in the Summer Playoffs, Armut had the most impressive games of his career. Not only was he posting stat sheets better than almost anything he's ever done, he was doing so while acting as the focal point of his team. With 645 average dmg to champions, he was always eager to get his hands dirty and lead his team in fights, even if it meant his death. The scary part? It usually didn't. If he plays like he’s been playing, he’ll stand up to most of the competition. If Javier "Elyoya" Prades and the rest of MAD continue to put Armut in a position to succeed, he may upset some of the more experienced candidates on this list.
4. Flandre (EDG) — 6.86/10
Although most of the praise for EDG has centered around the mechanical heroics of Park "Viper" Do-hyeon, the leadership and smart play provided by Li "Flandre" Xuan-Jun has been indispensable to the team's success. Even during the matches where Flandre did not have a strong early game, he was reliable in always making an impact.
Flandre was incredibly versatile, playing 13 different champions throughout the split and he has proven capable of innovating different picks others might not realize. This adaptability gives Flandre a headstart as teams get used to the developing meta. More than that, his leadership helped the weaker-on-paper EDG take out the formidable FunPlus Phoenix in Summer Playoffs.
The reason Flandre isn't higher is simple — he just doesn't play as well as the other top laners. He takes much more of a backseat to his team than any of the players above him. What's more, those other elite top laners that actively played him this year — Li "Xiaohu" Yuan-Hao and Jang "Nuguri" Ha-gwon in particular — consistently outperformed him. Even in the surprise finals win, Nuguri proved better than Flandre throughout most stages of the game. Flandre is a strong and valuable player, but one outmatched by several of those around him.
3. Nuguri (FPX) — 8.14/10
Nuguri's first year in the LPL hasn't been without speedbumps. However, even after losing two separate regional titles and even getting benched for a brief period of time, Nuguri helped FPX become one of the favorites for Worlds. How has he done so? By being one of the most explosive and impressive players alive, the way only Nuguri can.
In teamfights and late games, Nuguri has been a sage. He is bold enough to see openings other players would not identify and has the mechanical chops to actually execute them. As far as his laning, it's sometimes almost hard to see how good he is. The expert roaming of Kim "Doinb" Tae-sang and Gao "Tian" Tian-Liang means Nuguri is often given a leg up some of his adversaries will not enjoy. Honestly, Nuguri seeing success at Worlds is almost guaranteed. He has the experience, the talent, the conditioning, and the support — everything he needs.
There are only two notable reasons Nuguri isn’t ranked higher. His aggressive playstyle leads to a lack of consistency and his form can coinflip on any given day. Additionally, FPX has to shift their team dynamic, or if teams can counter Tian and Doinb, Nuguri may be put in uncomfortable positions he isn’t used to facing.
2. Xiaohu (RNG) — 8.43/10
Any doubts LPL fans had of Xiaohu's laneswap from mid to top have been nullified. With a full year of great play and an MSI title in his pocket, Xiaohu has proven to be an elite top lane talent. Although RNG couldn't maintain momentum as Summer progressed, their performance in the Regional Finals showed flashes of that early-season brilliance.
Xiaohu is in a bit of a trickier situation. Although his team has great players across the board, there isn't a proven go-to guy for him to rely on to carry the game. Kim "Khan" Dong-ha has Heo "ShowMaker" Su. Flandre has Viper. Nuguri has Doinb. Xiaohu has to rely much more on himself.
This is a point clearly reflected throughout the Summer LPL split, where Xiaohu posted some of the highest KS%, CSPM, and DPM of anyone in his position. And although he can adapt well to different patches, RNG will benefit especially from a meta that allows Xiaohu a better chance of carrying.
1. Khan (DK) — 9.43/10
Just from a story perspective, it's hard to not expect great things from Khan coming into Worlds. One of the most legendary players the game has ever seen has never won an international competition. And with his announced retirement following this season, this will be his last chance.
Even discounting all of that, there is no one more deserving for the position as the best top laner at Worlds than Khan. While other strong top laners make mistakes in lane and are prone to get caught out, DK's top laner is as sturdy of a rock as they come. His laning is great, his positioning of teamfights is always impressive, and he always has a good understanding of what his team needs from him to win.
With the team never putting him in any hypercarry positions and a champion pool mostly used to accommodate DK's compositions, nothing too crazy individually should be expected of Khan. With his impressive level of experience, synergy with Kim "Canyon" Geon-bu, and overall cohesion with his team, it's almost guaranteed that he will do well.
Images by: Riot Games, Inven Global
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