The off-season has been a chaotic mess, especially in the West. Roster gridlock hit hard, and many teams were waiting on key players to fall into place in order to finalize their rosters. However, other than Barney "Alphari" Morris and Gabriël "Bwipo" Rau, top laners have gone under the radar. It’s all about bot laners, mid laners, and junglers.
Top laners like Andrei “Odoamne” Pascu and Jang “Nuguri” Ha-gwon had disappointing performances at Worlds, while fresh names like Shunsuke “Evi” Murase and Hua “Ale” Jia-Le put themselves on the map. The stage is open for fresh faces and tenured veterans alike to gain the spotlight they deserve. What’s more, some of the most promising top laners going into 2022 were on low-tier teams.
5. Eric “Licorice” Ritchie
It’s safe to say that Golden Guardians are a team to watch in general for avid LCS viewers after a solid second half of the Summer Split, but Licorice was the man that brought it all together. He and Nicholas "Ablazeolive" Abbott were the star players and almost always the ones who created leads for GG. Licorice gels perfectly with the current topside-heavy meta due to his teamfighting playstyle and willingness to lead his team.
If there was a play happening on the map, Licorice was likely the one that started it. GG fell apart any time Licorice wasn’t leading the charge. If Licorice can maintain and iterate upon his identity as a teamfighter, he may be able to build a legacy and separate himself from just being the washed-up top laner who used to be on C9. 2022 could finally be his year.
4. Matti “WhiteKnight” Sormunen
Astralis’ LoL team has so far been unsuccessful. They feel lost and roster moves never work out. The only consistent thing about Astralis is that Nikolay “Zanzarah” Akatov’s going to pick Trundle in most games. However, WhiteKnight’s breakout performances in the top lane through the Summer Split brought Astralis to their best regular season record yet, just barely missing playoffs.
WhiteKnight is the playmaker for Astralis, and he always manages to make their games exciting. He peaked on Lee Sin while laning was Lee Sin’s primary role for a brief time in Summer, and there’s a possibility we won’t see him reach those heights on other picks. But if WhiteKnight can display a similar level of skill with carries like Graves and Jayce, he could be one of the best top laners in the LEC.
3. Chen “Bin” Ze-Bin
With RNG deciding to put Li “Xiaohu” Yuan-Hao back in the mid lane, Bin has big shoes to fill. Xiaohu’s strength as a top laner defined the way RNG played the map, and there’s no doubt RNG’s team dynamic will be different from what we saw in 2021 as a result of the role swap. Fortunately, Bin is one hell of a top laner.
Bin was a critical part of Suning’s 2020 miracle run to the World Finals, and he still has the same level of mechanical skill that put him on the map during his time with Suning. He’s exceptionally strong on high-skill, mechanically involved Champions like Fiora and Irelia, making his playstyle inherently fun to watch. Additionally, Bin’s strong lane control and macro play make him difficult to shut down. If there’s a top laner that has potential to take down LPL giants like Hu “Ale” Jia-Le and Li “Flandre” Xuan-Jun, it’s Bin.
2. Park “Summit” Woo-tae
Summit is a top laner to watch in a very literal sense. He’s a coinflip in every sense of the word, and that makes any game he takes part in an event in its own right. Sometimes, Summit will go 0-9 on Jayce and tank his team’s chances. Other times, he’ll land three teamfight-winning Gnar ults in a single game. There’s no way of knowing what sort of performance to expect out of Summit. But when he’s having a good game, he’s having a good game.
What Summit lacks in consistent laning, he makes up for with teamfight prowess. Summit knows exactly when to go in, and he can consistently replicate enough game-winning plays to claw his team out of almost any deficit. He was a large part of LSB’s short-lived success through the Summer Split. Now that Summit’s been picked up by C9, expect to see him near the top of the LCS.
1. Kim “Kiin” Gi-in
Kiin is a player that’s relatively unknown outside of Korea. He’s been on Afreecas Freecs for the vast majority of his pro career, and AF have always been somewhat mediocre. Kiin is proof that League of Legends is in fact a team game. One man can only do so much. That said, Kiin is doing more than almost any top laner in the world. Despite Afreeca’s generally low placement in tournaments and regular season play, Kiin is a world-renowned top laner amongst those who can look past Afreeca as a team and focus on his individual play.
Regardless of how hard he gets camped and how hard his team is losing, Kiin always finds an opening. Sidelaning, teamfighting, early rotations to bot lane, enough dominance in top lane to threaten Herald at any moment. Kiin has it all. The recent top-focused meta has only upped Kiin’s power level, and he’s the sole reason AF had the slightest chance at making Worlds this year despite a 9th place finish in Spring.
Now that Afreeca have rebuilt their team from the ground up with only Kiin remaining from AF’s 2021 starting lineup, this player is more exciting than ever. If there’s anyone that should be on your radar in 2022, it’s Kiin.
Carver is an esports journalist and analyst who specializes in Eastern League of Legends.