Column: Put some respect on TOP Esports, the fifth seed that could

Image via TOP Esports Weibo.

After an unlikely run from fifth in the LPL 2022 Spring Split Regular season all the way to game five of the LPL 2022 Spring Split Finals, TOP Esports are being viewed as a formidable opponent that has the possibility of a deep run once again in Summer competition. Yet, even after a strong finish to Spring, TOP Esports' dominance in Spring Split is still flying under the radar because of their eventual loss in game five to Royal Never Give Up. In this writer's opinion, people need to put some more respect on TOP Esports because their late-season run is one that deceptively was dominant from the start.

Domination born from unforeseen circumstances

Image via Riot Games

Originally, TOP Esports was built around the 2021 core of mid laner Zhuo “Knight” Ding and the bot lane duo of Yu “JackeyLove” Wen-Bo and Wang “Zhuo” Xu-Zhou.  By acquiring 2019 World Champion Gao “Tian” Tian-Liang from FunPlus Phoenix and world-class top laner Zhang “Zoom” Xing-Ran from JD Gaming, the roster came together.


At first, this group of five competed and exceeded expectations when they started off the season with a win at Demacia Cup. However, that success did not last. Zoom heavily underperformed early in Spring while Zhuo eventually moved himself to the inactive lineup following their loss to OMG in the third week of the season. 


The current iteration of TOP Esports has only been together following the Lunar New Year Break starting week four. After three weeks of play, TOP Esports stood at an underwhelming 2-4 record, where their only wins were against non-playoff teams such as Ultra Prime and Team WE.


However, from week four onward, TOP Esports looked like a completely different team.


Rookie top laner Huang “Wayward” Ren-Xing exceeded expectations. His mechanical talents as well as his ability to set up his lane around Tian’s playstyle every game was a big focal point to TOP Esports success, even on the weak side. Whenever Tian would play around topside, Wayward became a reliable carry threat that could completely take over a game.


On the bottom half of the map, new support Ling “Mark” Xu was a fresh, reliable piece that TOP Esports could build around. While his ceiling is a bit lower than Zhuo's, he was much more reliable for the team, which is something that bot laner JackeyLove needed in a team full of star power.


The additions helped Tian work around his strong qualities of early game map control while Knight was a consistent rock for the team throughout. His strong play in mid lane was an insurance policy if things did go wrong in the side lanes.


With this lineup, TOP Esports held a 9-2 record in the regular season, only losing to Royal Never Give up in their first series together and Invictus Gaming in week eight. While they ultimately finished the regular season with an 11-5 record, the lineup was actually going into playoffs with an upward trajectory while pre-conceived top teams like Weibo Gaming, LNG Esports, and Edward Gaming began to falter.


The fifth seed that almost could

Image via TOP Esports Weibo account

What truly makes TOP Esports a perennial favorite is their ability to perform under pressure. In the playoffs, TOP Esports played the role of the fifth seed that could.


In order to reach the finals, they had to beat Bilibili Gaming, LNG Esports, and regular season first seed Victory Five twice. 


In these games, TOP Esports showcased grit against early game adversity and consistently were able to make comebacks happen off the back of exceptional performances from Knight and Wayward, who led playoffs with five and six MVPs each, respectively.


Throughout the entirety of the LPL 2022 Spring playoffs, TOP Esports played a total of 25 games and nearly reverse-swept the eventual 2022 Midseason Invitational champions in Royal Never Give Up.


All of this was done by a team who at the start of 2022, was not even a group of five. TOP Esports made their run in Spring with a lot less time to prepare as a team compared to their opponents. They did not have the luxuries of an offseason back then to see how the team wanted to play nor was there much time for Wayward and Mark to slowly adapt into the team or else they would be too far behind to make the playoffs. 


Yet, even under these circumstances, TOP Esports made it happen and nearly became LPL’s top team in Spring. Now, with an offseason to truly spend as a five-man team as well as longtime coach Luo “Crescent” Sheng to further help this team grow, TOP Esports has the ability to dominate the entirety of Summer. Now, all they need to do is prove that their late surge was a sign of things to come instead of an outlier.

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