V5 burst into the spotlight in Spring 2022. After being near the bottom of the LPL for most of the organization’s history and having posted a 0-16 record in Summer of 2021, expectations for this organization were at rock bottom. However, following a full roster overhaul going into 2022, V5 went from last place to first place in the Spring Split. And, while everyone on V5 had standout moments, many point to V5’s mid laner, Song “Rookie” Eui-jin, as the player that brought everything together.
Due to personal reasons, Rookie recently had an extended stay in South Korea, putting him out of contention for a few LPL games. In his absence, V5 were in need of an able substitute, the pressure was on with V5’s newfound status as one of the top teams in the LPL. As we’d soon find out, there’s more than one rookie that can tie V5 together and put them at the top of the LPL, when Tan “Dream” Wen-Xiang proved himself to be one of the best young talents we’ve seen in years.
Standing out in the world’s most competitive region
In China, the odds are stacked against you as an aspiring League of Legends pro player, more so than perhaps in any other region. Imports from South Korea are fairly common, and the sheer size of LoL’s player base in China is uniquely massive. North America has one server. Europe has three. China has almost 30, including a super server that requires a minimum rank of Diamond II to gain access to.
Once players get through the gauntlet that is the super server, the LDL (LoL Development League) in and of itself is extremely difficult to break out of. Every organization in the LPL has their own LDL team, who compete with the seven independent orgs that exist purely in the LDL. This makes the LDL’s 24-team league more than double the size of NA’s Academy league, but despite these daunting conditions, Dream still managed to stand out.
First of all, he’s on course to play over 300 ranked games in June on top of scrims, coaching sessions, and pro games, and this incredible deduction to both competitive play and ranked has also given him a diverse champion pool. With the ability to play anything from backline divers like Akali and Sylas, to control mages like Orianna and Viktor, Dream can bring whatever his team needs to the table. All with an average KDA of 6.49 through the LDL Spring Split, and close to 9 CS/M on average despite his tendency to rotate.
Dream isn’t a player that miraculously got good when given an opportunity to play on V5. He’s a player that has always been this good and just needed the chance to show it.
The beginning of the “DreamMaker” era
While V5’s opening three opponents of the split (TT, LGD, FPX) could have been more challenging, Dream’s play out of his skin. His performance, combined with his uncanny resemblance to World Champion LCK mid laner ShowMaker, quickly earned him the nickname “DreamMaker” with the watching fans.
It’d be easy to dismiss or underrate Dream based on his opponents in his first LPL showings. V5 is made up of proven players with a history of success, both domestic and international. It’s reasonable to think that Dream may have just been carried by his more experienced team mates, even with his individual performance being very strong statistically. That is, until Dream went head to head with 3-time MSI Champion Xiaohu.
When RNG made the seemingly disrespectful call to go for Baron, Dream swooped in and immediately focused Wei, making it so that RNG had no guaranteed secure on Baron. A great ultimate from Rich and sustained DPS from Photic certainly helped here, but Dream was the catalyst for the play. On top of that, Dream then continued to chase RNG into their jungle and proceeded to take their buffs.
Not only is Dream playing well, he’s playing confidently. Against one of the best mid laners in the world. It’s hard to understate just how impressive his time on V5’s main roster has been so far. He also has incredible game sense. His ability to read the enemy team and stop them from forcing plays is invaluable, especially in the LPL. With how often fights break out in this league, having a player willing to drop everything and rotate to salvage a play will pay dividends.
Take, as an example, Dream’s teleport to bot lane in V5’s set against Team WE. XLB had just taken Herald, and WE wanted to try and dive bot lane so they could capitalize on V5 being topside. This is when Dream dropped half his wave, teleported bot lane the moment he saw Lee Sin there, and successfully turned the dive around to put WE even further behind.
Dream is the kind of player that will say, “forget the wave, I need to help my team”, and it shows. Even if he gets out-CSed by a player like Xiaohu, his map presence and tendency to value his team over himself is remarkable. Sure, V5 is the kind of team it’s easy to have faith in, but it usually takes time to build trust between teammates. Dream’s been V5’s starting mid laner for around a month.
Only room for one Rookie in this town
With Rookie finally back at the V5 team house, it’s unlikely we’ll see Dream start much from here on out. And, even as a Dream fan, it’s hard to argue with that decision considering Rookie has been one of the best mid laners in the world for the better part of a decade. So, where does this leave Dream?
Hopefully in a starting position on another LPL team.
The LPL doesn’t have the strongest mid lane pool. While the top end of the division is very strong with players like Xiaohu, Scout, Yagao, knight, and the aforementioned Rookie, low to mid-tier teams tend to have fairly inconsistent mid laners. Previously strong mid laners like Doinb and Creme are slumping right now, while Bilibili Gaming can’t nail down a mid laner that works well with their otherwise impressive roster. There are many teams that could instantly improve by picking up Dream.
Unfortunately, there’s also a very real possibility that Dream will sit in the LDL for a while. There’s a lot more to putting a team together than gathering the best players you can find and putting them on the Rift, and replicating his V5 form might not be as simple in another setup. But, no matter where Dream ends up after this, it’s important to remember just how strong his LPL debut has been, and the incredible potential he showed in his few short weeks as Rookie’s sub.
Carver is an esports journalist and analyst who specializes in Eastern League of Legends.