Top Esports didn’t have an easy path to Worlds 2022 with their “slow start” to the year. But now they’re in New York, and ready to make it all the way to the Summoner’s Cup — a trophy that has long eluded powerhouse mid laner Zhou ‘Knight’ Ding.
Zhuo ‘Knight’ Ding has always been in the discussion for being one of the world’s best mid laners of all time — period. The Golden Left Hand has historically had bad luck when it comes to international competition, often getting outshone by fellow LPL stars like Kim ‘Doinb’ Tae-sang and Song ‘Rookie’ Eui-jin.
Knight’s last international appearance at Worlds 2020 saw Top Esports make a strong run before they got knocked out by Suning. A 2021 slump into an unsteady start to 2022 kept future prospects dim for the mid laner.
Now, Top Esports is back on top. Legendary players have mixed with new blood to create one of the world’s best rosters. Through the best and the worst of times stands one player though — Knight. Now at Worlds 2022, he’s ready to seize his chance with new teammates by his side.
Adjusting to Worlds 2022 in more ways than one
Not every team has had an easy time adjusting to the meta. And, as is tradition with a tournament like Worlds 2022, teams that adapt quickly thrive. While TES hasn’t had too many issues with the meta in-game so far, there’s always the out-of-game concerns with travel teams struggle to adjust to.
“This is the first time I’ve been in NA, and everything has been good for me,” Knight told Dexerto. “I’ve quickly adapted to the environment. There’s a slight difference food-wise, but I’m slowly getting used to it.”
It’s a common complaint at any international event — the availability of food familiar to your palate in a foreign country can be very difficult, and it’s something that’s important to think about for a tournament that requires you to compete for a few weeks. While Western players have usually enjoyed food in Eastern countries at international events, it isn’t always the same for Eastern players coming out West.
In-game though, it’s been a different story, both on stage at Madison Square Garden and in solo queue. Knight made headlines during Worlds 2022 for his insane 33-kill game as a warmup for the big event. The practice afforded in NA’s elite ranked system has definitely impressed the Chinese mid laner.
“I would say the biggest difference between Champions Queue and Solo Queue is the people in Champions Queue are all players you already know,” he explained. “It’s really fun and interesting to play with them. Also, the game quality is really high.”
“As for the 33 kills in that game, it was fortunate for me. My teammates helped me a lot.”
Champions Queue is one thing though, Worlds is another. Top Esports have gotten off to an okay start in Group A. The LPL representative were hopeful for an undefeated first round robin, but they fell victim to DRX on Day 3 in a one-sided sweep.
Results aside though, there’s still a confident aura surrounding Knight and the rest of the LPL at Worlds 2022. As the Korea vs China debate rages on, Knight knows his place in the discussion: “I think the key to being one of the most excellent mid laners in the LPL is my effort and focus on the game.”
As usual, the secret to being a strong player is usually just practice, practice, practice. And, considering how long he’s been the mid laner for Top Esports, he’s had plenty of time to refine his playstyle and make his mark on the region with some impressive records.
Getting to 2000 kills in pro games is the sort of achievement that takes a level of time and effort few players can commit to.
Knight also thought that native Chinese mid laners are strong at Worlds this year. Historically, imported mid laners like Scout and Rookie have been at the top of the region, but this year is a major shake-up.
“I’d definitely say, this year, that Chinese mid laners are very strong. Me, Yagao, Xiaohu, we’re all in very good form.”
While Xiaohu has won MSI a few times, we’ve never seen a Chinese mid laner take a world title. DoinB (FPX 2019), Rookie (iG 2018), and Lee ‘Scout’ He-chan (EDG 2021) are all imports from South Korea. That could very well change this year.
Turning a “slow start” into a Summoner’s Cup
Top Esports didn’t have the best start to their 2022 season.
Bai ‘369’ Jia-Hao was off the team after he struggled through 2021, replaced by Zhang ‘Zoom’ Xing-Ran. Zoom looked like one of the best top laners in the LPL, but his performance through Spring was mediocre.
Worlds 2019 MVP Gao ‘Tian’ Tain-Liang joined Top Esports immediately after his disappointing Worlds 2021 performance on FPX due to injury. Wang ‘Zhou’ Xu-Zhou was underperforming in support, and Ling ‘Mark’ Xu had to be brought on early in Spring to try and bring the team back.
This doesn’t exactly sound like a stellar start. But thanks to Huang ‘Wayward’ Ren-Xing coming into the top lane in Summer and improved performance from everyone on the team after a year of reshuffles, Top Esports seemingly found their way.
“At first, a lot of players on our teams were from other teams. When we first got together, it hadn’t been a long time since we started playing together as a team. So, we had kind of a slow start.”
“But we adapted to each other. Even though we lost a little bit at the beginning of the split, after we had a deep talk and conversation with each other. We all knew that everyone has the same goal: victory. I think that’s the key to how we’ve synergized so well.”
This is a stark contrast to what Top Esports team environment looked like in 2021. Their old coach, Chen ‘WarHorse’ Ju-Chih, didn’t stay with the team in 2021. WarHorse directly blamed 369’s champion pool for their losses in a documentary outlining their 2021 run.
From what Knight has said, it seems TES’ team environment has changed for the better. You could put the strongest five players on a team and it still might not work if they don’t compliment each other in both playstyle and personality.
Fortunately, it seems like Top Esports have found a winning formula, even if it’s without Knight’s long-term teammate. Distance has maybe done both players a favor though — 369 making it to Worlds on JD Gaming with new-found form.
“369 is super strong on JDG right now, but I feel like he wasn’t a standout player on the team with me,” Knight explained. “When he left Top Esports, he became even stronger.”
Together, they couldn’t quite claim the world title. Separate, they both have a good chance of winning it all.
Knight still thinks Top Esports has some work to do before they’re in Worlds-winning form, but they’re slowly hitting their stride, and the gloves will come off during playoffs.
“I would say, currently, our form as a team isn’t consistent enough. It depends on how good the results of the Group Stage are. If we have a good result after the Group Stage, then I think we have a higher chance of winning Worlds.”