How deokdam is keeping DRX’s Worlds-winning spirit alive

LCK | Twitch

DRX went from winning Worlds in 2022 to last place in the LCK in 2023. The team’s ADC, Seo ‘deokdam’ Dae-gil, was out of commission with an injured elbow, making things even worse. However, he decided to play through his injury and managed to bring home a reverse-sweep victory in a statement game for himself and the organization.

DRX’s win at Worlds 2022 was one of the greatest stories in all of esports. It was the first time a team had ever won Worlds after climbing to the finals from the Play-In stage, and it required a herculean effort from every member of DRX to get there.

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However, following their victory, the team disbanded, with only Cho ‘BeryL’ Geon-hee remaining. Even the coaching staff changed afterward, making this a rare case of a roster imploding after winning a world title.

On paper, their new roster is stacked with some of the best talent the LCK has to offer. But in reality, they’ve nosedived and struggled to come together as a team. And deokdam’s recent injury, forcing DRX’s LCK Challengers player, Son ‘Pleata’ Min-woo, to start for the LCK team, only made matters worse.

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However, deokdam saw the way DRX lost game one against BRION and decided it was time to step in. With a brace on his left arm, he set foot on stage and managed to bring back the set for DRX with a reverse sweep victory that won’t soon be forgotten.

deokdam has a lot to prove on DRX

As a player, deokdam landed on people’s radar when he was widely recognized as one of the best ADCs in Korea after his stellar performance on Nongshim RedForce. He helped the team to its best-ever result (fourth-place finish in LCK Summer 2021), and they haven’t been able to put together a better roster since.

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deokdam was acquired by DWG KIA (now Dplus KIA) alongside his support partner from Nongshim, Kim ‘Kellin’ Hyeong-gyu, as a package deal in 2022. The two were made out to be a bot lane that couldn’t fail if their performance in 2021 was anything to go off of.

DWG KIA went on to have a fairly mediocre year by the standards they had set for themselves as one of the best organizations in Korea. GenG, T1, and DWG KIA are the big 3 when it comes to domestic competition in Korea, and Damwon found themselves at the bottom of this longtime rivalry for the top spot through 2022.

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This would only continue when DWG KIA clashed with GenG at Worlds.

The moment deokdam died, DWG KIA’s set against GenG and their Worlds 2022 run as a whole was over.

After their 2-3 loss, deokdam was the one many blamed for DWG KIA losing the series. He himself was of the same opinion, something he revealed in an interview with Dexerto that was nothing short of heartbreaking.

“All of my teammates and coaching staff trusted me, so they set up a playstyle and strategy where I could be the main character,” he said after his team’s elimination. “But…both in the regular split and at Worlds, my performance in terms of execution was not on point. It’s a bummer, but, at the same time, I really appreciate their belief.”

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When asked if he’d ever be able to be proud of his performance, he wasn’t optimistic. “Not really. I think I made a lot of sloppy mistakes. I left a lot to be desired.” This made it all the more important for deokdam to have a standout performance in 2023 to prove his worth as a player.

He was separated from Kellin for the first time in two years and picked up by DRX right after their Worlds-winning roster’s implosion. It was up to him to try and hold onto the glory that DRX had brought to Korea without almost any of the components that had earned the team their international win.

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As of February 25, 2023, DRX’s record was 1-10. Dead-last in the LCK, and on deokdam’s birthday to boot. He was on the bench due to a severe elbow injury that he had sustained just two days earlier. On February 26, he decided things would change.

The worst circumstances can bring out the best in people

DRX is a roster that represents substantially less than the sum of its parts. Every player on this team has their fair share of accolades and strong LCK finishes individually, but they haven’t managed to come together and form a cohesive team.

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Going from being a world champion to last place certainly isn’t what people expected from a player like BeryL with this kind of roster around him, and it’s safe to say this new generation of DRX has been a disappointment.

At the start of their first series with replacement ADC Pleata, it looked to be much of the same. BRION is a team that thrives in late-game scenarios, and they aren’t afraid to pick scaling comps and take games past the 40-minute mark. Against organized teams that can push early leads, this is a weakness for BRION. But for a team like DRX who have been all over the place and haven’t been able to find their footing in the early game, facing BRION is like hitting a brick wall.

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They took the typical Zeri/Lucian draft handshake and picked Lucian, a champion with no late-game scaling against Zeri, a champion known for hard-carrying games once she gets a few items.

Regardless of how well Pleata played, he was set up to fail from the get-go. With how important bot lane is in the current state of League of Legends, they would need a confident ADC that could actually take advantage of an early lead if they wanted any chance at beating Park ‘Hena’ Jeung-hwan’s Zeri.

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In came deokdam for game 2, alongside Lee ‘Juhan’ Ju-han, who subbed in for Kim ‘Croco’ Dong-beom, to try and reinvigorate the players and give them a change of pace. deokdam had injured his left arm, but, considering he’s right-handed, he would still be able to play. This situation certainly wasn’t ideal for him, but, in theory, he wouldn’t need to do too much with his left hand to play well.

LCK | Twitch
Deokdam needed some extra time before the match to set up new keybinds due to his injury

But there was one huge problem: Zeri requires more key presses than any other champion in the game. As a result, picking a champion like Zeri could have been a serious gamble health-wise, and they’d have to either ban her or let Hena have the pick and just play well enough early to win.

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Hena lost game 2 with Zeri and decided to take away deokdam’s Varus instead, the pick that arguably won DRX the match. Fortunately, deokdam had an Ezreal pocket pick up his sleeve. Despite Ezreal being one of the most mechanically intensive champions in League of Legends due to his high dependence on skillshots, the injured player managed to win lane and consistently top the damage charts in fights.

With the addition of Juhan and deokdam, DRX would go on to slam BRION in games 2 and 3 with one-sided victories. After over a month of losing, DRX finally won a set and dragged themselves out of their slump.

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Finally, it looked like DRX knew what they needed to do to win games and executed well on their win conditions. In the worst of circumstances, DRX managed to come together and look like a real team.

DRX | Twitter
DRX celebrating their win with the fans

At the end of the day, this team is still 2-10. Their chances of making playoffs are slim at best. But this isn’t new ground for the organization. They came back from being at the bottom of the standings in 2021 and most of 2022, and they can do it again.

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The fighting spirit of deokdam has shown through. At the lowest point in his career so far, he came on stage injured and put up a performance that has caught the attention of fans internationally and marked this set as one of the most memorable that we’ve seen in 2023.

Maybe this is a one-off performance from DRX and they’ll descend back into the depths of mediocrity. But, as this organization has shown the world in the past, counting them out isn’t wise.

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