Throughout the history of competitive League of Legends, top lane has flown under the radar as one of the game’s “forgotten positions.” While professional mid laners and AD carries have traditionally stolen the spotlight with flashy plays and signature moments, top laners often let their fundamentals speak for themselves.
Still, that’s not to say there haven’t been professional top laners to earn their keep and rise through the ranks as League superstars. In recent years, championship-winning top laners like TheShy and Nuguri have turned the top lane into one of the most eye-catching positions on Summoner’s Rift, even in spite of the carry positions on the bottom side of the map still garnering most of the analysis and discussion.
This year, a whole new class of top laners—in addition to some familiar faces from years past—will show if they have what it takes to carry their teams to new heights from one of the game’s most isolated positions. Here are five of the best top laners to keep an eye on throughout the entirety of Worlds 2021.
Even after swapping regions from the LCK to the LPL and joining one world champion organization in DAMWON Gaming to another in FunPlus Phoenix, one thing has remained constant when it comes to Nuguri: he’s still the best. This season, the presence of Nuguri transformed FPX’s gameplay approach, reigniting the team’s striking topside playstyle that won them a World Championship back in 2019.
Perhaps what’s most noteworthy about Nuguri, though, is his ability to take games into his own hands and outpace teammates and opponents alike in their damage contributions. This season, Nuguri ranked second in the world among all top laners in damage per minute with a mark of 578, according to League stats site Games of Legends. That number ranked higher than several major-region AD carries and mid laners, including RNG’s Gala and Hanwha Life Esports’ Chovy. Each game, Nuguri is doing more than beating the other top laner—that’s a given—he’s out to be the best player on the Rift, and most of the time, he is.
Xiaohu is one of the most decorated players in the history of Chinese League of Legends, and in 2021, he’ll be attending his fifth World Championship. This iteration of Worlds, though, will mark Xiaohu’s first as a top laner. At the start of the 2021 season, the once-mid laner for RNG role-swapped into the top lane in a last-ditch effort to keep some veteran presence on a largely developmental roster. Since that point, Xiaohu has blossomed into one of the best topside players in the world, while the roster around him has put up some of the best performances of the season.
This season, Xiaohu led RNG to an individual game record of 90-41, but no stretch of games saw the trained solo lane star perform stronger than the 27 games RNG played at this year’s Mid-Season Invitational. At that tournament, Xiaohu and RNG won the first international tournament of 2021, while Xiaohu himself posted a KDA of 4.3 across 21 victories, according to Games of Legends. At Worlds, expect a similar performance from one of the global scene’s most seasoned veterans.
After spending the last few seasons on bottom-of-the-barrel teams in the LEC, Alphari finally found himself on a Worlds-level contender again in Team Liquid. He last appeared at Worlds in 2017 as a rookie with Misfits, and over the last few years, Alphari has evolved into one of the best top laners in the West. This season, Alphari surged onto the North American scene by capturing All-Pro honors in his first LCS split, in addition to reaching the LCS finals in both the Spring and Summer splits this season. At Worlds, Alphari will look to outdo his first appearance at the tournament, when he and Misfits nearly dethroned the SK Telecom dynasty but were ultimately thwarted in the quarterfinal round.
Armut made one of the biggest season-to-season leaps in League of Legends history this year, as he’s attending Worlds with LEC champions MAD Lions just one season after representing the TCL at Worlds with SuperMassive Esports in 2020. Armut is the first player since Top Esports’ Karsa in 2018 to attend the World Championship with both a minor and major region team in the span of just two season. The already-two-time LEC champion is set to go head-to-head with some formidable top lane opponents such as Group D’s Alphari and Rascal, but considering he’s already taken care of proven names like Odoamne and Wunder back home in the LEC, Armut is well-prepared for a difficult-enough task.
Always playing second-fiddle to some other top laner, Khan has never won a World Championship but still ranks among the all-time greats at his position. Worlds 2021 will mark the sixth international tournament of Khan’s career, and the second of his season. Earlier this year, Khan came just one game away from breaking his international curse and winning the Mid-Season Invitational but ultimately fell short of the mark.
At Worlds, Khan has never made it past the semifinal round, despite posting a 12-3 all-time match record at the tournament. As one of the most proven players to ever attend Worlds, the six-time domestic champion will join his four other DWG KIA teammates coming in hot off a Worlds title last season. Khan is in prime position to finally win something of his own—and he better, considering he’s hinted at his imminent retirement after the 2021 season.
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