WRL 2022 Preview -- DKG's demise, Thunder Talk's return, Nova's rise.
The season starts next month, but China's best have already started play.
Wild Rift League
The Chinese Wild Rift pro league has been christened the short, simple, and sweet, “Wild Rift League”. Given the epithetical challenges of it’s older brother, the “League-of-legends Pro League” or L(ol)PL for short, it could have gone a lot worse. As befits the premier Chinese mobile league, the WRL is the largest competition this season. It’ll be played on LAN, between twelve teams, qualified through three different tournaments.
6 Teams qualified via the National's qualifier, a playoff tournament between the best preforming teams at previous open sign up tournaments.
Nova Esports China (Finalist Nationals)
FunPlus Phoenix (Finalist nationals, 1st Huya God Of War Cup)
JD Gaming (3/4th Nationals, 4th LPL Warm Up)
Team Weibo (3/4th Nationals)
305 Gaming (5/6th Nationals, Beat DKG 3-1 before losing to Nova in Quarters)
WHG Esports (5/6th Nationals)
5 Teams qualified from the LPL qualifier, open to existing League of Legends PC franchisees.
Thunder Talk Gaming (1st LPL Qualifier, 2nd Horizon Cup)
Oh My God (2nd LPL Qualifier, 1st Wild Rift Rivals, 1st LPL Warm Up)
Royal Never Give Up (3rd LPL Qualifier)
Invictus Gaming (4th LPL Qualifer)
Edward Gaming (5th LPL Qualifier, 1st Wild Rift Rivals, 2nd LPL Warm Up)
1 team qualified through the Influencer Qualifier. A tournament where each team was owned and created by a Chinese celebrity.
Keepbest Gaming, owned by Actor (and heartthrob) Guangjie Li.
The Old Guard
The LPL qualifier produced known quantities, including the return of Thunder Talk. The team managed a second place at the Horizon Cup, despite losing 3/5ths of their team to visa restrictions. Interestingly, they played the qualifier with a new baron laner, but their star “Z” is still listed on the roster.
OMG, EDG and RNG all looked good during the 2021 “season” but fell behind coming into the Horizon Cup qualifiers. I’m particularly excited to see EDG again, as the squad underperformed last year. We'll get a fairer evaluation with an entire season of play in 2022.
In Nationals, we saw the rise of Nova China. The result feels like a hard earned victory lap for the organization. Nova has been a global mobile powerhouse for half of the last decade, operating exclusively in the genre. The Chinese organization bet big on international growth and held rosters in PUBGM, Clash Royale, and Arena of Valor. Over the last five years they've run championship teams in many of those titles.
Wild Rift is the first time we’ve seen a Nova squad operate on home turf, in China on a major esport. The roster competed in the Spark Invitational last season; but were 2-0’d by the eventual world champion, Da Kun Gaming. This season’s results more accurately reflect for the organization’s tenure. They placed second to FPX in the finals of Nationals (a spectacular series that went all 7 games). Among other things, their squad’s Morgana Duo Lane + Kha’zix strategy looks truly miserable to play against.
The most important match of the WRL may have already happened. During the Nationals qualifier, 305 Esports beat Da Kun Gaming 3-1. This match meant elimination from the qualifier, and will prevent them from defending their title. It wasn’t even especially close. 305 played faster Wild Rift. They stole Huiba’s jungle, and out-drafted the tank reliant DKG. The combination of good Lee Sin play and clean macro completely negated DKG’s front line. (VOD)
To be answered.
Who replaces DKG?
After their performance in qualifiers, 305 and Nova Esports are the heir's apparent. Scrim rumors have long held that China’s Nationals teams are far weaker than their franchised counterparts. DKG’s ascent and sudden fall would seem testimony to that. With an entire season to play, those teams that qualified through Nationals will have a chance to prove they don’t need LPL money to succeed.
What do the LPL teams have to offer?
Over the course of a long season, the LPL franchisees will be able to leverage their superior resources. Will that, or their already established coaching infrastructure and League of Legends knowledge give them an advantage? How do the new National’s champions FPX fit into that picture?
Some wild predictions:
I expect Nova to continue their qualifier performance on the big stage. Everyone should watch their series vs JD Gaming, which is one of the best matches of Wild Rift yet.
OMG ought to return to the form we saw them in at Wild Rift Rivals. That was prior to the 2021 season, so they have a lot to prove, but a second place finish at LPL qualifiers is a start.
Thunder Talk are the team to beat. They limped into second place at Horizon off the star power of Z. Domestically, they're much more than that. A dominant first place at the LPL Qualifier seems likely to be the first of many. A win over them would solidify any aspiring team as competitors.
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