Deft’s first world championship in his decade-long career ‘felt like a dream’

by Nick Geracie

DRX’s miraculous first international title at the 2022 League of Legends World Championship was the greatest run in the history of League of Legends esports. Not only did the team triumph despite overwhelming odds time and time again, but every player hit a new career peak. Of all of the incredible stories born from DRX’s hoisting of the Summoner’s Cup earlier this month, AD carry Kim “Deft” Hyuk-kyu’s narrative stands out, and for good reason.

Deft had been considered by the majority of League of Legends esports fans to be the best player to never win a world championship. The most impressive aspect of him finally winning Worlds is how he was able to continue to defy expectations and reach new heights alongside his teammates on DRX.

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After tussling with world-class AD carries like Royal Never Give Up’s Chen "GALA" Wei and Top Esports’ Yu "JackeyLove" Wen-Bo, Deft entered the quarterfinals against his former squad and at-the-time defending world champion EDward Gaming. When DRX missed out on winning Game 2 of the series by a single auto attack from Deft, it felt as if the script had already been written. Deft, destined to never win a quarterfinal again after doing so with Samsung Galaxy Blue at Worlds 2014, was going to have to settle for a top eight finish once again.

When Deft blind-picked Draven without hesitation in Game 3, it was seen by many as a “tilt” pick; a last-ditch effort by a mentally drained player looking for a Hail Mary play in a risky, volatile matchup. Instead, Deft commanded the Glorious Executioner with pinpoint precision in a 42-minute nailbiter win for DRX to remain in the series. By doing so, the DRX AD carry began to build his team’s budding reputation for unshakeable mental fortitude. Deft continued to put himself at the forefront of the action with a Kalista in Game 4 before returning to his trusty Ezreal in DRX’s Game 5 win over EDG.

Photo credit: Colin Young-Wolff / Riot Games

Having conquered his demons by finally qualifying for his first Worlds semifinals in eight years, Deft rode that momentum straight into a brick wall against League of Legends Champions Korea first seed Gen.G. Gen.G’s Game 1 win gave the team their ninth win in nine games against DRX this year. With Gen.G’s star AD carry Park "Ruler" Jae-hyuk seemingly in full control of the matchup against Deft, it looked as though DRX’s magic had all been spent on EDward Gaming.

Instead, Deft returned to a signature pick -- Caitlyn, who, alongside Lux in the support role, was a highly contested pick throughout Worlds 2022. After forming this bot duo with support Cho "BeryL" Geon-hee, Deft played a crucial part in DRX’s Game 2 win to even the series before digging deeper into his champion pool and playing Varus in DRX’s last two wins of the series. Having defeated the defending world champion and the reigning LCK champion, Deft only had one task left: beat Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok, T1’s mid laner and the best League of Legends player of all time.

Read more: DRX complete Cinderella run, beat T1 in Worlds 2022 final

Deft was pensive before the Worlds final against T1 and identified the bot lane of AD carry Lee "Gumayusi" Min-hyeong and support Ryu "Keria" Min-seok, who had been on a tear throughout the entire tournament, as a key point for the matchup.

“I think there are lots of roles these two players have to play since they have the highest comprehension of the laning phase and champion pools,” Deft told Nerd Street. “They are capable of playing champions which can carry the team and also are capable of playing champions that keep the snowball rolling. We have to be well-prepared.”

Photo credit: Colin Young-Wolff / Riot Games

DRX’s preparation for T1’s bot lane manifested during the series in the form of early game aggression, with Deft and BeryL often all-in engaging on Gumayusi and Keria after hitting Level 2, or sometimes, even sooner. Not every play worked out in DRX’s favor, but their general approach to the series was enough to get the win against T1 in a five-game epic.

A few days after DRX lifted the Summoner’s Cup, Deft told Nerd Street why he and BeryL had chosen to play so risk-heavy and aggressive in the early stages of the laning phase against T1.

Read more: How Zeka emerged as a star amid DRX’s world championship run

“I think it’s easier to play the game when bottom lane picks champs that can lead in these days’ meta,” Deft said. “So, we tried to play aggressive in the 2v2.”

Branded by many as a perennially underperforming player on the international stage, Deft overcame greater odds than he had ever faced before on the international stage to silence all doubters. He did so by continuing to put himself center stage and embracing DRX’s high-pressure situations throughout Worlds 2022.

Photo credit: Colin Young-Wolff / Riot Games

Deft was considering retirement before Worlds, and although he was obviously happy with qualifying for his first-ever Worlds final, he wasn’t sure if the new level of achievement changed anything about 2023 and beyond.

“I'm going to decide during the break after everything is finished,” Deft said. “And right now, I don't have any thoughts about next year.”

A few days after DRX’s win against T1 in the final of the 2022 world championship, Deft’s answer on whether he would keep playing had changed since the end of his team’s miracle run at the Chase Center in San Francisco.

“I need to look at the situation when I go back to Korea, but I think I’ll do it if I can,” he said.

Deft still has things to suss out in terms of his future, but for now, he can bask in the glory of an accomplishment that, in his own words, deems him worthy of being considered “the best player in the world.”

“It felt like a dream. And it felt weird.”

Lead photo credit: Colin Young-Wolff / Riot Games

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