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

by Tim Lee

DRX were supposed to be a rebuilding team full of hopeful rookies and retreads from other teams with minimal fanfare. The team’s highlight was supposed to be Kim “Deft” Hyuk-kyu playing out the rest of his storied career before moving on to military obligations, retirement or just an indefinite pause to professional gaming. DRX were supposed to bow out to the monsters in China’s League of Legends Pro League (LPL) and the superior teams that beat them consistently in League of Legends Champions Korea (LCK) after they qualified through the play-ins. They were supposed to drown in groups.

Instead, DRX are the world champions of League of Legends. Deft placed a cherry on top of his legendary career with the grandest prize of them all and the rest of the lineup received their much-deserved flowers. And yet after all that, it was one of those rebuilding pieces that had the potential to be great who emerged as the star of the team and the best story out of the entire competition: 19-year-old mid laner Kim “Zeka” Geon-woo.

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The soft-spoken teenager represented the catalyst for his team’s success throughout the League of Legends World Championship. The team’s momentum in fights well past the laning phase almost hinged on the playmaking ability of its inexperienced mid laner. Although most of the credit will go toward the scouting and meticulous training in the DRX camp, Zeka’s emergence as one of the best mid laners in the world seemingly happened overnight, and none of his big-play ability felt like a fluke.

Zeka lifts the brand new Summoner's Cup. Photo credit: Colin Young-Wolff / Riot Games

The first step to success for Zeka was comfort picks. Throughout the entire tournament, DRX were careful in selecting specific champions to make sure their star player felt comfortable. He played 13 games of Ahri during the LCK’s summer split, so she became a symbol of strength for him. So did Akali, Sylas and Azir despite inconsistent win rates throughout the year. He needed the necessary control and understanding of champions he mastered to forget that there was an important tournament match going on and it showed. Whether it was his chase down and micro with Sylas or his showtime plays and aggression with Akali, Zeka was playing as if nothing was on the line.

“Everything was a first time for me, and every moment is meaningful to me. I am so happy,” Zeka said. “My confidence comes from all the good words from my teammates and coaching staff.”

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

His second important factor to growing within the tournament is understanding and learning from the competition. As he spoke about it, he admitted that he learned from all his opponents as he played then. Despite the nerves or the missed last hits or even outright losing the lane, he knew there was always something to gain, and he had the veteran leadership behind him to remind him to keep pressing forward. The drafts in every second game or a loss reflect a champion that he was proficient in despite matchup knowledge or lane advantages. But the want to learn from his peers was paramount for his quick improvement.

He didn’t just survive a murderer’s row of opposing mid laners, he thrived and destroyed them. The list included: Top Esports’ Zhuo “knight” Ding, EDward Gaming’s Lee “Scout” Ye-chan, Gen.G’s Jeong “Chovy” Ji-hoon, and finally, the best of all time: T1’s Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok.

Chovy and Zeka walk out ahead of their teams' semifinal matchup. Photo credit: Chris Betancourt / Riot Games

This was his first Worlds ever and he faced the greatest player in the game’s history, Faker, and in a grand final no less. Difficult cannot begin to describe the task. His relentless pressure and macro play with Sylas and then the finishing blow with Azir was not the show stealer in past series, but he more than held his own against one of the greatest players overall in the game. It was through his pressure and confidence to push forward in fights for one more chase or one more engagement that allowed DRX to bully T1 out of contention. In his postgame interview after DRX took care of Gen.G, a team that destroyed them time and time again, he was quick to point out that his confidence and fearlessness in the game stemmed from the encouragement of both the coaching staff and the team.

Read more: Worlds 2022: The best players at each position

This was after he bullied one of the game’s best technical players in the mid lane, Chovy. He spoke into the microphone with zero hesitation and did not stammer when he thanked his teammates.

Chovy spoke of his younger competition in the middle lane saying, “I always thought he was a talented and strong player. His biggest improvement was his ability to step up during Worlds.”

Whatever made him want to flash forward to solo ultimate a carry or to press further without vision and isolate the backlines or punish an overextension in the middle lane to take full control of the creep wave was due to the combination of the largest green light in League of Legends’ history and the confidence that his teammates had in him, especially from Deft.

Deft and Zeka were interviewed together after their semifinal win. Photo credit: Colin Young-Wolff / Riot Games

“I respect Deft for everything he does, and I must learn from everything he is doing,” Zeka said.

He’s a man of few words, but a champion of the game, nonetheless. The victory against T1 might ultimately be his coming out party, but the best may yet come for the new jewel of the LCK. This could be the beginning of a new era in the middle lane in Korea.

Lead photo credit: Colin Young-Wolff / Riot Games

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