With the 2020 League of Legends World Championship closed, it’s time to start focusing on 2021.
Teams around the world are preparing for free agency and looking at ways to come after the Summoner’s Cup next year, and although the offseason picture might change with big moves in the month to come, there’s a pretty clear picture right now of who the contenders and pretenders will be come January.
With all that in mind, and the caveat that a lot can change between now and the new season, here’s a look at the best teams in the world going into 2021.
How we rank: We weigh the teams’ strength of schedule, wins, losses and overall performance for the week and have our panelists submit a ranking of 1 through 10 for each team, with 10 being the strongest and 1 being the weakest. We then average the scores to create our initial ranking and discuss any changes needed.
There are five overall tiers. Here’s what they mean:
Tier 1: No. 1-10 — These are world championship quarterfinalist (and beyond) contenders. The farther down you go in the top 10 the less likely that team could win it all, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility.
Tier 2: No. 11-20 — These are the teams we’d expect to make it to the world championship group stage, with a possibility for quarterfinals. They are likely strong regional contenders in their respective leagues.
Tier 3: No. 21-30 — It’s a long shot, so don’t expect to see these teams in the quarterfinals, but a few will make it to groups at worlds. They are probably middle of the pack in their region.
Tier 4: No. 31-40 — These teams have a tough road ahead of them if they want to see anything postseason related.
Tier 5: No. 41-46 — Luckily, relegation isn’t a thing anymore.
1. DAMWON Gaming
The scariest thing about DAMWON Gaming is that their core is just hitting their prime. As a five-man unit, DWG might somehow become even scarier in 2021, but that all hinges on if they can bring back the side that dusted off G2 Esports in the recent world championship in the quickest game in the tournament’s 10-year history.
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While talisman Heo “Showmaker” Su, mountainous jungler Kim “Canyon” Geon-bu and stalwart AD carry Jang “Ghost” Yong-jun are all under contract until 2021, two of their starters see their contracts come up this offseason in Jang “Nuguri” Ha-gwon and Cho “BeryL” Geon-hee. If they can keep their superstar top laner and shotcaller support, there is no reason why DAMWON shouldn’t be topping our power rankings. But with a slew of LoL Pro League teams always willing to make big moves and North America’s pockets looming in the background, can DAMWON Gaming keep the band together for at least one more year?
— Tyler Erzberger
Our worlds runner-up are a bit high on this list in my opinion, but with their League of Legends World Championship final appearance and dominion over the current metagame, it’s not an egregious placement either.
The LoL Pro League has made three straight finals appearances and won two of the past three world championships because their teams have fit the meta like a figurative glove, and the same goes for jungler Lê “SofM” Quang Duy and Suning. Looking ahead, Suning have locked up the majority of their 2020 roster through 2021 with the notable exceptions of SofM and support Hu “SwordArt” Shuo-Chieh, two instrumental pieces in their worlds run. If Suning lose those two, their pre-ranking will drop significantly in my eyes, even with monster rookies Chen “Bin” Ze-Bin and Tang “huanfeng” Huan-Feng contracted through 2022.
— Emily Rand
3. Top Esports
The only upcoming expiring contract on this Top Esports squad is for substitute support Zhang “QiuQiu” Ming, which is good news for TES fans provided that none of their players are bought out.
Although Suning ended up as the more comfortable team in this meta, particularly with how they played around the jungle position, TES are a strong team that feature another interesting mix of younger players like top laner Bai “369” Jia-Hao, bot laner Yu “JackeyLove” Wen-Bo and support Liang “yuyanjia” Jia-Yuan. They not only made it far at worlds but appeared in two domestic finals this year, winning one of them.
What will be interesting to see is whether TES seek another support option. Despite visible improvements, yuyanjia was inconsistent from game to game at worlds.
4. JD Gaming
JD Gaming are another team, like TES, that saw domestic success but were eliminated by fellow LPL brethren Suning a bit earlier at worlds than expected. Jungler Seo “Kanavi” Jin-hyeok, one of the main stars on this team, is a player that JDG probably will be looking to keep and will be an important person to keep an eye on during this offseason. Bot laner Lee “LokeN” Dong-wook had a career year and like Kanavi, his contract is also purportedly up at the end of this year. Most important for JDG is the fact that their two solo laners, Zhang “Zoom” Xing-Ran and Zeng “Yagao” Qi, along with support Zuo “LvMao” Ming-Hao are contracted through 2022.
5. G2 Esports
Luka “Perkz” Perković has been fanning those flames quite well on social media, hasn’t he?
After G2 lost to the revenge-seeking DAMWON in the League of Legends World Championship semifinals, people were wondering what would be next for the European juggernaut; there are no contracts expiring on the starting roster, but the elephant in the room is always the lane position of Perkz and his mid lane counterpart, Rasmus “Caps” Winther.
Both natural mid laners, they’ve swapped positions a couple of times. Now the question of who plays where will arise again. But this time, there are even more questions: Will Caps stay with the team or look for a new home? Perkz has had a stressful year, with family tragedy and possible hints of stress and burnout; what does he do next? Do we know if he is even willing to play a full year next season?
And what about other positions? G2 CEO Carlos “ocelote” Rodriguez hasn’t been shy about making changes to better the team (see Caps). Are there thoughts of other moves on the horizon?
Whether G2 stays intact to run it back for another year or whether this team looks vastly different next season, it will be a major talking point. At least we can enjoy Perkz trolling everyone on Twitter along the way.
— Arda Ocal
6. Invictus Gaming
Ah, Invictus Gaming. One of the more fun parts of this year’s world championship was listening to iG top laner Kang “TheShy” Seung-lok lose his mind while watching Suning and TES play each other while South Korean caster Lee “CloudTemplar” Hyun-woo valiantly tried to make TheShy admit that he does similar things in iG games.
TheShy is on everyone’s radar once again despite inconsistent performances this year and technically being contracted to iG through 2021. On that worlds stream, TheShy said he’ll continue to play with iG mid laner Song “Rookie” Eui-jin until he retires, and we’ll see how true that is this offseason with teams courting him again. All of iG save trainee/substitute support Peng “Reheal” Jun-Jie are contracted through 2021, but iG always seem to have some sort of offseason hiccup (and still do at least somewhat well in the LPL either because or in spite of it).
7. FunPlus Phoenix
Oddly, one of the teams whose roster I’m least worried about is FunPlus Phoenix.
Perhaps my talk with mid laner Kim “Doinb” Tae-sang about how the team came together for the 2019 season still sticks in my brain, but their 2019 world championship roster is one that works really well together and was created specifically as a unit. That unit was tested this year with the team’s struggles in trying to integrate top laner Kim “Khan” Dong-ha into their system, and Kim “Gimgoon” Han-saem ended up still being the better option for the team, despite being weaker in 1-v-1 laning. Ultimately, I hope FPX stay together because I love how this team plays when they’re on and the meta favors them and haven’t heard anything to contrary about their roster.
We’ll be honest with you: It’s a risky bet putting DRX so high up on these rankings. Sure, they performed well at the world championship and domestically in South Korea, but the team’s three best players, most notably Jeong “Chovy” Ji-hoon, are free agents. Chovy surprised everyone, including DRX themselves, when he turned down a multimillion-dollar deal from North America’s Evil Geniuses and organizations in China to play for less money under the tutelage of his longtime mentor Kim “cvMax” Dae-ho. Chovy turned down the bag last time, signing a one-year deal with DRX to try and win the Summoner’s Cup with cvMax, but will he willing to do it a second time with murmurs of Chinese teams seeing Chovy as a top target this offseason to put them over the top.
In a world where DRX run it back, this ranking seems sensible, but all it takes is Chovy looking toward (literal) greener pastures for DRX’s placement to tumble down this list.
9. Team Liquid
We’re still far from the Nov. 17 free agency open date, but in good old fashion, we’re already very much aware of what Team Liquid is doing this offseason. In the past week, the team has come to terms with former Origen top laner Barney “Alphari” Morris, to the tune of more than $1 million per year, and signed mid laner Nicolaj “Jensen” Jensen to a whopping three-year, $4.2 million extension. The only position left open for Liquid is jungle. Their No. 1 target is FlyQuest jungler Lucas “Santorin” Tao Kilmer Larsen, who had a breakout year in 2019, but Liquid won’t be able to talk to him until Nov. 17, so it’s unclear what will happen. Either way, with Alphari and Jensen in tow, Liquid look to be North America’s best team so far.
— Jacob Wolf
Fnatic at 10th seems fair, especially if you looked only at the team’s quarterfinal exit from worlds only on paper. At first glance, it looks like a respectable 3-2 loss against the team most people picked to win the entire tournament in Top Esports.
But then you dig deeper and find an absolutely heartbreaking reverse-sweep, the first in worlds history, and it stings just a little more. Fnatic made back-to-back finals in 2020’s League European Championship playoffs but got swept both times by G2, who still hold onto the title of best in the West. That makes you wonder: Could this team could look a lot different in 2021, especially their bot lane, with expiring contracts?
Support Zdravets Iliev “Hylissang” Galabov is a free agent, and so is the team’s franchise player, bot laner Martin “Rekkles” Larsson. It’s hard to imagine the black and orange without the sleeved Swede, who first wore that jersey in 2012. Whether Fnatic decide to run it back with this same group or make some considerable changes to the roster will be a major storyline in Europe this free agency period. And if they do part ways with Rekkles, which jersey he will wear next will garner considerable attention.
The rest of the world
11. Afreeca Freecs
13. Royal Never Give Up
17. MAD Lions
18. LGD Gaming
19. Team WE
20. EDward Gaming
22. Golden Guardians
24. Evil Geniuses
25. LNG Esports
26. KT Rolster
27. Schalke 04
28. Excel Esports
30. 100 Thieves
31. Vici Gaming
32. Team Vitality
33. Victory Five
34. Team Dynamics
35. Bilibili Gaming
37. SK Gaming
38. Hanwha Life
39. SANDBOX Gaming
42. Dominus Esports
44. Counter Logic Gaming
46. Rogue Warriors