League of Legends Hall of Fame contenders: top lane edition

League of Legends Hall of Fame contenders: top lane edition

Which players made the biggest impact in the most isolated lane?

With more than 10 years of competitive League of Legends history to look at, it seems only proper to trace through the list of players who shocked the world with their skill or left their mark on the game. To start, let’s look at some League of Legends Hall of Fame contenders in the top lane.

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Top lane is a role that requires independence and resilience since they are the most isolated on the map. However, this isolation often forces players into a paradox. Top laners are expected to be excellent duelists, but excessive dueling can leave them vulnerable to jungle ganks or support roams. Finding the harmony between these contrasting requirements is an art form very few players have successfully mastered, but here is a look at those who can claim that accolade.

Jang “MaRin” Gyung-hwan

MaRin League of Legends
MaRin is widely considered to be the best top laner of all time. | Provided by Riot Games

MaRin undoubtedly reached the pinnacle of what a carry top laner could accomplish. He started his career as the top laner for SKT T1’s sister team, SKT T1 S, where he made a name for himself with his excellent performance on Renekton.

But when the two rosters merged in 2015, MaRin found himself working with Bae “Bengi” Sung-woong and Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok, providing the team with something Jeong “Impact” Eon-young could not: powerful carry potential that could explode games with the proper investment. It is true that Faker was and always will be the iconic legend of the SKT/T1 dynasty. However, in 2015, MaRin was SKT’s key player — and many consider the 2015 SKT roster the best pro team to ever play League of Legends.

With the help of Bengi and Faker, MaRin became an unstoppable force. He outperformed all of his top lane oppositions while consistently executing his champion’s win condition. Beyond that, his superior individual skill was only matched by his tactical excellence.

During the 2015 Sbenu League of Legends Champions Spring Playoffs, SKT were in danger of elimination during the fourth game as CJ Entus led the series 2-1. SKT were in the lead for the majority of the game, but CJ’s immaculate teamfighting skills yielded a massive victory near the dragon pit. Only MaRin escaped with his life.

With death timers exceeding a minute, CJ players smiled as they marched down mid to destroy SKT’s nexus. MaRin knew he had to buy time for his teammates to respawn, so he teleported to a ward placed in the mid lane to try and kill CJ’s minion wave.

In League of Legends, towers have very high resistances that only drop when enemy minions are nearby. So with no minion wave, CJ wouldn’t have enough time to kill the mid inhibitor tower and the nexus towers to win the game. After seeing the teleport, all five CJ members desperately tried to kill MaRin. But by the time they finally got him, almost twenty-five seconds had passed and the rest of the SKT members respawned in time to stop CJ from ending the game. And when the tournament came to a close, SKT stood above CJ on the podium, with the teams earning second and third place, respectively.

MaRin wasn’t just a perfect top laner. He raised the standards of a carry top laner, and very few players have met them ever since.

Song “Smeb” Kyung-ho

Smeb League of Legends
Smeb challenged Faker at his prime. | Provided by Riot Games

With the throne left open after MaRin’s departure at the end of 2015, many competed to take it. Yet if not for MaRin’s overwhelming performance at Worlds that year, Smeb’s own performance would have received more praise.

In the quarterfinals, Smeb outperformed his KT Rolster rival Kim “Ssumday” Chan-ho and contributed greatly to KOO Tigers’ victory. In the semifinals, while European fans had high hopes for Fnatic’s Heo “Huni” Seung-hoon, Smeb turned their battle into more of an execution.

In fact, after the Tigers destroyed them in the first two games, Fnatic made a desperate attempt to kill Smeb by sending three members to the top lane. That wasn’t enough, as Smeb trampled over Huni as Hecarim and sent the other two running for their lives.

Once the dust settled in MaRin’s wake, Smeb rose over his rivals as the next best top laner in South Korea. His performance was so impressive that he was ranked No. 1 in the Worlds 2016 Player Ranking over Faker.

Smeb was different from MaRin in that he did not require extensive assistance from his team to fulfill his role. In fact, he used every advantage he got for the sake of the team’s new jungler, Han “Peanut” Wang-ho. Despite making those sacrifices, ROX Tigers could always count on Smeb to make phenomenal plays and aid the team on the path to victory. For being one of the most reliable League of Legends players, Smeb deserves a spot in a potential Hall of Fame.

Kim “Khan” Dong-ha

Khan League of Legends
Khan maintained his dominant performance through his eight year career. | Provided by Riot Games

While Smeb and MaRin were both excellent in their prime, their decline also came very fast. Unlike those two, Khan showed time and time again that he deserved respect throughout his eight-year career.

When he joined Longzhu Gaming in 2017, Khan was an unfamiliar name to Korean fans outside of his notorious behavior in solo queue. However, Khan quickly made a name for himself by making other LCK top laners look like punching bags. So while MaRin set a high standard for carry top laners, Khan smashed through them and continued to raise the bar.

Khan excelled at many champions, but none of them stood out like his Jayce. By the time he retired in 2021, Khan boasted a 77% win rate on the champion across 54 games with a 3.9 KDA. SKT made the fatal mistake of not respecting Khan’s Jayce one time in 2017, but he left Huni in tatters by the end of the laning phase and later took on four of the team’s five players singlehandedly. Khan escaped after killing both Huni and Faker.

Khan peaked during his time with Longzhu, but that doesn’t mean the rest of his career was mediocre. He won multiple regional championships with SKT and DAMWON KIA, attending Worlds with those two teams and making it to the semi-finals and the finals, respectively. Khan’s amazing career, alongside his flamboyant personality, made him a fan favorite in South Korea and worthy of any League of Legends Hall of Fame.

Image of Michael "Miko" Ahn
Michael "Miko" Ahn
League of Legends and Overwatch coach and tactician. I will never stop talking about movies and literature.