He’s gone from reaching rank one on the Korean server to finally qualifying for his first World Championship.
Twenty-year-old prodigal mid laner Zhuo “Knight” Ding has gone through a lot over the past couple of years. After beginning his professional League of Legends career in 2017 under legendary top laner Liu “PDD” Mou, he finally qualified for his first World Championship in August this year.
Knight received praise for his ability to easily take over games from global League fans for years, and now, it’s his time to shine. He got his chance to show what he’s capable of and has lived up to his nickname of the Golden Left Hand, which he earned during his professional debut. While most players play the game with a right-handed mouse and left-handed keyboard, Knight does the opposite. This stood out to PDD, who coined this nickname after seeing how dominant Knight was in-game, especially in one-vs-one scenarios.
Knight’s performance in 2020 has been phenomenal, starting with his first title in his debut international appearance at the Mid-Season Cup in May. He came home afterward and won his first LPL Championship along with the MVP award of the Summer Split. He’s coming into this year’s World Championship trying to make a statement that he’s one of the best mid laners in the world.
The duo from Pingxiang
Knight hails from Pingxiang, a city from the province of Jinagxi in China. There, he spent endless nights grinding League alongside his friends. He even reached rank one on the Korean server, arguably the hardest solo queue server in the world.
Knight played duo queue frequently with the current mid laner of JD Gaming, Zeng “Yagao” Qi, when he was still teamless. Even though Knight played jungle quite often in his solo queue games, he switched to the mid lane for his professional career. These players’ paths have gone in different directions over the years, but they’ve met once again—this time as rivals on the professional stage.
From Young Miracles to Top Esports
On Feb. 6, 2017, Knight joined his first professional organization, Young Miracles. The organization has produced a lot of talent, including world champions Gao “Tian” Tian-Liang and Gao “Ning” Zhen-Ning, as well as Royal Never Give Up support Shi “Ming” Sen-Ming.
In a stream following the 2019 World Championship, PDD reminisced about Knight and Tian’s early days on YM. The two joined YM together, and while both of them looked promising, PDD believed Knight was better than his teammate. He said Knight was mature from an emotional point of view and controlled the flow of the game like a top-tier player. He led the team to a 20-game win streak in the LSPL, the LPL’s academy league. Tian, however, stepped up later on, silently training and grinding solo queue until he was picked up by an LPL team.
Knight looked promising and was scouted by numerous LPL teams. As a result, PDD said he gave him the highest possible salary on Young Miracles, a three-million yuan contract per year (around $43,000). Other players were reportedly getting around 5,000 yuan per month, rounding up to around 60,000 yuan per year—much lower than Knight’s wage.
Knight received offers from LPL teams featuring plenty of incentives to join them, according to PDD. Tian, his “brother-in-arms,” as PDD referred to him, was left out. Tian didn’t receive any offers, according to the YM coach, so he trained day and night to reach the LPL. His efforts paid off and he landed on Suning alongside Knight for the 2018 Spring Split.
The team finished fifth in the regular season with a 9-10 record, missing the playoffs. Following this performance, the organization acquired another mid laner, Huang “Fenfen” Chen, and Knight was moved to the bench for the Summer Split. After his break, he left Suning in November 2018 to join Top Esports, an organization that finished third in the Summer Split.
Knight’s debut under TES happened at the annual Demacia Winter Cup, where the team reached the finals but lost to Invictus Gaming. Going into the 2019 Spring Split, TES made a name for themselves, coming in third in the regular season and qualifying for the playoffs. Their playoff stint was short, though, and they lost to FunPlus Phoenix in the semifinals. In the next split, TES continued to secure a top-four placing but couldn’t put up the last-ditch effort needed to win the split in the end.
But that changed this year. TES’ dominant play in the Spring Split allowed them to qualify for the first Mid-Season Cup, which replaced the Mid-Season Invitational due to COVID-19. They swept most opponents, including reigning world champions FPX, to win their first international tournament.
With this huge achievement, League fans had high expectations for TES in the LPL Summer Split. After a first-place finish in the regular season, they were seeded into the semifinals for the playoffs. Following a clean 3-0 series against Knight’s former team Suning, TES secured a rematch against the LPL Spring Split champions JD Gaming, led by Knight’s compatriot, Yagao.
After another intense series that went to five games again, just like in the Spring Split finals that they lost, TES finally secured their first LPL title.
The MVP of the Summer Split
Knight’s dominant performance in the Summer Split earned him the regular split MVP award by a significant margin. He acquired 101 points, 42 points ahead of second place.
He led the league’s other mid laners in multiple statistics, according to data from gol.gg. He boasted a KDA of 7.2 (first), average kills of 5.7 (first), average deaths 1.7 (19th), average CS per minute of 9.1 (second), and average gold per minute of 448 (first). His stats looked much better than those of other LPL mid laners who have dominated on the international stage, such as Rookie, Doinb, and Yagao.
Knight played 18 unique champions over the split, showing his impressive flexibility and adaptability. His versatility and mechanical skill have set him up to enter this year’s World Championship with huge expectations.
High expectations going forward
TES will attend the World Championship as the first seed representing the LPL. Their dominant performance over the past couple of months classifies them as a clear contender for the international title.
But these high expectations might catch up to them, especially considering that this is the first Worlds appearance for three of the roster’s players. Knight, 369, and Yuyanjia will make their Worlds debut and the first Worlds jitters might become an obstacle along the way.
The veteran experience of the team’s two remaining players, Karsa and JackeyLove, will have to help the rookies try to overcome any obstacles to ensure that they have a good shot at taking home this year’s Summoner’s Cup.
Other LPL mid laners, like Rookie and Doinb, have done well at Worlds and eventually won the entire thing with extraordinary carry performances. They were easily able to translate their skillset to the Worlds stage.
Now, it’s Knight’s time to shine. He has the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of those former world champions and continue the trend of winning the Summoner’s Cup. He’ll have to bring his A-game if he wants to beat other stars like G2’s Caps, DWG’s Showmaker, JDG’s Yagao, DRX’s Chovy. But if he does manage to take them down, he’ll cement himself as one of the best mid laners in the world.