Wind back the clocks to 2013: the year Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok started his professional League of Legends career.
Faker won a World Championship in his debut year, just days after being dubbed by Yu “Cool” Jiajun the “unkillable demon king,” a twist on the “unkillable final boss” term used in Chinese and Japanese gaming.
Now, there's one group of men who aim to be Valorant's own Unkillable Demon Kings.
Photo by Lance Skundrich/Riot Games
When ranking cores by age, DRX DRX Korea Rank #1 's is probably one of the oldest — if not the oldest — in Valorant. stax and Rb have been side-by-side since September 2019, when they played for MVP PK in CS:GO. Zest joined them in early June 2020, his only time away from the pair being an eight month-long medical leave.
Under Vision Strikers Vision Strikers Inactive , the three put together one of esports' longest-ever win streaks: Vision Strikers won 102 matches in a row while barely dropping any maps. Their streak lasted 10 months and eclipsed not only their victory at Korean Masters 1 in 2021, but also the exits of Efina and Lakia .
That streak was eventually broken by F4Q F4Q Inactive in April 2021. Two days later, NUTURN NUTURN Inactive eliminated them from qualifying for Masters Reykjavik. These losses later prompted changes within the team, but Vision Strikers continued being one of the unquestionable best teams in the world. In fact, those two losses are two of only three DRX have ever suffered in Korea.
But this was just the start of their curse.
In Germany, they just made it into the top eight, where eventual champions Gambit Esports Gambit Esports Inactive eliminated them. In Champions, their groups run was halted by Cloud9 Cloud9 North America Rank #6 . In the months following, Zest returned and DRX acquired the roster.
Nothing really changed for the players except for their jerseys; they still smacked the same opponents tournament after tournament.
After being eliminated from Champions in 2021, MaKo attributed it to lack of adaptability or versatility within the team and pointed to their guidelines for the following year: a looser, more free-flowing, versatile and adaptive roster.
After all, they were Korean Valorant's Unkillable Demon Kings. Nobody could stand up to them in their own turf, and they were going to make sure of it.
2021 was a rough year for DRX. (Photo by Colin Young-Wolff/Riot Games)
In 2022, DRX only dropped one game in Korea: a 2-0 to Incheon On Sla2ers Incheon On Sla2ers Korea Rank #6 during Korea's Stage 1: Challengers group stage. They were still the uncontested greats of their home country, but were constantly pressed by their demons abroad.
DRX's international performances in 2021 never saw them go past the top eight. In 2022, they looked destined for a similar fate.
After a near-faultless performance in Korea, DRX were knocked out of Masters Reykjavik in the top six. A second (perfect) run saw them reach Masters Copenhagen, where they were eliminated in (surprise!) the top six, to eventual champions FunPlus Phoenix FunPlus Phoenix China Rank #3 — a game ANGE1 attributed to luck.
DRX were one of the best teams in the world, an undisputed great of Korea who had dominated the region since the game's inception, but they always seemed to succumb to their demons and crumble apart internationally.
Two top-six placements were enough for DRX. It was time for profound change.
Zest, who had IGL'd in previous tournaments, was replaced in his role by stax. BuZz abandoned his initiator play in exchange for a more aggressive duelist game plan, with focus on Jett play. He replaced Rb in his role who, in turn, stepped partly into the sentinel role.
“There are some big differences between the in-game leadership style of Zest and stax. I think stax is much more capable in the sense that he is able to make decisions very quickly and adapt to situations very quickly as the game goes on,” termi , the team's coach, said at Champions. “For this Champions tournament, we wanted to go with stax because we thought we would need that more and more in the games.”
As for BuZz, termi said the team wanted someone who could be “more explosive” when entering sites for DRX.
termi has overseen DRX since its inception. (Photo by Colin Young-Wolff/Riot Games)
The deep-set changes in the team took effect at Champions 2022, and they seemed to shake up the natural order of Valorant esports, allowing DRX to finally exhibit their true form.
DRX went 6-0 in their opening three matches, but lost to LOUD LOUD Brazil Rank #1 in the semifinals. Had they lost their next match, DRX would have gone out in the way they had done in previous events: in the top six, something stax outright rejected soon after their loss to LOUD.
“As long as I am the in-game leader, I'm going to make sure we don't finish fifth or sixth,” stax said. “The only time I'm under pressure is when I'm taking a shower because of the water falling from the ceiling.”
And so DRX started pushing back against the coffin door. They weren't about to end things here for a third straight time.
DRX came back against FNATIC FNATIC Europe Rank #1 and eliminated them in a 2-1 nailbiter. Already in fourth, a step beyond their top international placement, DRX shocked the world and took down defending Masters Champions FunPlus Phoenix in just two maps, no overtimes needed.
They were set for, at worst, a third-place finish, a far cry from what they had become known for.
Begone, demons. (Photo by Colin Young-Wolff/Riot Games)
They were on top of the world, especially so after marking the first time the team had gone beyond the top six. But they would have to face OpTic Gaming OpTic Gaming Inactive , against whom they had always lost 2-1.
But this was different. This was a Bo5 between Korea's overlords and one of the best teams in the world of 2022. And the momentum did not favor OpTic — they had just come from a 2-0 loss against LOUD, while DRX had just taken down FPX.
DRX brought out new comps, which seemed overly risky as OpTic breezed through the first two maps of the series. However, DRX kept their heads cool and pushed through two map wins, forcing a decider that ultimately fell OpTic's way.
For OpTic, leaving with a win was a show of resilience and strength. For DRX, the loss left them with a bittersweet taste in their mouths.
Yes, DRX had overcome their demons. Yes, DRX had reached their highest high ever. Yes, DRX had gone past their sixth-place hurdle and jumped up to a third-place finish. Their newest formula had worked!
But placing third isn't the endgame. Not for any competitive team worth their salt — the endgame is always first place.
For 2023, DRX's plan is fully unknown. The team has welcomed Foxy9 , introducing a native duelist as the team's sixth man. DRX experimented with the former REIGNITE REIGNITE Japan Rank #18 player during the OFF//SEASON as the meta switched away from Chamber. He was placed on Jett, while BuZz jumped from the initiator to sentinel role, and Rb from the initiator to duelist role.
DRX played almost exclusively against partnered teams in the off-season, and dropped just two maps across seven matches.
Even jumping from role to role, Rb has continued to excel. (Photo by Lance Skundrich/Riot Games)
This year, what exactly DRX plans to do is unknown. The team could keep last year's formula, keep designing compositions around Foxy9's Jett, or take a hard left and switch things up once more. Last time DRX moved players around into different roles, they reached their best form yet. Who knows what the future holds for them.
All we know is they're definitely gunning for a title.
One of the things that made the original Unkillable Demon King the widely-renowned GOAT of League of Legends was his understanding of the champion pool. He holds the record for most unique mid lane picks at 72 — currently, only 61 champions are classified as mid laners.
While roles are much less flexible in Valorant than in LoL, a deep understanding of the limits and liabilities of each playable character has often proved key for Faker to cement his spot as the undoubtedly greatest ever player of League of Legends. He's also highly aware of the important psychological aspects of esports, being known to meditate to overcome slumps.
DRX, similarly, are regarded as one of the best-ever Valorant teams due to their headstrong mentality, varying compositions and deep agent pool, and their broad but structured playstyle. As a team, they're able to take calculated and slow plays while, at the same time, gearing up for explosive and aggressive executions.
The original Unkillable Demon King started his career by dominating his home country, and then, later, dominating the world.
DRX already dominate Korea. They broke free of their chains at Champions. DRX are one step away from dominating the world, and becoming Valorant's own Unkillable Demon Kings.