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LPL Corner: Farewell for now

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The 2020 season of the LoL Pro League has come to an end and once again I find myself bereft and wondering what I'm going to do with my life to maintain my peculiar sleep schedule until the League of Legends World Championship. All four of the LPL's worlds spots have been filled, the Regional Qualifier is over, and here is a final look at this past week and a farewell to two world championship organizations.

Top Esports win their first LPL title

Given the talent on this Top Esports lineup, their summer crowning seemed inevitable, especially towards the beginning of the split when spring champions JD Gaming were struggling. By the start of the summer regular season, TES had visibly improved from their spring finals loss and were fresh off of their Mid-Season Cup victory over fellow LPL team FunPlus Phoenix: a win that had bolstered confidence in rookie support Liang "yuyanjia" Jia-Yuan due to his Thresh performances. Bot laner Yu "JackeyLove" Wen-Bo had fully integrated with the team after joining late in spring, and TES looked unstoppable for the first half of the split. The summer title was all but theirs.

Then teams like EDward Gaming, Victory Five, and Invictus Gaming poked holes in TES' early game. Jungler Hung "Karsa" Hao-Hsuan's pathing was somewhat predictable. JackeyLove's tendency to go all in during bot lane trades and teamfights became a focal point of community criticism. Against Suning, TES showcased why they have been considered one of the strongest teams in the world all year with a quick 3-0. Their series against JDG was a closer 3-2 victory, but even in JDG's game wins, TES had visible opportunities to take those games if they hadn't made as many mistakes. (Picking Fiora for top laner Bai "369" Jia-Hao but rather than having him split in a side lane, fight JDG 5v5 instead, where JDG top laner Zhang "Zoom" Xing-Ran's Camille was stronger comes to mind.)

More importantly, given how successful TES were earlier in the summer split and the historic success of their talent (save Yuyuanjia, who just finished his first year in the LPL) TES seems well-prepared even if a meta shift occurs. Their carries are all flexible players with strong champion pools. Even when they make execution errors, the talent and coordination is visible, making them a formidable opponent for any team that ends up in their group.

It's a bit simplistic to say that TES have the better players while JDG are the better team. TES have the best mid laner in the world in Zhuo "knight" Ding, but are a strong unit of five as well, especially when teamfighting.

Yet JDG's greatest strengths are in their coordination and understanding of how to draft around player strengths and weaknesses. The greatest teams in League of Legends history are made in the same mold as teams like JDG, who understand how to fill the cracks in their teacups with gold while simultaneously receiving a meta that suits them perfectly (I couldn't think of how to extend the teacup metaphor here, sorry). TES were the better team for most of the summer and are the better team currently, but if there's a team that will learn how to cover their opportunity areas with known strengths, it's JDG. This meta also suits JDG well and providing that there are no drastic meta shifts at worlds, JDG should recover quickly.

Farewell Invictus Gaming and FunPlus Phoenix

Three of the four worlds-qualified teams from the LPL this year have never made it to a world championship before. LGD is the only organization to qualify that has been to the world stage. Neither Royal Never Give Up nor EDward Gaming made it to playoffs or the regional qualifier - already a signal that the LPL was undergoing yet another change of the guard. Now, Invictus Gaming and reigning world champion FunPlus Phoenix will both be watching the world championship from home.

The writing was already on the wall for iG and FPX when they were scheduled to face each other in the loser's bracket qualifier to face the loser of the winner's bracket qualifier in regional finals. One former world champion would have to eliminate another and the team that came out on top was 2018 world champion iG after rotating top laner Kang "TheShy" Seung-lok from damage carries like Kennen onto Ornn. Although FPX appeared to be the more coordinated and organized team, iG's teamfighting prowess and standout performances from Song "Rookie" Eui-jin carried them to the next match. There, the mid/jungle duo of Han "Peanut" Wang-ho and Su "Xiye" Han-Wei along with the rest of LGD eliminated iG.

Due to my criticism of their drafting among other things, people tend to think that I hate iG. They have it wrong. In fact, I care too much about iG for my own good or sanity (that's why I'm so harsh on them) and have since the initial arrival of Rookie alongside then-jungler Lee "KaKAO" Byung-kwon. There's a certain disregard for the way League of Legends "should" be played and an assuredness in their own mechanical skill that has embodied iG teams since the days of legacy top laner Liu "PDD" Mou. It makes them an infuriating team but also a fun and lovable one. iG showed some legitimate improvements this year, including a surprising synergy between Gao "Ning" Zhen-Ning and Baolan after Baolan's return to the starting lineup. Regardless of who dons iG's uniform in 2021, I'm confident they'll maintain the historic iG tradition.

By contrast, FunPlus Phoenix is a much newer organization and won the world championship on their first appearance. This team was made and built for eccentric mid laner Kim "Doinb" Tae-sang to succeed, and once he did by winning the 2019 world championship, his mid lane style became the default framework for discussing mid lane throughout 2020.

Yet FPX was a finely-tuned instrument that played their singular style perfectly. Introducing Kim "Khan" Dong-ha to the mix disrupted that balance. The larger problem for FPX, regardless of whether they played Khan or Kim "GimGoon" Han-saem in the top lane was the sudden lack of coordination between Gao "Tian" Tian-Liang and Doinb, and between Tian and Liu "Crisp" Qing-Song. Crisp and Tian were a large part of FPX's 2019 strategy, roaming around the map unlocked with Doinb to create advantageous skirmishes and attack opponents early. As their coordination crumbled, so did FPX's dominance. All players but both top laners are signed to FPX through at least 2021, and this is still a remarkably talented lineup. That's no guarantee that they'll continue to stick together, but the players and FPX the organization should both have options. Above all else, I'll remember this FPX squad as a team that not only won a world championship, but challenged the way that players thought about the game, especially the mid lane, around the world.

Meet Suning, the "standard" LPL team

Suning kicked off their summer split on opening day with one of the messiest series of the entire summer in a 2-0 win against LNG Esports. Neither team was proactive, and both seemed to be content to wait it out until their opponent made enough mistakes on which to capitalize. Suning happened to make fewer game-ending mistakes.

Nearly three months later, Suning have honed this style into something that's significantly more cohesive and interesting. They still play the most standard of the four LPL worlds teams, but do so in a way that makes the most of their individual talent, using the known playstyles of jungler LĂȘ "SofM" Quang Duy and support Hu "SwordArt" Shuo-Chieh. Bot laner Tang "Huanfeng" Huan-Feng has been a player to watch since he started in the LPL earlier this year, but the current meta specifically allows him to shine while also unlocking SwordArt from the bot lane as needed and allowing SofM to counterjungle and farm to his heart's content. Top laner Chen "Bin" Ze-Bin has also been a standout player for Suning, and while he made some individual mistakes in playoffs, it's easy to see how good he could be with more practice and direction.

Peanut, Xiye, and the LGD organization return to the World Championship stage

In 2015, Team WE was undergoing what is fondly called "a rebuilding year." They had lost legendary players like bot laner Gao "WeiXiao" Xue-Cheng to retirement, and were solidly at the bottom of the 2015 spring standings for most of the split. At the time, mid laner Xiye was not starting for the main WE lineup, with WE relying on mid laner Noh "Ninja" Geon-woo. Ninja opted out of playing at the IEM Season IX World Championship (which a different WE roster had qualified for by winning IEM Shenzhen) precipitating Xiye's debut. Xiye and then-jungler Lee "Spirit" Da-yoon and bot laner Jin "Mystic" Seong-jun upset the GE Tigers but fell to TSM in the finals. Throughout 2016, Xiye established himself as an up-and-coming mid laner in the region, and later made it to worlds with WE in 2017.

Xiye is back at the world championship, this time as the veteran mid surrounded by three Chinese first-timers in TES' Knight, JDG's Zeng "Yagao" Qi, and Suning's Xiang "Angel" Tao. Some of Xiye's strongest champions are back in the current meta and he creates a formidable mid/jungle duo with veteran jungler Peanut, who is also making his own return to the world's stage. As China's fourth seed, they'll have to go through the play-in stage to make it to the main event, which arguably could be a benefit to LGD. They've been inconsistent all split, even in their playoff run, so cutting their teeth in play-ins could end up making them a stronger team as the worlds meta evolves. The current meta suits LGD well, allowing Peanut to play more carry-oriented champions like Nidalee, Graves, and Kindred while Xiye controls the mid lane and bot laner Ha "Kramer" Jong-hun farms up.