Fans of the LPL will be no strangers to the tremendous, sometimes to the point of absurdity, number of games the Chinese teams play every year. With just the 44 game regular season and best of five playoffs, the LPL can already lay claim to being the region with the most game play. On top of this, however, is the even more thrilling Regional Finals. Unlike every other region, China employs a double elimination bracket to ensure the strongest possible Chinese representation at the World Championship. For fans of good League of Legends, the Chinese Regional Finals is something you cannot miss, because if ever there came a time for an LPL to stop sandbagging, this would be it.
Mid Season Invitational Champions. LPL Spring Split Champions. Three-Time Demacia Cup Winners. First Place LPL Regular Season Spring and Summer.
Since adding former Samsung White midlaner Pawn and Samsung Blue AD Carry Deft, EDward Gaming have taken first place in every tournament they'd participated in.
That is, until three weeks ago, when EDG went 1-6, losing to both LGD Gaming and Invictus Gaming en route to a career low finish. For the first time since EDG's founding in Spring of 2014, they have failed to finish first place in the LPL playoffs.
EDG has been the most consistently dominant team in the world. They've shown the ability to both win from massive leads, as they regularly do in the LPL, or to come back from massive deficits, as they managed in a close five game series against summer champions LGD in the spring finals. Against SK Telecom T1, the Korean champions, they pulled out an ingenious counter-strategy to SKT's draft when the MSI championship was on the line.
Thus, the bizarre bombing out of EDG is surprising. It could just have been a bad two days, but there is a distinct fear that EDG might just not make it to Paris, and with the other regional teams looking stronger than before, the favorites are currently in a peculiar spot.
From Shakiness to Dominance
The MSI victory for EDG led to them being nearly unanimously proclaimed as the best team in League of Legends, the first time in years that a Chinese team had taken that mantle. They came home as expected favorites to sweep the Summer and were heavy favorites for the upcoming World Championships. Only two teams seemed to be contenders for the title, SKT and LGD, who both took the reigining kings to 5 games in the regional and MSI finals. LGD would begin their season shakily with coaching issues and shotcaller and captain Pyl's surgery. SKT on the other hand would get to a furious start in Korea, absolutely decimating their competition.
Bizarrely for EDG, the team started to make small tweaks with the starting five men who took down the Koreans. AmazingJ, formerly of eternal bottomfeeders Energy Pacemaker and Baeme from EDG's B team alternatively began starting in regular season games. Although EDG would win most of their matches, frequently off of the back of Jungler Clearlove and Support Meiko making plays in every lane, something wasn't quite right. Deft started to look very shaky, and when either Koro1 or Pawn made appearances, they didn't look as solid as they had previously. Clearlove even got picked on for his farm-heavy tendencies by newcomers Unlimited Potential, who delivered a 2-0 to the first place team.
It was clear that these roster swaps weren't doing EDG much good. Their synergy was questionable and they didn't look nearly as dominant as they had in their Spring Split. At the end of Week 7, they were tied for first place with the Qiao Gu Reapers, the newcomer team that took the league by storm.
Then Demacia Cup happened. EDG reunited the starting five who had won MSI, and went 9-1, blasting through WE, IG, and OMG. Not only did they win, but they looked absolutely dominant, even beating OMG in a perfect game in the last game of the finals. The dominant EDG was back. They would win the rest of their matches leading up to playoffs, ending up with a 21 game winstreak in the week just before the playoffs. No one looked like they could stop the most dominant team in China. Just the week before, they had won three series 2-0 in incredibly dominant fashion, absolutely crushing UP, M3, and OMG.
The Perfect Storm
EDG, with a bye already to the semifinals, only had to win two best of five series to take their fourth consecutive LPL playoff title. Fresh off of 21 straight games won, it looked like LGD, who valiantly fought their way through the bracket to face them, had an upward slope to climb. Thirty-four minutes into the first game and Pawn's Yasuo was massively fed at 5/0/5, EDG were sitting on a 6k gold lead and had control over the entirety of the map. EDG, bolstered with their lead, dove the middle inhibitor turret.
Four minutes later, EDG's nexus lay destroyed, and they experienced their first loss in over a month.
Things would only look worse for EDG as the match went on. Once again EDG would accrue small advantages in the early game against LGD, but their objective game was matched by their opponents, who kept the game much closer than the first. After first Pawn, and then Clearlove, got caught out, the situation turned on its head again with LGD getting the Baron buff and another firm lead in the second game. Imp delivered a masterful performance on his Kog'Maw, ending the game at forty minutes with a score of 8/1/3, despite being 0/1/1 until 33 minutes into the game. When it came to teamfighting, EDG lost handily to LGD. The team's coordination was off, with various members flashing in after others had already died, and their execution was sloppy when compared to even their average form. Clearlove, who has always been known first and foremost as a teamfighter and not a jungler, did not showcase his famous strength as one. Game 3 would be even more one-sided as Imp again took control of the match and completely outmatched Deft, this time on his famous Kalista.
EDG went from indisputably the best team in the China to losing their spot as the first seed of China. Their next match didn't matter, as win or lose they would have to play in the Regional Qualifier, with LGD securing their spot shortly after as the top seed with iG's loss to QG in the other semifinals. Their third place match against iG was no longer important to EDG, but iG was an opponent that they had a 17-1 record this year over. Even on EDG's worst form, this was an opponent that they've consistently been able to shut down.
And yet, iG came out on top 3-1. Issues with EDG's drafting phase occurred as iG would win off of lane advantages. Clearlove's champion pool would get picked on with as many as five junglers banned out in the games. Deft was clearly off, dying randomly and not having the same positional perfection that he did earlier in spring. Pawn was hot and cold, with a terrible Yasuo performance against Rookie's Ekko in the final game.
Something was wrong with EDG. Their strengths weren't adding up. Their normally stellar teamfighting was one of the worst out of any of the playoff teams. Their drafts were weak and iG, the team that EDG naturally wins against, completely countered EDG's strategy. Going into regionals, EDG has never looked so weak, so fragile. For the first time, they are surrounded with doubt.
Rebuilding for Worlds
As poor as EDG's performance during Playoffs were, they are still strongly the favorites to make it as the second seed. It's hard to write them off after only a two day plunge in performance. Despite going 1-6 in playoffs, prior to that the team was on a 21 game winning streak, and not much has changed for the team.
Clearlove has said in the past that “if we stumble in the playoffs, we have a good chance to win S5, but if we win easily, S5 will be harder.” Perhaps this is a time for the team to reflect on mistakes, to come back stronger. Season 3 World Champions SKT T1 looked for answers after losing in the 2013 Spring Semifinals to MVP Ozone, and came back as the greatest team in history.
But there's always that small amount of doubt surrounding EDG now. This roster has yet to deal with adversity, and how they adapt will be heavily scrutinized. It is no longer safe to say that EDG are invincible, and they may, in fact, fall right before the finish line.
Over the course of the year few teams have changed their identity as often as Snake has. Their initial all Chinese form in the LSPL was that of a team devoted to their top laner Li “Flandre” Xuan-jun. Favouring a carry approach to top laning he favoured champions like Fizz, Yasuo and Gragas in order to maximise his damage output. Yet this playstyle didn’t stay around, a middling off season and a new Korean jungle/support pair in Kim “Beast” Joo-hyun and Kwok “Ella” Hoon-kwak caused Snake to enter their second form. This second form was a team that placed all of their priority on their AD Carry Yang “krYST4L” Fan. A look at the most played champions for Flandre and Beast in the Spring Split will tell you what the team’s goal was, Beast had nearly half of his games on either Jarvan IV or Nunu while Flandre’s most played champions were Maokai, Rumble and Morgana. They were all about zoning for Krystal, which while was initially successful taking the team to second place in the regular split started to flounder in the playoffs. An underwhelming playoffs where they barely scraped past the seventh seeded Team King and were crushed by LGD and iG resulted in an underwhelming fourth place finish presented Snake as a team that was much further away from championship contention than the regular season would have had you believe.
Seeing that their current approach to the game had likely hit the limit of what they could do Snake knew that they needed a change between the splits. The player that was immediately singled out was mid laner Lu “BAKA” Fan. He was an incredibly limited mid laner, dependent near exclusively upon Xerath and Azir in order to perform he put on little map pressure outside of shoving the lane. As the meta made it increasingly difficult to play Xerath and Azir became a common ban with the downfall of Xerath BAKA seemed out of tricks. Fortunately for Snake the perfect replacement was available. One of the unfortunate losers of the Korean exodus was Edward Gaming mid laner and two time LPL champion Ceng “U” Long who while a good player in his own right had to step back for world champion mid laner Heo “Pawn” Won-seok. What Snake had found was a player superior to baka in most ways, his champion pool was deeper. His teamfighting was stronger and on the whole U was the perfect choice for Snake to improve without radically overhauling in order to accommodate him. Snake finally had the option to put their resources on the mid laner and expect him to carry giving them some sorely needed diversity.
Entering their latest form
MSI had shown us that if you can control the top lane, you could control the whole game. Tanks like Gnar and Hecarim laughed at any AD Carry’s feeble attempts to harm them. In conjunction with the ever present power of teleport and it was becoming a solo laner’s game. A new ADC in Tan “Martin” Qi, whose more self-sufficient playstyle allowed Snake to make their third evolution into a team focused on both solos. Maokai went from Flandre’s most played champion to falling behind Fizz, Hecarim and Gnar. The latter of two he held an impressive 15/3 record with during the Summer split. Meanwhile in the mid lane U followed suite with everyone having Azir as his most played champion with a solid 8/3 record. However beneath the emperor of Shurima is where U’s champion pool displayed his superiority. Showing a wider range of champions playing 15 over the split compared to Baka’s 11. Most notably playing assassins with greater roaming potential that Baka did not such as Ahri, Twisted Fate and Leblanc. Beast, relieved of his responsibilities of peeling did not play Jarvan nor Nunu once in the Summer. His most played were now Gragas, Rek’Sai and Nidalee which while not holding the most impressive records reflected the new dynamic of the team.
Snake had become a more dynamic and varied team than any of their previous incarnations. They played a greater variety of compositions yet they still always favoured the disengage. This disengage strength stems primarily from the support position. Ella has proven himself over the year to not only be one of the most pleasant surprises but one of the best supports in the LPL outright. Strong thresh play made way for astounding Janna play. On the Storm’s Fury Ella holds an impressive 23/13 all time record reflecting Ella’s ability to disengage and reset fights for his team. Ella’s incredible peel prowess has enabled the current ADC Martin to operate with absolute independence being able to play safely with the knowledge that Ella is able to keep him safe in and out of lane.
In spite of all this, all the evolution and all the changes in and out of the game Snake has consistently made throughout the year there remains certain bugbears that the team has never been quite able to shake. Flandre can be a great top laner, given the opportunity to carry he’s shown himself with the capacity to do so. However Flandre is also a top laner that has been abused by teams on multiple occasions, his aggressive and greedy tendencies sees him frequently over-extending. The issue with this over-extension is that Snake is not a team that is often able to support that kind of top laning. Compared to the aggressive counterjungling of Kakao and mid lane pressure of Rookie which enable to Zztai to play more forward than most top laners. Beast’s passive early game and U’s preference to farm out mid lane leaves Flandre alarmingly vulnerable in the early game.
Outside of the early game both Flandre and U are particularly prone to lapses in judgement. Game 3 against LGD in the Summer playoffs is an illustration of this issue. Flandre was the first to blunder extending too far against Acorn’s Ryze and giving up a solo kill when he was ahead on Gnar. This wasn’t a fatal mistake until U on Viktor tried to come up to top lane without sufficient vision against a sivir comp. A solo lane focused team with inconsistent solo laners is a clear and distinct problem for Snake especially considering it over an extended series. Flandre followed up a hard carry Riven game against LGD with over-extension on Maokai and the aforementioned solo kill. U started off the second game that series with a four man orianna ult in a dragon fight giving Snake a strong start. Yet he finished the game 3/7/5 as he had poor positioning against Imp’s twitch giving up kills at unfortunate times.
Beyond their star solos the other players have their own drawbacks, Ella and Beast are immaculate teamfighters yet they are passive in the early game. Ella doesn’t place a strong emphasis on bullying the bot lane or roaming heavily, he just focuses on keeping Martin alive long enough to reach the teamfight phase. While Beast’s goal is to be strong enough for the teamfights with snowballing lanes a secondary consideration at best. As for Martin when a team has its focus so heavily on the solo lane results in him being sacrificed. Sometimes though he doesn’t seem to play entirely in line with how much is placed upon him. Overtly aggressive plays and poorly considered attempts at an ADC assassination are costly mistakes that result from Martin’s over-estimation of his own damage. Beyond these rare blunders though Martin is a reasonably solid ADC; he might lack the ability to completely change the game like Imp, Deft and TnT have but he won’t often be a problem either.
You may notice a word throughout the entire critique of their weaknesses, teamfighting. If Snake can slip out of laning in solid condition and turn the game into a game about 5v5 fights and skirmishes Snake can look like magicians. Turning fights that look bad into crushing victories. U and Flandre’s natural talent for cooldown management and positioning in conjunction with Beast and Ella’s ability to reset any teamfight or isolate a single target is a kind of hive minded team fighting that few can match. Snake teamfights best on the re-engage as illustrated below.
The teamfight opens up with TBQ knocking up Beast, seeing the opportunity Beast isolates the Rek’sai with the Gragas ult albeit the result of that was him trading his own life. What happens next is where the Snake puts their strengths on display, Acorn’s teleport is spotted and immediately Flandre moves towards the Gnar forcing him away. But Flandre doesn’t chase only threatening the Gnar, he moves back towards U at the mouth of the jungle. Without any front line as Braum’s abilities were on cooldown Vayne and Orianna were easy prey for the duo of assassins.
Outside of the 5v5 brawls Snake isn’t bad, but it’s not exactly a game winner. They aren’t likely to make some devious rotation into objective sneak like LGD would or create a miraculous game turning pick like iG has been capable of. But in both regards they aren’t deficient at it either, Snake’s rotational play and vision control is reasonably solid. They generally maintain a good enough ward presence to keep themselves safe with more of the vision being focused on funneling the game towards certain areas where they can find a favourable 5v5 fight. They do a solid job of snowballing advantages when given to them and rotating it into outer turrets and deep wards as expected of any team.
Looking to regionals
Snake’s first round is up against Edward Gaming, while EDG had a poor summer split playoffs they remain overwhelming favourites to take one of the world’s seeds at regionals. On paper this match doesn’t seem that bad for snake; Snake is 3-5 against them which given EDG’s dominance until now is a reasonable record. However a closer look at the matches tells us that the three wins were not against the full EDG roster. Two of the wins had Mouse at support and Fireloli in jungle for the other win. They only played against the full EDG roster of Koro1/Clearlove/Pawn/Deft/Meiko once and Snake were crushed 0-2 with neither of the games being even close. Even with EDG’s poor playoff run it’s hard to not consider Snake the substantial underdog against EDG. Snake’s early game woes is something that EDG can easily capitalise on and in a terms of skirmishing and creating picks it’s hard for there to be a scenario where Snake can find the 5v5 fights they’d need to overcome EDG.
In either case Snake will have to overcome Qiao Gu or Invictus Gaming if they want to make worlds. Against Qiao Gu the record reflects how the two teams seem to be more even, only meeting in the Summer Regular split both of their series were 1-1 trades. In terms of playstyle both teams seem to mirror each other, both teams place less emphasis on the early game and will accept early game deficits to overcome via their ability to teamfight. The instability but high peaks of Snake’s solos is matched by the slow and steady play of QG’s solo lanes. While QG’s bot lane’s weakness in lane is matched by Snake bot lane’s passivity. So unless Swift is given certain champions like Nidalee and plays to the best of his abilities a showdown between the two former LSPL squads will be a very close affair.
Invictus on the other hand are not a 5v5 squad, they prefer to run around the map placing more emphasis on skirmishes, split pushing and picks. IG prefers to avoid the 5v5 and create opportunities for Rookie and Kakao to make a game winning pick. In spite of this seeming mismatch Snake still holds some advantages. Firstly Snake look like a paradigm of stability compared to iG, a team that is incredibly prone to fluctuations in individual performance. While rookie is always great; Kakao and Zztai’s playstyles lend them to a sink or swim approach. Blind split pushing and lane shoving in conjunction with aggressive counter jungling is something that teams like Qiao Gu have been able to capitalise on. When Kakao can’t find his jungle counterpart Zztai tends to get punished heavily. This works in favour of Snake as it makes Zztai very abusable by Flandre and Beast should Beast be able to avoid confrontations with Kakao. As long as U doesn’t concede too much of the mid lane to Rookie a best of series between the two teams is very winnable for Snake.
What may be the biggest problem for Snake though is their limited amounts of bo5 experience, the current roster has only played one bo5 which was the 1-3 loss to LGD in the Summer playoffs. The many roster swaps in conjunction with historically poor bo5 results raises the question of whether Snake is a team capable of the consistent and varied level of play required to take an important best of series. On paper they should, they have flexible players with solid champion pools. Yet it’s often a matter of the play being consistent enough, examining their series against LGD it’s arguable that the team had a very good shot of taking the series. Yet the lapses in individual judgement that has historically plagued Snake cost them heavily throughout the series.
Snake is a team that can go to worlds, that can match up to the best. It’s often a matter of how often can they do that. Snake’s been a great team to follow throughout the year, expected to do bad coming out of the LSPL they’re a team that’s consistently found their own identity and made it work. Players like Flandre and Ella have been breakout stars this year and showing up at worlds would be a perfect way to round out what has been a remarkable year for them. They can do it, they can play at an elite level. It’s just a matter of whether they can keep up that level of play.
Author’s note: I have neglected ZZR and Krystal this split on the presumption that Snake will play with Beast and Martin at regionals given that they ran that roster in playoffs. Regarding ZZR he provided better early game pressure and had some good Ekko play but he lacked in many ways after the early game in comparison to Beast. Krystal’s improved his self-sufficiency showing better and more independent Corki and Sivir play, he is still prone to some of his more reckless moments but should the team choose to run him over Martin there wouldn’t be a substantial difference at this point unless they wished to revert to protect the AD Carry.
Post Season 4, China’s affluent reach sought the acquisition of nearly every household Korean name,or so it felt. The World Champions were dispersed to various teams from the region, abiding by the newly-enforced rule ensuring a maximum of two imports per roster. Notable carries from lesser teams still managed to find their way onto LPL teams, often becoming star talents.
Now, with the end game of Season 5 in sight and grasp, spectators look to China to see which Korean-infused LPL team might rival the might of Faker and SK Telecom. MSI’s victors, Edward Gaming, were once a likely bet — but since have fallen from grace, dropping to LGD 3-0.
A name that has yet to win the hearts of many is Qiao Gu, but heading into the World Championships, you’d be a fool to overlook them.
Qiao Gu rose through the ranks the traditional way; they forged a path through China’s secondary league, the LSPL, a system somewhat akin to the Challenger Series held in Europe and North America, but isn’t dependent on the Challenger ladder, and has a far more onerous procedure for promotion. Chinese organizations are known for shady roster changes, organisation buyouts, and complete overhauls of their pre-existing teams. This means that teams legitimately progressing through the lower ranks into the LPL must show some merit. Having toppled headliner LPL teams such as OMG in the Demacia Cup, no one was quite prepared for the impact they would have.
Presently, Qiao Gu await their shot at the grandfinals where they’ll face a revitalised LGD, having narrowly taken out Invictus Gaming 3-2 in their own semifinal. Off the back of their consummate 3-0 over EDG, LGD are riding the hype train into the finals stadium.
The battle for China’s regional champions draws closer, but it’s far from clear who will wear the crown.
Introducing Swift, the Korean Reject
Leading Qiao Gu’s charge is a familiar face from Korea, Baek “Swift” Da-Hoon – notably of CJ Entus. Having departed from the CJ organisation at the start of 2015, Swift’s future in China seemed interesting to say the least. Although a prominent name, building a reputation for himself in the later stages of 2014, Swift was never recognised to the same degree as DanDy, KaKAO, or Spirit.
Acclaimed for his brilliant mechanics and aggressive early game, Swift transitioned into a squad in which he could set the tempo of the game and direct their assault. Favouring the staple picks such as Rek’Sai, Gragas, and Ekko, Swift’s impact is easily identifiable in any given QG game; often putting on a clinic of early pressure and maximising efficiency — running circles around his opponents.
However, Swift isn’t one to shy away from the unconventional. Relying on some tricks he learnt in Korea, he isn’t afraid to bring out a pocket Lee Sin or Nocturne, both of which he’s famed for from Solo Queue. Allowing his mechanics and tactical prowess help him devour the early game, Swift regularly flexes between his laners in order to get the game rolling, with multiple threats coming from the side of Qiao Gu.
Introducing V, the Unloved Carry
Coming into his own within a period and scene renown for its carry top laners, V drew the unlucky card during his time on Energy Pacemaker, who placed their utmost of trust in their first choice: AmazingJ. A successful top laner in his own right, V bounced onwards until he came onto Qiao Gu, where he was allowed to flourish. However, with the influx of Korean talent, he didn't find his way onto any established LPL team, and instead had to grind his own path. To a degree, he has been outshined by the likes of Flame, Zzitai or Flandre, but this takes nothing away from V himself..
V, like his counterparts, is feared for his mechanical ability and carry potential. He spent a lot of time playing Hecarim, Fizz, or Gnar in the earlier weeks of the LPL — highlighting his individual playmaking ability and 1v1 style. However, with competition heading towards the pointier end of the season, he’s opted to play the more standard, tank champions like Maokai, and more recently, Shen. Understanding his role in the team, V doesn’t shy away from a fight — like the rest of Qiao Gu, he searches for them. But, like every top laner at the moment, he faces a plethora of lane swaps and dives, pushed away from the more volatile laners.
Despite this, he boasts a Hecarim win rate just shy of 65% after 17 games, as well as racking up a 5.44 KDA on the champion. And, with flanks like this, it isn’t hard to see why.
Introducing TnT and TcT, the Roleplayers
Qiao Gu isn’t only made of individual stars. With controlled aggression dictating the early game pace, they transition into a mid-game revolving around their teamfight strength. One of the first teams globally to really prioritise Sivir, they found themselves with a leg up on many opponents.
Their bottom lane, TnT and TcT, traditionally played conservatively and allowed the top side to carry; very often playing a utility role. With Swift at the helm, TcT, previously Mor of LMQ, isn’t scared to roam or sacrifice himself to get his compatriots ahead. His play is often polarised through his picks; capable of running engage and flashing into piles of enemies with Annie, or in playing a little more reserved in a traditional supportive manner, playing Janna.
To add to this, TnT isn’t scared to roleplay, either. As mentioned, he helped popularise Sivir, but has really come into his own towards the latter half of the season, proving his worth as a versatile player with a large pool. Having played ten different ADCs during the LPL, he’s pivoted between hyper carries, lane bullies, and turret pushers — entirely capable of picking whatever is best for the team. To match the transition of V into a more standard, tank player – his most played champion being Maokai – TnT has certainly become a hallmark of Chinese Marksmen, even making a gambit for the best in the region, only shy of Uzi.
Introducing DoinB, the Ace in the Hole
To finalise the side of Qiao Gu, their second import Kim ‘DoinB’ Tae-sang is the jack of all trades. Although not necessarily a flashy player, DoinB is a mid laner you want on your side of the Rift. A keen follower; DoinB traces the footsteps of Swift, shoving or holding his wave — always prepared to strike. Unlike his side lanes, who have a somewhat preferred or telegraphed style, DoinB isn’t predictable. Heading into the LPL this split, he commanded the respect of his foes with his mid lane Morgana, drawing regular bans on it, too.
Adding to his wackiness, he even showcased Nautilus mid, as well as his now-infamous Maokai mid from the Demacia Cup. His champion pick will often indicate the direction Qiao Gu will take in a game, prepared to play assassins like Kassadin or Ahri, or utility champions like Lulu and Orianna. While impressive, the one drawback of DoinB’s championpool is his inability or preference to not play Azir, a staple of the mid lane meta. Having said this, it clearly isn’t detracting from Qiao Gu’s ability to take maps and series within the LPL; despite often forced to ban Azir, depending on their opponent.
His awkward beginnings have sured up, partially. Although the supportive player in the jungle-mid duo, DoinB was often looked at as a player without direction or purpose. Rumours flew about QG possibly replacing DoinB with someone with more tenure, but it never came to fruition. As the split unfolded, DoinB managed to cement his feet more permanently in the team.
China’s Long Shot
Together, Qiao Gu have shaken the LPL this season. From a bunch of near-no-names rolling through the LSPL, they’ve strung together a nearly untouchable Summer. Now, with the grandfinal in sight, their spot at Worlds is in their grasp.
Qiao Gu are respected to an extent. People see them towards the top of the podium, but heading to the international stage they’ll be lucky to have half of the numbers standing behind them compared to their Chinese counterparts. The fan vote would boost their confidence, sure.
They don’t need it. They’re China’s long-shot.
Every class has one.
The kid, or young adult, who doesn't fully apply themselves. They're incredibly intelligent, and potentially the top student. They were put in honors classes because of their natural aptitude, or perhaps scoring highly on a test without opening a book. They sleep in class, fail to turn in a single homework assignment, and yet somehow ace every test securing, at the very least, a passing grade.
They're the bane of their teacher's existence because any natural educator can't help but reach out and try to turn them into a model student – unwanted help that they refuse at every turn.
In China, they're Invictus Gaming.
Invictus Gaming receives a lot of flack for this, and somewhat rightfully so. This year, they've promised once again to turn over a new leaf, and proudly represent China at the 2015 World Championship.
The Rebellious Student
Side by side with World Elite, Invictus Gaming rose to popularity in Season 2. Where WE was the Chinese League of Legends fan's greatest international hope, iG was their immensely talented but inconsistent younger brother. After acquiring top laner Liu "PDD" Mou from his how infamous "retirement" from EHOME, iG stormed through the Season 2 Chinese Regional Finals at Shanghai, having found their now most well-known roster of PDD, jungler Chen "illuSioN" Xinlin, mid laner Liu "Zz1tai" Zhihao, AD carry Ge "Kid" Yan, and support Sun "XiaoXiao" Yalong.
Throughout, iG amassed their fanbase due to the oft-cavalier attitude of their players, most of whom had their own cult of personality. Zz1tai was the rich kid who could pick up any champion, even if he never fully mastered it. XiaoXiao was inconsistent, affable, and teased mercilessly for his wayward Sona ultimates. PDD was a strong laner, also known for his large personality and trolling on stream and in interviews.
With PDD, iG relied on having a strong top lane to carry them through thick and thin. In the first ever LPL season, 2013 Spring, they surprisingly finished first in the regular season at 22-6 and third overall, defeating WE 2-1 in the third place playoff match. From this point on, iG fell into a pattern where they rose in Spring only to fall in Summer and the Chinese Regional Qualifier. When PDD announced his retirement – and meant it this time – in June 2014, Invictus Gaming was suddenly without a reliable top lane presence. Replacement Gwon "YongSoo" Yong-su exerted far less pressure, and iG found themselves without an identity.
RooKie and KaKAO
The 2014-15 offseason marked a great change for Invictus Gaming as the team – like every other big-name Chinese team not named OMG – sifted through the incoming flood of Korean players for talent. In the process, the owner of iG, Wang Si-Cong son of the fourth-richest man in China, set his sights on former KT Rolster jungler Lee "KaKAO" Byung-kwon. KaKAO was a package deal with his KT Rolster Arrows mid laner, Song "RooKie" Eui-jin, and the two weathered the turbulent offseason to end up on iG.
KaKAO may have been the initial draw for iG to pick up RooKie, but it's the latter who has become the new foundation and core of Invictus. In China, RooKie has blossomed into the formidable mid laner that his solo queue prowess and KTA highlights suggested. A safe laner, RooKie farms until late game where he can control teamfights or skirmish his opposing mid and almost always come out ahead. In Korea, RooKie showed off his potential as a top-tier mid laner; however, in China and on iG, he has become one of the best mids in the world.
That being said, KaKAO and RooKie's former team, the KT Rolster Arrows, weren't exactly known for their consistency even in their explosive 2014 Final victory over Samsung Galaxy Blue. Their games were incredibly lopsided, regardless of whether they favored KTA or their opponents. Inconsistency was often used to describe the Arrows, as everyone agreed that the team was fun to watch, yet unstable on the Rift. It was fitting that these two ended up on iG of all teams, previously regarded as one of the most inconsistent teams in China.
Zz1tai's Wild Ride
No player represents the spirit of Invictus Gaming quite like Zz1tai. Upon RooKie's arrival, Zz1tai was benched for the first time. Previously, even in iG's most experimental phases where the mid laner was not only playing random champions in the mid lane but shot calling for the team, Zz1tai had never been benched. The son of a wealthy family, Zz1tai had always had money to fall back on, which had initially allowed him to become a player with fewer reservations than many. It additionally meant that, as he had his family to fall back on, he sometimes took the game less seriously than recommended.
This changed when he was benched.
Suddenly pushed aside to allow RooKie in the mid lane, Zz1tai was motivated to earn a spot back on iG's starting roster. The easiest route for Zz1tai was through the top lane, as their initial 2015 Spring top laner, Zeng "Pokemon" Tao, was one of the most underwhelming tops in the region. With his aforementioned aptitude in picking up new champions, Zzitai role-swapped to the top lane. At first, it didn't go well. He struggled to understand his limits both in lane and in team fights, often overextending and dying. However, he slowly learned – was still considered an upgrade from Pokemon – and had a surprisingly strong showing in the 2015 Demacia Cup Spring. In spite of an 0-3 loss to Edward Gaming in the Demacia Cup Spring Final, Invictus Gaming had seemingly found their much-needed roster cohesion.
With RooKie's steadiness in mid, and their passive bottom lane of Kid and support Liu "Kitties" Hong-jun, iG benefitted from Zz1tai's recklessness. Drawing aggression towards top, and away from RooKie, Zz1tai split the focus of iG's opponents, allowing other lanes to farm safely until the late game.
In 2015 LPL Summer, Zz1tai has transformed into a top laner willing and able to play the meta champions his team needs him to play, while also having the occasional pocket pick of Trundle, or Vladimir.
2015 Invictus Gaming
Oddly enough, for all of their past and present foibles, the iG of 2015 is a team able to prepare diligently for their opponents, thanks to coach Lee "PoohManDu" Jeong-hyeon, formerly of SK Telecom T1 – who now coaches Young Glory – and coach Won "MaFa" Sang-yeon, formerly of the KT Rolster Bullets.
If iG suffered from anything in 2015 Summer, it was once again a lack of motivation. Leading up to their first regular season set against the MSI Champions, Edward Gaming, Invictus Gaming appeared eager to face their rivals – even if that rivalry was only in the heads of the iG players, as EDG had easily dispatched them throughout the year. Their first game was close, but EDG prevailed thanks to a few botched calls from iG. Invictus Gaming looked immediately deflated, and took the entire season to recover. In that process, internal issues arose. MaFa refused to draft for iG, claiming that the players didn't respect him, and the differences in Champion Select were obvious.
Invictus Gaming is still not without their struggles, but seems to have ironed them out prior to the 2015 LPL Summer Playoffs. With a well-coordinated plan of attack against EDG in the third place match, iG finally beat them 3-1 by targeting jungler Ming "Clearlove" Kai in picks and bans, removing some of his early pressure. IG then split EDG's focus between mid lane monster, RooKie, and Zz1tai split-pushing in the top lane. To everyone's surprise – iG themselves seemingly included – it worked.
Does this mean that China's most infamous unmotivated student has now reformed? Only time, and some semblance of consistency, will tell.