Tournaments outside LPL like Demacia Cup don't count for circuit points. They don't help teams qualify for Worlds. Compared to the salaries many high level player rake in, the prizes are hardly worth the price of admission. Yet they present teams with a rare opportunity to find solutions to questions they might be too afraid to answer in LPL or can't answer completely in scrims.
Four quarterfinalist teams came to Demacia Cup with Chinese substitutes ripe for testing. Many had never seen a competitive match. Three of them advanced to semifinals and played today in the third place match and the finals.
The first team to drop was LGD Gaming, a team that likely would have taken the whole thing without imp's visa difficulties. Though most would have noticed Wei "GODV" Lian taking over Gu "imp" Seungbin's station as AD carry and Chen "Yeluo" Libin in the mid lane, my eyes were on Lisheng "xiaoxi" Wei.
xiaoxi's performance didn't turn heads. You would only notice him if you paid special attention to him. Even against Yin "Loveling" Le, crushed this morning by elite jungler Ming "Clearlove" Kai, xiaoxi didn't have a strong impact.
That's a good thing. When watching an LGD game, one can't help but notice Zhu "TBQ" Yongquan for all his mis-positioning, his foolhardy ganks, his questionable engagements, and his missed Sejuani ultimates. Though his Lee Sin is impeccable and currently undefeated in LPL this summer, he has a noteably negative impact on all other champions in his pool.
xiaoxi didn't have that. He just kept his head down. Given how much this team excels by compensating for TBQ, that's all they need. Despite LGD dropping completely from the semifinals, this is the new blood I'm most excited for in LPL.
And he isn't even good.
The show-stopping new talent at this event came from Snake and OMG. Though jungler Zzr had a difficult start, his Gragas today showed almost no fear, and against OMG the single game they won yesterday was off his Ekko performance. Zzr is still green, but he showed his ability to punish mis-positioning and take initiative.
Though he took over the role of Korean jungler Kim "Beast" Joohyun who had a great start this split, Beast plays more for scaling and team fights. Zzr gives Snake the option of running a more aggressive early game. If they can improve their synergy, the late game fight-turning potential Ceng "U" Long brings to the table could make Snake a devastating top-heavy team.
Tan "Martin" Qi, long time bench player and previous AD carry of Snake Honor Esports, Snake's LSPL team, completed this roster best. Adding Yang "kRYSTAL" Fan to this roster split carry focus, and kRYST4L got caught out several times playing for a team less focused on peeling for him. kRYST4L is far from a bad player, but a top heavy map was better completed by Martin's safe play, and that's an option Snake might consider flexing.
OMG's Yan "North" Hong had some spectacular performances for OMG in quarterfinals and semifinals, and he even came up big in a few team fights against Edward Gaming from behind. Likely the most stand-out test subject this weekend, North not only had some strong individual play, but he made OMG feel more like a unit.
The rising problems came down to drafting and a potential weakness in North's champion pool. In Demacia Cup and LPL, North has played Kalista, Sivir, and Jinx. Today, when OMG played dive-heavy compositions, he didn't select more self-sufficient picks, and Edward Gaming drafted both with better peel for their own carries and the ability to dive North.
Each game, Edward Gaming had a better approach and won the draft handily, making many question what OMG's coach was doing — something I've been wondering all year. That didn't detract from North's performances. Though he died a lot, he gave them a little bit more ability to play from behind. OMG has struck something with North, and if he can add more champions to his arsenal, he'd be a solid choice.
I fear OMG, deterred by the loss, won't try to build from it. Their other problems of drafting and champion pools may be too glaring to overcome in the long run anyway.
The most disappointing showing came from Invictus Gaming's Tang "Time" Jintai. Instead of looking for a window to deal damage, he skirted fights and played scared. He failed to have an impact in the first three games of the series against Snake, but so did most of Invictus Gaming. He had slightly better performances in the last two games as iG ramped up, but the case can be made that his inaction is part of a larger problem plaguing iG.
In the past year and a half, iG has finished top three in LPL Spring, but failed to make playoffs in LPL Summer. It's difficult to say what stretches iG to the breaking point as Worlds looms, but it seems to be happening again. It's doubtful a fresh AD carry can help them.
The unveiling of new talent has made me more excited for LPL than I have been, and I'm curious to see which rosters make it into the league next week. Though Demacia Cup resulted in yet another tournament win for Edward Gaming, OMG and Snake have the most to gain from this exercise.
If OMG and Snake build from this weekend, they could challenge for a spot at Worlds. With how strong Qiao Gu, LGD, and Edward Gaming have been looking, it's still going to be a climb.
Kelsey Moser is a staff writer for theScore eSports. You can follow her on Twitter.