The LPL's playoff seeding came down to the last day of the season, and, predictably, the teams that managed to find consistent success took the top spots in Group A and Group B. Yet when I asked Chinese reporters in the press room which match they’re most looking forward to in the playoffs, many of them answered, “EDG vs. LGD” — two teams that didn't take the top spot in their respective groups.
Despite LGD's fourth place Group A finish and EDward Gaming's second place Group B finish, a finals matchup between LGD Gaming and EDward Gaming is considered by many as a foregone conclusion. Recent improvements and win streaks make a convincing argument that EDG and LGD are once again the best teams in China — though Royal Never Give Up played a very exciting series against Invictus Gaming this week that, should they be able to replicate their strategy again, could say otherwise. Even Cho "Mata" Sehyeong believes that EDG and LGD are his team’s biggest rivals.
The LPL regular season has concluded. It’s time for full speculation mode. Has China managed to produce any great teams this spring? I suppose we’ll find out soon enough.
Top 3 Takeaways
Since there are three top teams, it’s convenient to discuss each of them in a separate point.
1. LGD Gaming has strategies that don't rely on Azir or Varus
With LGD’s fixation on Azir, and aggressive wave clear mids in general, I believed their strategy was heavily dependent on mid lane pushing out to create more freedom in the jungle. In their series against Snake eSports, LGD Gaming picked Ekko mid in Game 1, lost, and then defaulted to Azir, but they brought Ekko back in Game 3 for one of their most convincing wins of the season.
Wei “We1less” Zhen still needs to get more advantages mid for LGD’s more jungle control-oriented strategies to work, but Xie “Eimy” Dan can chose between ganking for top or mid lane to gain an advantage. Should mid lane destabilize on its own, this series demonstrated that Eimy will focus more ganks mid in the second game of a series. This makes LGD’s jungle pathing more predictable, but with Chen “pyl” Bo and Gu “imp” Seungbin roaming more as a duo, LGD's pressure doesn’t always come from the jungle.
It still feels like LGD will struggle to play from behind with a top and mid laner that appear reliant on getting ahead considering that fewer resources will go to the bottom lane. This is a flaw that a team like EDward Gaming and Royal Never Give Up, both of whom have performed well in late game teamfights from a deficit, can take advantage of if they can get a lead.
2. EDward Gaming still struggle to execute the Kalista comp
Oh My God bore defeat in a devastating Game 1 loss to EDward Gaming. In Game 2, it seemed that EDward Gaming had an even stronger composition with Ekko, Graves, Twisted Fate, Kalista, and Bard. This team should have been able to set up catches and disengage or re-engage fights on a whim, but Kim “deft” Hyukkyu’s reduced confidence on Kalista was apparent. In the past, deft has said Kalista doesn’t naturally suit him, so it took him more time to feel comfortable on the champion. It still shows, as EDward Gaming struggled much more to rely on his late game power when they drafted the pick.
EDward Gaming’s lane swapping has improved considerably. They’ll execute more mid game turret trades and seem to utilize the side lanes better overall. Heo “pawN” Wonseok’s affinity for highly mobile split-pushing champions has been a cornerstone lately, as he’s often seen in a side lane. Tong “koro1” Yang has picked up Ekko, demonstrating his ability to play a more versatile and mechanically intensive role.
Overall, EDG feel like the most well-rounded team. But they also feel like the top team that’s least predictable and might just make a misstep like dying to a turret in a lane swap for no apparent reason. This sets them behind and creates many holes in their armor to exploit.
3. Royal Never Give Up finally showed something worth writing about
In the past, I’ve struggled to characterize Royal Never Give Up’s playstyle beyond “They like early Barons and teamfighting.” Royal have appeared devoid of identity and clear strategy since they began playing in the LPL — until this week.
Against Invictus Gaming, Royal Never Give Up gained an advantage on their bottom lane and used it to invade. Vision gave them a clear view of the enemy jungler's location so that they could quickly rotate and acquire turrets. Their third game is the cleanest Royal have ever played as they only took picks to close out and avoided brawls almost entirely. In the post-game interview, Mata said they came with a clear plan and a lot of thought.
The second game loss demonstrated that if Royal’s bottom lane doesn’t get ahead, this strategy can fall apart. Given Zhu “NaMei” Jiawen’s recent laning phase woes, this could be a problem, but NaMei has also said he has had limited practice with Royal Club’s main lineup. This bottom lane, eagerly anticipated at the start of the year, may finally evolve into something unbeatable. Until then, Royal will remain an afterthought.
Weeklies consist of two of the most concept-oriented series or games and two of the most back-and-forth and exciting games or series to watch for entertainment.
Concept 1: Royal Never Give Up vs. Invictus Gaming Game 3
One of the cleanest and most macro-oriented games played in the LPL this season. If there’s one LPL game to watch this week — perhaps even this split — it’s this game. Not even Liu "Zzitai" Zhihao’s Ryze and Song “Rookie” Eujin’s Yasuo could counter Royal’s map play. Whenever the enemy team made a play, Royal countered it with pick power as NaMei demonstrated fast Kalista reflexes and Mata pinned down targets. The turrets melted.
Concept 2: LGD Gaming vs. Masters3 Game 2
When I interviewed pyl last week, he said he doesn’t think he’ll be able to execute his roaming style very much this season. This game, he and imp acquired an advantage early and roamed as a pair. If you can’t leave your AD carry to fend for himself, just take him with you and kill a jungler. While this was the game with the most examples of this strategy applied, they still executed it against Snake eSports, who have a much stronger bottom lane.
LGD Gaming have a strong enough duo lane that they could probably easily get an advantage against any lane in the LPL. It will be curious to see if this strategy evolves further and is seen again in playoffs after they played it in two separate series this week.
Bloodbath 1: Royal Never Give Up vs. Invictus Gaming Game 2
The flipside or Royal Never Give Up’s strategy is what happens when bottom lane doesn’t get ahead. This game is a RooKie Zed highlight reel, making it well worth the watch just for that. Add in a few Ryze flanks and plays from Royal’s talented players, and you have a nice popcorn game.
Bloodbath 2: LGD Gaming vs Snake eSports Game 3
This game was quick and dirty, but the flashes, dives, and fights were well-executed by LGD Gaming. It quickly becomes a slaughter, but the first ten minutes are full of exciting back and forths. You also don’t have to sit through as many facepalms as you might in the WE vs QG Reapers series, which almost made the list.
I’m waiting for teams to realize they need to permanently ban Azir against Royal Never Give Up when it’s in meta. Even without it, Li “xiaohu” Yuanhao had a palpable impact with Varus, and his Ryze and Leblanc plays earlier this week have turned heads. xiaohu’s three favorite champions are all played very differently, and this week his power in team fights against HYG and iG caught my attention, even in Royal’s low kill games.
“That’s so China” pick: Triple flEkko
Top lane tank Ekko is ridiculously strong. Teams internationally have begun to pick Ekko with high frequency in the top lane for his mobility, base damage, split-pushing, and capability in engage and disengage scenarios. A few teams have even begun to play Ekko in mid or jungle.
In the LPL, however, both Royal Never Give Up and LGD have hinted that they’re willing to play Ekko in as many as three positions. Early Ekko picks are easily countered by Trundle top, but LGD recently played Ekko mid and left jungle pick for last, leaving the option of allowing Eimy to play it if necessary. Eimy frequently received Ekko bans in the LPL last summer, and MaRin has hinted that he can play Ekko top in post game interviews.
Royal Never Give Up have flexed Ekko in the top and jungle in the same series, and xiaohu is known for having played an extensive amount of champions in his career. Last year, teams made a habit of flexing picks in as many positions as possible to make their draft more complicated. Snake eSports’ players would frequently learn picks like Fizz in top, jungle, and mid and be willing to play them in all three positions.
I don’t doubt that triple flEkko will pick up speed in the LPL in time for playoffs.
10 series in 10 words or less
1. HYG vs. RNG
The xiaohu story and Mlxg’s denied penta.
2. OMG vs. VG
DanDy has had enough of this tracker’s knife nonsense.
3. WE vs. SS
Waiting for Baron steals is actually not a viable strategy.
4. M3 vs. LGD
If your ADC needs you, take him with you.
5. RNG vs. iG
Bottom-dependent macro play with Zed micro.
6. OMG vs. EDG
Deft is fantastic — if only EDG could play Kalista.
7. HYG vs. VG
HYG end the split with the worst LPL record.
8. WE vs. QG
When Mortred starts, you know things have gotten bad.
9. Snake vs. LGD
Ekko mid mulligan and mad Ezreal kiting.
10. EPA vs. M3
EPA will probably make it back to LPL.
Since the regular season has concluded and the upcoming playoffs are fast approaching, it's time to make brief predictions and discuss the shakeout.
Promotion and LSPL Playoffs: EDward Esports, Young Miracles, Energy Pacemaker All, and Oh My God make LPL Summer
EDward Esports and Young Miracles finished atop in the LSPL regular season standings. Young Miracles’ skilled roster lacks the direction that a coaching staff could provide, and EDward Esports overtook them. The first place team will be automatically promoted to the LPL after playoffs, while second and third place teams will battle the LPL fifth and sixth place teams for spots in LPL Summer.
EDward Esports should emerge victorious from the LSPL Playoffs gauntlet. Young Miracles have defeated MF Gaming 3-2, ensuring them at least second seed in the promotion. MF Gaming will likely fall to Oh My God or Energy Pacemaker All, one of which is guaranteed to return to the LPL by defeating the other.
That leaves Young Miracles to theoretically contend with Masters3, who should defeat Hyper Youth Gaming. A strong gust of wind could likely knock either of these teams out of the LPL, and Young Miracles directionless talent are all it takes. I look forward to seeing their impressive bottom lane this summer and hope they develop some strategy in the meantime.
Vici Gaming vs. LGD Gaming: LGD Gaming advance
The first round of the LPL playoffs pits Vici Gaming against LGD Gaming. There are amazing storylines in this set, including Jang "MaRin" Gyeonghwan and Lee “Easyhoon” Jihoon’s quests to prove themselves away from SK Telecom T1, the meeting of imp and Choi “DanDy” Inkyu, Eimy and Lee "Heart" Gwanhyung encounter former teammate Zhu “Loong” Xiaolong after Unlimited Potential was relegated from the LPL Spring Split. LGD started their series streak with a 2-0 win over Vici Gaming.
Of course, the Eimy’s revenge storyline is finally told. He was the star of Vici Gaming's lineup that qualified for the LPL, but was immediately replaced by DanDy before the season started. Given LGD’s overall stronger roster, Eimy will finally be able to best Vici Gaming convincingly, but DanDy will always be the better jungler.
Snake eSports vs. Invictus Gaming: Snake eSports advance
This series is much less one-sided, as both teams have flaws. Snake’s teamfighting remains riddled with mistakes, and Invictus Gaming have the worst bottom lane in the league. Rookie and Li "Flandre" Xuanjun are known by the community as good friends who duoed to the top of the Chinese ladder together, and they’ll feature prominently as the stars of their respective teams.
It’s incredibly hard to call, but I have to give this one to Snake given their overall superior understanding of the early game and third seed one point advantage. Rookie may well have the series of his life and prove me wrong, and Zz1tai won’t make it easy for Flandre to get an advantage. Yet if Snake know they can just target the bottom lane with Teleports to snowball, this series isn’t a hard win.
Quarterfinals: LGD Gaming and EDward Gaming advance
Team WE will be waiting in the quarterfinals for LGD Gaming or Vici Gaming. This team still has a lot of problems playing early game and seem to rely on their jungler stealing Baron to win most of their games. They made slight improvements this week with a Kindred pickup, but ultimately should still fall to whoever makes it out of the lower bracket, as both VG and LGD understand how to control the early game.
EDward Gaming will reasonably blow past either Snake eSports or Invictus Gaming for many of the reasons I’ve already discussed in the “Top 3 Takeaways” section. Superior players populate EDG’s roster in ever position except mid, and the team has also demonstrated better understanding of the map and jungle control.
Semifinals: LGD Gaming and EDward Gaming advance
Royal Never Give Up have finally started to develop themselves. If they play the way they did against Invictus Gaming, a series between RNG and LGD Gaming should be extremely exciting. Many may be sleeping on Royal as they continue to develop this strategy. Ultimately, we’ve seen more of what LGD are capable of than Royal, so it’s likely RNG will fall to LGD, but any other team in this bracket will be easier pickings.
QG Reapers are the biggest disappointment of the season. As a result of internal drama and frequent roster swapping, QG Reapers have continued to plummet in form. They retained their top placing in Group A on the back of an undefeated Round 1, but they will simply get blown over by EDward Gaming unless QG find their feet very quickly and make a miraculous return.
Grand Final: EDward Gaming wins
If one has followed my train of thought, I’ve just predicted yet another EDward Gaming vs. LGD Gaming Spring Final. Ultimately, I'll give the edge to EDward Gaming, but this series should be as close as the last year's. Both teams use different strategies to control the jungle, and if LGD can apply enough bottom lane pressure, they could cripple one of EDward Gaming strongest assets by using their AD carry and support duo to invade. Stylistically, LGD have the edge, but based on consistency of form, I give it to EDward Gaming.
Kelsey Moser is a staff writer for theScore esports. You can follow her on Twitter.