So far, the LPL playoffs, while rife with rift fights and your usual LPL shenanigans, have been more fraught with peril and intrigue than meta developments and strategic advancement — with a few exceptions from teams like EDward Gaming and Team WE, who received dividends in Championship points as a result.
Teams expected to do well, like LGD Gaming, tripped over their own shoelaces in the opening round, familiar faces made appearances for hail marry passes, and the king of the LPL Finals made a return (though not without incident). Of course, all of it can be easily obscured by QG Reapers’ ongoing drama, which kept me at my keyboard hammering out articles instead of watching the semifinals.
More on that in a bit.
All told, I felt more like a film critic than an esports writer this past weekend.
LPL Promotion tournament
Game quality: 1/5
It had its moments. Hyper Youth Gaming’s only somewhat unexpected 3-0 win over Masters3 doubled their overall win total for the season. Until the promotion tournament's second day, HYG had only won six games in the season, and five of those were against Masters3. Following their 3-2 victory over Liu “PDD” Mou’s team, Young Miracles, PDD’s pained expression indicated that he wasn’t done with this team. He was visibly moved by their loss, and perhaps next split he may actually invest in a coaching staff for the team of promising rookies. As 15w journalist, Ryan Luwei, said “Who but the experienced can understand them?”
“This split, I will have played in the LPL two years. I would like, just once, to make the playoffs,” Hyper Youth Gaming’s support Yu “x1u” Jie told press following the series.
It was hard not to feel for him after HYG experienced the worst record in LPL history, yet still managed to find their way back in this summer.
Oh My God snuck back into the LPL. Rookie mid laner Xie "icon" Tianyu lead the charge playing assassins, while his senior, Yu “cool” Jiajunm played solo queue after receiving even more fan ridicule following the team’s loss to Vici Gaming. The LPL Promotion was too cold for redemption, but the prequel to icon’s story is tantalizing.
Energy Pacemaker’s return came with the least fanfare. A swift loss to Oh My God’s flashy assassin came before a messy 3-1 victory over MF Gaming to close the entire affair. Icon and Huang “crisis” Zhen are my candidates for rookies of the split, however, so here’s to hoping they’ll make waves in LPL Summer, and we won’t find them here again.
Vici Gaming vs. LGD Gaming
Game quality: 2/5
This should have been an exciting tale of ex-teammates pitted against one another, with Jang "MaRin" Gyeonghwan and Lee “Easyhoon” Jihoon both primed to prove themselves away from SK Telecom T1. Xie “Eimy” Dan should have been ready to challenge Choi “DanDy” Inkyu after he was benched following Vici Gaming's qualification into the LPL. Gu “imp” Seungbin should have been prepared to remind DanDy that he once played with an actual AD carry. LGD were ready to continue the undefeated series streak that started when they beat Vici in the regular season.
But LGD’s drafting was terrible. LGD Gaming’s style relies on an ability to control mid lane so that the duo lane can invade while Eimy camps top lane. Two games in a row, LGD Gaming picked Kassadin and Ezreal, which seemed to suggest that they did not even understand the style of play that got them success so far.
For DanDy, who suffered a terrible season and expressed interest in taking a break, this 3-1 success story was necessary. A team that lacked morale for much of the season could have gotten an easy boost from man-handling LGD, except that LGD also simultaneously demonstrated that their bottom lane was significantly better than VG’s. imp’s near flame horizon of Xu “Endless” Hao was a reminder that this team has enough talent to beat VG if not for yet-another-LGD-implosion.
This series lacked originality. We’ve seen this story before, several times in fact. Perhaps if Vici Gaming had made a miracle run to the final or even managed to win more than one game in the quarterfinal, it would have been exciting and fulfilling, but this series didn’t live up to any expectations, and it was rife with misplays on both sides.
Snake eSports vs. Invictus Gaming
Game quality: 2.25/5
When Snake appear as if they can teamfight when they’ve had nothing but blunders all season, it probably speaks poorly of their opponent. Invictus Gaming, struggling since teams learned to target their weak bottom lane, went for a hail marry pass by recruiting Pak Kan “Tabe” Wong. Tabe and Coach Siu “Chris” Keung started playing League of Legends together on Catastrophic Cruel Memory, the team that was originally purchased by Wang Sicong to become Invictus Gaming.
Originally, Invictus Gaming was a team populated by strong players from Hong Kong, and Tabe and Chris were the bottom lane. This unique environment made the two close, and even though Tabe has received a lot of hatred from the community, especially following his leaking of Invictus Gaming’s strategies on the World Championship analyst desk, Tabe’s appearance on iG’s starting lineup indicates that the two still have a relationship of which to speak of.
iG still lost 3-0 to Snake in pathetic fashion. Snake easily overcame them when iG again failed to react to lane swaps. Park “TANK” Danwon demonstrated some of the utility of Azir in shutting out iG. Tabe is probably better at Braum than Liu “Kitties” Hongjun despite his main account currently sitting in Diamond I on the Chinese solo queue ladder. This story of reconciliation between longtime friends didn’t amount to much, but the circumstances are almost too hilarious to not at least make this series a little intriguing.
It would have been better if Tabe had picked Annie.
Team WE vs. Vici Gaming
Game quality: 3/5
Team WE drafted a creative Karma composition and demonstrated new depths beyond just waiting for Ezreal to scale and hoping to steal a Baron. The team went to more proactively play around Baron and exaggerated their kiting style with picks like Karma and Bard that were a treat to watch. The matchup between Xiang “Condi” Renjie and DanDy was an unexpected delight as Condi lived up to his early hype after a disastrous meeting in the regular season. Sadly, there were no Baron steals this series against Korea’s former King of Thieves.
Aside from WE continuing their climb after a terrible season, there wasn’t much to discuss in the storyline department. After LGD fell, it would have been safe to call this the soft side of the bracket had WE not used their extra time to prepare well. LPL teams often demonstrate new dimensions in playoffs away from a series where they almost constantly horde strategies or don’t prepare diligently for every best of three. WE made a mark, and Yoon “Zero” Kyungsup looks a lot more like the support that placed second in the 2014 World Championship.
Vici are back to the drawing board. It's hard to even blame this series on the bottom lane when the team continuously opted into disadvantageous fights and made too many mistakes in other roles.
EDward Gaming vs. Snake eSports
Game quality: 4/5
This is the series to watch for quality gameplay. Snake admittedly didn’t show well. They got dominated in nearly every lane and were slowly squeezed out by EDward Gaming’s objective control. Yet EDward Gaming looked a lot more like EDward Gaming.
EDG are in their element with Teleport tank top, a Teleport mid that plays to pull the jungler, carry jungle and AD carry, and engage support. If I had to design a meta for EDG, this would be it — especially since Heo “pawN” Wonseok will play whatever he wants, regardless of meta, anyway.
Creative pathing from Ming “clearlove” Kai allowed him to scale well for late game and look for gaps in Snake’s lane swap. This isn’t the same as the Chinese teams that went to Intel Extreme Masters. EDG’s lane assignments are logical, they know how to use Teleport, and they have mastered various forms of the lane swap. At this point, EDward Gaming is a mythos in China. A fourth LPL title is overdue.
We haven’t seen a dominating performance from EDG like this since MSI last year. It’s about time they made it back.
Royal Never Give Up vs. Team WE
Game quality: 3.5/5
A few points in game quality are docked for the decay in Royal Never Give Up’s near flawless execution following Games 1 and 2. The first two games of the series demonstrated that RNG know their way around the map well, and their dragon control expressed that this team has traded in the top side of the map for the bottom. RNG play by pushing out side waves and rotating for free turrets, setting up for the inevitable five dragon bait that will force teams to fight them with a disadvantage.
But that was only Game 1 and Game 2.
Team WE upped the stakes in Games 3 and 4. Zero’s play got better with each game as Bard and Janna made appearances. Zero has been vocal about practicing Bard, and the ban finally came in after Game 3’s near single-handed domination. Even Ke "957" Changyu showed in this series that, though his rookie season was difficult, he shouldn’t be removed from consideration, and if he continues his climb, 2016 Summer will be an excellent split for him.
The true test of greatness was between junglers. Both Liu “Mlxg” Shiyu and Condi have aptitude in the role as young players. Condi’s affinity for Baron steals resulted in a Team WE 2-0 during the only time WE met RNG in the regular season. In Game 2, Mlxg managed the mythical four buff against Condi, proving he wasn’t the only one with a fast smite trigger, but Condi returned the favor with yet another Baron steal in Game 4.
Mlxg’s touchdown scream after his 2-0 start in Game 5 is one for the gif collection. He didn’t let up from the pedal after that. In the post-game interview, teammate Li “xiaohu” Yuanhao told press “For every word I said during that game, he said five,” underlining Mlxg’s overdrive after the Baron steal cost them Game 4.
xiaohu himself played like a man possessed with superb Leblanc positioning and high game impact on all three of his favorite champions. He’s my MVP for Royal for the series if Zero is my MVP for WE.
WE players aren't the only ones to make an impression after a difficult 2015. Jang "Looper" Hyeongseok and Cho "Mata" Sehyeong had a disastrous year following their World Championship win, and both finally joined ex-teammates imp and pawN in qualifying for an LPL final.
Had Royal not won the series, clearlove and Tong “koro1” Yang have tied Zhu “NaMei” Jiawen in qualifying for the most LPL finals. Though NaMei was subbed out in Game 5 and fellow AD carry Wang "wuxx" Cheng came away with the MVP award for the final match, NaMei finally made it to his fifth LPL final. Teammate Mata briefly rested his arm on a somewhat dejected NaMei’s shoulders in the post-game interview, eliciting a grin.
a filman LPL series well worth watching.
EDward Gaming vs. QG Reapers
Game quality: N/A
After spectators eagerly anticipated the return of Bae "dade" Eojin to the mid lane, QG proved its sinking ship wouldn’t be bested by EDward Gaming simply because they wouldn’t actually show up. At the time, viewers were informed QG was unable to field a full roster, but in actuality, dade was not permitted to start for the team as a result of not being registered a week in advance.
Looks of incredulity were exchanged between players of EDward Gaming as what was once LPL’s last undefeated team this season forfeited their first playoffs match. The last time the LPL had a forfeit was the result of Royal Club Huang Zu’s mass retirement after the Season 3 World Championship. Jian “Uzi” Zihao was a member of both teams to have ever forfeited in the LPL playoffs. clearlove was a member of Team WE in 2013, and WE acquired third place as a result of a Royal Club forfeit that split.
In the postgame interview after QG Reapers’ victory over Masters3 in the regular season, Uzi told press, “I’d like to win LPL this time, since I haven’t done it yet.” In seven LPL seasons, one of the league’s most beloved players still hasn’t made the final. Part of this is on his own inconsistencies and lack of adaptability in the past, but neither of the forfeits can be laid at his doorstep. Perhaps QG can get it together, and LPL Summer will finally be his season.
Ultimately, QG’s collapse was tragic. Whatever drama exists between Baek “Swift” Dahoon and Kim “Doinb” Taesang, it doesn’t take away from how impressive this team was at the start of the season. They developed a lane swap style based around freezing that they admitted they dropped because of its lack of success at IEM, but it’s something that may still demand attention, especially with more teams countering the second turret take in the current meta.
Bao “V” Bo and Yu “Peco” Rui made my LPL All Star team in my MidSeason Review. This team’s rise and fall was heart-breaking to watch this split, especially following the revamping of their coaching staff and heavy investment by Newbee. What could have been a great Chinese team burned out. Whatever the cause, it wasn’t worth it.
Team WE vs. QG Reapers
Game quality: 2/5
Peco occasionally likes to stream Viktor games on his Korean smurf account. The announcement that he would fill the mid lane role in QG’s third place match against WE was met with groans, but QG made it clear that they were getting through it with as much as enjoyment as they could manage.
On the topic of strange picks, Royal Never Give Up’s xiaohu told me of his time on Gamtee in 2015 that, once the team could no longer qualify for playoffs, the staff encouraged them to simply try to have fun and play champions they liked with the rest of the season. QG's staff seemed to have given the team similar recommendations in this set. QG released a few smiles in the series, especially in the second game when Peco picked Lucian mid.
This isn’t the first time Peco and Uzi have played on the same team with one of them in mid — or playing an AD carry in mid lane to disastrous results, if one remembers Uzi’s mid lane Vayne at the conclusion of 2013. QG started all three games with a lead and made them unexpectedly close, demonstrating that yes, this team was actually good once.
Smiles vanished at the end of the series as QG returned to reality, but Team WE’s third place finish has its own storyline. Smart, understated roster changes in the offseason gave the team 100 Championship Points to take to Summer.
In 2013, when WE finally lost a series to Invictus Gaming after a long period of dominance, iG’s CEO didn’t watch the matches. Assuming WE had won, he posted “Congratulations WE” on Weibo to the backlash of many fans assuming he was being intentionally malicious.
Welcome back, WE, and this time, sincerely, Congratulations. It’s been a while.
Kelsey Moser is staff writer for theScore esports and a connoisseur of fine LPL plot lines. You can follow her on Twitter.