It’s a pattern until it isn’t one. Since LGD Gaming’s first appearance in playoffs in 2014 LPL Summer, they have performed progressively worse in League of Legends Pro League splits only to orchestrate a last minute turnaround for a playoffs run. This was mathematically possible once again — up to 10:50 p.m. China Time when Vici Gaming’s defeat of Oh My God signaled that LGD Gaming could no longer qualify for the 2016 LPL Summer playoffs.
This actually inaccurate narrative overshadowed a much richer storyline of three flawed teams barely treading water throughout the course of the year that all arguably deserved to make the final cut of the League of Legend’s Pro League Top 8. The ponderous talent ceiling of LGD Gaming’s League of Legends team forced not just fans but analysts — myself included — to look at them at times with rose-colored glasses. There’s no evidence to support the notion that LGD would do more with the final Group B playoffs spot than Vici Gaming, and the team that won their series on the first day of the final week of the 2016 LPL Summer split is the team that should advance.
The idea that LGD Gaming always start the season slow and ramp up toward the end to just barely make playoffs is actually wrong. Both 2014 LPL Spring and 2015 LPL Spring LGD Gaming iterations started their seasons on trajectories so impressive many wanted to know how they could be that good.
LGD Gaming’s first LPL squad beat teams they probably shouldn’t have on the back of their top laner’s Riven before the champion was unceremoniously nerfed. Almost every member of 2014 Spring LGD was a one-trick that other teams eventually discovered they could simply ban out, sending LGD on a downward spiral that resulted in them going from third place to not qualifying for playoffs at all.
Of course, Chen “pyl” Bo is the only remaining member of that lineup, but even in 2015 with Gu “imp” Seungbin and Wei “We1less” Zhen, the team finished the first half in the top three before plummeting due to what is commonly explained away by incentives to aim for a lower seed in the old playoffs format. It probably at least had something to do with behind-the-scenes shifting in coaching staff as Luo “BSYY” Sheng eventually left the team at the start of the next split. LGD ultimately blew through their first rounds of playoffs against relatively weak opponents in a crumbling OMG and predictable Snake eSports before a truly impressive 3-2 loss to the eventual Mid-Season Invitational champion, EDward Gaming.
Coaching struggles persisted on LGD Gaming, accounting for, along with pyl’s initial absence from the team, early losses in 2015 Summer. LGD split many of their series unexpectedly, but it always seemed a foregone conclusion they would make playoffs. Toward the last few weeks, they stepped into form.
imp explained a lot of it with his increased practice regimen, but LGD’s uptick directly coincided with the announcement of the new playoffs format and the addition of new analyst Huang “FireFox” Tinghsiang in Week 7. Siu “Chris” Keung only joined the team as Head Coach in the final week of regular season, but LGD had already visibly turned themselves around by then.
This LGD “ramping up” phase bore almost no relation to the kind of LGD Gaming we saw this year. pyl argued LGD’s slow start in 2016 Spring had more to do with the team adapting to a new style, but across the board, LGD didn’t seem as engaged in their matches as before, and communication was lacking. The team openly admitted to near-silent comms at times during the early part of the split.
Eventually, things clicked for LGD, and the team began to play much more around their top lane. A team accustomed to playing around the bottom side of the map grew more used to this approach, and LGD’s last minute upswing and qualification for the playoffs had many predicting another LGD Gaming vs EDward Gaming final. imp himself said he felt sure they could at least defeat Royal Never Give Up, the eventual split champions.
An eerie LGD roster shift followed their near-collapse against Vici Gaming in the 2016 LPL Spring playoffs. After drafting low pressure lanes in two games, reflecting that the team didn’t understand their own style incredibly well, LGD lost in a weighted bracket. Before the new split, not only pyl, but We1less said they would take time off for health reasons. Substitute jungler Li “xiaoxi” Weisheng also left the team.
Given the difficulties LGD had earlier that split and the humiliating loss in the first round of playoffs, these player departures appeared way too coincidental. Rather than LGD's poor luck in timing for these illnesses, which befell them at a crucial time, it seemed far more likely that a break was necessary to attempt to refresh team atmosphere. In this context, LGD’s miracle run in the final two weeks of the regular season where they nearly closed the gap with Vici Gaming doesn’t make them appear reliable — quite the opposite.
The real reason I gave an account of LGD’s ups-and-downs is not to make a point about a misleading narrative, but rather to highlight the fact that there is nothing reliable about LGD Gaming’s history. One cannot depend upon LGD Gaming to start the split slowly because in one third of the LPL splits, they haven’t. One cannot depend on them to make some last minute surge because, while they’ve looked better toward the end of one half of their regular seasons, they were only in danger of not qualifying for playoffs for two of them.
Rather, if one traces the history of LGD’s struggles in conjunction with players “taking a break” or changes to coaching staff, it seems much more likely that LGD’s problems are infrastructural or environmental. One can predict LGD getting their act together and making it deeper into the playoffs backet than Vici Gaming, and their ceiling would indicate that that’s possible. LGD can get further than Vici — but there are two problems with this assumption.
LGD can probably only advance marginally further than Vici. They still lost 1-2 to Royal Never Give Up with their refreshed roster, as did Vici Gaming. They still reflected the same disturbing tendency to draft losing lanes and the same misunderstanding of their own strengths that lost them last split's playoffs in both the recent series against RNG and WE.
Just like LGD have an inconsistent track record of “ramping up” toward the end of the season, LGD have an inconsistent track record of completely collapsing in high-pressure events like the World Championship or last split’s playoffs. Either through a lack of preparedness or something else entirely, one cannot rely on LGD to be any expected form of LGD. Yes, one can’t say that LGD will fail to provide a good showing in playoffs again, especially if pyl and We1less did get the break they needed to refresh, but one cannot say that they won’t either — and that’s the problem.
Vici Gaming making playoffs isn’t just about rewarding consistency, it’s about rewarding the better team. Because that’s exactly what they are. Throughout the past year, with the exception of notable improvements from both Xu “Endless” Hao and Pi “XuanXuanPi” Xiaoxuan, Vici Gaming have been reliable. They don’t execute teamfights well. They have creative and unexpected early games, orchestrated by DanDy’s intelligent pathing. Their mid laner can surprise and overwhelm by creating zones. Split-pushing leads to most of Vici Gaming’s success stories.
They won’t beat Royal Never Give Up or EDward Gaming in a best-of-five. Vici Gaming won’t make it to the 2016 World Championship. But I can put a favorable number on them getting past the first round of playoffs. I can rely on them to draft according to their strengths and pick champions DanDy and Lee “Easyhoon” Ji-hoon can carry games with. I can rely on Endless and XuanXuanPi to get just a little bit better and for Zhu “Loong” Xiaolong to abuse the fact that Ekko is falling back into favor in the meta, but probably not provide much of an impact on many other picks.
Vici making playoffs over LGD Gaming isn’t just about rewarding consistency because LGD Gaming are so debilitating in their inconsistency that it’s disingenuous to say that one expects them to perform better in playoffs than Vici Gaming. Even Oh My God — a team that finally has seemed to shrug off a commitment to safe and popular to invest more realistically in players like Yan “juejue” Hong and Xie “icon” Tianyu and create a foundation from which they can build — might get more out of a playoffs seed than LGD Gaming.
OMG, LGD, and VG may all deserve a playoffs spot over some of the teams in the less competitive Group A, but unlike LGD and OMG, Vici Gaming earned it. I look forward to seeing DanDy and company advance to quarterfinals past their Group A opponent next week. Good luck to both OMG and LGD in the Promotion Tournament.
Kelsey Moser is a staff writer for theScore esports. You can follow her on Twitter for more LGD-related angst.