China's League of Legends Pro League enters its final week before playoffs and the regional gauntlet qualifiers begin. With four available spots at the upcoming League of Legends World Championship in China, the race to the top of 2020 LPL Summer is tighter than ever, especially with a recent dip in performance from Top Esports and a group of hungry playoff-ready teams.
Here are a few storylines from Week 9 of the LPL and a small look at the three teams vying for the final two playoff spots.
The debut of Lillia
Gone are the days of the LPL being behind a patch or two only to have to play immediate catchup in an important series of matches like a regional final. These days, the LPL is generally up-to-date on patching and sometimes well ahead of other regions, and LPL teams are more than willing to try out new champions immediately on release if they're available in competitive play.
Lillia has been picked on blue side three times in the LPL since the league switched over to Patch 10.15 in the middle of Week 9; however, the teams that picked the new champion lost all three games. Thus far, Dominus Esports' Wang "Xiaopeng" Peng had the strongest early performance with her, visiting his lanes frequently including an assist at around four minutes, but couldn't transform that into a win against Royal Never Give Up.
The trials of Victory Five
At the start of Week 7, Victory Five faced off against then-undefeated Top Esports, kicking off the most difficult part of their schedule. Five series against five of the LPL's current top teams (Victory Five themselves not included) to test Victory Five's mettle prior to playoffs.
It cannot be understated how many times a hot young or new team razes through the LPL regular season only to be stymied in playoffs either due to catching better teams off-guard with stronger matchups at the beginning of the split or simply being thoroughly figured out come playoff time. Even top LPL teams sometimes struggle with "peaking too early" if they cannot perfect a specific playstyle -- and that playstyle even if rigid, must allow for some level of draft flexibility to be successful.
Victory Five passed their trials soundly. Three out of five possible victories isn't bad.
The most interesting part of Victory Five's trials were which teams they beat and which teams beat them. Coming out on top of JD Gaming, Top Esports and Team WE proved that Victory Five can go up against any team in the LPL and win. Losing to Invictus Gaming and Suning, specifically, proved that they're not yet at a form where they can contend for an LPL title unless they have a near-perfect best-of-five with strong drafts across the board.
I see the current state of Victory Five as follows:
There are days where Victory Five are the best team in the LPL. However, they can still be overwhelmed by a team with star-studded firepower like the solo lanes of Invictus Gaming.
When teams fight Victory Five over and over, even with sloppy skirmishes, Victory Five can be overwhelmed and additionally distracted from their intelligent setups around neutral objectives and enemy buff timers led by jungler Wei "Weiwei" Bo-Han and the strength of their bot lane.
What was most telling about Victory Five's trials was that they refused to go down without a fight and have yet to be swept this split. Their most recent match against JDG (Lillia pick aside) showed that they can adapt and overcome in a best-of series as well.
The state of JD Gaming
It's time to talk about JD Gaming (again) after their previous 11-game win streak was snapped by Victory Five on Sunday.
Although JDG had a comparatively rough start and have had some equally volatile wins, the team looks to be back on track, even with the recent loss.
JDG's performance early in the split had analysts and fans wondering what was wrong with jungler Seo "Kanavi" Jin-hyeok, who was the spring regular-season MVP and a driving factor behind JDG's run to the LPL spring playoff final. This seemed like the perfect meta to continue to let Kanavi carry with high-damage dealers like Graves at the forefront of the jungle meta, but JDG struggled to repeat their spring success in early summer.
Kanavi's current statistics aren't as remarkable as his spring statlines, but JD Gaming have found a more comfortable spot for him visiting lanes earlier and acting as a facilitator in teamfights as well.
Another shift in JDG has been from their solo lanes to their bot lane. Lee "LokeN" Dong-wook has been having a career split in spite of support Zuo "LvMao" Ming-Hao's inconsistent start. If JDG can get mid laner Zeng "Yagao" Qi on a comfort pick in champion select, this team looks more flexible than they did in spring.
This column doesn't usually cover the first day of games in the new week, but I'd be remiss not to mention the current LPL playoff picture.
After FunPlus Phoenix's win over Dominus Esports and LGD Gaming's win over Bilibili Gaming on the first day of Week 10, there are three teams left vying for two playoff spots: FunPlus Phoenix, Royal Never Give Up and Team WE.
FunPlus Phoenix have had an inconsistent season and more top lane shuffles between Kim "Khan" Dong-ha and Kim "Gimgoon" Han-saem. Although Khan is indubitably the stronger laner, FPX look significantly more comfortable with Gimgoon in the starting lineup. Team WE continue to play pretty much how they've played all year, with impressive performances from jungler Jiang "beishang" Zhi-Peng and the continued improvement of bot laner Zhao "Jiumeng" Jia-Hao.
Of the three, Royal Never Give Up are looking like the most formidable and dangerous opponent, but they are also not entirely in control of their own destiny. They have to win out, which isn't out of the realm of possibility due to matches against BLG and Rogue Warriors, and have FPX lose to Suning on the final day of Week 10.