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LPL Corner: Mega playoff preview

LPL/Twitch

The 2020 LoL Pro League regular season has come to an end, and while that's left me personally bereft and wondering what on earth I'm going to do with my time, it also offers an opportunity to take one last look at a few teams before heading into playoffs and regional finals.

Championship points check-in!

Four teams have already qualified for at least the LPL Regional Qualifiers based on their combined spring and summer championship points: JD Gaming, Top Esports, FunPlus Phoenix, and Invictus Gaming.

This puts all four teams on the short list to represent the LPL at Worlds this year in Shanghai. The winner of 2020 LPL Summer automatically qualifies as China's first seed, while the team with the largest amount of championship points from spring and summer combined will qualify as the second seed. Then the regional gauntlet will be played among four teams vying for the third and fourth seeds, with the two highest-seeded teams playing each other in a match for the third seed. Whichever team loses will play the winner of the two lower-seeded teams and the victor of that match will qualify as China's fourth and final seed.

JD Gaming and Top Esports are currently in the strongest positions. Both made it to the spring finals earning 60 and 40 points respectively, and they finished second and first in the regular season. If either of them make it to summer finals, they will qualify based on either winning LPL summer or earning the most championship points.

With 60 points from spring, if JDG don't make it to finals but still make third this summer (70 points), they will also automatically qualify even if FunPlus Phoenix (who have 30 points from their spring third-place finish) come in second. In that scenario, FPX would earn 120 points (30 from spring, 90 from finishing second in summer) but JDG would still have the edge with 130 points (60 from spring, 70 from summer). This specific scenario of FPX second, JDG third would also involve FPX knocking out TES in semifinals, since they're on the same side of the bracket, and TES losing to JDG in the third/fourth place match with JDG getting knocked down by one of Team WE, LGD Gaming, or Invictus Gaming.

FPX's 30 spring points puts them in a moderate position to auto-qualify, but they'll need to make it to at least semifinals, beating both Victory Five and Suning in the process, to give themselves that chance. By contrast, Invictus Gaming are currently tied with FPX in championship points due to their extra 10 from summer (combined with 20 from spring) thanks to their automatic summer quarterfinals bye. If they advance and beat JDG in semifinals, they'll be guaranteed at least 110 championship points, which could automatically qualify them if TES don't make finals, and iG don't beat their finals opponent and JDG lose to their third/fourth-place match opponent.

Flashes of brilliance from teams that did not make playoffs: Royal Never Give Up and EDward Gaming

In separate matches where each team had already been eliminated from playoff contention, both EDward Gaming and Royal Never Give Up both showcased just how well they could play, making fans and analysts feel a twinge of sadness that they weren't able to harness their respective potentials earlier in the split.

In their second game against Victory Five, EDward Gaming showed how they could snowball early skirmishes into a win around mid laner Lee "Scout" Ye-chan, who has been a bright spot for the team this split. Among multiple roster moves, EDG seemed to find their footing with their young top laner Huang "Xiaoxiang" Xiang (who caught some attention due to his Demacia Cup performances at the start of the year) and jungler Zhao "Jiejie" Li-Jie. This year, we saw EDG go through varied iterations of their lineup (often due to circumstances outside of their control) and look a bit more at playing around the top side of the map than they had in previous years.

This is the first time in their organization's history that EDG has not made playoffs and there's an obvious narrative around the fact that this was also former jungler Ming "ClearLove" Kai's first year off of the Rift and onstage with the team as their coach. For EDG to be successful next year, they may not even need sweeping roster changes. There's a world where Wang "Hope" Jie doesn't have to sit out a few matches midseason because of a collapsed lung and maybe team synergy would have evolved more organically. What they need is a cohesive and decisive voice, especially after the first 15 minutes of a game.

Like EDG, Royal Never Give Up are almost always an LPL representative at the world championship. Since 2013, some iteration of Royal Club has made it to Worlds every year save 2015. Also like EDG there's an easy narrative to be drawn between regular season results and the retirement of a legendary player.

This year, bot laner Jian "Uzi" Zi-Hao retired due to health reasons including Type II diabetes and the chronic shoulder and arm pain he has dealt with for years. For all intents and purposes, especially to western fans of the organization, Uzi was RNG (or Royal Club, or Star Horn Royal Club, etc.). One of the major questions posed after Uzi's retirement was of what the team would look like without him. Uzi's playstyle frequently characterized RNG's playstyle: often heavily bot-lane focused. Even at times where RNG was arguably one of the best 1-3-1 teams in the world (around their victory at the 2018 Mid-Season Invitational) the crown jewel of the skirmishing three in that setup was Uzi and his support partner Shi "Ming" Sen-Ming.

While I fully expected Lu "Betty" Yu-Hung to be the answer for the team due to his individual prowess, it's former Dominus Esports bot laner Chen "GALA" Wei who emerged as a better fit for this RNG lineup. Jungler Li "XLB" Xiao-Long looked more coordinated with the team than in spring, and much-maligned mid laner Li "Xiaohu" Yuan-Hao's strong laning performances gave RNG a modicum of stability. What we saw this summer was an RNG struggling to find an identity. They ultimately found it by continuing to start GALA, but it was too little too late.

Playoff preview Round 1, Match 1: Victory Five, FunPlus Phoenix

Those who haven't watched FunPlus Phoenix since their 2019 3-0 sweep of G2 Esports and are just now popping in to see how the reigning world champions are doing may be surprised to hear that Victory Five are favored in this matchup.

Conversation around FPX this year has focused on the team's two top laners: Kim "GimGoon" Han-saem and Kim "Khan" Dong-ha, especially given that GimGoon, regardless of lane performance and champion pool, has a stronger win rate and is more well-coordinated with the team. Yet, another key component of FPX's success last year and during their worlds run was the mid/jungle synergy between Gao "Tian" Tian-Liang and Kim "Doinb" Tae-sang. One of the more important parts of Tian's pathing was to visit Doinb's lane and either giving him laning advantages or resetting his wave so he could roam early and often. Proactivity and a roaming two-to-three-man squad of Tian, Doinb, and support Liu "Crisp" Qing-Song, and FPX hasn't been as coordinated with these roams as they once were.

By contrast, Victory Five are this season's up-and-coming darlings. Their bottom lane of Lee "Samd" Jae-hoon (although they've occasionally started Wang "y4" Nong-Mo) and rookie support Guo "ppgod" Peng have captured the hearts of Chinese and western LPL fans alike. Ppgod is the rare rookie support with a remarkably strong voice and alongside former Suning jungler (and bot laner) Wei "Weiwei" Bo-Han is responsible for V5's decisive early gameplay. They're more of a bot-lane-focused team than anything else, but Weiwei's pathing and understanding of enemy buff timers often gives them incremental advantages and information, allowing the team to be as aggressive as they are in skirmishes all around the map.

Of all teams this year that Victory Five faced, the only team to sweep them was an EDG squad that was already out of playoff contention. V5 made matches tough for their opponents even in losses, taking at least a single game away in four of their five total losses in summer. V5 are led by Weiwei who is currently contending for the title of best jungler in the LPL with WE's Jiang "beishang" Zhi-Peng. Tian has the skill and talent to stifle Weiwei early, but he's going to have to then transition that into advantages for Doinb with both of them making proactive moves to translate power to FPX's side lanes. It's sacrilege at this point to suggest that FPX could play better with Khan over GimGoon, but given how top laner Yu "Biubiu" Lei-Xin has been an attack point for some of V5's more successful adversaries, it might be worth trying for at least Game 1.

Playoff preview Round 1, Match 2: LGD Gaming, Team WE

Team WE probably have the edge here simply due to their consistency. While you can complain about WE's playstyle and how it often revolves around mid laner Jiang "Teacherma" Chen and his stable of Aurelion Sol-like champion picks, WE are remarkably stubborn when it comes to their playstyle -- and it has worked for them. They're not a favorite to go too far in the playoff bracket, but with the jungle prowess and teamfight positioning of Beishang, bot laner Zhao "Jiumeng" Jia-Hao's marked improvement from last split, and Teacherma's shove and roam style, they know how they want to play and execute it.

Their opponents, LGD Gaming have flashes of greatness but only when they set everything up perfectly. It should come as no surprise that jungler Han "Peanut" Wang-ho and mid laner Su "Xiye" Han-Wei's synergy has been the backbone for this team. Bot laner Ha "Kramer" Jong-hun and support Ling "Mark" Xu have their moments but can also be inconsistent. LGD's better performances of the split have come from their teamfighting. This is unfortunately accompanied by predictable drafting and problems when their plans go off-script. In the official LPL preview material, one of LGD's listed weaknesses was "tendency to throw leads" which speaks to the team's sometimes baffling decision-making when things don't break their way.

Draft is always important but it will be particularly important in this series -- likely more than the V5-FPX Round 1 matchup -- due to the oft-rigid draft choices that these two teams make, WE in supporting their focused playstyle, and LGD in trying to get what they think is the best meta composition.

Either way, I think this is going to be a messy series that could easily go all five games and will, at the very least, go four. In the unlikely event that it's a sweep, it's going to be the closest sweep we see with miraculous comebacks and probably at least one backdoor or base race.