In late 2012, there was a small push in the Taiwanese esports scene to improve the region's League of Legends profile internationally.
Twenty solo queue players were drafted and placed onto a roster in a scouting event to see how they would perform. One in particular, support Hu "SwordArt" Shuo-Chieh, performed very well.
Around that same time, in Vietnam, Lê "SofM" Quang Duy had already started to make noise as one of his region's strongest players and later, the best player to ever come out of the Vietnamese server.
Both ended up in China's LoL Pro League after eclipsing what their regions could do for them. SofM was heralded as Vietnam's greatest player before arriving on Snake Esports in 2016, while SwordArt's Flash Wolves dominated the LoL Master Series for years before SwordArt finally made the move to the LPL in 2019. At the end of LPL 2019, with SwordArt in his first year on Suning and SofM still on Snake (now LNG Esports), both longtime players were in the same position: eliminated in the first round of 2019 LPL Summer Playoffs.
Now, though, the veterans are in a very different position.
SofM and SwordArt's Suning team is unexpectedly in the League of Legends World Championship finals after knocking out both of the LPL's top seeds in No. 2 JD Gaming in the quarterfinals and No. 1 Top Esports in the semis. The jungler and support have been tasked with bringing up rookie top laner Chen "Bin" Ze-Bin and AD carry Tang "huanfeng" Huan-Feng alongside mid laner Xiang "Angel" Tao, who has been in the league since 2018 but is just now having his breakout year.
This Suning team is a perfect mix of experienced pros and younger talent, evolving at a moment in LoL history where the meta suits them well.
Suning, and particularly SwordArt and SofM, carry with them the expectations of the LPL, whose teams have won the past two worlds. The veterans also bear the smaller but equally important banners of the now-defunct LMS, and Vietnam as whole; neither Vietnamese team was able to make it to worlds due to visa restrictions in the ongoing pandemic.
"In that moment, I had really complicated emotions because both of us had the chance but only one team can get into the grand final," SwordArt said after knocking out LPL first seed TES and former Flash Wolves teammate Hung "Karsa" Hao-Hsuan in the semifinals. "After we grabbed that win, I think we hold a bigger responsibility to get the final victory."
For all that's been made of the narrative around Suning's improvement and the team's strong synergy they are underdogs in this upcoming final. South Korean No. 1 seed DAWMON Gaming have looked to be a significantly more formidable and dominant team that is equally well-suited to the current League of Legends metagame.
This isn't the same Suning team that we saw in LPL summer, the regional finals or even this worlds' group stage, but they'll have to once again show significant improvement and prepare perfectly to beat a team like DAMWON.
DAMWON's weaknesses in this meta are few, but one of them is their mid-game efficiency, shown throughout their own semifinals series with G2 Esports where G2 still have stronger cross-map trading at times even while behind. Unfortunately, this is also a weakness for Suning, and was similarly shown in their semifinals against TES. Even if Suning get ahead early, a difficult task against DAMWON, they tend to struggle before their late game surge kicks in.
This battle will likely come down to the jungle, where SofM will face Kim "Canyon" Geon-bu, a jungler equally suited to the current carry style. SofM has been previously criticized for his inefficiency as a jungler, sacrificing lane presence for power-farming. At worlds, he's tweaked his style enough to keep Suning at the top of the jungle control statistics (barely beating DAMWON's 55% by 0.3%) but has appeared in lanes more often, as he did against TES, to ensure that Bin's laning aggressiveness on Jax was supported to get him ahead.
This adjustment means that even when SofM is sacrificing farming efficiency, he's doing something that will help Suning trade or gain a tempo advantage elsewhere, a monumental difference from this spring, when his farming would keep him from taking objectives in a timely manner or appearing with his team for skirmishes. Canyon won't make it easy, but there is a blueprint for Suning to upset the favored team for the third time this postseason, and it starts with SofM.
Suning's underdog status has been more of a comfort than a burden for the team as well, and that will continue into this finals match.
"We have chosen many talented players," Suning coach Shih "Chashao" Yi-Hao said. He, too, has roots in the LMS, having previously coached in the region, including SwordArt's Flash Wolves team. "We are the team that is very suitable for this worlds journey, so I think we made lots of improvements, more improvements than other teams. Also people don't have too much expectation towards us. That's why we're able to perform just as ourselves."