Top Esports continue to raze through the League of Legends Pro League while Victory Five, LGD Gaming and Team WE all sit unexpectedly toward the top of the standings.
This week, we take a look at EDward Gaming's unfortunate bot lane situation, Team WE's playstyle and check in with the reigning world champion.
Let's check in with: FunPlus Phoenix
Reigning world champions and 2019 LPL summer champions FunPlus Phoenix are oddly flying under the radar to start this summer split.
In spring, the FPX discussion was dominated by how the arrival of top laner Kim "Khan" Dong-ha to the lineup fractured the delicate synergy that the team had balanced around mid laner Kim "Doinb" Tae-sang with then-starting top laner Kim "GimGoon" Han-saem. However, GimGoon's 2020 spring performances were equally as exploited by opponents as Khan's were, and jungler Gao "Tian" Tian-Liang looked off all spring.
The big difference in the Khan vs. GimGoon debate now is that FPX have stopped swapping between the two top laners and have decided to stick with Khan for the time being; Gimgoon hasn't played a match over Khan yet in summer. A cursory look at Tian's jungle pathing shows that he does path toward top side more often, like in FPX's first game against eStar this past week, but generally keeps an eye on mid more than anything else. This suits FPX perfectly because Doinb is at his best when he is unlocked, and if he has Tian's help in resetting mid wave or killing his mid lane opponent, all the better.
EDward Gaming BBD's unexpected LPL debut
Last split, due to travel restrictions caused by the coronavirus pandemic, EDward Gaming had to start Yu "JunJia" Chun-Chia who was considered the team's second- or even third-string jungler behind then-starter Zhao "JieJie" Li-Jie and backup Chang "Xinyi" Ping. Before his LPL start, JunJia had only ever played in the semi-pro Elite Challenger Series without an official LoL Master Series start. Exceeding expectations, JunJia performed so well that EDward Gaming have continued to split time between him and JieJie onstage.
This split, EDG are in an unfortunate situation that is again beyond their control. Starting bot laner Wang "Hope" Jie was hospitalized for a pneumothorax (collapsed lung), which has forced the team to start a bot lane trainee that they had called up from EDG's LoL Development League team: Wu "BBD" Ling-Feng.
BBD's first match came against the best team in the world right in Top Esports, but he and his squad played them surprisingly close, besting Top Esports in Game 1 before losing Games 2 and 3.
If EDG should be credited for anything, it's the seeming care with which they ease new players into their positions with drafting help. Game 1 featured BBD on fasting Senna while EDG focused on their two solo laners as the team's primary damage-dealers, with top laner Zhao "Aodi" Ao-Di on Camille and Lee "Scout" Ye-chan on Syndra. BBD also held his own on Aphelios in Games 2 and 3 despite the losses and was supported by EDG in draft and some of their map movements.
Team WE are exactly who you think they are, but that's OK
I wanted to take some time to talk about Team WE, their drafts and, of course, mid laner Jiang "Teacherma" Chen's quest to level his solo queue account on the Ionia server lest he be kicked out of the LPL.
The LPL, more than any other major region in the world, has a high concentration of teams with hyper-focused playstyles around the players that they have. This is why LPL drafts can be anywhere from head-scratching to rage-inducing. Ultimately, though, I think it's a net positive. No draft is made in a vacuum, and while LPL teams sometimes focus too much on their players' individual preferences, it's better than trying to fit a meta template that doesn't fit the team.
This approach means that most teams in China come to the table with specific strengths and equally specific and exploitable weaknesses. One of the heaviest criticisms against FunPlus Phoenix -- one I levied at them myself even while they were working their way through the field to a League of Legends World Championship in 2019 -- is that they were so focused around mid laner Kim "Doinb" Tae-sang's playstyle.
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I'm not suggesting that Team WE will win a world championship, though it would be a long time coming for some of the WE faithful that have been around since 2011-12. However, WE seem to be comfortable picking for Teacherma and adjusting their compositions in a way that's very reminiscent of FPX and Doinb because Teacherma is cut from the same cloth as FunPlus Phoenix's mid laner: He pushes mid wave and aims to affect his side lanes, though Teacherma is slightly worse at both laning and affecting other lanes without some team help.
Teacherma has some strong pieces around him, including jungler Jiang "beishang" Zhi-Peng, who was also a large part of WE's unlikely 2019 spring split rise to playoffs after a 1-3 start, and support Lou "Missing" Yun-Feng. WE's drafts may make you want to pull your hair out, but they're going to keep playing what they want because they know exactly who they are and they're executing that well.
Match of the Week: EDward Gaming vs. Top Esports
For two weeks in a row, the best LPL matches have unfortunately been off of the official English-language broadcast. This past week featured Royal Never Give Up's 2-0 loss to upstart Victory Five, FunPlus Phoenix taking on Invictus Gaming and the match I chose as the match of the week: Top Esports' 2-1 win over EDG.
As previously mentioned, EDG don't look half bad in this series and made Top Esports sweat despite not having their starting bot laner. In the end, Top Esports proved why they're the stronger team with better map control and stronger teamfighting, but it's a fun and fairly close series.