Coming into this tournament, and this off-season, one would expect that the once and future kings of Invictus Gaming would comfortably secure a finals berth for themselves in China’s most prestigious independent event. And yet the path to their second consecutive title was rockier than any of us could have expected. Whether we could attribute that to star toplaner and Worlds 2018 breakout player TheShy’s absence (he took the time to get some well-earned rest during the off-season), or surprising amounts of strength being shown from other teams, we’ll look at a few contributing factors towards Invictus Gaming’s struggles on the road to victory.
IG COMING FOR THEIR SECOND TITLE IN TWO MONTHS
While not quite as prestigious as a World Championship victory, or even a regular LPL (China’s regular split/league format) title, the Demacia Championship is an opportunity for teams to gauge enemy strengths (and demonstrate their own) heading into the next year. It also presented World Champions Invictus Gaming with a chance to stake a claim at a domestic title, something that they had been unable to obtain during earlier parts of the year.
TOP ALMOST COME OUT ON TOP
Besides a relatively strong showing from our reigning World Champions, there were a few other stand out teams - the most notable of which being underdogs Topsports Gaming securing a finals berth after going undefeated in the earlier stages of the winner’s bracket. Propelled on by a surprise 2-0 victory over Invictus Gaming themselves in their series to qualify for the grand final, this ragtag bunch of misfits split 3-3 overall with our heavy favorites to take it all - unfortunately, the 1-3 games came in their final series and therefore they fell to second. TOP still looked like a pleasant surprise and a definite contender for potential upsets - or even a Worlds seed - in the regular season of the LPL. Midlaner Knight, in particular, looked to stake a claim for the title of best domestic Chinese mid - or even player overall - securing no less than 14 kills in a game three that TOP ultimately lost.
Topsports Gaming putting out such strong performances with a relatively young roster - the only real veteran being former World Elite support Ben - really gives hope to the next generation of Chinese talent. Often, solo queue rookies are written off as mechanical gods with a lack of game sense - and yet, through some of the most confident and well-thought-out rotations demonstrated in recent history, TOP look to make a mark on the Chinese scene in the years to come.
Perhaps equally as surprising as TOP’s overall performance, Invictus Gaming’s Duke put on one heck of a show in the final game of the tournament. Posting a 7-0-1 scoreline on Aatrox, of all champions, our stalwart tank player in the toplane showed shades of his alternate this series. Typically, TheShy is the carry toplaner of this IG line up, while Duke plays a more supportive style to let star carries Rookie and Jackeylove genuinely shine - and yet, Duke silenced any doubters his prowess on carrying champions may have had.
On the topic of Rookie and Jackeylove truly being able to shine, some of Jackeylove's scorelines during the final series were truly indicative of just how fearsome the IG marksman can be. Duke’s standout performance perhaps outshines 4-0-5 in the last game as Kai'sa, but I don’t think any of us can look down at the 22-4-8 one posted in game 2. Rookie also had his own highlights, making a very frightening 1v2 outplay as you can see below.
IT’S SUNING, NOT WINNING
Invictus Gaming lose this game, despite Rookie’s flashy outplay - indicative of the fact that we cannot count out any upset potential coming from Suning Gaming heading into next season. In the off-season, Suning added the arguably most talented members of the LMS’ Flash Wolves’ roster to their line up. Once Maple and SwordArt start to gel with the rest of the lineup, you have to imagine that this is another fearsome five players that we are going to have to pay particular attention to. Should they falter, however, it does raise questions as to whether it’s worth importing players not named Karsa from regions other than Korea or Vietnam?
ROGUE WARRIORS FAIL TO ASSASSINATE OR EXECUTE IG
Perhaps the biggest question mark heading into this tournament was the newly renovated roster of Rogue Warriors. A complete gambit as far as the eye can see, the only immediately recognizable member of the roster was long-term support Killua. And yet, it was the members across the board (that we had little information on, to begin with) that truly put out solid performances against their counterparts, with midlaner KongMing and marksman ZWuJi, in particular, looking like the next resident players of note in their roles. Even our champions IG struggled versus them, and ultimately it was Rookie (our League of Legends player of the year) who dragged the rest of his team kicking and screaming across the finish line against the LPL’s newest threat.
RNG? EDG? WAKE UP
Fan-favorites and consistent Worlds attendees Royal Never Give Up, and EDward Gaming also went through some roster changes this off-season, though you would be hard pressed to call these strict upgrades. In particular, the loss of “best tank player in the world” LetMe will likely hurt RNG in the long term, especially given that they have signed former BLG top AmazingJ as his replacement. Effectively, RNG will have to do something akin to what IG currently do - swap from a more conservative topside playstyle to a more aggressive one, with the added confusion of having to implement both of their junglers into the dynamic.
LPL 2019 looks insane from an outside perspective, and the Demacia Championship was representative of that - this tournament was a blast, and I wholeheartedly recommend checking out some VODs if you want an additional read and perspective on the meta we’re likely to see in 2019.