text by: Adel Chouadria
Special to VPEsports
On April 21, 2018, Invictus Gaming took center stage in Hangzhou as they faced Royal Never Give Up in the 2018 LPL spring split semifinals. Strong off an 18:1 showing in the group stage, they held the LPL trophy at their fingertips…
Until they didn’t. When Kang “TheShy” Seung-lok injured his hand weeks before the match, iG became unable to bring the same flavor of dominance from their spring split. In fact, the top laner watched on the sidelines as iG fell in a tense 3:2 against RNG.
Invictus Gaming fell but then, there was no blame game for a team that had recently taken shape.
Their 2018 showing proved that they were far removed from their struggling days, the last of which passed in the 2017 spring split. iG’s rebuilding effort started with TheShy’s transition from streamer to competitor, and it ended with the very same ordeal for Yu “JackeyLove” Wen-Bo. As the two players became of age to compete, they faced the harsh expectations iG’s fan base placed upon them.
“In the past, we had a lot of AD players, but how should I put this… they were never at the absolute top tier performance. For me, JackeyLove was top tier.” — Baolan
Talk about an evolution. Before JackyeLove’s and TheShy’s arrival, iG fans had set their expectations on Song “Rookie” EuI-jin alone. When JackeyLove came of age, these expectations shifted and the iG fanbase set the bar high — too high perhaps — especially in the context of how subpar iG’s bot lane has been before that. Few players can meet such skyhigh standards, but JackeyLove did his best to leave the crowd satisfied.
“For me, I’ve always known that once JackeyLove joined the team, we would be a top caliber team,” said Wang “Baolan” Liu-Yi, his support. “In the past, we had a lot of AD players, but how should I put this… they were never at the absolute top tier performance. For me, JackeyLove was top tier. When he joined the team, this was an expected result for us.”
JackeyLove’s arrival was a boon for Baolan, who frequently played duo queue with him outside of scrimmage sessions, back when JackeyLove was a streamer. The two players had instant synergy, allowing iG to turn into a three-lane juggernaut that Gao “Ning” Zhen-Ning could leverage and turn unstoppable.
“I think it’s very important for players to achieve equilibrium across the board, and I feel like JackeyLove has that balance with us, where everyone is on the same page,” Baolan added. “That’s why we achieved great results once he joined the team.”[
On Sep. 14, 2018, Invictus Gaming stood to face an emboldened Royal Never Give Up in the LPL summer finals. Since the last time they faced, RNG had grown bigger. They had claimed the 2018 LPL spring crown as well as a momentous victory at the 2018 Mid-Season Invitational. The stakes were higher than the summer title: iG needed a milestone win and redemption after faltering in the spring split; and RNG were on the chase for a grand slam in 2018.
After four back-and-forth games, the series reached its tensest point. Although RNG had won a team fight, their base was in shambles at the 32nd minute. However, they survived long enough to exploit iG’s risky plays, as well as JackeyLove’s false sense of security at minute 38 — with RNG knowing his whereabouts fully. For the fans, iG’s routine team fight losses did not matter.
All that mattered was that they fell.
For some time, that death haunted JackeyLove’s Weibo page, in the wake of another grand final failure. His teammates’ actions, or RNG’s excessive warding, didn’t matter. But the chaos he faced on social media did not faze him, as his experience as a streamer helped him prepare for that moment.
“I’ve seen a lot of comments,” he said. “Even when I read a lot of these comments, they didn’t really affect me at all. I think it’s more about personal mentality.”
Invictus Gaming had set the tone for the rest of the season. As China’s second seed, they proceeded to Worlds, witnessed RNG’s surprising fall against G2 Esports, and promptly cleared their competition. A rematch against Fnatic at the World Championship finals, who had beaten them during the group stage, proved one-sided.
The team that came so close so many times only to trip before the final step before finally had their moment of reckoning. But their return home, even with the Summoner’s Cup on their shelf, was not all smooth.
Baolan felt underappreciated by the Chinese community, and rightfully so. At the time, the fans seemingly held him at a lower esteem than most of the Fnatic players they beat at the World Championship finals, despite being a major contributor to iG’s success. As a result, he nearly left on a quest to prove himself to them. Officially, he did leave the team for less than 24 hours.
“Ever since we won the 2018 World Championship, I believe in destiny more and more.” — Baolan
“All of my teammates talked to me, and the way that they were trying to convince me was to tell me that it was an illogical decision,” he said. “But I think the person that really persuaded me to stay was still my boss.”
Baolan’s boss, Wang “WXZ” Si-Cong, highlighted that he was a vital member of the team in his plea, and convinced him to return. As a result, iG were rewarded with a dominant showing in the 2019 LPL spring split. Although they ended second during the group stage, they convincingly marched towards the first LPL title in the organization’s history. Considering Baolan’s past, even the struggles were worth the moment.
“I think it’s all destiny,” he said. “Ever since we won the 2018 World Championship, I believe in destiny more and more.”
Alas, we are not done yet. Destiny is about to take a very weird turn.
On May 17, 2019, Invictus Gaming took another important test. They were to play an opponent of their choosing, Team Liquid, for a spot in the MSI 2019 grand finals. In their minds, they might have already reached the finals: they had smashed the competition with a 9:1 record during the group stage, while TL had struggled to get out of groups.
Yet, at the 33:32 mark of a tense game 1, as TL sieged their inhibitor, iG were wounded. Fast forward three more games, they had met their end. They choked, and they were well aware of the fact.
“This time, when we were playing from the group stages to the playoffs, I felt that the team was overconfident,” Rookie said during the team’s exit press conference to VPEsports. “When we were practicing with other teams, they were prepping very well and bringing their A game against us. But we were very emotional in the games; looking back at it, we need to maintain our emotional spades in check if we want to perform well in the future.”
“When we were practicing with other teams, they were prepping very well and bringing their A game against us. But we were very emotional in the games.” — JackeyLove
In a way, JackeyLove’s words to ELLE Men were prophetic: iG can beat anyone on a given day, but they can also lose should they be in bad shape. Against Team Liquid, it was the latter. But learning is always on the menu: no matter how testy it gets, iG’s team atmosphere makes it extremely difficult for more negativity to ensue.
“It’s always been a good atmosphere on the team, because even if we lose, nobody tries to accuse anyone else,” JackeyLove said. “Everyone does what they’re supposed to [do.]”
“It may have something to do with the management style in iG,” Ning said on ELLE Men. “Here they players, coach, and management are more like friends rather than managers and subordinates. They don’t really manage us and this style suits iG.”
As a result, rather than pressure their players, iG’s coaching staff may put the event in their rear view and prepare their players for what is to come. After all, there is still the summer split and, quite likely, the World Championship ahead. They won’t need to do much to motivate them.
“Once you lose that much, it drives you to become better and win even more games,” JackeyLove said.
Throughout their history with their current lineup, Invictus Gaming fell over and over again, and they got back up every single time. And they can rise up again as the LPL summer split approaches.