Riot Games China lined up the perfect match to open the 2020 LPL Spring Season. When you have the biggest league in the world that’s now won the last two World Championships and has the staggering 17 teams participating, you want an outlier of a game to draw an audience.
And what better outlier than Invictus Gaming versus FunPlus Phoenix? The last two LoL world champions would draw first blood. In a matter of minutes, more than 30K flocked to the stream, before the series could even heat up.
On paper, Invictus Gaming were the underdogs. Despite having arguably the best player in the world in Kang “TheShy” Seung-lok, the rest of the armor had its cracks. Their jungler presence had its issues, with Gao “Ning” Zhen-Ning still being a very polarized player, altering between stratospheric highs and subterranean lows, and Lu “Leyan” Jue having played a total of six LPL and three Worlds games.
In the bottom lane, the player who was instrumental for iG’s top 4 finish at Worlds 2019, Yu “JackeyLove” Wen-Bo had left, searching for the elusive golden contract, which he still hasn’t side. To replace him came Ding “PUff” Wang and Su “Southwind” Zhi-Lin from Vici Gaming, a team that finished at the very bottom of the table in both Splits last year.
At the same time, FPX had made no changes to their world championship roster besides upgrading their top lane to feature ex-T1’s Kim “Khan” Dong-ha. A seasoned top laner with four domestic titles in the LCK, Khan was FPX’s answer to the likes of TheShy, Zhang “Zoom” Xing-Ran, or Li “Flandre” Xuan-Jun — lane opponents who would often overpower Kim “GimGoon” Han-saem.
When the light turn green and the 10 players spawned on the Rift, for the first 25 minutes, it was business as expected for FPX. An early kill in mid gave so much advantage to Kim “Doinb” Tae-sang that at one point he was three levels and 100 cs up on Song “Rookie” Eui-jin. FPX even got their Dragon Soul buff and first Baron, with which they speared ahead and took down two iG inhibitors.
But Invictus Gaming are never done, not until their Nexus crumbles. TheShy’s Aatrox became instrumental in the next fights that broke and couple with Puff’s excellent marksmanship, iG held their ground and survived until the second Baron. There, under the disbelieving eyes of Worlds MVP Gao “Tian” Tian-Liang, they cleaned up FPX, took Baron and turned the game around for the 1-0 lead.
FPX changed direction in game 2 and hard-camped top, shutting down the lane so hard that even TheShy couldn’t turn it around. With lots of help from Tian, Khan had won the Fiora vs. Aatrox carry match-up and the score was tied.
The bell rang for game 3 and now it was time for Puff and Southwind to show why they were voted confidence by iG staff. Puff’s Varus was untouchable the whole game, tugged nicely behind a Braum that just never died. Vici’s former bot lane duo finished with a combined 8/1/20 KDA, stealing the show in a game with six world champions present.
The win sends a powerful message about iG’s 2020 line-up. While just one game has been played, the confidence radiating from Puff/Southwind, especially against a bot lane that just won Worlds, was impressive. If before the season had started the loss of JackeyLove seemed one that would seriously drag down iG’s fighting prowess, their 2020 debut shows nothing of the sort. And while TheShy took home both MVP awards of the series, Puff’s mastery on Varus and Senna will remain a point of discussion for the season to come.
Photos by: Riot Games