Invictus Gaming vs. JD Gaming: What to watch for in the LPL finals

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LPL final preview (4:04)

ESPN's Emily Rand and Phil Murphy dive into the 2019 LPL Spring Split Finals between Invictus Gaming and JD Gaming. (4:04)

Zoom versus TheShy

Despite all the chatter about who's the best in mid lane in China, this is rightfully the headlining matchup for this series: Zhang "Zoom" Xing-Ran butting heads with Kang "TheShy" Seung-lok in the top lane.

If you thought that iG was a successful solo-lane focused team, JD Gaming is even more reliant on Zeng "YaGao" Qi and Zoom to draw pressure in their own lanes and follow up with timely teleport plays to cover the rest of the map.

At this point, Zoom's Gangplank teleport barrel play in the bot lane of a deciding Game 5 against FunPlus Phoenix has made the rounds on social media. He teleported into the bot side jungle, collapsed on FPX, and immediately chained barrels for 4,000+ damage. It's the latest in a series of visually arresting outplays from the JDG top laner that have been circled and shared throughout their Cinderella run. At any point where it seemed like JDG were out of a series, Zoom somehow found a way to drag his team to victory.

Similarly, TheShy took on this role in iG's recent series against Topsports. Invictus Gaming AD carry Yu "JackeyLove" Wen-Bo and others had their moments, despite playing inconsistently in the series as a whole, but it was TheShy who really stood out. When jungler Gao "Ning" Zhen-Ning was going a bit too far forward on Rek'Sai in certain skirmishes against Topsports, it was TheShy who was often bailing him, and iG, out of a jam. Invictus' major flaw is that they think they can take any fight, no matter how disadvantageous the situation. Their mechanical skill has validated this thought process somewhat, but Zoom in particular will take advantage of this. It hasn't been a large factor in these playoffs, but Zoom is also a strong tank player, so if JDG do manage to upset iG, it will not only likely come from Zoom's performance, but he also should be suitable for the tankier top lane rumored to be a staple of the Mid-Season Invitational patch.

As for the one-on-one matchup itself, look for a lot of solo lane kill attempts first and foremost. TheShy has always been a laning monster, but Zoom is entering this match with eight solo kills during JDG's playoff run. Out of lane, when either of these teams have had trouble in playoffs, picked a bad fight, or needed another to take a neutral objective, it's Zoom and TheShy who answered that call.

Flawless versus himself

One of the more emotionally affecting -- or entertaining if you're watching Gu "Imp" Seung-bin laugh in the background -- images that came out of JDG's win over FunPlus Phoenix was a sobbing Flawless slumped over in his seat after the victory. All of his teammates quickly gathered around him, hugging him. After the team shook hands with FunPlus, bowed to the crowd and gathered their things, Flawless still sat at his computer, wiping his eyes. It was a cathartic victory for Flawless, who hasn't had a stellar split by any means and started Game 5 against FunPlus in a deficit as Elise. Afterward, he also attributed this reaction to being ill on that day. Winning validated his decision to play with his team onstage despite being sick, and there's certainly an argument that JDG wouldn't have won with their other jungler, Đỗ "Levi" Duy Khánh, who hasn't looked nearly as coordinated with the team.

The greatest opponent Flawless has ever had has been himself and his more blindly aggressive tendencies. Flawless has improved since his LoL Champions Korea debut on the ill-fated SBENU Sonicboom, but never delivered on the potential promised by his prodigious mechanical skill. To be a good jungler, you need more than mechanics.

Flawless has hardly been the star of JDG in their miracle run through the LPL playoffs, but he's performed much better than anticipated, and his matchup against Ning is something to watch out for. Both junglers are prone to overextensions that can hurt their teams as much as help them.

Rookie versus Imp?

The reason for including this "matchup" is that it's interesting to mark the passage of time in the LPL through the careers of Rookie and Imp. Once Lee "KaKAO" Byung-kwon left iG, Rookie made a name for himself as the best mid laner in China. Imp's career included multiple unsuccessful splits with LGD and a short stint on Team WE last year. As the two progressed through LPL seasons, the LPL itself transformed. Teams began relying on their domestic Chinese talent more and began working with each other more than against each other, especially after the 2017 LPL-LCK-LMS Rift Rivals event. After IG and Royal Never Give Up's successes last year, China became the default best region in the world, not only in practice but in general public perception.

Throughout these changes, Rookie became one of the faces of the LPL. Meanwhile, Imp's career seemed all but over when JDG picked him up this past offseason. Replacing Lee "LokeN" Dong-wook was always going to be a difficult task, and Imp certainly didn't seem up to it.

Fans have hyped up Imp's improved playoff performance as a return to form, and that narrative is a bit disingenuous. As Imp himself told VPGame in a postmatch interview, "I don't think I'm anywhere near my Season 4 form. After all, I am ranked 18th in terms of damage output among all the ADC."

After a mediocre season, Imp is performing better, but isn't (and never was) the focal point of his team. He uses this to his advantage. When opponents attack JDG, they typically attack Zoom and YaGao, not Imp, which leaves JDG's bot lane free to do whatever they want. Despite being a known name, he flies under the radar relative to his teammates, and this is arguably the best spot for Imp as a player.

Rookie is also overshadowed coming into this finals. He spent much of the season fighting off up-and-comers like Knight and his finals opponent, YaGao, for the title of best mid in China. With TheShy versus Zoom taking top billing, as it should, Rookie's mid lane prowess has been curiously downplayed.

Above all else, it's interesting to think about how the careers of these two players have changed considerably since they both came to China, especially since they're two of the most prominent 2014-15 Korean Exodus players to have stayed in China.

LvMao versus the Imp narrative

That brings us to our final matchup: JDG support Zuo "LvMao" Ming-Hao, the unsung hero of JDG. Due to his large international fanbase, success while on Samsung Galaxy White and iconic rolling around in the grass at the Seoul World Cup Stadium in Sangnam before winning the world championship in 2014, it's easy to see why people would celebrate any sort of return to form from the veteran AD carry.

Many strong bot laners require a strong laning partner. LvMao has had a phenomenal playoff run, but also kept their bot lane afloat for most of the split when Imp's performances were worse. After JDG's series against FunPlus, viewers might know LvMao as simply "that support who played Bard." Yet LvMao's engage sense is important to JDG's teamfights and JDG has won many fights because of LvMao's initiation on champions like Galio, Alistar, and Fiddlesticks. Due to his success on Fiddle, the champion has frequently been banned against JDG just to get it off the table.

If you're celebrating the return of Imp, spare a thought or two for LvMao, who's had a career year thus far.