This week marked the halfway point for the 2020 LoL Pro League summer regular season. Top Esports look unstoppable, Victory Five are still a top team, and JD Gaming have returned (to the top of the standings at least). Here was Week 5 in the LPL.
Can anyone stop Top Esports en route to a summer LPL title?
In North America's League of Legends Championship Series, the vast majority of discussion has been centered around Cloud9 rampaging through the summer split untouched. Perhaps it's due to the fact that the LPL is known for having an entire cluster of strong teams below them - currently this includes FunPlus Phoenix, Invictus Gaming, Victory Five, JD Gaming, and Team WE - but Top Esports are only looking more formidable by the series.
It's now expected that Top Esports will beat their mid-to-bottom of the table LPL opponents, but the 2-0 drubbing they gave LNG Esports this past week only further showed the degree of separation between Top Esports and most of these teams. In Game 1, they averaged over a kill a minute against LNG, finishing with 25 kills and a game time of 23:42.
Since this is the LPL, it's incredibly difficult to go completely undefeated for an entire split due to the sheer amount of talent that can be found on nearly every lineup and the grueling nature of an LPL season. Even 2018 Invictus Gaming (also known as the roster that subbed in Wang Sicong into a match so he could play for his own organization and still won) lost a single series each split, finishing 18-1 both times. Last year, FunPlus Phoenix managed a 14-1 summer performance, dropping a single series to iG. If Top Esports manage to make it through an entire split without losing a series, it will be an impressive achievement. It's not like we haven't seen Top Esports bleed - just last week, EDward Gaming showcased a fairly strong blueprint for attacking them early with a strong composition that could both teamfight late and spread Top Esports on the map with split pushing solo laners.
More important than an undefeated regular season is Top Esports' quest for the LPL trophy, something they narrowly missed winning this past spring. It would absolve Top Esports' floundering Game 5 against JDG in the spring finals, and further cement the fact that Top Esports is the best team in the world, especially with so many questions still swirling around the logistics of the world championship.
Top Esports can accrue advantages from any lane and the jungle and their teamfighting has improved immensely from spring, especially with much stronger synergy between Hung "Karsa" Hao-Hsuan and Zhuo "knight" Ding. On paper, a team that would be able to beat this Top Esports lineup in a best-of-five sounds like a dream: a team with both strong solo laners and a strong bot lane, a smart jungler that can play damage carries, tanks, and playmakers, and enough synergy that they move as a unit. There is no team like that currently in the LPL. That doesn't mean it can't happen, but right now it's difficult to see which team would be able to improve enough to do it.
Is Royal Never Give Up in trouble?
Yes and no.
Over the past three weeks, RNG have faced JD Gaming (fourth) and eStar (14th), beating both teams with a 2-1 scoreline. They've also lost to Victory Five (second), FunPlus Phoenix (third), and Team WE (fifth). The only team at the top of the standings that RNG haven't faced is Top Esports, who they will play later in Week 9. When considering their strength of schedule, it makes sense that RNG have struggled a bit.
By contrast, they've also looked less cohesive and generally worse as a team. Jungler Li "XLB" Xiao-Long started this split off stronger than he did in spring with better coordination with the rest of RNG. Against Victory Five, they swapped out top laner Tian "New" Zhi-Peng for He "705" Yu-Long, and, more surprisingly, longstanding mid laner Li "Xiaohu" Yuan-Ho for Yuan "Cryin" Cheng-Wei. Cryin also started in the team's 1-2 loss to Team WE. In their most recent series against FPX, they sat Lu "Betty" Yu-Hung in favor of Chen "GALA" Wei. Right now, it seems like RNG are still trying things out, even if it is against some of the better lineups in the league, and occasionally but not always keeping up.
In all of the talk of what RNG looks like without Jian "Uzi" Zi-Hao and whether Betty (or now GALA) can replace him is what kind of playstyle RNG will have going forward. They're still trying to figure that out but if their series against FPX is anything to go by, it's that they can still be a formidable team in single games, and will be more dangerous once they do.
Let's check in with: Victory Five
Victory Five were handed their second series loss this past week, but that series told us far more about V5's strengths than it did prove that they don't belong at the top of the table. V5 will probably still drop to about fourth or fifth by the end of the split, but they're still looking like a dangerous team that could do some damage in the playoffs if left unchecked. Change a few of their decisions against FPX and V5 takes that series, keeping them one game behind Top Esports.
Although support Guo "ppgod" Peng has stolen the hearts of Chinese and Western fans alike, it's jungler Wei "Weiwei" Bo-Han who has been the standout performer for the team, quietly doing a lot of the work so his bot lane and, more recently, mid laner Li "Mole" Hao-Yan, can shine.
Mole is also an interesting story. He has looked exponentially more at ease on this new V5 lineup now that he's not being asked to be the entirety of his team's win condition and swapping from position to position hoping he can carry. Returning to the mid lane has given him much-needed stability, and he thrives off of the pressure that Weiwei and the duo lane of Lee "Samd" Jae-hoon and ppgod can create.
And sure, maybe they shouldn't have won that Game 2 against eStar, but capitalizing on opponents' mistakes is also a part of thriving in the LPL. For their part, V5 do look less one-dimensional than their spring counterparts in eStar (with unexpected teams razing through the regular season) and should be fully expected to make playoffs.