LoL Week in Review: RNG Reclaim Seat on LPL Throne
The final Spring Split of the year has come to a close. RNG dispatched of FunPlus Phoenix 3-1 to get back to the top of the LPL. Interestingly enough, it came courtesy of an MVP performance from their ADC. On the other side, FPX can be satisfied with how their roster is shaping up after a tumultuous season. We look at the top news and storylines across the LEC, LCS, LPL, and LCK.
RNG WIN LPL TITLE IN CONVINCING FASHION
The Old Gods of the LPL have finally taken their place back at the top of the league. Royal Never Give Up handled FunPlus Phoenix 3-1 to win the LPL Spring Split Finals. It is RNG’s first LPL title since the dominant 2018 Summer team.
The series got off to a bit of a bumpy start for Royal Never Give Up. Jang “Nuguri” Ha-gwon and Kim “Doinb” Tae-sang made flashy plays to show why FPX made it to the Finals through the Upper Bracket. After RNG lost game one, it looked like the series could be a repeat of FPX’s 3-0 quarterfinals win.
Instead, it was Royal Never Give Up who would win three unanswered. Nuguri dominated Li “Xiaohu” Yuan-Hao again in top lane, but RNG had the advantage bot. Chen “GALA” Wei and Shi “Ming” Sen-Ming crushed Lin “Lwx” Wei-Xiang and Liu “Crisp” Qing-Song in lane on the back of Ming’s Nautilus hooks. Because of that lead, Ming could get out of lane and affect the rest of the map to pull RNG ahead. Yuan “Cryin” Cheng-Wei’s led the way with an 11/1/13 Ryze score in the 32 minute win.
Once RNG pulled out game two, the series quickly turned lopsided. RNG continued to destroy bot lane, but Yan “Wei” Yang-Wei started camping Nuguri top. The result? FPX was collapsing on both sides of the map in games three and four. GALA finished a combined 19/0/8 in the final two games to propel RNG to the title and earn series MVP.
AN ADC IS STILL CARRYING RNG
Though he was set up superbly by his support throughout the series, it was fitting that RNG’s return to glory would come via an MVP performance from their ADC. RNG was, for many years, known as Jian “Uzi” Zi-Hao’s team, and the lineups were built around him. This series goes to show what a balanced lineup around the star ADC can accomplish.
Unlike the 2018 lineup, this was a completely unexpected result at the start of this year. RNG had questions up and down their lineup, starting with the top lane. After years of struggle with the role, RNG swapped long-time mid laner Xiaohu top. Wei and Cryin had a good run together on eStar in 2020, but each had a better Spring than Summer. It took GALA weeks to win the job over Lu “Betty” Yu-Hung in 2020 Summer, even if GALA joined late.
Expectations for their placement were all over the place, but they generally weren’t great. We had RNG ranked 11th in the LPL heading into the Spring Split. Whoops. As it turned out, Xiaohu’s top lane went better than anyone could have expected, shoring up RNG’s Achilles heel. Meanwhile, the combination of Wei, Cryin, and GALA answered any questions about RNG’s firepower. This is a case where the whole team hit their best-case scenario ceiling.
However, in the end, we’re still talking about RNG’s ADC as the MVP. Everything exactly as it should be.
NUGURI PROVES HIS WORTH FOR FPX
FunPlus Phoenix’s loss to RNG is obviously devastating. They ran the gauntlet of Rare Atom, JD Gaming, RNG, and EDward Gaming to reach the Finals without a series loss. They came in as the favorites, especially considering their 3-0 sweep of RNG in the quarterfinals. It has to hurt when they were so close to achieving their ultimate domestic goal.
On the other hand, this was still an incredibly good season for FPX. They overcame incredible jungle turmoil after Tian’s break and Zhou “Bo” Yang-Bo’s suspension. Cycling through three junglers in a season can break any team—just ask TSM. However, the most important takeaway from FPX’s season might revolve around top lane.
When FPX added Kim “Khan” Dong-ha in 2020, they knew they were taking a chance. The team never played around top during their 2019 World Championship run, so the marriage would take some time. Unfortunately, the COVID pandemic threw a wrench in the development phase, and FPX never recovered. The Khan addition was supposed to raise FPX’s ceiling, but instead, it just lowered their floor.
Instead of reverting back to a solid weak-side tank player, FPX doubled down in their search for a carry top laner by adding Nuguri. The decision looks to be paying off through one split. Nuguri was an absolute monster in the series, even in a losing effort. His team fighting around Baron allowed FPX to close out game one, while his outplay of a four-man gank in game two was probably the most impressive individual play of the series.
FPX JUNGLE, BOT STRUGGLE
RNG shut down Nuguri in games three and four, but that had little to do with his own play. RNG were able to send Wei and Ming top lane repeatedly to help Xiaohu survive Nuguri’s pressure.
The reason RNG were able to do this is because Tian, Lwx, and Crisp had a very poor series. Wei did a much better job against Tian this time around, which is fair to expect, considering he had a better overall season. Tian had a trying season and probably wouldn’t even be playing if Bo hadn’t gotten suspended. It’s fair not to be too harsh on him, especially with how quickly his bot lane was collapsing.
Of the two, Lwx was the main culprit in bot lane. Ming hooked him early in lane and Lwx never seemed to recover mentally. He also had an unfortunate misplay on Tristana in game three that cost himself an early kill. After Lwx couldn’t complete the auto-attack, RNG turned the fight around to pick up two kills instead. RNG took what should have been FPX’s snowball advantage and ran with it.
The good news is that FPX need not panic. Lwx has bounced back from poor performance before and should be able to again. Tian has over a month to rest and recover his mental state, while Bo’s situation could also get resolved. The positives of FPX’s Spring still far outweigh the negatives. But they will lament their missed chance to pick up another title.
100 THIEVES MAKE CHANGES AHEAD OF SUMMER
100 Thieves made a pair of changes after a disappointing finish to their Spring Split. First up was to hire Bok “Reapered” Han-gyu to replace Tony “Zikz” Gray. The second was to acquire mid laner Felix “Abbedagge” Braun from FC Schalke 04. Kim “Ssumday” Chan-ho earning NA residency between splits made this possible.
We go into more detail on the Abbedagge move here, but it’s an obvious upgrade to 100T’s weakest position. Abbedagge will step in as the team’s unquestioned starting mid laner and should put 100T in a better position to qualify for Worlds.
These moves make it clear, if it wasn’t already, that 100 Thieves want to win now. The same team that espoused the virtues of player development in 2020 bought an almost entirely new team this year, benched the new mid laner after four weeks, and has now brought in a new coach and mid between splits. There is no more patience or waiting. 100T have spent big, and they spent to win.
ZIKZ, REAPERED SHARE A COMMON PROBLEM
Unfortunately, 100 Thieves didn’t do as much winning as they would have liked in the Spring Split. Their 11-7 regular-season record was in the same ballpark as the top three, but their close to the season was concerning. After starting 4-0, 100T went just 7-7 the rest of the way, including 3-4 in their final seven games. 100T swept Dignitas in their first playoff series before falling 3-1 to TSM to exit in fourth place.
That downward trajectory was enough for 100T to change coaches. 100T brought in Zikz in 2020 as an experienced coach expected to lead a rebuild. The hire pleased 100T General Manager Christopher “PapaSmithy” Smith. “I got my first choice in coach,” he said in the announcement video.
Zikz and 100T hit the ground running with a better-than-expected 10-8 Spring Split, but the team regressed to 7-11 in Summer. That was the fourth time in five full years as a head coach that Zikz’ team regressed in record from Spring to Summer (only 2017 CLG improved). With the team trending downward throughout Spring, it made sense to make a change.
Interestingly enough, Reapered has faced many of the same problems in his time as a head coach. In his four full years as coach of Cloud9, none of his teams improved their record from Spring to Summer (the 2018 team went 11-7 in both splits). He also oversaw one of the greatest collapses in LCS history when 2020 C9 went from 17-1 in Spring to failing to qualify for Worlds. Fortunately, 100T only need him to work his first split magic this year.
SANDBOX RELEASE LEO, ROUTE
In other roster news, LCK team Liiv SANDBOX announced the release of ADCs Moon “Route” Geom-su and Han “Leo” Gyeo-re. The pair rotated playing time early in the season before Lee “Prince” Chae-hwan earned the final 20 starts of the year.
The move solidifies LSB’s commitment to Prince, if the 20 consecutive games weren’t already a strong enough indicator. This allowed Route and Leo the opportunity to look for playing time elsewhere in Summer.
Leo has already found his new home, as Afreeca Freecs quickly announced his addition after the release. He now joins former SK Telecom T1 teammate Bae “Bang” Jun-sik as the second ADC on the roster. It will be interesting to see how AF allocates playing time in the Summer. They greatly underachieved with a 5-13 record, and Bang didn’t play particularly well. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Leo given a shot over Bang with how quickly AF grabbed Leo.
GAM ESPORTS UNABLE TO ATTEND MSI
Riot Esports released a statement that VCS Spring winners GAM Esports are unable to attend the 2021 Mid-Season Invitational. Like at 2020 Worlds, national travel restrictions prevent them from participation. Riot has said they will award GAM their full share of the prize pool, but there will be no changes to the format of the tournament.
With that being the case, the members of Group A stand to benefit. The top two teams from each of the three groups advance, so only one member of Group A will miss out. RNG enter as heavy favorites in the group, but one of Unicorns of Love (LCL) or Pentanet.GG (LCO) are guaranteed to advance.
All of the regions are now on break as we prepare for MSI 2021. The first international tournament of the year begins on Thursday, May 6 in Reykjavík, Iceland . The tournament begins with double round-robin group play. The top two teams from each group will advance.
Group A – Royal Never Give Up / Unicorns of Love / Pentanet.GG
Group B – MAD Lions / PSG Talon / Istanbul Wildcats / paiN Gaming
Group C – DWG KIA / Cloud9 / Infinity Esports / DetonatioN FocusMe