LoL Week in Review: Tian Takes Break from FunPlus Phoenix
With the LoL European Championship (LEC) kicking off this week, all four major regions have begun the 2021 season. In our first full week, we saw a big name from the 2019 World Championship take a break and an upset loss from the 2020 World Champions. In the West, Fnatic and G2 Esports have started their post-legend seasons going in opposite directions. We take a look at the top news and storylines so far across the world.
TIAN TAKES BREAK FROM FUNPLUS PHOENIX
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Jungler Gao “Tian” Tian-Liang has announced he is taking a break from the team. The 2019 Worlds Finals MVP has been struggling with the pressure to perform. Tian also noted that he will be receiving professional help and hopes to eventually return.
Tian made this decision after FPX’s 2-0 win over Rogue Warriors in week three. Tian believed he reached a breaking point in the team’s week two loss to EDward Gaming, a series in which Tian struggled right out of the gate with a 0/3/1 Hecarim performance. Though he felt better in the series against RW, Tian and FunPlus Phoenix wanted to seek help for Tian before another problem arose.
In his stead, FunPlus Phoenix added jungler Zhou “Bo” Yang-Bo to the main roster. Bo’s only prior professional experience came just last split with eStar Young. Bo helped the team to an 18-7 regular season record in his first split. eStar Young then lost to the LGD Gaming Youth Team in the quarterfinals of the Summer Playoffs.
Bo made his debut with FunPlus Phoenix in a 2-0 win over Suning to close week three. He played Olaf in his LPL debut, going 0/3/8. Bo followed that up with a 5/5/9 Taliyah performance to help close out Suning in a sweep.
Bo’s development will be an interesting storyline to follow throughout the season. While FunPlus Phoenix have twice tried to upgrade their top lane since their World title, the core four have remained since 2019. Mid laner Kim “Doinb” Tae-sang has always been the engine that has run FPX, but he’s reliant upon synergy with his jungler. Tian’s downturn in play since the World title has been a big reason that FunPlus Phoenix hasn’t been nearly as strong.
If Bo can quickly build synergy with Doinb and prove he belongs in the LPL, FunPlus Phoenix could find themselves with a big decision on their hands. Bo has shown himself — albeit in a short time in the LDL — to be proficient on important picks in the current meta like Nidalee, Kindred, and Taliyah. Bo’s most picked champions in pro play are all farm heavy picks.
On the other side, Tian has played at his best in his career on the early gankers. His most played during his 2019 Worlds run include Lee Sin, Gragas, Qiyana, and Elise. Tian has tried to adapt and pick up Graves and Taliyah, but the past year has proven these champions are not his strength.
If Bo can assimilate to the team quickly, his champion pool could keep him in there even when Tian returns to full strength.
FREDIT BRION PROVE DAMWON KIA CAN BLEED
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DAMWON KIA looked like they hadn’t missed a beat with a new lineup in week one, beating T1 to reassert their supremacy. However, new LCK franchise Fredit BRION proved that even the bottom pro teams can take a series off the best. Fredit BRION beat DK 2-0 in week two to earn their first win in the LCK.
Fredit BRION lost their first two matches as members of the LCK. Both series were 0-2 to sweeps to Gen.G and Afreeca Freecs. Gen.G and AF were both expected to be playoff teams entering the year, but it was disappointing to go without a win in their first week.
The ensuing 2-0 sweep over DK was thus easily the most surprising upset of the year so far. BRO won game one 15 kills to 5 and game two 16 kills to 8, so there was some fair separation. BRO came back from a 2.5k gold deficit in game one and led from start to finish in game two. They proved they could beat DK playing from both ahead and behind.
Obviously the outcome was unexpected for a reason. DK still expect to beat BRO nine out of ten times, if not more. But the important takeaway from the result is just how tough it is for top teams to win night in and night out. DK were the best team in the world last year, and might still be this year. BRO, even with this win, still have not taken another game win in the LCK. They are 2-0 versus DK and 0-6 against everyone else. Still, BRO found a way to beat DK in consecutive games.
BRO also did it with what was considered the weakest roster in the league. Their bot lane had never played in the LCK before the season, their top laner played a few times for the sinking ship that was 2020 Spring Griffin, and their jungler and mid laner were part time players on bad teams in the LCK.
But, on this day, Kim “Lava” Tae-hoon was better than Heo “ShowMaker” Su. Eom “UmTi” Seong-hyeon outjungled Kim “Canyon” Geon-bu. For one day, Fredit BRION were better than DAMWON Kia.
G2, FNATIC OFF TO OPPOSITE STARTS
G2 Esports and Fnatic enter 2021 with the loss of historic, legacy players. For G2 Esports, Luka “Perkz” Perković left to NA to play mid lane. For Fnatic, Martin “Rekkles” Larsson got an offer he couldn’t refuse from G2. Playing in their first matches since the loss of their franchise players, G2 and Fnatic went in opposite directions. G2 got off to a 3-0 start in the post Perkz era, while Fnatic stumbled to 1-2 without Rekkles.
Considering that G2’s only loss was filled by Fnatic’s star, it should come as little surprise that they’ve been better positioned for immediate success. Rekkles stepped in for Perkz and G2 didn’t miss a beat. They took wins over MAD Lions, SK Gaming, and Excel Esports for a perfect week.
However, that shouldn’t be taken for granted. Perkz was the heart and soul of G2 Esports for years. You never know how the chemistry will shake out on a new roster, especially when Rasmus “Caps” Winther previously left Fnatic when Rekkles captained it. Obviously Caps signed off on Rekkles beforehand, but it was no sure thing that G2 would work. Especially immediately.
On Fnatic’s side, there have been more immediate problems. Those problems haven’t come from new members Yasin “Nisqy” Dinçer or Elias “Upset” Lipp, either. If anything, the two newcomers were the most consistent players in week one.
Instead, the core three that remain from Fnatic struggled. Gabriël “Bwipo” Rau continued his 2020 struggles in the top lane. Zdravets “Hylissang” Iliev Galabov looked more like the version of himself that struggled for most of 2020 before putting it together for the postseason.
In the end, the difference between Fnatic and G2 Esports isn’t really about the replacement players. It’s about the core of the team. G2’s core has been more solid ever since Caps left for G2, and it’s no surprise that Rekkles did the same. Even without their long-time captain, the G2 Esports core is still proving to be the class of Europe.
IMMORTALS SUB IN ACADEMY ROSTER FOR LOCK IN
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Immortals have been delayed in their preparation for the Spring Split due to visa issues. Of their main roster, only top laner Mohamed “Revenge” Kaddoura and mid laner David “Insanity” Challe were available to play in week one of the Lock In tournament. The EU jungler Andrei “Xerxe” Dragomir and OCE bot lane Quin “Raes” Korebrits and Mitchell “Destiny” Shaw were unavailable. Immortals picked up a win over Dignitas and lost to Evil Geniuses and Cloud9 to finish 1-2.
Immortals advanced out of the group stage, earning a quarterfinals best-of-three with 100 Thieves. However, IMT decided to start their full academy roster in the series. This announcement also came with the news that four of their five LCS starters were now in Los Angeles.
The reason they gave for starting their academy roster, however, was odd. IMT tweeted that they would: “be giving the Academy roster some more on-stage experience so that the main roster can continue practicing in preparation for the season.”
The question that instantly pops into mind: what exactly is better practice than playing 100 Thieves? 100T have looked like one of, if not the best teams so far in the tournament. Not wanting to put Xerxe or Raes into a stage game immediately after making the trek overseas is one thing. But wouldn’t getting LCS exposure from a top team be more beneficial than whatever other scrim practice they’re going to get during those few hours?
Perhaps this was an attempt at saving some team morale from what was looking like a defeat. Xerxe and Raes wouldn’t have had much time to practice with the team, if any. Destiny still isn’t in town, so IMT couldn’t have fielded their full lineup even if they wanted to. There’s something to be said for not getting your spirit crushed immediately and publicly.
Still, it seems like a missed opportunity for the main roster to get quality practice together. It’s obvious that the other LCS teams are taking this tournament seriously, so IMT would have plenty to learn about their team from a stage series against 100T. Revenge specifically could have added more reps against Kim “Ssumday” Chan-ho as he breaks into the LCS. IMT as a whole could have more practice in a best-of-three.
In the end, the tournament is about preparing for the LCS. Immortals were the only LCS team to decide that fielding their academy roster would be their best way to prepare.
The LCK kicks off their week with a big matchup between DAMWON KIA (3-1) and Gen.G (3-1) on Wednesday, January 27th. In the LPL, Team WE (5-0) will take on Royal Never Give Up (3-0) on Friday, January 29th. Team WE and RNG are two of the last three remaining undefeated teams in the league, joining EDward Gaming (4-0).
In the West, the LCS Lock In tournament will conclude with the semifinals and finals from Friday, January 29th through the 31st. 100 Thieves will take on Cloud9 in the first semifinals, followed by Evil Geniuses against Team Liquid. In the LEC, Fnatic (1-2) and MAD Lions (1-2) play on Saturday, January 30th to see who can avoid falling further into the hole to start the year.