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Rise of the Gods: How the LPL Became the Pinnacle of League of Legends Esports

Rise of the Gods: How the LPL Became the Pinnacle of League of Legends Esports
2019 World Champions FunPlus Phoenix huddling together after their win over Europe’s G2 esports. Courtesy of Riot Games

With some of the most successful players of all time including Jian “Uzi” Zi-Hao, Kang “TheShy” Seung-lok and Kim “Doinb” Tae-sang, an uptick in talent, success, and international acclaim, and back-to-back Summoner’s Cups, the China League of Legends Pro League (or LPL) has cemented itself as the best major region of the League of Legends esports scene. But up until 2018, the league now-synonymous with victory and fame seemed doomed to the shadows, outdone in almost every aspect by more accomplished teams such as League of Legends Championship Korea (LCK). So how did this region become one of the successful in modern-day League of Legends? They did it through perseverance, hard work and gifted mechanics.

Introducing Uzi to the World

The LPL was not inducted into competitive League of Legends until 2013, and made a name for itself through the domination of two teams: Oh My God and Royal Club. The latter of the two introduced a player, Uzi, blessed from the heavens with a signature Vayne.

With the help of players like Uzi, Royal Club would eventually make it to the World Championship Finals, where they would lose to eventual winners SK Telecom T1 (SKT) 3-0. In 2014, Uzi would also return to the world stage under the rebranded Star Horn Royal Club, making the finals a second time with teammate Choi “inSec” In-seok.

The Korean Exodus and A Shakeup in the Chinese Scene

2015 brought the drastic change known as the Korean Exodus in which many of Korea’s best players— including Kim “Deft” Hyuk-kyu— transferred to China for higher salaries and a larger streaming market. That year, EDward Gaming (EDG), with Deft at the helm, defeated SKT in the first ever Mid Season Invitational, marking the first time a non-Korean team toppled a Korean team. That year, EDG was the only team to pass the Group Stage, leaving both LGD Gaming and Invictus Gaming eliminated. However, only one year later, in 2016, both EDG and Royal Never Give Up (RNG) made it out of Groups, doing their part to contribute to the incoming wave of Chinese dominance.

Worlds in China and the Rise of Team WE

Enter Team World Elite (WE). While WE was a long-standing organization in the LPL, debuting in the 2012 World Championships, they made headlines for the first time in 2017 as the biggest underdog story of the year. After winning the 2017 Spring Split, they represented the LPL at MSI, making Semifinals. However, it was on their home soil where they shined. The three Chinese teams RNG, WE and EDG were the favorites of the tournament, crowds erupting with every kill mounted by players like Uzi and Jin “Mystic” Seong-jun. The fans’ cheers echoed through the venue with every victory; the Gods had the people on their side. While EDG lost in Groups, WE and RNG made it through to the semifinals defeating Fnatic (RNG 3-0) and Cloud9 (WE 3-2). History was on the line as both teams had the opportunity to make the finals in Beijing. However, both would once again be stopped by the Korean powerhouses Samsung Galaxy and SKT.

The LPL Becomes King of the World

For years, the same pattern of Worlds occurs: three strong Chinese teams enter the championship only for one to be eliminated in Groups and the others to be eliminated by eventual World Champs. With the LCK decisively winning five of the last seven Worlds, Chinese fans were clamoring at the bit to obtain glory. In 2018, they finally got their chance. RNG acquired legendary League Master Season Jungler Hung “Karsa” Hao-Hsuan and were unstoppable in the domestic scene, prompting an invitation to the Mid-Season Invitational. All of a sudden, RNG were the favorites to win, placing first in the Group Stage and taking down both Fnatic and Korean superteam Kingzone Dragon-X. With the help of his team, Uzi won his first international title as RNG would take home the Mid Season Invitational championship.

2018 saw the World Championship in Korea. Like China, the fans were riled up and ready for their hometown heroes in KT Rolster, Afreeca Freecs and GenG eSports to win the event. However, RNG were the tournament favorites. Coming off a dominant Summer Split, Uzi and RNG were the overwhelming pick to win the entire tournament. Unfortunately, RNG were eliminated in perhaps the most shocking upset in Worlds history losing to G2 eSports 3-2.

With RNG eliminated and Korea entirely taken out of tournament, many wondered who were now the favorites to take it all. All eyes immediately turned to Invictus Gaming: the underdog story of the World Championships. Led by veteran Song “Rookie” Eui-jin, Invictus Gaming became the team to watch with talent to spare. It was them who silenced the crowd by defeating first seed KT Rolster in a three-to-two series. However, it was TheShy who cemented himself as the player to watch in his game three versus G2 Esports.

In the end, IG became the first Chinese team to win the World Championship, defeating Fnatic 3-0. 2019 showed similar success with the rise of FunPlus Phoenix, a team who embraced their own quirky style to take over the meta style. With Doinb on unusual picks like the Nautilus mid, the team rose to fame and defeated tournament favorites in G2 Esports 3-0.

With the unique and aggressive style of the LPL, the teams have become cemented as heavy favorites in any international competitions. With their transition from underdogs to the strongest teams in the world as well as a newly-found horde of adoring fans, the LPL have become the gods of the League of Legends esports scene. And with increasing talent such as JD Gaming and TOP Esports set to make international debuts very soon, the Chinese hopes are only looking up and up. 

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