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10 thoughts going into Finals

It’s true that a team named Phoenix made the Finals in a year where the Worlds’ song is also called Phoenix. Even cooler, though, is the True Damage song which is called “Giants,” which is foreshadowing the fact that the New York Giants will win the Superbowl… or not. What is true is damage, as in there will truly be a lot of damage on the Rift this Sunday with two extremely-happy-to-fight-you teams about to collide. Here’s 10 thoughts going into the Worlds Finals between Europe’s G2 Esports and China’s FunPlus Phoenix! 

1. How they got here
Late November last year, just a couple weeks removed from the Worlds Finals in Incheon, Korea, rumors started to swirl about Runner-up Fnatic’s mid laner, Caps. Even though he’d had a relatively disappointing Worlds showing, it was clear he’d be one of the leaders of the next era of European stars. We all saw a bright future for him. He saw it, too, but the colors weren’t the same.

On the other side of the globe, Rogue Warriors’ mid laner, Doinb, missed Worlds again in his 4th year. Though he was well-known among LPL diehards, it wasn’t a name you were otherwise likely to hear. You certainly wouldn’t put him in the same conversation as Caps, Rookie, and Faker. And you certainly wouldn’t have foreseen that he would be the biggest new star at Worlds this year. For him, even the very act of playing at all wasn’t a certainty — he’d even considered retiring prior to this year. Instead, though, he decided to give it another go with FunPlus Phoenix.

Caps would join G2 in one of the most shocking roster swaps in history. Not only would he be leaving the #2 team in the world, he’d be joining their biggest rival. He’d also be taking the mid lane role from his fiercest competitor in Perkz, who willingly role-swapped to ADC. G2 would go on to win both the LEC Spring and Summer Splits, but the biggest accomplishment was taking the MSI title — the first EU team to ever do so. Doinb would lead FPX to 1st place regular season finishes both splits, though they flopped in the Spring Playoffs before rebounding to capture the summer. Boasting just a single loss since summer began, they are as their moniker might imply, red hot. Here are a few of the best threads to look out for as we head into the Finals in Paris: 

2. G2 Theory on Macroeconomics
We could play the Finals on the ARAM map and G2 would still find a way to split push. They are the embodiment of the Enemy Team Tryndamere who you haven’t seen all game (and you’re not even sure he exists — only your top laner, who you muted at the start of the game, is even saying anything about it) — you think you are winning because of the kills, but then you look at the map and all of your turrets are gone. Your inhibitors are gone. Then you look down and your house is gone. You don’t exist… What makes this G2 team special is their willingness to chop off a dead limb. Instead of rushing towards a Baron that they’ve already lost, they just make the best available play. It’s like when people complain about how someone should have been there for a fight — engaging a bad fight is just a bad play. The fact that they should have been there doesn’t change that. You need to make the best decision given what has transpired, not what would have been ideal. Like, G2’s intention wasn’t to give up six Barons to SKT, but they did a terrific job of navigating around it and instead securing value elsewhere on the map. They force you to respond by dividing your resources (the five champions), and then they set up ambushes to capture those resources (picks and favorable engages). They’re not immune to mistakes themselves, but they’re good at not compounding those mistakes into bigger mistakes. That’s why it always feels like they’ve still got a chance, even in losing games. And it’s why they’ll stand on the final stage of 2019. 

3. Doinb, Doin’ things
One of my favorite quotes is about how the #1 swordsman in the world should be less afraid of the #2 swordsman in the world than some random novice with a katana. The idea is that you have an understanding of what #2 would do because they’ve been trained — there is a method to their swings. But the novice could do anything — you don’t know because they have no proper stance. Sure, you’re likely to win, extremely-so even, but there is potential for great variance. This is also why people sometimes joke about how it’s hard to tell the difference between Challenger and Bronze in LoL — this famous play for example is one that is either genius from Ryze or they are reading the Flash tool tip. Hard to say. Anyway, the point of all of this is that Doinb is both Swordsman #2 and the novice. Because his champion pool is so incredibly diverse and weird, it’s extremely hard to prepare for him. Nautilus mid, for example, is exactly a hard champion to play against when you think about his kit. But when it’s mid, you start to misread timings and power levels. You might know if you’re stronger than an Orianna at level 4, but what about a Nautilus? How can you possibly know unless you’ve somehow played against it a ton (and who has?). You also have to beat the muscle memory out of you that has usually seen Nautilus bottom or top, so you don’t make an incorrect assumption. Throw in the fact that he builds weird items or takes odd runes (Predator Rumble Mid, for example), and Doinb becomes more and more of a nightmare matchup. This is all in addition to the fact that he can still play more traditional mid lane champions. It’s one of those situations where you have to prepare for him, but you also can’t overprepare for him (think Hinata in Haikyu), and the line between those two is extremely thin. Perkz told me that this diversity is both his biggest strength and his biggest weakness — just because Doinb can look good on a champion doesn’t mean it’s actually good. Whether G2 can exploit that or not is what may decide the entire series. 

4. Quick Primer on the 10 starters
G2 Esports (aka the LEC All-Pro 1st Team)
Wunder: 2x Semifinalist, extremely tall, coach punishes his mistakes by making him play tanks
Jankos: 3x Semifinalist, rated #1 player on ESPN’s Top 20 list before Worlds, also known as Europe’s “First Blood King” 
Caps: 2nd consecutive Worlds Finals appearance, known as “Caps” or “Craps” or “Claps” depending on how good he plays
Perkz: 2x Semifinalist, was considered one of the top mid laners in world but role swapped this year to make room for Caps, his Game 5 Syndra is our model for Doom Bot Syndra difficulty
Mikyx: His wrists hurt

FunPlus Phoenix (aka the Worlds song team)
GimGoon: Debuted in the LCK in 2013 with Xenics Storm, reliable top laner who doesn’t draw much attention
Tian: Born in 2000, gaining traction as potentially best jungler in the world
Doinb: Known as “Super Carry Doinb,” wide and unusual champion pool, known for being expressive and having his wife lead the FPX cheering section
LWX: LWX are the initials to his name, unlike Perkz he did start his pro career as a mid laner
Crisp: widely considered to be best performing support at Worlds, said he wants to turn the European crowd into a library, which I guess means he likes to read

5. Legends Do Die?
What we have learned after Semifinals is that absolutely no one is immune to criticism, including Faker (the greatest player of all time) and TheShy (arguably the best individual player in the world at the moment). SKT died with Faker’s uncharacteristically poor performance on Qiyana, and IG died with the TheShy being caught too far forward a couple of times on his Kayle. I found the parallel to be fitting as we head into a Finals that will guarantee a new champion — in many ways IG and SKT played their duty as the old guard or the old kings as both were former champions. For two legends to be at the center of the defeats should serve to highlight what’s to come. You don’t ridicule Medusa’s actual strength for perishing at the hands of Perseus and you don’t think Hector any less a man for dying to Achilles. So what happens when you choose to flame the greats in these moments is that you miss out the greatness that was and the greatness that is to come. Faker and TheShy’s missteps are that much more meaningful because the two of them are great, which should make you more awed at the feat that G2 and FPX have just accomplished. Faker and TheShy became who they are precisely by preying on the mistakes of their opponents — even if they were mistakes they often forced through their own pressure. Which is exactly what you saw last weekend — G2’s map play and FPX’s team fighting prowess represented some of the highest levels of pressure we’ve seen at this Worlds. So, yeah, recognize the mistakes that they made, but go beyond that and recognize the why and the how and the who. Don’t just linger on the mistake.

6. 10 things I liked this Worlds
Here’s 10 things inside of 10 thoughts (we have the technology to go deeper!) 

1. Even though they eventually lost in the Semifinals, I think we still managed to see flashes of the World Champion Invictus Gaming that was so incredibly fun (or frustrating depending on who you ask) to watch. I’d be surprised if this roster was still together next year, so I’m glad we got one last look at them.
4. Welcome to 10 Shills Going into Finals by Kien Lam. Next up I will shill the return of Faker the Worlds stage. Worlds last year just didn’t feel the same without him here, so in the offseason I’ll be proposing to the League Operations team that his team should always get an automatic invite.
5. This has been the most diverse set of picks we’ve ever seen — not only in sheer number of champions but in the flexibility of positions they can play on the map.
6. Pantheon has been permabanned since the Group Stage began, which still feels like a conspiracy between the teams. He is being bullied and I like it.
7. The Madrid crowd was one of the best live crowds I’ve ever been a part of, and on a per capita basis, it might be the single best crowd (the other contender for me is the Rio de Janeiro crowd).
8. The FPX vs. IG Semifinal was one of my all-time favorite sets to watch. It showcased the best (or the worst?) of what the LPL has to offer, and while the frenzied nature of the set will make people underestimate them, I think FPX will remind everyone that the LPL is extremely good at suckering people into their pace.
9. This photo of Uzi. 
10. The feeling of parity we had in the Quarterfinals, where it felt like maybe 6 or 7 teams had a real shot at winning the Finals was a great feeling. I say this as someone who absolutely loves dominant teams because of how easy narrative gravitates towards them, but this year’s open field felt like it captured the spirit of Riot’s L10 announcement extremely well. It felt apt that in a year where so many new games were announced, it was paralleled with a Worlds with so many paths forward. 

7. The case for G2
I have said this every single week of Worlds so far, and I will say it again: G2 has been my favorite to win this whole thing since it began, and again I will say they are the favorite. There’s this weird sentiment going around among some people that they — the 2x LEC Champion and MSI Champion who just knocked out two Korean teams — is somehow the underdog (or really even being widely slighted) against an FPX squad that many casual fans have never even heard of. The big question mark, of course, is that G2 has only played an LPL team twice this year (0-2 against IG in the MSI Group Stage). So while they have beaten everyone else, it is agreeably still a bit up in the air against FPX. That said, from a purely narrative standpoint, how is G2 – aiming for the grand slam – anything but the favorite? I spent some time thinking about this recently, and how many teams in history have actually been comprised of the #1 player in their region for all five positions? That’s a claim G2 can definitely make this year, but nobody else at this Worlds (at least among major regions) can say the same. Go into history and even then you’ll find it difficult to make that claim (I can’t think of any off the top of my head). This is clearly the best team Europe has ever sent to Worlds. And in-game, they have five players who are capable of making a game-winning play, which is extremely valuable when you are now only three wins away from hoisting the Summoner’s Cup. They have five players who won’t be outmatched mechanically, and they have five players who already know what it’s like to win it all this year. If FPX is great at team fighting, and they are, then G2 will simply not fight them. And if FPX has weird picks up their sleeve, which they do, then the one team that could be weirder is G2. Last year, Perkz made a gamble about as big as we’ve ever seen in LoL esports when he role swapped, and now he is just one set away from cashing in on that bet. How’s that for a narrative?

8. The case for FPX
FPX went 1-1 against SPY in the Group Stage and then dominated FNC 3-1 in the Quarterfinals, which means they’re good but not unbeatable against EU teams. That said, League of Legends isn’t rock-paper-scissors when it comes to identifying matchups, so even looking at common opponents between FPX and G2 isn’t the best way to predict the matchup. The actual best way is a magic eight ball — that way you can blame magic when you are wrong and thus avoid the wrath of the genius Reddit fans who are never wrong. What I’ve heard is that FPX destroyed G2 in scrims in recent weeks, but it kind of feels like G2 is always getting destroyed in scrims by one team or another and yet they’re still in the Finals, so… maybe it’s actually a sign that G2 is favored here? FPX will present a similar problem to G2 that SKT did, which is that their early game is extremely strong thanks to Tian and Doinb. G2 never really figured out how to deal with it so much as they just weathered it and then snapped back with better mid and late game macro than SKT, and I’m not sure if that’s going to be effective two weeks in a row. Where SKT did a lot to try to set Khan up for success, I think FPX will be able to ignore their top side more and play around mid and bot. FPX are also able to put Doinb on tank picks like Nautilus and Sion, which opens up some more carry-oriented paths for Tian. They’re also more apt to just force fights than SKT, which I think will pressure G2’s grouped members a lot when they send Caps or Wunder into the side lanes. It’ll be interesting to see how this pans out — FPX has dropped only a single set since the Summer Split began, and this will be the last chance a team has to “figure out” Doinb. They rose to the top of the largest region and league in the world, and I think you’re about to see exactly why that happened. 

9. Final prediction
Which leads me to my actual prediction! I think both teams have extremely good cases to be the favored one going into this matchup, and I’m extremely curious to see how G2 will match up against the volatile pace of an LPL team. It’s something I’ve wanted to see basically all year because G2 themselves often displayed some of the crazy “I’m not sure if this is good or bad” type of plays that you see so often from LPL teams. It is the result of an extreme confidence in your individual ability to outplay the opponent, which means you will continue to take fights with the simple belief that you are just better. Anyone who has ever played an opponent that is clearly worse than them can relate to that swagger — the only difference is both G2 and FPX will always feel that way, no matter who they’re playing against or how many items they have or how many times they’ve died. Ultimately, though, this series will come down to one thing for me, which is consistency. FPX’s jungle and support duo Tian and Crisp have been impressive for essentially every single game of this Worlds, and in a meta that asks that duo to control the map in the mid stage of the game, I think they’ll be able to secure a lot of advantages for FPX. Their counterparts on G2 in Jankos and Mikyx have each worn the carry-pants at this Worlds, but both have also turned in some very disappointing performances. I feel like this difference will be the biggest factor in the matchup, and because I trust Tian and Crisp more at the moment, my prediction is 3-1 to FPX (queue the boos from the EU readers). Like the Semifinals, the games themselves will be extremely close, but FPX will prevail with slightly better teamfighting. And, yes, I think it will constitute as an upset over G2. 

10. Final sendoff
This will be the last 10 thoughts of the year, and as always I am extremely grateful for those of you who have followed me. My lawyer recently asked me how I keep coming up with thoughts each week, and let me just say, like with my predictions, it’s all thanks to the magic eight ball. And also maybe all of the League of Legends that has transpired. If last year’s Worlds managed to serve as a reminder to me that I love League of Legends esports, then this year’s Worlds has been good at threading that past with the future. I can’t see what’s out there, but the line has been cast, and if you stare into that future for long enough, you start to see murmurs of fish gathering beneath its surface. There are fish you recognize — the great veterans who now approach their 10-year anniversary — and there are fish whose names you will never forget. There are fish whose names you will never see again, and there are fish watching patiently from afar to see if this is worth biting onto. League of Legends is a sport that has a beautiful history behind it, but this year, I think I am just slightly more excited for what’s to come. Thanks for reading the column! I’ll be back next year when we change the series to 11 thoughts each week. 


Tune in to the Worlds Finals on November 10 at 4AM PT / 1 PM CET:

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